The consumer and retail sector is all about getting products to the consumer and making a profit. There are a wide range of jobs available to graduates, including business analyst, merchandiser, buyer, seller, logistics planner and store manager.
If you like seeing real-world results from your work, this sector may suit you well. As a buyer, you’ll choose the products you see on the shelves. As a business analyst it may be up to you to predict exactly how much of each product is needed – and if you get it right, it has a solid effect on the company’s bottom line.
What are employers looking for?
It very much depends on the job – but one of the key requirements is to be commercially aware. You need to be able to follow facts and figures and make sure that everything you do helps the company to be competitive in its marketplace. In most consumer and retail jobs the other huge plus is the ability to build relationships. If you’re negotiating deals with suppliers, you need to be a people person. If you’re managing a store or a team you need to be a good leader.
So what does this mean for your job application?
Demonstrating your commercial awareness
Being commercially aware means you understand how the company fits into its business sector: strategies, challenges and competitors. Employers want you to use that awareness to focus on the company’s objectives and profit margins. Consumer and retail businesses tend to run on targets and measurable objectives. In your application you should try to give examples of times when your achievement has been measured, particularly if you met or exceeded targets. For example, perhaps you were trying to raise a set amount of money for charity.
You also need to demonstrate that you consider the reasons behind the tasks you’re asked to perform. Let’s say you wrote in your application, “I was asked to design a time-sheeting system for the office.” To demonstrate your commercial awareness, you could add: “The aim was to make colleagues aware of the time taken on projects so they could avoid underestimating costs.” It’s also important to do your research. When you explain why you want to work at the company, you should show awareness of the specific marketplace in which it operates.
Demonstrating your people skills
For consumer and retail work, these skills are particularly important:
- Negotiation and persuasion
- Building relationships
These are skills we use in everyday life. It’s quite acceptable to take your examples from there, rather than from work experience. For example, you might say you used your negotiation skills to organise a cleaning rota in your shared flat. The point is to show a situation where you negotiated an arrangement that every party was happy with.
Other skills and qualities to emphasise
- Planning – such as planning an event or project. This will help demonstrate that you can understand a long-term commercial strategy and plan accordingly
- Dedication – this might be extra effort put in at work, or dedication to a cause or group. Perhaps you managed a student society while at university
- Relevant experience
Any retail work you’ve done – whether behind the till, helping customers on a shop floor, stacking shelves, or working in a customer service call centre – will have given you valuable insights into how a consumer and retail business works. Include any responsibilities you had, such as opening the shop or balancing the cash register. Management experience, whether in retail or otherwise, is very valuable. If you've never worked in a management role you can refer to ways you've managed people in other situations. For example, you may have made a project plan and allocated tasks during a group project.
Giving that bit extra
When you apply for a retail job, part of your research should be to actually walk into a shop. You should know what the shop sells and how, as well as the different types of staff and customers they deal with. If you’re going to be working with a firm that manufactures or distributes consumer products you should know its product types and markets, the retailers that sell the products, and how they’re advertised. Internships are a great way to demonstrate transferable skills or experience in that field - look at available consumer, retail and FMCG internships today.
This information can help you when you’re writing your cover letter or online application. You can reference it when you explain why you want to work for the company and what you have to offer.
As with all job applications:
- Visit our Guide to Writing the Perfect CV
- Have someone proofread your cover letter, CV, and (if possible) the long-answer questions for an online application
- Tailor your CV and cover letter for each different job
- Relate your answers back to the person specification and show how you match up with each point
- Give evidence for your claims
Now you know all the top tips for writing your application, get started on applications with these consumer, retail and FMCG graduate programmes.