How to Get Out of Retail Without a Degree

H

how to get out of retail without a degree

Retail can be a challenging job. You’re dealing with people all day who can be demanding and, often times, down right nasty when they don’t get what they want.

And, at a certain point, many people decide that they’ve had enough and want to pivot to another career. But, it can be challenging to know what to do next. And, specifically, hard to know how to get out of retail without a degree.

To that end, this article is going to share best practices for how to get out of retail without a degree and into a career path that you find more fulfilling and meaningful.

Transferrable Skills From Retail

Once you’ve decided that you want to get out of retail, the place to start is by taking inventory of your transferrable skills.

There are a variety of skills that, consciously or not, you’ll develop while working in retail that could carry over to other types of jobs.

Here is a short list of transferrable skills commonly developed in customer service roles:

Emotional Intelligence 

Retail jobs force you to develop emotional intelligence by dealing with difficult people and difficult situations. Many of the best retail employees are able to patiently communicate with customers, make them feel understood, and work with them to solve their problems.

If you’re not familiar with the term “emotional intelligence” and why it’s such a valuable skill, here is a quick overview video from The School of Life:

Communication

Similar to emotional intelligence, retail jobs help you to develop great communication skills. Depending upon the type of retail job that you have, you could be communicating with colleagues and customers all day, which will certainly build your skills in that area.

Sales

Many retail workers are partially paid based upon the sales that they make. With that being the case, many retail employees develop strong sales capabilities from their frequent customer communication and dialogue.

Problem-solving

From working in retail, you’ll often be faced with challenging situations without a good solution. For example, you may run into a frustrated customer that wants to return something that is not allowed based on company policy. In many cases, the customer may be unrelenting and unreasonable.

Ultimately, that forces you to develop creative ways of solving problems to serve the customer, which are valuable in other contexts.

The Ability to Operate in a Fast-paced Environment

Working in retail helps you to develop multitasking skills and the ability to work in what can sometimes be high stress, fast-paced type of environment. Most fields will value someone that can handle a challenging work environment.

Deep Customer Understanding

I don’t see the value of understanding the customer discussed enough when it comes to retail jobs. Particularly if you’re hoping to move into a corporate job within the same industry, the customer understanding that you develop from working in customer service is absolutely invaluable and can set you apart for many different types of jobs.

How to Get Out of Retail Without a Degree

retail no degree

Now that you have some background for some of the skills that you’ve likely developed from working in retail, we’ll turn to a practical look at the steps that you can take to get out of retail and get a job offer that you’re excited about in a different career path.

1. Figure Out What You Want

The first step to getting out of retail without a degree is figuring out what you want to do next. From there, you can take intentional steps in pursuit of that path.

At a high level, I’ve found the following steps to be helpful in figuring out what you want to do with your life:

If you find that you’re stuck with figuring out how to make your work path more tangible, it may be helpful to pursue some intentional career experimentation, along with a dedicated journaling process for reflection on how different career paths feel to you.

2. Map Your Qualifications

Once you have a sense of the life that you want to build for yourself, and some possible work paths that will enable you to get there, the next step would be to list out your qualifications for that type of work. A good starting point would be to look at the retail transferrable skills list that we reviewed earlier, as well as take an inventory of all of the things that you’re good at.

3. Assess the Job Requirements

Once you have a sense of some possible career paths that you’d like to pursue, and your qualifications for those, it’s time to take an honest assessment of the job requirements.

Now, I believe that many people over value the importance of a degree to getting a great job. As I’ll talk about in a bit, there are lots of ways to build your qualifications, like starting a side hustle, volunteering, or otherwise.

That said, there are certain career where a degree is a hard requirement. Careers like teaching or medical care for example. Before pursuing your path, it’s important to take a hard look at those requirements and understand what is needed before pursuing your path.

It’s fine if what you want to do requires a degree, you’ll just need to be a little bit more patient and close that gap before realistically getting to where you would like to go.

4. Tailor Your Resume

Once you have a sense of the skills that you have that make you a good candidate for the type of work that you want to pursue, the next step from there would be to tailor your resume specifically for the work that you would like to obtain.

Tailoring a resume for a career change is beyond the scope of this article, but the website Zetsy has a great resource for helping you to do so.

5. Close The Gaps in Your Skill Set

Once you’ve tailored your resume, you’re ready to go out and start applying for positions. However, there are likely to be gaps in your skill set that could make it challenging for you to obtain the job that you want. 

As you’re out applying and interviewing for the positions that you want, you should be proactively working to close those gaps in your skillset. Great ways to do that include starting a side hustle in the field that you want to enter, volunteering, or doing some temporary freelancing.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that you should meet 90% of the requirements for a job posting to give yourself a decent change at an interview. This video from Work It Daily unpacks that rule, and how to apply for a job when you don’t meet all of the requirements:

6. Start With Your Current Company

The last recommendation that I would offer for how to get out of retail without a degree is to start with you current company. If you’ve performed well in your role, they will likely want to retain you, even if it’s not in a retail role. So what you can do is have a conversation with your boss about your intentions, ask for intros, and start networking and applying for roles within the organization to try and move to a role that is more aligned with your interests.

You’ll likely find that it’s easier to pivot to a different role within the company (assuming that you’ve been performing well) than to pivot to a new career at an entirely different company.

What Can I Do Instead of Retail?

Here is a short list of a few of the most common jobs for retail professionals to transition into, based upon their transferrable skills:

Sales

Retail professionals transitioning into sales is a pretty logically move. Generally, as a retail professional, you develop a lot of experience working with and communicating with people. Additionally, depending upon the area of retail in which you work, you may have a commission as a part of your compensation or be incentivized to do sales as a part of your role anyway.

A move from retail to sales is probably the easiest transition simply from a transferability of skills perspective.

Customer Service Representative

Another common transition is from retail to customer service representative. 

It’s a natural move as a retail employee will already have skills in communicating with customers, answering questions, and resolving difficult situations…skills that will likely be put to good use in the customer service field.

Store Operations (Buyer/Planner, Store Layout, Merchandising, etc.)

The last common transition that I’ll list here is more of a job type and it’s store operations. This bucket of possible jobs is around things like being a buyer or planner for products in the store. Or managing store design and layout. Things like that where you’re leveraging your experience from working in the store to helping craft the experience or products within the store.

Other Jobs

There are a variety of other jobs that you can do instead of retail and you can find good articles that provide other easy career transition ideas for retail employees here, here, and here.

Note that none of the jobs below may be in line with where you’d like to go and, if so, then disregard this section and go pursue what it is that you want to pursue.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Switch Jobs Without a Degree?

pending job offer

In my view, switching jobs without a degree comes down to knowing what you want and developing the skills to make yourself the strongest possible candidate for that position. 

For example, let’s say that you want to go into marketing, but don’t have a degree. In my opinion, a better way to switch into the career than to get a degree is to start a side hustle and build up the skills yourself.

If you start an online e-commerce or affiliate marketing business, run that on the side for a year or two, and develop your skills by growing the business, you will have a great story to tell about how you used practical marketing skills to achieve success.

To me, something like that, where you’re developing the skills and doing the work on your own is way more powerful than degree. 

How Can I Sell Myself Without a Degree?

You can sell yourself without a degree by developing proven skills and success stories in the field that you would like to enter on your own.

Here are some examples of how to do that:

  • Starting a side hustle
  • Volunteering
  • Starting an entry-level role

Once you have those skills and experiences, you can then tailor your resume to show the experiences and successes that you developed.

To me, deciding what you want to do, focusing on building the skills to do that, and going out and doing the work is a powerful way of selling yourself.

What Is The Easiest Job to Get Without a Degree?

Here are some of the most common jobs that you can get without a degree:

  • Sales representative
  • Delivery driver
  • Restaurant server
  • Landscapers
  • Administrative assistants

For complete lists of ideas, check here, here, and here.

Ultimately, the easiest job to get is one that you focused on, pursued, and develop a targeted skill set for.

Conclusion

Retail can be a difficult job. And it can also feel like a challenge to get out of retail, particularly without a degree. But you develop a lot of valuable and transferable skills in the role. And with some focus and intentionally, can apply those to a career path that you will find more meaningful and fulfilling.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

Recent Posts