I've worked in restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and on-campus jobs throughout my high school years. However, the 6 months before moving across the country for college, I started working in retail at a clothing store and I haven't looked back since. Job preferences are different for everyone, but after working in retail, I couldn't understand where all the complaints about it came from. There are definitely tough customers, sucky managers, and bad days in general, but along with all that comes some useful skills that are great for college students to have.
1. Short Shifts
If you've ever worked in food or manual labor, you know that days are usually at least 7 or 8 hours long, and can be truly exhausting. A food job might require you to work and lose an entire day of your weekend, or cause you to fall asleep in your morning classes because closing at work kept you there really late. Shifts in retail can be anywhere from 4-6 hours, most have flexible schedules to fit around classes and social obligations, and they usually won't leave you smelling like burgers or burritos.
2. Discounts, discounts, and more discounts.
Retailers, clothing in particular, offer discounts ranging anywhere from 10% (eh) to 60% (which is what my job offers me) for employees. I can't speak much to the value of a 10% or 15% discount (although that still takes the edge off,) but most retailers in clothing, whether it be shoes or accessories, offers at least 30% off products in the store. They will even occasionally run even higher percentages for certain promotions. It's not necessarily good to have a motivation to shop more, but if you'd already be buying clothes or shoes pretty often (or need a winter wardrobe upgrade for your new home) this is a good way to get a better deal. Depending on where you work, you can score great deals on not only clothes or shoes, but on technology, decorations, food, and entertainment, as well.
3. Customers tend to not be as soul crushing.
From my experience, customers in retail are much kinder and significantly less frustrating than customers in food service jobs. I actually have a few predictions for why this is. First, less people are hangry (hungry + angry,) and obviously aren't coming to you to get food. Second, I've found that customers in retail view you as "assisting" them rather than "serving" them. The distinction is subtle, but it does make a difference in feeling appreciated for doing your job. Third, there isn't a lot for people to complain about in a retail store. However, in food service jobs, customers can scream for a manager if it is too hot, too cold, too spicy, not the right sauce, etc. In retail, if they complain about something being too expensive or not the color they want, too bad. I didn't pick the prices, dude.
4. No early morning shifts.
This is a generalization. Sometimes, I've gone into the clothing store I work at as early as 6 a.m. for a big roll out day. However, retail hours usually start around 9 or 10 in the morning, and sometimes even later. In food service jobs, you may need to regularly arrive as early as 7 or 8 a.m. on your off days to get the food prepped and ready for opening. On the other hand, retail shifts usually end earlier, around 8, 9 or 10 at night. Restaurant hours can stretch as long as 11, 12 or 1 a.m. due to late closing, clean up, and prep for the next day. It may only be an hour or two difference, but that does give you some time to catch up with friends, grab breakfast, or get an extra hour of sleep before exams.
5. Bonuses and performance rewards
To my knowledge, you're more likely to have a bonus program in a retail setting than a food service setting. Although there are certainly performance metrics, advancement opportunities and rewards in restaurant or handyman settings, retail often has a lot more incentives built in. In retail, sales can be tracked through attributing systems or commission. Your managers know how well you do because there are numbers attached to your name. Many stores have bonus programs for individual employees meeting sales goals, or for the entire store making a quarterly goal. The extra couple hundred bucks (which is basically free money for hours you already worked) is a really nice end of semester gift.
6. Options to match your interests
In food, there are definitely varieties of jobs based on skill, environment, or what type of job you want to have. However, I feel that retail provides a little bit more flexibility as far as giving its employees ways to explore interests you already have. There are jobs in retail for technology (Apple, Microsoft, cell phone companies, etc.), clothing, accessories, books, art, and basically anything else you could be interested in. If someone can sell it, they can also hire you as a sales associate to help them do so. A quick search online will reveal a lot of places you can work that will line up with your interests.
7. Gain valuable skills.
There is so much to be gained from any job experience. As with any job, you'll learn a ton from working in retail. The skills you'll improve on range from things like working with a team, communicating effectively, and becoming a better public speaker and salesperson. As a business student, I feel like I've learned so much about marketing, management, accounting and supply chain operations just from working as a stylist in a clothing store. Each store has something unique to offer, and the store experience will turn you into a great speaker, team member, and shirt folder (probably).
8. ..And valuable experience.
My college is heavily focused on career development, and our job services are ranked first in the country for years running. We hear tons about the job search, the co-op search, internship finding, etc. One thing I hear repeatedly from professors, mentors, advisors and older students is that a retail job on your resume for at least a year is a huge boost to your "employability" because of all the skills involved and the recommendations that can be given by your managers and coworkers. When employers look at retail experience and retail recommendations, they often see a team player, strong communication skills, sales skills, and cultural awareness.
That being said, there is something to be said for any work experience. Any part time or student job has pros and cons, and a lot of it has to do with your own interests and personality. For myself and many people I know, retail is a great way to make money in a low stress, high reward environment that is fun and energetic. However, campus jobs, food jobs, volunteer experiences, or hands on labor all have their own benefits and lessons that can enrich you as a person and student. Job hunt on, fellow freshies!
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