Top

Retail, sales and customer services: career FAQs

Your questions answered about graduate careers in retail, sales and customer services, including getting a job, applications, working life and salaries.

How can I get a job in retail, sales and customer services?

Depending on your degree subject, you may enter the graduate workforce at either operational level or a position higher up the hierarchical chain. Graduate training programmes and fast track management training programmes are a good way for ambitious graduates to progress rapidly.

Retail companies operating within Ireland may offer graduate management training programmes to prospective candidates through the milkround system. Programmes vary from company to company but most tend to introduce graduates to all aspects of the business over a period of 12 to 18 months and gradually coach the successful candidates into a specialist area within retail or into general management.

Graduates may rotate between stores, and generalists are likely to progress to the role of store or area manager. There are also many specialist opportunities in head office including buying, merchandising, finance, human resources, IT and marketing.

Training programmes may give you an opportunity to work within all, or a number of, these functions and also include exposure to other areas such as supply chain management, logistics and quality assurance.

Career opportunities from these programmes can vary considerably from company to company, so shop around and speak to them all before you make your application to find the one that is best suited to you.

How to get a graduate job in retail
How to get a job in retail banking

What are the different areas of work?

Opportunities within retail include general management, buying, merchandising and all the business functions that support those, including human resource management, IT, finance and marketing. These can be either at operational level (in stores) or at strategy level (in head office).

Types of retailer
Retail store management
Area management
Buying
Merchandising
Retail banking
Retail pharmacy
Business support functions

What qualifications and skills do I need to work in retail, sales and customer services?

Working in retail needs a strong customer service ethic and excellent communication, negotiation, organisation and planning skills. If you already have some work experience in the retail sector this will help you to demonstrate these competences when you write your job application.

Programmes such as Skillnets in the Republic of Ireland and Skillsmart Retail in Northern Ireland have done much research on the skills needed within retail. In the UK the Consortium of Retail Training Companies (CORTCO) identified four key competences required of graduates entering this field: business focus, personal effectiveness, relationship management and critical thinking.

These competences encompass a range of skills, including customer service skills, flexibility, leadership ability and commercial awareness. There are excellent opportunities for graduates who demonstrate entrepreneurial capability. Retail managers seen to be operating stores very successfully are often offered franchise opportunities by franchise operators who may also provide 100 per cent of the initial capital required.

Why work experience counts in retail

What are the opportunities for professional development?

Retailers across Ireland are leading the way in work-based training, continuing professional development (CPD) and improved access to e-learning in the workplace. In the Republic, IBEC’s Retail Skillnets group developed a ten-module on-the-job programme to build staff expertise in key areas. Similarly, in the North, Skillsmart Retail has established initiatives to promote upskilling within the industry.

Training and career development in retail

What are the salaries in retail, sales and customer services?

The gradireland Graduate Salary Survey 2011 found that the median starting salary for retailing, sales and customer service (across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) is €24,000.

While starting salaries for graduates may seem low compared with some other sectors, opportunities for progression are good. There are also many non-pay benefits which can top up your basic salary considerably, such as commission on sales, performance-related bonuses, in-store and cross store discounts, or company cars. Graduate store managers with a number of years’ experience might expect an average salary of €50,000 in ROI and £40,000 in NI. One Irish retail graduate, with a significant degree of work experience through college, recently attained a position as manager of a medium-sized symbol store at a salary of €70,000. If you put the work in, the rewards can be immense.

What is working life like?

This is a fast-paced area of work which will appeal to people who don’t want a nine-to-five job or to be stuck at a desk all day. The downside is that  the work can be very pressurised, particularly on the ‘floor’ during opening hours.

Other related career sectors

Banking, insurance and financial services
Logistics and transport