Working in Retail: A Guide -


Working in Retail: A Guide

Congratulations, you survived another year of school! Now your parents want you to get a job and you want some extra cash to pay back your friends for those Beyoncé tickets, so you’re probably looking into getting a summer job. As someone who spent three years working in the retail hellscape known as Victoria’s Secret, I got a few tips for you, ya retail virgin.



To get the job, you’re going to have to trudge to the stores you’d like to work at and ask them for applications. Don’t go in your sweats and dollar store flip-flops, but don’t go in looking like an attorney. Many places have their employees wear their clothing exclusively, so try to match the vibes of the store with your outfit to prove you got that shit down already. Do the same for the interview unless they ask you to wear something specific. As for your application, it’s tough when you don’t have experience but fill in as much as you can and make sure you really emphasize your skills – team players, outgoing people, and people who speak more than one language are always going to draw more interest. Research the company before you go in to interview and make sure you know the company’s typical customer because they will mos def ask you questions about this. And if they ask you why you want to work there (they will), don’t tell them you need money and don’t want to work at restaurant. Tell them you love helping people and making people feel good about themselves and that job is yours.



Like your family, you cannot choose them and you cannot get rid of them easily but hey – they’re yours, so make the most of it. I lucked out and was originally hired with a handful of girls my age and we meshed incredibly well. We bonded through cleaning up the store until 1am during the holiday season and going out for pho and karaoke nights. Get to know them and swap stories during downtime or when you’re cleaning. Sometimes employees who have been at the company longer than you will seem intimidating but they usually just need a little warming up. Make an effort to talk to them, ask them for advice here and there, and they’ll realize how cool you are in no time. There will always be one or two coworkers who you CANNOT STAND but don’t worry, none of your other coworkers will be able to stand them too. Venting to a pal behind a sales rack is the best way to deal, because even if that coworker is Grendel’s mother, you must be cordial with them. Starting shit with coworkers will leave everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.



You will be paid minimum wage for a job that deserves more. You will be subject to 8am bullshit meetings about the ~company brand~ and ~the customer experience~. You will probably have to push credit cards on people who are already in debt past their ears. Welcome to late capitalism, bbs. It’s a major buzzkill and being around so much unabashed celebration of commodity fetishism is gonna make you rethink a lot of your life. dealwithit.gif, tbh. If there was an accessible way for young people to to make money by NOT swindling people into buying things they don’t need, THERE WOULD BE NO MALLS. Roll with the punches. Don’t take it too seriously. Whenever you get stressed out by all the jargon they try to throw at you, just laugh at how ridiculous it is that someone is paid a hell of a lot more than you to be CEO of your lame store. Remember, this job isn’t going to last forever.



Are u ready 4 some #realtalk? Here it comes: Some people are terrible. Some people spend the majority of their miserable lives doing whatever they can to make other people miserable. These people LOVE retail because you, as a sales associate, are paid to communicate with them whereas any other human being would walk away from them and never look back. The following is a short list of the rainbow of garbage people you will get in your store:

  • the mom who doesn’t care about her four kids running around and destroying the store
  • the extreme couponer who pretends to not understand when you read them the fine print on the back
  • the gross dude who thinks you’re his personal shopper and orders you around the store
  • the ticking time bomb who will SNAP when you don’t bag their purchase fast enough
  • the bold-faced liar who will switch from sob story to threatening to talk to your manager when attempting to make return a CLEARLY stolen item
  • the new money butthead who thinks they’re above everything and doesn’t see the irony in them shopping at your store in the first place

In my days of slinging bras, I only let two customers make me cry. I’m really proud of that number and I accomplished it through deep breathing, plastering on a fake ass smile, and reminding myself that I’m the better person and that this is just a job. Other ways to avoid falling into bad customers’ traps are passing them off to more experienced coworkers (i.e. bad bitches who can’t be fucked with), calling your manager to avoid conflict, or simply disengaging and finding other customers to help. Whatever you do, make sure you maintain eye contact so that they know they’re not talking to a retail robot, they’re actually being a dick to a human being.


I know you probably want to go out and get a tan and hang out with your summer fling, but you have to make sure those things don’t conflict with your work schedule. Check your upcoming schedule as soon as it’s released and plan around it. If you want to head down to San Diego Comic-Con for the weekend, let your bosses know ASAP and double or triple check to make sure you get that time off. It’s super annoying to try to find people who can switch shifts with you and it looks bad if you’re constantly calling out, so remember to plan ahead.



One of my favorite things about working in a mall, and it’s a short list, is getting to know the other people who work there. If you go to the food court for breaks, talk to the people behind the counters after you order. Tell them where you work, let them know about any sales coming up, and they might hook you up with some free food. We used to get free pretzels from the Wetzel’s Pretzel dude in my mall. The girl at Mrs. Fields always knew I wanted a chocolate chip cookie and a Dr. Pepper. Say hello to the custodians, the mall cops on Segways, and your fellow sufferers of retail life. It’s nice to have a change in scenery and characters from your usual shifts in the store and it’s comforting to know there are other people living that #malllyfe right along with you.



Not only is this just generally bad karma, it’s something that will haunt you for the rest of your life – whether you get caught or not. There was a constant flow of employees at my store who were let go for, as it’s called in the biz, “internal theft.” Remember that mythic permanent record you always heard about as a kid? Well it’s kinda real and stealing from your job DEF gets you blackballed from ever working in retail again and will also give you some trouble applying for other jobs down the line. Even if it seems like you 100% won’t get caught pocketing a travel-sized mist, the knowledge that you did that will eat you up a la Tell-Tale Heart. Keep your integrity and your hands to yourself. 



If you’re going to do anything in life, you might as well be as good as you can possibly be at it. Go into work everyday telling yourself you’re the best cashier there’s ever been. You’re the best fitting room attendant on the planet. You’re the heavyweight champ of any stockteam in existence. As much of a bummer as working retail will often feel, it’s an important time in your life to grow yourself as a person. I guarantee a job in retail will expose you to the communication skills, responsibility, and understanding of just how shitty people can be for you to survive the real world. But you won’t get all that if you just stand around and hate what you do. Engage with people, take problems head on, and help as much as you can. BE THE KANYE WEST OF YOUR SHITTY RETAIL JOB.



There will be times when you want to throw the load of hangers in your hands to the floor, tell nearby customers to shove their coupons up each other’s butts, and tell your manager what you really think about her Type A personality. As stress-relieving as this sounds, don’t do it. Having a shitty retail job is something to put on your resume and you want to be able to tell future employers you can use your manager as a reference. When the time comes for you to move on from your job at the end of the summer or at the end of a whirlwind three years like me, float the idea of you leaving around to your managers a month in advance. Write a clear and concise resignation letter that doesn’t shit talk the entire company or anyone you work with. Give your bosses the letter at least two weeks in advance of your departure, say your goodbyes to your coworkers, and peace the fuck out in style.


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