Many students and recent graduates are fearful that they lack the experience necessary to impress graduate employers, while overlooking their part time work in areas such as customer service.
Charlotte Hamer, an Employability and Progression Assistant at the University of Leeds writes about how her experience in retail has helped her career progression.
Those of you who have worked in customer service will know. You’ll just know. The customer service environment is like no other. Yet it has given me some of the most important professional skills I possess, which I’ve been able to transfer into every workplace I’ve been in since.
Working in retail
I worked for the same high street clothing retail brand from the age of 16 to 19, both in my home town and when I moved to university. Over those three years I worked with all manner of different people, from different places, of different ages and with different career goals. My ability to work in, and communicate effectively with, a highly diverse team developed incredibly quickly. I learnt to adapt my methods of communication based on the individual. This was particularly important when taking on supervisory role, in order to motivate disengaged staff. On top of that there was the diversity of the customers. At the age of 16 I had no idea that my ability to navigate a conversation with a very angry customer, who insisted they should be able to return the £6 pair of shoes they purchased two years ago and had worn every day since, because the sole had started to come away, would translate today into the people skills I use in my everyday work life.
When I first started working in retail I had never known pressure like it. Seeing a queue of customers building up so long that it snaked around the store while having a pile of returns to complete and a rack of clothes to put out on the shop floor could have been enough to send me into a frenzy. It took me some time but I soon learnt to use the pressure to increase my productivity and effectiveness without becoming stressed. Being able to stay calm under pressure is so important in any position that involves conflicting deadlines and with this being a key theme in graduate recruitment you are sure to impress recruiters with this skill.
Commercial awareness is another skill recruiters are eager for their employers to possess. Being able to express sector specific commercial awareness is usually enough to get you the mark. But you can go one step further by demonstrating a time in which you possessed and acted upon commercial awareness to make a business more profitable. It doesn’t have to be anything big. For me it was noticing when an item of clothing closely resembled that of an item of clothing I had seen on reality TV the previous day and placing that item on the most visible displays to increase sales. It is something simple but really effectively demonstrates to application of commercial awareness.
I share this with you because so many students have worked at some point in customer service. Yet so many don’t see it as a ‘proper job’ that will impress employers – well I am here to tell you this is not the case. I have made connections with recruiters over shared experiences of customer service and made them laugh with the hilarious stories we customer service veterans have all come across at one time or another.
So be proud of your customer service background. If it was in retail like me, the restaurant business, or any other area, you’ve already developed so many of the skills that make you incredibly attractive to employers. Whether it’s communication skills, the ability to work as part of a team or under pressure, think creatively about how you can translate these skills to the requirements of a graduate role!
Read more about what is available to you as a member of the University of Leeds Class of 2019
And don’t forget you can continue to access the Careers Centre services once you graduate.