Careers in the retail sector incorporate a range of organisations: large department stores, DIY and gardening stores, holiday and travel stores, chain stores, supermarket chains, pharmacists, booksellers, wine and spirit retailers and SMEs, as well as online and mail order companies. There are different areas of work with retail, including: customer services, logistics, merchandising, retail management, buying, and e-commerce. There are also opportunities in the finance, human resources (HR), marketing and IT departments of retail companies.

With multi-channel retailing, complex supply chain routes, developments into foreign markets and the need to increase productivity, there is likely to be strong and continued demand for managers and professionals in this sector.

Where do I start?

In the retail sector you could be looking at a wide range of occupations. Prospects has a useful list of job profiles each containing relevant information about key responsibilities, skill requirements, starting salaries, entry requirements, career prospects with links to major employers and current graduate vacancies.

Jobs roles

Finding opportunities

As part of your job-hunting strategy you will need to keep up to date on developments in this sector and keep track of any vacancies that are coming up. Below are some key resources to help you research opportunities available. The knowledge gained through your research may help you to target your applications and will help when preparing for interviews.

  • Retail Week – Latest news, jobs, analysis and market data.
  • The Retail Bulletin - Online information source aimed at meeting retailers' need for quick, accurate and up-to-date news about the industry.
  • Talking Retail - Up to date industry news, analysis and information on the UK grocery retail sector.
  • Retail Gazette - Provides a concise round-up of the latest happenings in the sector, along with updates on significant retail-related events.
  • Retail Focus - Aimed at the retail design community, this website provides news and features for those working in the sector, with a particular focus on visual merchandising, plus access to the Retail Exchange's podcast with discussions from industry professionals on trends and developments.

Getting experience

Many retailers prefer graduates to have some frontline customer service experience, and fortunately this experience is comparatively easier to gain than in some other sectors: many graduates will have at some point during their studies or the holidays found paid work as a sales assistant.

If you are considering a career in retailing and are looking for part time work in this sector whilst you are at university, the MyCareer jobs board provides a wide variety of local vacancies that might fit around your study.

Some larger organisations offer summer internships in areas such as buying, store management or design and merchandising, so it is worth exploring the major retailers' websites to find out if these are available, or alternatively making a speculative approach if there is a particular specialised area of retailing you wish to gain some work exposure and experience in.

However, finding experience will take time and effort: employers receive many CVs every week so you will have to work hard to stand out from the crowd. You can find out more about how to create a targeted CV through the Careers and Employability Service website.


Getting involved in volunteering gives you the opportunity to develop employability skills and experience a variety of working environments to assist you in discovering the right career path for you. It provides the chance to network, meet new friends and boost your confidence.

Volunteering also enables you to gain practical experience and working examples to support your graduate applications. If you choose to commit a significant amount of time and impress the organisation during your volunteering, they may also provide you with a professional reference.

Volunteer to get practical experience

Approaching local organisations, charities or community groups who would benefit from your skills is one way of gaining that all-important experience. The competencies developed will be invaluable and enhance any speculative applications you make.

The Careers and Employability Service offers current students and graduates access to a Virtual Volunteering Bank, which provides local opportunities to undertake alongside your studies. Similarly, you can access these opportunities through the paper-based bank located in the Careers and Employability Centre.

If you wish to instigate voluntary work experience during the vacation periods please refer to the 'External sites' on the voluntary work experience section of our website.

Examples of Retail related support roles that the Volunteering Team have previously advertised and recruited for include:

  • Sales Assistant Volunteer with Sue Ryder – practical experience helping others and interacting with customers from different backgrounds.
  • Retail Assistant with British Heart Foundation – sorting stock, some visual merchandising, handling cash, liaising with customers.
  • Visual Merchandiser Volunteer with Sue Ryder – help create beautiful in-store layouts and window displays to help drive sales.
  • Craft Retail Store Volunteer with Rowans Hospice – assist with selling a range of high quality clothing. The shop features a sewing machine and materials for volunteers to assist with making stock and holding workshops.

Tips to build experience

  • Think broadly about the sort of opportunities that might provide helpful transferable skills in customer service.
  • Start looking for work experience early: retailers begin recruiting for key busy periods such as Christmas and summer holidays well in advance so make sure you are well-prepared to apply and have done your research on where and when to apply.
  • Get involved in University clubs or societies where you have an opportunity to develop customer-facing or 'front-of-house' skills.
  • Be proactive and make direct contact with retailers that interest you and apply speculatively; send a targeted CV and a covering letter focused on why you are interested in them and why they should be interested in you.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile to network with sector employers - see our Networking with Social Media section for further guidance.

Finding a job

Graduate positions in retail tend to be management trainee programmes. There is tremendous variety in the schemes that are available to graduates – everything from marketing to distribution to on-line retail. Schemes may be specific from the start, or may involve rotation around various departments before deciding where to specialise. Almost all schemes require you to spend some time on the shop floor so that you can appreciate how the business works – even though this may not be your chosen role. Closing dates for schemes are often towards the end of November so apply as soon as you are well researched enough to make a competitive application. Some schemes will fill more quickly than others.

Graduate Schemes with major retailers

Other examples of graduate schemes include: Dunhumby, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, HSBC Bank, Majestic Wine Warehouses, Aldi, Mitchells & Butlers, RBS Group, and Whitbread. You can also consider online retailers such as Amazon, the N Brown Group or the Shop Direct Group.

Retailers also offer many other opportunities to join them outside of their graduate schemes and across all parts of their businesses. Use the retailer’s website to find out what they currently have available.

Useful websites to help you start your job search

  • Retail Choice - You can either use the A-Z to search for a company or view a list of all the direct employers or retail recruitment consultancies.
  • JobsRetail - Search jobs and sign up to job alerts to find a position in retail.

Tips for finding a job

  • Keep up to date with retail news and trends by following the professional bodies on Twitter, this information might help you identify opportunities to network and tap into the hidden job market.
  • Decide which area of retail you are interested in and the types of companies you would like to work for so that you can focus your job search.
  • Do your research so that you are aware of application timelines and procedures for graduate schemes and can be well prepared to apply.
  • Most companies have a Twitter and/or Facebook account, register with them as this is often a place where new opportunities are posted, and where you can keep in touch with their current activities.

Further information

If you need more information why not check out some of the resources below to help you to research a sector in more depth.

  • Drapers Jobs - Search for opportunities in the fashion business including merchandiser, buyer and designer.
  • The Grocer - Provides a job board dedicated to FMCG sales, marketing and retail vacancies.
  • British Retail Consortium - BRC is the lead trade association representing the whole range of retailers, from the large multiples and department stores through to independents, selling a wide selection of products through centre of town, out of town, rural and virtual stores.
  • British Independent Retailers Association - The British Independent Retailers Association (bira) is the voice of independent retailers. They are a trade association for independent retailers in the UK.

Contact us

The Careers and Employability Service offers support to students throughout their studies and provision for graduates up to five years after graduation, with advice and guidance on:

  • Career options
  • Further study
  • CV and covering letters
  • Application forms
  • Job search
  • Interviews

We have an online jobs board advertising a variety of graduate jobs across different sectors and locations. We also have a dedicated in-house Graduate Recruitment Consultancy that delivers a personalised job matching service.

You can also access our services by calling or emailing us:

Email us:

Phone us: +44 (0)2392 842684