How to Describe Retail Experience During Your Job Search

Updated 16 December 2022

If you have experience working in retail, then you may have valuable skills that can relate to a variety of other positions. When applying for a new job, you can use your experience as a retail employee to show you have relevant skills that qualify you for the position. Learning how to explain your experience in retail during the job search can help you align your background and skills with the needs of the position.

In this article, we list ways to describe your retail experience on your resume, in a cover letter and during a job interview, and we offer tips for applying for jobs.

How to describe retail experience on a resume

Use these steps to help you describe your retail experience on your resume:

1. Use the job listing for inspiration

Before you prepare your resume, review the job listing and note what skills and credentials the hiring manager expects from candidates. You can use the job listing for inspiration. Knowing what the hiring manager wants from their ideal candidate can help you align your work experience with their needs. For example, if the hiring manager states they want a candidate with strong communication and teamwork skills, you can reflect on your retail work experience to identify times when you used these skills to succeed. You can use the job listing to brainstorm additional examples of skills for your resume.

Related: Retail Skills: Definition and Examples

2. Identify your transferable skills

Working in retail can equip you with relevant, transferable skills. Often, transferable skills include soft skills that help you manage your workflow and relationships in the workplace. While these skills may not require any specific technical knowledge or background in the industry to which you're applying, they can still help you succeed in the role. An example of a transferable skill from working in retail may be time management and working well under pressure. You can include details on your resume about your ability to prioritise and sequence tasks effectively. Other transferable skills may include:

  • communication

  • conflict management

  • organisation

  • leadership

  • teamwork

  • problem-solving

  • attention to detail

  • independence

Although you might highlight soft and interpersonal skills from your retail background on your resume, you can also consider adding some technical skills. Here are some examples of technical skills:

  • maths

  • technological literacy

  • product knowledge

  • industry speciality

  • sales

Related: 17 Customer Service Skills: Definitions and Examples

3. Use active verbs

When describing your previous work experience on your resume, try to use active verbs. Starting each bullet point in your work history section with a descriptive verb tells the reader what you did in each of your previous jobs. Active verbs can make your writing more concise and they can help the reader gain an understanding of what actions you took to achieve success in your previous positions. Reflect on your core responsibilities in your retail roles and use verbs to describe what you did in each role. Here are some action verbs to consider:

  • collaborated

  • led

  • fulfilled

  • communicated

  • exceeded

  • managed

  • adapted

  • assisted

  • cultivated

Related: 139 Action Verbs to Make Your Resume Stand Out

4. Quantify accomplishments

In the work history section of your resume, try to quantify your accomplishments when possible. When describing your work history in retail, you can discuss your successes by providing a value or percentage to illustrate your success. For example, if you worked in a sales position, give a percentage to show how much you improved sales in your department. Another option is to describe how many customers on average you worked with each shift.

You can also talk about how many team members you led if you worked in a management role, or describe your efficiency if you worked in a role like stocking. Quantifying your successes helps the reader gain a better understanding of your skills and commitment to your work.

Related: How to Write a Resume for Retail: With Tips and Example

How to describe retail experience in a cover letter

Here are some steps you can use to describe your experience in retail in a cover letter:

1. Choose skills to complement your resume

When preparing a cover letter, it's typical to choose two to three skills to highlight in the letter. You may prefer to choose skills that correspond to those you addressed on your resume so you can submit a cohesive application. Your cover letter can be a great opportunity to provide more contextual details about the skills, experiences, credentials and accomplishments you listed on your resume.

Related: Do Employers Review Your Resume or Cover Letter First?

2. Outline skills in your introduction

Use the first paragraph of your cover letter to list the skills you plan to discuss in more detail later in the letter. It's typical to use the last sentence of your introduction to highlight two to three skills that you want to bring to the position. Which skills you choose may depend on the position to which you're applying. If you're applying for a more technical role, you might only choose one transferable skill from your retail background to cover. If the role involves more interpersonal abilities, you may focus more on how your experience in retail helped you develop those skills.

Related: Writing a Cover Letter With a Resume (Plus Tips and Examples)

3. Provide supporting evidence of skills

Use your cover letter to elaborate on the skills you gained in retail. You can provide supporting evidence by describing specific experiences in which you used your retail skills to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. Provide some information about the problem or situation. Then explain the skill you used and how you applied it to accomplish an outcome. For example, if you want to highlight your problem-solving skills, talk about a time when a customer approached you with a problem and you used your skills to understand and address their concerns.

Related: How to Format a Cover Letter (With Tips and Examples)

How to describe retail experience during a job interview

Here are some ideas to consider when talking about your experience in retail during a job interview:

1. Use the STAR method

When answering questions during a job interview, using the STAR method to structure your responses can help you provide a comprehensive and concise narrative of a scenario. STAR stands for situation, task, action and result. With this method, you describe a scenario and a task, such as a work problem to solve. Then you talk about what actions you took to solve the problem or overcome the situation, along with the results of your efforts. You can use this response technique to structure your answers when talking about skills you used when working in retail.

For example, you can talk about your conflict management skills using this technique. Tell the listener about a time when you handled an upset customer. Explain what upset them and how they behaved toward you or other members of the retail team. Then describe what steps you took to communicate with them, understand the problem and resolve it. Tell the interviewer about the results of the scenario, such as how the customer felt after you worked to manage the conflict.

Related: How to Use the STAR Interview Response Technique

2. Prepare skills to discuss

Before your interview, brainstorm some key skills and scenarios to talk about with the interviewer. Knowing what skills to talk about before the meeting can help you feel prepared and confident. For example, you can review lists of typical interview questions for your role online to gain insight into the types of questions the interviewer may ask. Based on these questions, consider what skills from your retail background you wish to discuss. Brainstorm specific examples or anecdotes to share during the interview.

Related: Preparing for an Interview: How to Do it and Why it Matters

3. Embody skills you describe

During your interview, try to show the skills you describe while discussing them. For example, if you worked in retail, you likely have skills related to communication, organisation and customer service. You can demonstrate these skills in your interview by listening effectively to the interviewer and communicating your answers clearly, arriving on time, being prepared for the meeting and acting polite and professional with everyone you meet. Showing these skills can further emphasise them to the interviewer, beyond describing them verbally.

Related: How to Ace an Interview in 8 Steps (With Additional Tips)

Tips on applying for jobs with a retail background

Use these additional tips to feel more confident during your job search process:

  • Proofread your materials. Before submitting your cover letter and resume, make sure to review them carefully for minor errors. Ensuring your documents are free from mistakes shows your attention to detail and professionalism, which can relate to the skills you gained in retail.

  • Emphasise relevance. If you are applying for a non-retail job but most of your work experience comes from your history in retail, emphasise the relevance of your skills to the hiring manager. Focus on the skills that have the most direct applications to the role for which you're applying.

  • Consider both soft and hard skills. Those with retail backgrounds typically have a combination of hard and soft skills that they can apply to a range of positions. During the job search process, try to show that you have both technical and interpersonal skills that can help you succeed in your new career.

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