What I Learned from a Summer in Retail

At the end of the winter semester, I found myself in a scramble to find a summer job. In the end, I started working as a sales associate at a popular clothing chain. While it may not be a prestigious internship, the experience has been awesome, from a learning standpoint, but also socially, since I had great coworkers. Notably, this summer I learned a lot about customer service from my experience in retail. Overall, based on the past summer, I have found retail experience to be more valuable than I would have expected.

Having worked 9am-5pm jobs in summers past, the more flexible hours were a great change. I had much more free time, something usually lacking during the school year. Thus, I could adjust my work schedule to find time to see friends or family. However, the varying hours also meant I had fewer daily routines than during the school year when I typically wake up and get home at similar hours every day. The lack of structure can help to decompress over the summer, however for some people it may create more disorganization.

Perhaps the most obvious skill required in retail is customer service. Employees on the floor need to interact with clients from diverse backgrounds to sell clothes. Having to go up to strangers can be really difficult but overtime I developed more confidence going to customers. This skill is easily transferable to social and networking settings where it can be difficult to approach strangers. Working with customers also allowed me to work on asking open ended questions to find out what other people are interested in. Additionally, at the store where I worked, there were always multiple associates on the floor and we were expected to communicate with each other and sell as a team. This allowed me to keep working on my communication and teamwork.

At McGill, it can be easy to forget that regular jobs can be great experiences; many students find internships all over the world and companies and organizations that sound exciting. However, jobs that are closer to home and that have less flashy titles can still provide good summer experience. In either case, it is important for individual to know what they hope to get out of their summer. This past summer, I was lucky enough to find a job in retail with friendly coworkers, excellent managers, and a great company philosophy. I can now see the value of jobs in customer service which is often overlooked when searching for internships.

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