You are NEVER EVER too old to make the leap: How to get out of retail jobs

Guest post by Toad22

A couple weeks ago we ran a question asking how to get out of retail jobs when that’s all you’ve ever done. This response was so good, we turned it into it’s own post…


I went from retail to an entry level office job to a full-blown social worker, but it took time. However, take it from me, you are NEVER EVER too old to make the leap! One of my favourite sayings is “A year from now you will wish you had started today.” So true — we waste too much time wishing and not enough time on action.

Don’t worry about making a giant leap right away, just set some small plans into motion, and you can build on that momentum as you achieve things. The good thing about retail and restaurant work is, that it can often be something you dial back from full time to part time on, ’til you no longer need it at all.

Here’s what you can do to get the ball rolling…

What exactly is it you WANT to do, or, what else do you ENJOY doing?

If it’s something you can create, such as art, photography, weaving etc — start small with it as a sideline and see if you can’t build it up into a business. Whether it be just working weekend fairs/events, or local markets, or working online. If this leads you into applying for a part time job in a photography studio, or as an art gallery attendant, or for an office clerk for the municipal organization that organizes weekend events in your area — yay!

Have an online presence

You can then print some business cards with your website listed, and pass them out/post them up, where ever you go. Make sure to put your hobby on your resume, then the HR folks can see your work online. Gives you credibility.

Volunteer for a cause you believe in

Don’t over think it. What’s dear to your heart? Children’s groups, women’s organizations, environmental causes etc. You will make a ton of connections, and there is always some sort of paid jobs that go with these initiatives — whether it be in the office, a hands-on position, IT, accounting, etc. Often doing what you love as a part time paid or unpaid opportunity, will lead you away from the current job you are no longer fond of. Plus who better to get a paying job with a great cause, than a volunteer that the hiring folks have probably already met and can get a good feel about?

Apply in person to places you’d like to work, whenever you can

Even if you can’t get past the receptionist — hey — make that person remember you, so they do pass your resume on. Dress appropriately when you go in, and have something memorable on you — a sparkly pin, a cute bright purse, that tiny sliver of colour in your bangs (where appropriate!). Smile at them, and make a comment after your greeting, like “Hello. Oh, I like your earrings! Where are they from?” and THEN do the “here’s my resume bit.” And then always mail a handwritten thank you note after an interview

If there are courses, lectures or seminars on any topics that interest you, go to them

It doesn’t matter that an astro-physics talk or a mini ballroom dancing lesson isn’t tied right into what you think you want to do. Go for the chance to make connections, broaden your mind, and enjoy life outside of the job you don’t like.

If there are classes you’d like to take but can’t afford

I know this sounds risky, but… mention it in conversations to family and friends. You’re not asking for money per se, you’re letting people know without saying it, that you want a different life.

My real life example: Because I now make fairly good coin, and appreciate other opportunities people gave me along the way (like hiring me when I had no experience), I wanted to give back to another woman who is struggling. A friend of mine who’s still in retail has talked a few times about how she wished she could take some part-time classes. So I offered to pay. She’s signed up now for a night class at a local college. I paid the fee (I’m getting the tax credit for it), and for the textbook. We’ve agreed it’s her Christmas and birthday gifts from me, for the next two years. And she knows it’s a one-time thing — I can’t fund her whole education.

I am hoping once she gets a taste, she’ll move heaven and earth to do more. If that means a part time job on top of her full time one, whatever, but the main thing was, I wanted her to know that someone believes in her. And I bet there is someone out there who believes in you. Hey, it’s worth a shot!

Comments on You are NEVER EVER too old to make the leap: How to get out of retail jobs

  1. This is a fantastic post, which is why I feel a little bit nitpicky, but I’m going urge caution on one piece of advice – applying in-person to jobs. In most fields with office-based working environments, this is a really out-of-touch and potentially stalker-ish thing to do that will make a hiring manager question your professionalism. Which leads me to another piece of advice.

    I think in general, the professional lessons you learn working retail don’t consistently translate to an office-based environment. This is okay! You’ve picked up some valuable skills (e.g., EVERYTHING customer-service related), but may need to supplement those skills with additional information about norms and expectations in other environments. I would 100% recommend a fantastic blog I’ve been following for a few years for common-sense advice about how to manage workplace issues across a whole range of professional settings –

    Don’t be embarrassed if this stuff is new to you at first – we’re not born with this information, so we all need to pick it up somewhere!

    • I would agree that in most cases, unfortunately, showing up in person is not going to help your case. If you were asked to submit something online and you submit it in person, you’re showing that you are not that good at following directions. The “just show up in person” advice is something that used to work well decades ago but now only works in specific situations.

      Networking is important though. If you know someone doing what you want to do, try to get their help connecting to people in their industry. Try to set up what is called an “informational interview” where you can learn about the job they do and ask questions about what it would take to get into that line of work.

      The difference here is that you’ve been invited to have a meaningful conversation with someone relevant, rather than bothering a receptionist who will not remember you in any way other than the person who interrupted the work they were trying to get done.

      • I came to comment just on this aspect too – please don’t show up in person if the company doesn’t take in-person applications! This excellent Ask a Manager post details it more:

        tl:dr “Employers have tons of candidates to choose from, candidates who follow the employer’s directions on how to apply. Ignoring those directions and deciding to call or come by in person because you want to “stand out” says that you value your own convenience and preferences over theirs, and that’s basically a deal-breaker at the very early stages of a hiring process, when they know little else about you and have no reason to overlook that kind of rudeness.”

    • Agree– showing up in person at an office would be an immediate deal-breaker (I’m a hiring manager). In general, the person working the front desk has no say in the hiring process for the overall company so you probably won’t get anywhere. But even if your resume did get passed along, my first thought as a hiring manager is: this person doesn’t have digital communication skills and is not an efficient task manager. They wasted time in the middle of the day to come down to my office for something that could’ve been accomplished online in minutes? If hired, would they make our company look bad by showing up at a client’s office unannounced?

    • Hello all….I will absolutely agree with those who posted about this 1 point; that if a posting says ‘apply on-line’ – then, YES, apply online, and for the same reasons you’ve noted – because you have to show that you can follow directions. 😉

      That being said, I should’ve noted more specifically, that my thoughts on applying to places in person was more directed towards the idea of – if you have noticed a small office or a local charity-based org that you might like to work for, that maybe don’t have a current posting on their websites, go ahead & drop off a resume in person. There are a large number of jobs out there, that are never posted. Esp. with smaller businesses or organizations, there may have been some thinking that “hmmm, we should hire someone…”, and that’s where there might be a window of opportunity for you. Yes, it’s a small chance – but when you want out of something else badly enough, use whatever means you can use, to get out.

  2. This isn’t far off my own experience. I went to uni and got a behavioural biology degree but didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it and kind of fell into retail, which became almost full-time and ended up feeling like I was stuck. I finally took the leap and got an internship on a wildlife helpline which felt like a huge gamble at the time but was easily the best career decision I ever made and something I should have done years before. And as much as the degree came in helpful my retail experience was as helpful, if not more so, when it came to dealing with members of the public on the phone and by email all day, every day.

    I’m a firm believer that working retail is a great way to develop customer service skills, and people skills in general. It may not be the most enjoyable way (although some people genuinely love it) but it works. And those skills come in useful everywhere else because no matter what job you’re doing you will be working with people.

    The one thing I’d disagree with is the emphasis on dropping off a resume (or CV in the UK) in person. The vast majority of places I’ve worked outside of retail have their own application process and anyone who doesn’t follow it simply isn’t in the running, no matter how charming they are to the receptionist.

    In my experience (as both candidate and now recruiter) the vast majority of jobs these days are advertised online, so that’s a great place to start. If you have a particular employer in mind you can check their website but there’s also general recruitment sites and specialist ones for particular types of jobs or sectors. Those are the best IMO because you’ll often find jobs you won’t see anywhere else (why pay for 10 adverts when 1 will get you the candidates you need?), and sometimes ones you didn’t even know existed.

    On a related note if they say they don’t accept CVs and you have to fill in an application form then you have to fill in an application form. You might be able to submit a CV with it, but sending it on it’s own or writing “see attached CV” in every section of the form isn’t going to cut it.

    Finally if you do settle for just dropping off a resume and the place has more than about 20 employees I strongly recommend you include a covering letter summarising what type of job you’re looking for, or at least what department/s you think you’d be good in. The place I work now is hiring for about 40-60 jobs at any given time (plus up to about 600 volunteers) so unless you give the receptionist some starting points it may simply not be worth her time to try and figure out who might want you.

  3. Great article, thanks! My issue with volunteering or going to seminars and networking meetups is I don’t have a regular schedule! I can’t commit to volunteering every Tuesday morning because my job might say they will work with giving me that off, but I might not always get it off. Grr!

    • don’t let that stop you – you will just need to find a volunteer place that is willing to be a little more flexible and doesn’t require you to be there from 10-2 every Tuesdays. Ask around and be upfront with them about your current job schedule. They may be more willing to work with you than you imagine. You may also need to be willing to start off doing some ‘grunt work’ tasks that don’t need to be done on a set schedule. (Sorting food or stocking shelves at a food pantry; filing or general office work comes to mind)

  4. Great article! I am a huge fan of the volunteering advice. Volunteering can be a great way to learn new skills and build experience–the primary reason I have my current job in strategic marketing/communications is because I randomly volunteered for a summer in college helping the communications director of a local nonprofit. And don’t feel limited by the industry–the nonprofit I volunteered for was focused on LGBT advocacy and my current company is in healthcare, but I’m using the same skills. At the very least, volunteering will keep you sane while working a job you don’t love or while unemployed. My close friend was unemployed for more than a year, and about halfway through she began volunteering at the animal shelter. It made a HUGE difference in her attitude and stress level and gave her something to look forward to each weekend. Go volunteer!

  5. I’ve had a large number of clients either get hired into organizations they were volunteering for, or, their experience or connections from doing so, helped them land a different job, which is why I suggested it, & I’m glad to see it’s worked for others. 🙂

    If you can’t commit to volunteering at a certain time every week, don’t let that hold you back! Time-limited, or micro-volunteering, is a trend! A number of “one off’s” for an organization, are just as valuable! Maybe you can’t mentor a child every Saturday morning, but there could be awareness events for the same org., that you can participate in, or fundraisers. Someone has to set up the tables, register participants, help add up the donation sheets, etc. Sometimes organizations need extra hands at tax time to photocopy documents (hello, office skills!), write life story books for children being adopted at an older age (research work!), or folks to organize their own donations storage (i.e. clothing rooms at shelters). It all adds up – both for the organization your lend your time to and the people who benefit from it, and for your own resume/skills/connections-building.

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