How to Move Up The Retail Career Ladder Without College

Written by Peter Jones

Huge numbers of young people at all levels of education currently work in the retail industry—tons of Millennials between the ages of 19 and 30 work in retail sales positions, often starting at a low hourly wage right out of high school. If you find yourself on the bottom rung of a retail career and would like to advance, here are a few strategies to get yourself to the next level.

1. Know where you’re going.

You can’t make real progress without a target in mind. Have an idea for where you want to end up. What’s your career goal? Then start taking steps to get there. Direction is a good and grounding thing. Observe the people you work with and learn from them: what are they doing that you like? Can you ask them to help you get to where they are? Find a mentor and follow his or her advice.

2. Find the right company.

Find a place to work where you can reasonably expect to achieve your goals. Take extra care to pick a company you genuinely like, whose business practices mesh with your ideals. It’s much easier to demonstrate your passion for work if you can muster up some genuine enthusiasm for where you work.

3. Consider a degree.

Most stores don’t require a degree for an entry-level sales position, but you might need some postsecondary training (at least) to advance beyond sales and get anywhere else you want to go in your field. Consider an associate’s degree in retail management, with courses in accounting, conflict resolution, or business communication. You might even consider a bachelor’s degree in Economics, if that’s viable for you.

4. Think management.

Research jobs in retail management and devote yourself to acquiring the skills you’d need to be considered for those positions. Start tweaking your resume to emphasize your leadership expertise and strengths. Look around for companies that are looking to expand and are likely to have management openings for a hungry striver such as yourself.

5. Impress your boss.

If you constantly prove yourself to be an asset to your supervisors, and you constantly make her look good with your performance, then you’re well on your way up. Put in the extra work to impress who you need to be impressing. Be open to feedback and constructive criticism. Ask for advice on what might be holding you back and how you can improve and grow. Go above and beyond.

6. Know your value.

What do you bring to the table that your co-workers or competitors don’t? How can you show yourself to be an asset to a company—either where you are now, or where you’d like to be? Figure that out and then figure out how to communicate it in a job interview or annual review.

7. Keep at it.

If you know where you want to go, and what you need to do to get there, then the battle is half won already. Persist in your pursuit. Keep learning and pushing yourself. Keep paying attention to what others are and aren’t doing. Your level of commitment will determine how fast you advance.

About the author

Peter Jones