I was never really cut out for retail, even though it's all I knew. I'd come home at the end of every day dead tired, no energy to contribute to my family in any meaningful way. No enthusiasm for much of anything. I was wiped out - all the time. Content only to numb myself by staring at the TV or putting my head in a book.
I thought it was just because I was on my feet all day, or maybe I had a few more irate customers than normal, but it was much more than that.
Taking a three-week career planning program was the lifeline I needed. It opened my eyes and gave me hope that I could steer my career in a new direction. A major component of the program were the assessments, particularly one that determined whether you were an introvert or extrovert. I always assumed I was an introvert - not all that sociable, more content to be on my own or with a very small group, and so on. But it was pretty alarming to find out that I was not just your average run-of-the-mill introvert, I was an extreme introvert. I mean, off the charts. My score was so high on the introvert side I don't think I answered a single question that could have swayed me the other way, and this was a pretty comprehensive assessment.
With this new-found knowledge, I discovered why I was exhausted all the time at my job. Being around people all day long simply drained me. Extroverts get their energy from people, while introverts get drained. It made sense! That's why I was never content with where I was. Never happy. Never settled. Constantly tired and looking for a reprieve. But what I didn't know was that reprieve would never come, for me, as long as I worked in a retail store.
Growing up in retail
I started at 15, like many teenagers, in a McDonald's restaurant. As much as I hated it (and almost quit after my first couple of shifts because my now brother-in-law was training me and, at the time, he wasn't the nicest guy), I can now look back and see that it was great training. They had very high standards back then and that served me well going forward. In fact, showing 3+ years at McDonald's on my resume paved the way for many more opportunities while I continued with school. Turns out, that would be the longest time I'd spend with any one employer for the next 25 years.
I worked part-time in retail or food service as I completed high school and then college, changing jobs pretty much every year, sometimes more often (a few lasted only a day or two, which my daughters love to kid me about). I was always searching for something better. There had to be a better fit for somewhere, because where I was just wasn't working for me. After completing my college education I went into retail management - not because I loved it, but because it felt safe. I knew I could do it.
I continued to change jobs pretty much on an annual basis. My resume was starting to get long but, looking back, I guess I was able to gain some early experience with fine-tuning a resume. Overall I worked in pretty much every sector including major department stores, specialty stores, big box stores, warehouse clubs, convenience stores, off-price stores, and grocery stores. I tried it all - everything from 800 square feet to probably 100,000 or more. I even worked for an inventory service, traveling to different stores to conduct inventory counts.
I had my share of success and worked for some pretty amazing retailers including The Disney Store (a dream come true), Costco, TJX, 7-Eleven, Home Depot, and many more. I had some great experiences and worked with some pretty amazing people, but, in the end, it all seemed the same. I couldn't run any more because I had virtually run out of companies. I needed to face the fact that retail operations wasn't for me.
Time to move on.
Management, but not retail management
I knew what I was good at. I could lead teams. I couldn't sell too well, and my merchandising skills were just okay, but I could lead teams. So I took a bold step (for me) and expanded my usual job search to non-retail companies. Turns out, it wasn't that hard to transition to a new field.
In my first job out of retail I managed an auto emissions testing station for a government contractor. Now, I knew nothing about cars then and still don't to this day. How I got that job is beyond me. But it was a business that required exceptional customer service skills (motorists were never too pleased if their car didn't pass the required test), strict compliance with regulations, strong scheduling skills due to fluctuating traffic patterns, and excellent communication and leadership skills (it was a union environment). With several years of management experience in the retail industry behind me, including some time in a unionized grocery store, I was able to convince them that I could do the job - despite having zero automotive experience (or interest for that matter, but I didn't tell them that).
I guess I had what it took because I did fairly well - my metrics were consistently at or near the top company-wide and I earned promotions to higher levels. But, even though I escaped the shift work, I still came home exhausted every night. That's when the career planning program came to my rescue.
In addition to discovering the joys and pitfalls of being an extreme introvert, I also came to the realization that I wanted to help people. Making money for some rich company owner had gotten a bit stale for me. I wanted to contribute to the greater good. Employment counseling was an area that came up as a possible career option.
So how do you jump from managing retail stores and an emissions testing station to counseling job-seekers on their career development? Well, I started by answering an ad I found almost immediately for an employment resources consultant in a local government-funded employment office. Turns out sometimes golden opportunities just appear when you know what you're looking for.
Of course I had no relevant experience whatsoever, but I was able to convince the executive director that I could help people with writing resumes and cover letters, sourcing job opportunities, and preparing for interviews. After all, I had interviewed and hired hundreds of job-seekers over the years, so I could offer an insider's perspective on the job search process. Not to mention, at that point I had probably worked for more than 20 different companies, so I had considerable experience getting a job myself.
The director was willing to give me a chance and I flourished. Within 3-4 months, I was promoted from assisting clients in the resource center to a full-fledged employment counselor position. I conducted intakes, determined needs, assessed suitability for programs, provided recommendations, and worked closely with hundreds of clients on all aspects of their career decision-making and job searching activities. It was what I was looking for - a way to contribute. But alas, it still wasn't perfect. Dealing with clients all day had some similarities to dealing with customers all day. I still came home exhausted.
I needed to be my own boss.
Anyone need a resume?
At this point I had spent something like 15 years in retail, about 10 in management, and around 3-4 in employment services. It was about time that I figured out this whole "career" thing.
As it happened, my employer's contract with the government was ending, and I had an opportunity to move on. I knew I really enjoyed resume writing - after all, it was something I could mostly do on my own, self-employed, but at the same time I was helping people. I took the plunge.
I had really great mentors from my time in employment services, and some would ask me to write their resumes for them. That gave me the confidence boost I needed. I was also encouraged to write a resume book, which I did, and the first draft was purchased in bulk by my old company for their remaining employment offices. My confidence, again, was on the rise.
I toiled for a few more years on book writing, eventually getting a resume book for youth published and put on Amazon (a thrill!), all while slowly building clientele for my resume writing business. I focused exclusively on clients in the retail industry because it was what I knew best. I understood how stores were run, I knew the metrics involved, and I knew what recruiters looked for on resumes. I even secured a side gig a few hours a week working with a national retail recruitment company as a resume analyst.
There were some pretty lean years - little did I realize it can take a very long time to build a network and establish yourself as a resume expert - but I did it.
Since 2005 I have worked for myself as a self-employed resume writer, back in the retail industry. I work from home, I have built a network of 30,000 retail professionals on LinkedIn, and, most importantly, I have helped thousands of retail leaders from all across the United States and Canada with their job search. I am fortunate to have partnered with many amazing clients over the years and I routinely hear about how my assistance has helped them get to where they want to be, whether in retail or out. I'm contributing and I'm no longer exhausted by my work.
I consider myself very lucky to have achieved my goals, but at the same time I had a plan and I put in the work to make it happen. I understood the skills that retail gave me and I was able to transition into a similar field by leveraging those skills. I was then able to make an even greater transition by learning more about myself and what makes me tick, and pinpointing an area of expertise that could push me in a new direction.
I never would have imagined that I'd wind up back in retail, in some form, all this time later. But here I am, and I'm happy to say I've built a meaningful and thoroughly enjoyable career.
I'm not suggesting resume writing is the answer for everyone who's looking to get out of retail. It's a long and grueling process, and most people would die from boredom writing resumes all day. I'm not even suggesting that you should get out of retail. In my view, retail is a fantastic industry with tremendous opportunities and will always be around - it's just going through a pretty significant transformation right now. I owe so much to my time on the sales floor, and I am grateful for that experience. But if you do want to get out of retail, know that you will find a way.
I hope sharing my path gives you something to ponder when mapping your own journey.
Go forth and conquer.