I'm a leader in retail, but I can't sell hiring managers on my skills

Q: After starting out in financial services, I changed to a career 10 years ago as a retail store manager in women's fashion. It has the usual down sides of retail: long hours, customer service situations and high turnover. However, it has also been filled with incredible co-workers and entrepreneurship. Being a leader in retail means being well-rounded, resilient, hands-on and adaptable. It's an amazing education.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, staying in my industry is not a long-term strategy. I am open to trying something new, taking a moderate pay cut and taking some classes. But employers are a lot less open to me. There seems to be a stigma about retail workers. I have been interviewing for several months now and I'm constantly underestimated. I've been told, point blank, that I have no experience in office management, accounting, HR, interior design, and even sales.

Did they not read my résumé? I run a workplace. I build relationships with other businesses. I create profit-and-loss statements. I have hired, trained and fired people. I can design a store, stock room or office. My paycheck depends on my ability to sell things people don't need. I do event planning, project management and digital marketing. All of this is clearly stated on my résumé.

What would you recommend I do to appear more qualified and to overcome the service industry stigma? Ivanka Trump wasn't completely wrong when she said “find something new.” She just left out the all-important issue of “how?”

A: For some, the “how” is to be born or marry into enough wealth and privilege that regardless of qualifications or failed ventures, you'll never want for opportunities. The rest of us slobs have to wing it.

Ask yourself this: How do you sell customers items they don't need? Presumably you select and promote pieces of inventory that fit the market, the season and your target demographic, showing customers how the product fills needs and solves problems they didn't even realize they had.

And how do you build relationships with other businesses? You probably study their operations and challenges so you can make clear how partnering with your business will benefit them.

Now apply these tactics to selling yourself.

Your inventory of skills and talents is thorough and impressive. But from your letter, I suspect you're falling into the common résumé trap of listing everything — everything — you “can do” and “have been responsible for.” That kind of résumé can get you in the door (and has!), but to close the deal with the human decision-makers, you need to highlight your most relevant skills and show how they fill the employer's needs.

What problems have you solved, what improvements have you made, and how do those results translate into dollars? More important, how can you solve and improve and generate those dollar signs for [fill in potential employer's name here]? How will partnering with you benefit them? If hiring managers are blinded by stigma against retail professionals, you're going to have to fill in the blanks for them.

But maybe your challenge as a retail professional isn't stigma, but market saturation. You're one among thousands of retail jobseekers right now. So let me switch analogies midstream and introduce you to the idea of “lifeboat jobs.”

As explained in a recent report by labor market analytics firm BurningGlass, a lifeboat job is one whose requirements overlap with your current skill set and will give you the opportunity to transfer to more stable opportunities.

So what might some of those lifeboat jobs look like? According to a recent report by LinkedIn, demand for certain professionals has increased during the pandemic: occupancy planners, life coaches, personal shoppers and coronavirus-exposure trackers. Two of those — occupancy planners and personal shoppers — strike me as jobs you could transfer to with minimal training or retooling of your skills.

Of course, those jobs may not interest you or may involve a bigger pay cut or steeper learning curve than you'd like. They're just an example of how, if you get creative about connecting what's needed with what you already offer — and make those connections obvious to hiring managers — you might find something new.

Finally, if you decide you want to look for entrepreneurial opportunities in the women's fashion industry, I have just two words for you: business pajamas.

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