Did COVID Ruin Your Retail Job? Here’s How to Bounce Back.

Dec 29, 2020 | Career Change, Job Search Strategy

A title graphic featuring Let's Eat, Grandma's yellow pencil logo and a version of the article's title: "Transitioning Out of Retail".

Are you a retail worker who’s having to rethink your career due to the effects of the pandemic on your industry? A career transition expert has some advice to help you find a new path.

By: Daniel Lorenzo | Marketing Manager for Let’s Eat, Grandma with Lisa Lewis Miller | Founder of Career Clarity

Perhaps no one industry has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than brick-and-mortar retail. 

Small shops and major chains alike have had to declare bankruptcy. Whether you’re an hourly worker, retail manager, or business owner, an industry veteran with a long career or a recent graduate just making ends meet, an astounding number of retail workers have been affected by layoffs or furloughs. 

If you’re one of those people, I know that things suck. I know you’re tired of thinking and reading about the effects of “These Uncertain Times” (ugh!), so I’ll just cut right to the chase.

You’re unexpectedly having to make a non-retail career move right now. That might be finding a new industry after your long-time employer closed down, or it might be finding a new part-time job to simply get by, especially with the future of continued relief stimulus still uncertain.

To help you navigate this difficult situation, I asked one of our favorite partners, Lisa Lewis Miller of Career Clarity, to offer some advice. Lisa, appropriately enough, is a professional career transition coach who has helped over 500 professionals discover how their skills, interests, personality, and lifestyle can guide them into a new career path.

Read Lisa’s tips on finding your next step after COVID has affected your retail job:

I’m an hourly retail worker. I’ve been laid off or had my hours cut, and I need to pay rent. What are some other entry-level or hourly opportunities I could explore?

A photo of a smiling woman holding her hand to a headset microphone on her head and typing on a computer. Photo by DragonImages from Envato Elements.

Online customer support and contact tracing are promising at-home positions that your skills may transfer well to.

Even if you might not be able to work an in-person service job like you used to, there are still opportunities that you could explore to get by right now.

“While many hourly roles have taken a big hit,” Lisa says, “other part-time or temporary options are popping up in their place. You will need to be flexible, because you may have to re-skill a bit to make the transition, but it should be straightforward to accomplish.”

Be flexible and look for how your skills can transfer — got it. This isn’t as hard as it might sound, either. As a retail worker, you’ve actually gained valuable skills like collaboration, adaptability, conflict resolution, and attention to detail that you can emphasize to land a job in a new area. 

After updating your resume and discovering which skills you’ll need for new opportunities, think through your old jobs to find times when you used those skills, and emphasize them in your resume.

So where should we look for these opportunities, Lisa?

“Software companies are experiencing a boom right now, so doing online customer support or service can be a big opportunity. Delivery services are also thriving, so looking at hourly roles in warehouses or as drivers can be promising. Contact tracing is a new job role that takes a short amount of training, but is becoming more and more needed.”

I’m a retail manager or small business owner who’s been let go. What other industries or job titles would be good for me?

That’s ultimately a question that depends on you. As Lisa explains, even people with similar managerial roles (a store manager, department manager, or shift leader) will have different strengths and capabilities that will make one new job or industry a better fit than another.

“The first step is to do an audit of the parts of your job you loved the most, and extract the transferable skills from it,” she says. “If your favorite part of being a retail manager was in managing the schedule and internal business operations, you could transfer those strengths into operations or logistics work within a manufacturing or delivery company. If you loved the one-on-one interactions with your team, you might be better off looking at roles doing team management in a related industry.”

You might be a good fit as a project manager for a young startup or a customer success manager for an enterprise tech company — you just have to look at your situation. If you need some more help understanding how your skills could fit into a brand new role, you might benefit from checking out the discovery resources from our friends at Zeit. 

A man wearing a mask carries a package through a door. Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Envato Elements.

Delivery companies are among the industries that are still doing well during the pandemic.

Are there industries that are doing well right now where I could start my search?

“There are absolutely industries that are booming in this pandemic,” Lisa assures us.

“Companies that offer delivery of physical goods, like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Doordash, Instacart, and others are stepping up to serve current needs and demands. E-learning and software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies are also doing incredibly well right now. One music software company had their business grow by nearly 400% over the last year.”

Should I take time to “upskill” and obtain training or certifications for a new job right now? Or should I focus my efforts on just finding a job that I can do immediately?

“It’s always wise to seek out training that will make you more competitive or compelling as a candidate,” according to Lisa. Again, though, it depends on your situation. Professional certifications (like those recommended here) can be a great way to become a more attractive candidate, prove your readiness for a new field, and even downplay the “career gap” that being unemployed has left on your resume. (By the way, don’t worry too much about that.)

However, remember that some certifications can take significant time and/or money to earn. Job hunting by itself takes a lot of time, energy, and mental bandwidth. You shouldn’t invest in an intensive certification for a new field you’re unsure about or earn one just for the sake of keeping busy.

As we love to say around here, keep relevance to your own job search in mind. It might be prudent to get a certification in a new field, one in your current expertise, or none at all.

If you’re in need of immediate employment, focus your energy and efforts on skill-building that will be most relevant and immediately applicable in the sector you want to work in,” Lisa advises. “If you’re feeling disillusioned with your current job, now can be a great time to explore what else is out there and start engineering your future transition steps.”

I’ve been thinking about a career change or starting a new venture for a while. Should I make a leap to follow what might be my dream, or wait and try to find a safe “bridge job” for now?

A thinking, stressed-looking young man bends over a laptop. Photo by Lala Azizli on Unsplash.

If the idea of a big, bold, “dream job” transition is too stressful right now, start smaller.

Again, this will depend on your situation. As someone in retail, you’ve essentially been forced to make some kind of a pivot. That’s a lot to deal with, so check in with how you’re feeling and what you’re realistically able to pursue right now. I’ll let Lisa elaborate:

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed by thinking of brand new ideas for your career right now, stop trying to come up with things that are fresh and new,” she says. 

“Think about the most easy and clear ways that your skills could transfer into a new arena, and focus on that. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or panicked about finding a new job, it will make completing the job search actions that much harder. 

“Go for whatever’s easiest right now, and use that job (even if it’s boring or not ideal) as a stable foundation to help you start mapping your next moves. You don’t have to do it all in one leap — often, we’re most successful in changing careers when we do it through several individual steps.”

I’m just really anxious.

That’s okay. We’re really sorry to hear it’s been so hard. 

Know that you’re not alone and remember that there are no expectations on you to “thrive” during this pandemic. As the response to a controversial tweet shows, just getting through this difficult period of history, however that happens, is enough. You can successfully pivot out of your post-retail situation, and that in itself is something to be proud of.

We’re rooting for you!

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