There were a number of themes prevalent at Shop.org’s Annual Summit, but one in particular was discussed at almost every single keynote and breakout session: talent. Whether it was a presentation on branding or a discussion about the next wave in digital, retailers talked about the importance of building great teams, finding and keeping the best talent, and making sure tomorrow’s leaders know about the opportunities within our industry.
At this year’s Summit, we wanted to hear directly from retailers what skill sets and experiences an ideal entry level candidate would possess, so we sat down with e-commerce professionals from Ann Inc., OfficeMax, Sam’s Club and Belk to compile a list of the “must-haves” for graduates.
What’s in their Top 10:
- Get to work. An internship, or some type of work experience, is considered highly valuable by recruiters. Start as early as you can to build up your resume.
- Project management experience. Many entry level candidates lack basic project management skills, the recruiters say. Being able to operate independently, manage your time, work with others, and communicate appropriately to many different types of people are all important components in executing a project from beginning to end.
- Flex your leadership muscles. Whether you’re the captain of a sports team or the group leader in a classroom project, it’s important to show that you’ve got experience leading a team of people.
- Do an interview test-run. Many candidates who look great on a resume have lousy interview skills, said the recruiters, who suggested students leverage their school’s career center, or even a savvy friend or relative, for some interview tips and a few trial runs before the big day. Specifically, candidates should be able to provide concrete examples when asked questions about leadership roles and what was gained from those experiences.
- Pay attention to details. Grammatical errors on resumes do not go unnoticed, said the group, and can often be a deciding factor on whether a candidate makes it on to the next round. So while you’re leveraging the career center for a mock interview, ask them to take a peek at your resume, too.
- Fashion + Business = Success. While a number of students desire a career in merchandising or design, art is only half of the equation. A design student with savvy business skills is going to win out every time over someone who isn’t interested in or doesn’t understand the numbers.
- Get familiar with data. Speaking of numbers, a skill that most retailers say is lacking is ability to analyze data and draw conclusions from it. With “Big Data” being one of the industry buzzwords, math class should be your new best friend.
- Think beyond the basics. When asked about the hardest positions in their companies to fill, the recruiters piped up immediately, with the exact same answer: IT. While many students are looking at positions in management and merchandising, recruiters encouraged students to think beyond traditional roles and consider positions in digital retail, loss prevention and, yes, technology.
- Be willing to move. There are some incredible retail jobs outside of New York City, even outside of major metropolitan areas (hello, Bentonville). And with a lower cost-of-living, some of these smaller markets could be more financially rewarding as well.
- Retail experience is a plus. The group was split on this one (as it is not considered crucial for those working in the digital world), but most agree that familiarity with the customer experience makes for a well-rounded candidate. And even if you don’t have experience in retail, understanding the industry’s cutting-edge issues is important – that’s where reading NRF SmartBrief comes in handy.
As NRF President and CEO Matt Shay told attendees in his opening keynote, “In retail, where you start isn’t where you’ll end up.” With the growth of digital retail and with the economy showing signs of rebounding, there’s a lot of opportunity — and career potential — in this industry. And the first step is just getting your foot in the door.