How do I help someone escape Retail management?
January 20, 2010 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Trying to help a family member out. He graduated with a BS in business administration but feels stuck in retail. Help plot his next course of attack.

So my cousin has graduated with a degree in Business Administration from university system (small satellite campus though). He ended up doing an internship in Walgreens. Specifically, the business management internship. After he finished, he got a position as assistant manager. However, this is retail and he feels like its not exciting enough.

When we go through possible jobs, for example, entry level jobs at Accenture or various other jobs that he seems he would enjoy, we find that they need experience in the industry. This usually requires an internship or some other luck.

Would anyone recommend doing an internship 1 year after graduation? To me, it seems risky. Giving up a paycheck/job for a possible short paid internship seems like the only choice for now.

He is interested in a variety of things. He took some accounting courses (not enough to be a CPA) and does some accounting work at Walgreens. He likes supply chain management, operations, etc.. Basically, a lot of the choices at these consulting firms.

Can anyone help? Any experience on getting a job in these types of firms from retail or another pathway that was traditional (traditional meaning recruited for internship from a target university).

He's open to any advice even if not dealing with consulting. The main goal is to jump out of retail management in a horizontal fashion.

Thanks in advance.
posted by InvestorMD to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Apply to the big companies anyway; look on craigslist or for smaller firms; use the college's career services office (most continue to provide support to alums).
posted by melissasaurus at 9:43 AM on January 20, 2010

Networking events can also be helpful. Find someone who works for one of these companies and see what they look for in hiring new employees. A good resume and cover letter isn't enough to break through. Most jobs in large companies come about based on personal contact, even if its just emailing a hiring manager and introducing oneself.

Also, getting an MBA is always a good step forward as it will provide more training that the bigger companies are looking for while providing opportunities to enter graduate level internships which carry far greater responsibility than the typical undergraduate internship.

Another possibility for experience could be getting involved part-time with a start-up company. Start-ups usually offer more responsibilities for the individual as resources are slim. He can talk to his college and see if he can volunteer for entrepreneurial programs.

He may also want to consider volunteering or seeking employment in the non-profit sector. Most jobs don't pay as much, but the experience can be greater as where there are less resources, there is more responsibility.
posted by thebreaks at 10:00 AM on January 20, 2010

I ran a retail research and consultancy business for a few years. We regularly hired grads with 1 year's experience at our entry level. This was in the UK, but the wider business had a large-ish US presence too. We weren't offering Accenture level salaries, but they were decent enough.

He basically needs to convince prospective hirers that:

- He's switching for the right reason
- He's got the analytical/intellectual chops
- His practical experience counts for something.

If he's worked for Walgreens, he could also consider applying for a junior role at somewhere like AC Nielsen, or IRI. Both would likely value his insights.

I would personally say stay away from internships unless they're pretty stellar or he's really desperate. It strikes me as a step back and as a potential recruiter it would make me question the true value of his experience at Walgreens.

It might be worth him:

- Widening his search on what "research" and "consultancy" mean - there are lots of firms out there. [I'm based in the UK and can think of around 10 UK firms who fit could fit the bill for someone like him]
- Refining his thoughts on general retail - he wants to make a transition from a more "practical" role to a more analytical one. I'd expect someone who has been in retail to be more advanced than a fresh grad, and to be a hidden gem. Often (and I'm not implying anything about your cousin) they were a bit inarticulate and unreflective. He needs to be able to show recruiters he can apply what he's learnt in a more analytical environment (and without saying "At Walgreens, we...").
posted by MuffinMan at 10:03 AM on January 20, 2010

I work at one of Accenture's competitors - one of the larger, full-service consultancies - and I can tell you that ever since the ball dropped on the recession, we've cut our experienced hiring down to the bone.  With us at least, you have to be a rock star to get hired out of industry right now, and without sounding too discouraging, a bachelor's from a satellite school and a year as assistant manager at Walgreen's would not get your resume past the initial screening unless you had somebody already working here, and high enough on the food chain to affect hiring decisions, willing to swear that you could pretty much fly and shoot lasers out of your eyes.  Certainly a second internship would be no help.
Maybe some of the smaller boutique consulting firms who are seeing a boom in a particular service they're offering would be looking to bring more people on.  Maybe in time the hiring logjam will start to break up at the big firms - and I can't say for a fact that all of our competitors are running as tight as we are right now.  The problem is that there's just a huge glut of experienced people on the job market right now. 
If he's been doing supply chain and operations stuff, another idea for escaping retail might be to move up the supply chain to one of the big distributors of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies like McKesson or Cardinal Health.  Or maybe to one of the big health care Group Purchasing Organization, or a supply chain management position in a hospital.  From an industry point of view, I guess the point I'm making is that your cousin should think about what he knows about the health care industry after working in a pharmacy, not retail.  If he's mostly been working on the pure retail goods side of Walgreen's, maybe his first step to a transition is to look for a role within Walgreen's in the business operations of the pharmacy itself.  The retail sector is just sucking wind now; healthcare has been hit by the downturn too, but not anywhere near as hard.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:08 AM on January 20, 2010

Thank you for the advice so far. The recession affecting hiring is what makes it risky to attempt to switch jobs.

We've noticed that some people value things like APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional certification. Since Walgreen's doesn't have this type of extra learning available at his level, is there any way to gain these skills via online academies? Is there any purpose to doing this at this time?
posted by InvestorMD at 12:17 PM on January 20, 2010

I've mentioned this before, but the federal government is starving for contract oversight personnel. Contract specialists (1102) and logistics management (1103, I think) are both in high demand right now. Your relative sounds like he meets the minimum qualifications of both series. Send him to to take a look.

What he might look for is an internship, which is a full-time, permanent, full benefits position in which you train for two (or three) years and get automatic promotions at the end of each year. You go from about $40k to about $75k in three years, so tell him not to be scared off by the possibility of a pay cut the first year. The DOD has the biggest need, but there's also a number of vacancies in USAID, Forrestry/National Parks and so on. My experience is that they don't usually care where you apply from, so long as you're willing to move (and they usually pay for the move). Once finished with the internship, it's relatively easy to move around within the government and across the country/word without losing seniority or benefits. It is a long process being hired as a fed, but I think it's worth it in the end.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 2:45 PM on January 20, 2010

Is he chummy with any of the various vendors that call on Walgreens? I know most of them probably mostly call on corporate, but the sales forces for the consumer drug companies should be stopping by the store regularly to check on their products. I'd think somebody with experience on the retail side of OTC drugs might be valuable to the supplier side.
posted by COD at 3:10 PM on January 20, 2010


I was in retail, my last experience in that industry was as a buyer with Macy's. Now, granted, I was working at the corporate - not store - level, but I wanted to make the same change, I was sooooo sick of retail.

I was referred internally by a friend who was a consultant at Accenture, and a few months later was brought on as an "experienced hire," with about 5 years retail ops / management experience, not a drop of consulting experience.

I spent about 4 years doing that, and one of those was spent doing some SCM systems / strategy development for Walgreen's, ironically.

Unfortunately, I'm guessing the same is true at ACN right now as is for strangely stunted trees' company - when I left the company about a year ago, they were actually in purge mode, and I doubt they've moved back towards significant hiring as of yet.

I guess just looking at my similar experiences, I would encourage him to first try to find a corporate / management role internal to a company - whether its with Walgreen's or somewhere else - he needs to get some exposure to "higher level" business operations, and perform there, before he can really think about jumping over to a consulting context. The fact is, you do need the industry experience under your belt to show that you can understand it, before they will hire you to go and show others how to do it better, so to speak.

I can put him in touch with some Accenture folk, if you're interested, but I can't make any promises on their behalf and they'll probably say the same. Email is in profile or just memail me if I can be of more help.

One year out of college is awfully young, so tell him not to be discouraged. Just keep working hard at the current job, network (network, network...) as much as possible, and sooner or later the right opportunity will present itself.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:21 AM on January 21, 2010

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