how can I move from retail into a professional career?

A reader writes:

I currently work full-time at a large retail store as a department lead (no real management responsibilities). I oversee the department, order and stock product, plan and build displays, and other various duties. I was promoted to the position three months ago, after six months in a part-time position. I enjoy my job, but it is physically exhausting and the schedule is unpredictable and often requires me to work weekends/early mornings/late evenings. I would like to eventually move into a more professional setting with a more traditional schedule.

My question is, how do you break into a professional setting when you have no experience for it? I’m in my late 20s, and my 10 years of work history consist of numerous child care jobs (many of them “off-the-books”) and two other retail jobs (a three-month seasonal position and a six-month stay at my very first job as a teenager). My educational history is also less than impressive. Due to various personal and family issues, I never finished high school. I eventually earned my GED and an associate’s degree in early childhood education (with a 4.0 GPA and honors society membership, though at a technical college).

How can I make myself an appealing candidate for entry-level professional jobs? I am very hard-working and detail-oriented, and pick up processes quickly, and I have gotten excellent feedback from my current managers on my performance, but do I even have a hope of being considered for administrative assistant/receptionist-type jobs? How can I write an awesome resume and cover letter, when I don’t have any professional achievements to point to? I can’t afford and don’t have the free time for more education, training, internships, etc. I don’t have a professional network that can get me a foot in the door. Is there any hope for me to change career fields, or am I doomed to remain in retail?

It’s going to be hard but not impossible.

The catch, though, is that you’re going to be competing against candidates with advantages: they’re either right out of school and so seen as the “right profile” for an entry-level admin job (which fresh grads are often expected to fill), or they have experience doing office work.

Because of that, it means that you’re going to need to look for ways to give yourself some advantage they don’t have. Maybe that’s making a personal connection with someone who gives you your first office job, after which it’s going to be a lot easier to continue on down that path (the first one will be the hardest to get), or maybe it’s writing an incredibly personable cover letter that demonstrates why you’d excel at the job and that you’re smart and motivated and that you’d be an awesome colleague, backed up by a resume that makes the most of your retail experience, or something else that raises you up above the sea of applicants for these jobs.

Speaking of your resume: It’s going to be really important to find ways to use it to highlight skills from your past work that will be relevant to admin and receptionist work. A resume that just lists off retail or nannying duties won’t position you as well as one that draws out the pieces that are transferable to the jobs you want now — things like handing sensitive information with diplomacy, dealing with challenging personalities, calming upset customers, problem solving, flexibility, working around multiple schedules, and so forth.

Other things to try:

* Getting creative about your network. You say you don’t have a professional network, but what about all those parents you provided child care for? Can you reach out to them and explain what you’re trying to do, and see if any of them can connect you to openings? They might be good sources of leads. (It also might not go anywhere, so don’t be devastated if this doesn’t lead you anywhere — but it’s well worth trying, because it’ll only take one.)

* Temping. This isn’t the fail-safe method it used to be (it doesn’t reliably result in work the way it used to), but if they give you work, it’ll be a great way to get office experience on your resume, which will help tremendously.

* Volunteering. This too can be a good way to get office experience on your resume.

* Targeting office jobs that may have less competition. When you know you’re not a super competitive candidate (right now, at least — doesn’t mean it’ll be the case forever), it can be easier to go after jobs that are less desirable, because fewer people will be pursuing them. Unfortunately, that probably means the lower-paid jobs — but if you’re willing to do that for a year or so, you might then have an easier time getting the next (hopefully better paid) job. And you could think of jobs that are less desirable for other reasons too, like a bad location or hours. Again, the idea isn’t that you’ll need to do this forever, but that it might make it easier to get the first job, which will then unlock the gates to more.

What other advice do people have?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 326 comments… read them below }

  1. TotesMaGoats*

    Look at office jobs within your department store. I would assume that a candidate who has worked at the store and worked her way up to a lead position might have that leg up on someone who doesn’t. You don’t have to stay there forever but it would get you that foot in the door to the professional side as opposed to retail.

    1. TechChick*

      Was going to suggest the same thing! I worked at a big department store in college and they were known for hiring headquarter staff who also worked the sales floor at some point. Additionally, are there any admin duties you can take on at your store? Things like social media, events, community outreach, etc. They may not be office skills specifically, but it’ll give experience beyond just store operations.

      1. Ted Mosby*

        Yes! One of my best friends did this as a waiter. He didn’t wait to be asked. There was no precedent for it. He just offered to do some social media stuff, then came up w some promotions, etc. Now he’s working in a low level marketing position, but is up for a promotion!

    2. AshleyH*

      EXACTLY. My husband works for a mall retailer (it’s a specialty lifestyle retailer, small stores, but in basically every mall in America) – he was an asst. manager in college and then a store manager. He worked in the stores for a couple years and really made himself known – eventually he was offered a corporate level position (after working for the company for about 5 years total). It did require a relocation for us, but it got him a lot of GREAT professional skills.
      On that note, if you’re working for something like Macy’s, that’s a big company and it’s going to be more difficult to be noticed. Try looking for a management position at a store like Bath and Body Works or American Eagle – where standout employees REALLY stand out – that does make its way to corporate.

      Also, keep in mind your store’s competitors. One of my last hires at my last job (I worked in recruiting/HR for a retailer) was a local store manager from one of our biggest competitors. He fit right in with our Store Operations Department.

      1. AshleyH*

        just wanted to make myself clear – I did recruiting for a retailer’s corporate office – so the guy I hired into a store operations role was doing it on a corporate level.

        Also, we always hired assistant buyers who had basically only done visual work at retailers.

        1. Ted Mosby*

          What?! I applied for so many internships to be a buyer before I finally gave up and got into marketing. By visual work do you mean picking out and setting up displays?

          1. AshleyH*

            Yup- I hired a ton of ABs that were visual managers at Forever21 or Urban Outfitters – mid-sized mall retailers that would have a dedicated visual team vs associates who helped with floor sets.

    3. MaryMary*

      This was my first thought too. You could also pursue positions with more responsibility and transferrable skills on the retail side. I’m not sure if your store is more of a Macy’s or a Target, but if you don’t currently have responsibility for a cash register see if you can become a cashier. Proving you can handle money responsibly is always a plus. If you could transition into a dedicated customer service role (I’m thinking of the folks who handle returns and complicated transactions, but I’m too far removed from my retail days to remember the term), that would also highlight your communication, customer service, and problem solving skills. Loss prevention, warehouse work, or store management might be options too. I wouldn’t job hop, even internally, but showing a progressive increase in job complexity and responsibilities at your current employer will help, even if you can’t move into an office job there.

      1. OP*

        I have worked as a cashier/customer service rep at my other retail jobs. The position I hold now is actually considered a bit above that (at least in my current company), but I do have money-handling experience, and I can make decisions on things like markdowns and substitution for sale items and things like that in my current position.

        1. WorkingMom*

          I think the other big thing here is to focus on your transferrable skills. When applying for a receptionist or admin position – while you might not have that specific experience, focus on your transferrable skills. (Like what Alison mentioned in her post.) If you can manage competing priorities, challenging customers, handle sensitive information, make fact-based decisions using your knowledge of the company’s goals, etc – then you have the skills for the job! Good luck!!

          1. Dawn*

            Chiming in to add to this- one thing that I really had to do when I revamped my resume to present myself as a Business Analyst (what I was doing) instead of a Research Analyst (what my job title was) was to read up on key terms related to being a BA and then re-word the stuff on my resume in those terms. It helped a ton because it let the people reading my resume see right away that I was already doing BA stuff even though I didn’t have the BA job title.

            Find out what the job you’re applying for requires and then re-word your resume to match those requirements (within reason, of course- I’m not saying to lie about what you did!) For example if you had to balance out your cash drawer at the end of your shift and you’re applying to an accounting job, you’d want to be sure and use accounting terms to talk about what all you did with money instead of referring to it by the nomenclature that is used in the retail world.

        2. HigherEd*

          OP, since you have an associate degree, you can easily finish a bachelor’s in general studies with business emphasis. Even if you take a few evening classes at a time, you will be gaining new skills for the job you really want to have down the road. Returning to college will look good on your resume and show potential employers that you are serious about the new direction you want to go in.

    4. AMT 2*

      I did basically this – I was a hostess for a Rainforest Café, but started working in the office cashing out servers at the end of shift. That led to getting morning shifts in the office doing admin stuff and preparing the daily deposit, etc. For a while I was in both roles but managed to transition to where I was completely office admin. But AAM is totally correct, that first job is the only one that matters – I didn’t finish school but wound up working for one of my professors in an accounting firm, when I left there a few years later literally NO ONE cared that I didn’t have my degree, I had experience in a CPA firm and that was all that mattered. Based on experience alone I have been able to get almost any job I want that doesn’t require a CPA license.

    5. Cheeto*

      Ha. The large retail store I worked for five years almost never hired employees on the floor to home office jobs. They went out of their way to find outsiders. Not to mention the home office jobs were all in NYC or LA… Expensive cities to move to if you don’t have $ and aren’t making any at an entry level job.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        My experience as well. I’m sure it’s possible with some companies, but not any that I’ve worked for.

    6. pope suburban*

      I agree with this. A coworker of mine got a job doing auditing at the department store she’d worked at as a sales associate over the summers when she was in college. She was able to flip that into her current job as a contract administrator/office controller with our company. Something else she did was get her MBA through a local college; she took online courses and finished the program maybe six months after I came on here. If you’re open to it, OP, that might be another way to beef up your credentials.

    7. Steph the PM*

      Yes, yes, yes!! All of this.

      I work for “corporate” at a major retailer – and we have and value people who started in our stores and distribution centers. I have people with GEDs/high school diplomas that make dang near 6 figures on my team – they’re good.

      Getting more admin responsibility at your store is going to be your path of least resistance to this type of position. Things to consider:
      Have you told your manager that you want to move into more “admin” type positions?
      Volunteer for data entry or Loss Prevention type of work where you’ve got to be in a office
      Volunteering for closing/opening cash audit type responsibilities.
      Volunteering to assist with low level / grunt type of inventory control type organizing (example: assisting with your annual physical inventory, for example).

    8. Jane*

      Agreed. Anecdote time: I started as a cashier in a grocery store. I was promoted to the cash management office. After I got some experience there, I got hired as a teller at a bank. (In my experience, banks and credit unions like to hire people with retail cash management experience, and the hours are certainly an improvement from retail.) I was then promoted to new accounts/loans, and later, to management. As a manager, I took over some reporting duties that involved some “tricky” Excel work. I got a reputation as being computer-savvy, and was able to get on-the-job cross training that allowed me to transition into IT-related work. This all took YEARS (and the path is a lot more clear in hindsight) but taking advantage of the aspects of my current job that related to the next job I wanted to try really helped me move forward into progressively more professional positions.

      Also, this is unrelated, but it makes me sad that you think of your experience as “less than impressive.” It is incredibly impressive to me that you went from not graduating from high school to getting an associate’s degree with a 4.0. It’s also impressive to me that you were promoted so quickly at your retail job If you can do that, it shows you’re incredibly hardworking and able to balance multiple priorities, which is really important (and more rare than you’d think).

      1. Andrea*

        Also agree with you second paragraph, and I hope the OP sees it, too. That’s both kind and accurate. (And I also went from working retail to a bank, in a role with some teller duties and sales like opening accounts, things like that.) OP, maybe you don’t think your experience is impressive, but I assure you, it is. Customer service and people skills are useful in office settings, too, and you sound very focused and driven to me. Good luck finding your next great opportunity.

    9. Ann O'Nemity*

      Totally agree with the advice to look at office jobs within your – or another – retail store. Also consider transition paths to office work within your industry. My cousin, for example, was able to transition from a cashier at a retail store, to the customer service department at the same store, to a reception position at a retail distribution center for a competing store, and finally to an AA position in another industry.

    10. Honeybee*

      I was going to suggest this, too. A relative started out working retail and eventually worked her way up to store manager, which in some cases is a hybrid retail/office type deal. She used the management experience to laterally move herself into a office position, and then she used that experience to leave retail but stay in an office position.

    11. LAI*

      I was going to suggest the same thing! Apply for administrative roles either at your store, or any other retail location where your retail experience is more likely to be valued. I worked retail in high school, but I eventually transitioned to the stockroom where I got to do much more administrative tasks. My mom is also in retail but she works in the main office where she’s responsible for communicating with the sales reps and financial people, processing orders, etc. It’s very relevant to office experience.

  2. AMG*

    1. Temping is spot-on! I got great experience from temp-to-hire placements.
    2. Not sure if this is what you are looking for, but research work at a local university pushed me way ahead of my college peers. Didn’t need a degree for it.
    3. Put it out there to your friends not just your professional contacts.
    4. Love the volunteering idea. Did that in college too and had a really unique profile in International Business that nobody else did.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      Agreed with temping. That’s how I transitioned from retail to office work before I went to grad school. The temp agency got me my first office job, where I was eventually hired full-time. I know the economy is different now than it was back then (this was in the early 2000s), but I think it’s still worth a shot.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          +lots and lots

          (Currently considering changing my handle to the name of a ridiculously superpowered book character, since there’s another Little Teapot. Would make for some amusing posts.)

      1. Future Analyst*

        Agreed on temping. Even if you don’t get a FT job through the temp agency, having office experience to point to is invaluable.

      2. AliceW*

        Totally agree with temping. Learn Word and Excel and you can get a temp job in any city. I temped. My sister temped. You find that working in other fields at an entry level position is pretty easy and you can learn a lot, gain valuable contacts, and eventually be offered a full time job or typically temp agencies have full-time recruiters as well and once you get a good reputation at the agency they can help you find full time work. I recommend financial services. They hire a lot of temps and entry level workers and you don’t need to know anything about finance initially. I worked my way up from temp to Global VP. I am head of a global finance department of a large financial services firm and I have a degree in fine arts.

      3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        As long as she didn’t come back from her lunch break with someone’s head in a shopping bag, I’m sure things went fine. ;)

    2. SH*

      Agreed. When I moved to New York I had two year’s worth of work experience and a temp agency worked with me to develop my Receptionist/Administrative Assistant skills. After more than a year with the agency I was permanently placed in a role. I think this is the OP’s best route.

    3. Jessen*

      Of course this depends on the temp agency. I know when I went to one having a similar background (despite in my case an advanced degree), they wouldn’t even consider me for anything that wasn’t retail or warehouse type work.

      1. cuppa*

        The best luck that I had with temping was for a local agency that specifically focused on professional services. I didn’t have good luck at all with the national agencies like Adecco, etc.

  3. Katrina*

    If you know anybody who hires in professional organizations (or maybe your parent(s) could ask a favor from one of their friends/colleagues), see if they can carve an hour out of their schedule to mock interview with you. Come with a $10 gift card to ‘Bucks or something. It can help take the edge off when you’re interviewing for real.

      1. fposte*

        Agreed. I know it seems like a nice gesture, but the person who’s doing it is doing it for the principle of the thing, and a gift card makes it feel like a transaction.

        1. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)*

          Instead, maybe just offer to buy them coffee or lunch so you show your appreciation without making it transactional.

            1. Katrina*

              Good advice. When I reached out for professional development, I always showed up with one tucked into a thank you card that I left with them. Never considered that they wouldn’t have accepted if given the chance to decline!

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      Also, if you know someone who is already a receptionist/admin make sure to connect with them. Current receptionists and admins will (a), know what skills are needed and can give good advice and (b) frequently have a big say in who is hired at their organization to be a receptionist/admin.

  4. AnotherAlison*

    I have gotten excellent feedback from my current managers on my performance, but do I even have a hope of being considered for administrative assistant/receptionist-type jobs?”

    I appreciate the OP’s situation and her desire to move to a new job. However, the above statement kind of rubbed me the wrong way. There’s nothing in the OP’s work or education history that indicates she has any of the skills expected of someone in an admin assistant or receptionist roles. Some of the things my department admin does can be done by someone with no experience, but all our admins have fundamental skills in MS Office, SharePoint, and things like corporate travel booking, filing expense reports, etc. If the OP wants to work in an office, then she really needs to consider taking some of these types of courses. Admin work is not unskilled.

    That said, my company has an office management company that outsources our reception and mailroom. Something like that could be a way to get a foot in the door where unskilled office positions are available.

    1. Natalie*

      I’m curious what about that statement makes you think the OP is assuming reception or admin work is unskilled? I mean, they clearly understand that there are specific skills involved since they mention they can’t afford education or training for their desired job.

      1. WorkingMom*

        Yes, the OP specifically is asking that even though she is getting stellar feedback, “would” she/he ever be qualified to be an admin. The OP is actually saying that she *hopes* to someday to be qualified to be an admin. The OP recognizes there are specific admin skills that need to be obtained. I think the OP can make this jump from retail to office!

    2. Mike C.*

      MS Office isn’t a big deal. All you need a copy of the software and to know that you can google for anything, or that F1 is the help menu.

      1. Carrie in Scotland*

        Google has gotten me out of several sticky situations (for Excel usually but sometimes office)

        1. Laurel Gray*

          This. I keep telling myself I will buy the newest edition of the Excel Bible but a quick Google search keeps saving me so I keep putting off buying the book!

        2. Natalie*

          I learned all of my Word & Excel skills (other than typing) from work on-the-job and Googling. I’ve personally never found software classes all that helpful, not the mention the fact that software gets updated pretty regularly.

      2. olympiasepiriot*


        Seriously, MS Office is not a major barrier to someone who is detail oriented. It is likely the OP already has some experience in it due to her education and would just need to practice on the latest package.

      3. Kelly L.*

        Yup, and lots of people use Office enough just in their personal life that they can function in it on a basic level. I used Word for ages before I ever used it at work, for example–because I had used it in class, and for personal creative writing at home. This OP is placing orders, also, which probably utilizes some kind of software. And a lot of the software she’ll use, she’ll have to be trained by the employer anyway, because so many places have their own idiosyncratic thing.

      4. Ad Astra*

        Most people in their 20s are at least passable in Office these days because they’ve been using Word since they were, like, 8. Some admin work is a whole lot more skilled than other admin work, but plenty of offices could reasonably train a computer-literate person to do the specific Office tasks the position calls for. I get that people sometimes unfairly assume that admin work is unskilled work that just anyone could do, and that’s not cool or helpful. But it’s also true that some people do start a career in admin work with no previous experience.

      5. Honeybee*

        This! And now all the MS Office products have a little “Tell me what you want to do…” line; you can type in the command you’re looking for and they’ll take you where you want to do or provide three suggestions if the software isn’t sure what you want.

    3. SL #2*

      I don’t see that statement as claiming that admin jobs are unskilled; it’s precisely BECAUSE they require specific skills that the OP is wondering if she has a chance of getting them when her previous work history is mainly child care and retail, and she cannot afford to take time off for an internship or for continuing her education.

    4. BananaPants*

      I’d expect that someone with an associate’s degree has used MS Office enough during their coursework to be able to use it in an administrative or receptionist role. It’s not exactly rocket science.

      Frankly, I think the market for AAs and receptionists is slowly dying out. We still have a handful of admin assistants, but as they retire there will not be replacements other than for the executive AA. Increasingly, employees themselves are expected to handle things like making travel arrangements via the corporate booking tool, and we’ve always had to file our own expense reports. If travel is complex, we have a (contracted) corporate travel agent to handle it for employees. Our mailroom is also contracted out. Reception is staffed by our (contracted) security company.

      1. Mike C.*

        I think a lot of this swings back and forth depending on the size of the org. There are folks who think, “Oh we’ll save time having folks do it themselves” and they get replaced by folks who say, “we’ll save time having someone specific do it” who get replaced by folks who say “we’ll save time by having folks do it themselves” etc.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          We are currently in the swing of “huh, maybe we *do* need department assistants.”

          A good AA really is the backbone of a department and can ensure (especially when it’s a department of creatives) that everything is done efficiently and on-time.

          1. MaryMary*

            Ugh, we’re currently in a “we don’t need assistants, just do it yourself” swing, but some long tenured coworkers have never done it themselves, don’t know how, and really don’t want to learn. I have one colleague who probably couldn’t create a document in Word if his life depended on it. The rest of us are self sufficient, but it creates problems because some junior person (or occasionally not so junior) ends up acting like admin for these people on top of their actual work duties.

        2. Kelly L.*

          Yup. A couple years ago when I was searching, they were doing a lot of jamming together of jobs, so people wanted an AA who was also a bookkeeper. But there are trends in this, and I think it changes with different factors in the economy.

      2. Spooky*

        +1. Add in the impressive GPA and honors society. I’m pretty confident that, if for some reason OP doesn’t already have those skills, s/he will pick them up pretty quickly.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        But all of those contractors are hiring people, right?

        Maybe a tip for the OP is to look at smaller businesses where one person “taking a chance” on you is enough OR larger contracting agencies that might have a variety of roles, so maybe you start at the security desk, but could get into reception from there?

      4. Elizabeth*

        If there’s one thing I learned from hiring entry-level admins, it’s that you cannot assume they know MS Office in the ways that it would be usable in an office setting. People vastly over-estimate their skills in this area to begin with, but unless you’ve come through a programme where using Excel is very common, the Excel skills you’d need in an office are not ones you’re likely to have simply by virtue of having done post-secondary. (Unless you also really loved Excel and used it to keep track of things in your personal life, which never turned out to be the case when I hired but could be for other people.)

        1. Dan*

          I’d agree with that. I have a near six-figure technical job, and use MS Office products every day. But I don’t do anything advanced with them. My ex was taking some Office skills tests for a temp job, and she wanted me to take the tests for her. I looked at some of them, and they got beyond my skill level quite quickly. She thought I was blowing her off when I told her I wouldn’t do well on them.

          And yes, if I need to do something complicated, I either google it or ask our support staff.

        2. Formica Dinette*

          This has been my experience as well.

          I’d also like to add that I have multiple friends who are college professors and administrators, and tell me it’s extremely common for young people to get to college with minimal computer skills. The students can use phones and tablets and associated apps, but they regularly have a hard time with software applications and anything with a file system.

      5. Ad Astra*

        I do wonder what my office will look like once all the executives who can’t send their own emails retire. Of course there will still be administrative work to be done, but I can’t picture many assistants being assigned to specific execs 10 years from now.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          While I was in college I spent the summers working for a professor who could never keep an assitant. She used to have me print all her emails, then she would handwrite a response which I would have to then type and re-print for her approval.

      6. Dan*

        I’m with you on the market for AAs and receptionists dying out. Our front desk is manned by our contracted security company. However, we do have an AA for every department. For a company of 7000 people, and departments of roughly 50 each, that’s certainly a handful of AAs. BUT, and a big BUT, our admin turnover is low. They’re treated well and have the same benefits the technical staff has, which are pretty awesome TBH.

        You’re much better off getting into this company as technical staff, as opposed to support or admin staff. My department has sixty technical staff and one admin. Assuming 5% turnover, we hire 3 technical staff per year, and replace the admin when she retires. I’ll tell you which odds Ilike better.

        1. BananaPants*

          Oh, yeah – our admins have 30-40+ years of experience (one started in a secretarial pool here, no lie). Even if the powers-that-be planned to backfill when they retire, it would be a very competitive hiring process. Three are employees and the fourth is a contractor who splits between an HR assistant and admin assistant role (and she had been an AA elsewhere in the company prior to a layoff!). I think each of our admins is responsible for 35-40 people, except the executive AA who has a handful of executives.

      7. AnotherHRPro*

        I agree that the demand for admins and receptionist roles had declined. More and more, this work is assumed by other employees or are outsourced. My company is much like BananaPants and when we do look to hire for the few remaining positions, we get flooded with very qualified candidates.

    5. TootsNYC*

      “rubs me the wrong way” seems a little judgmental and harsh here, to me anyway. Especially since she’s come here to ask about how to get those jobs.

      But the advice to be sure she’s learned MS Office, SharePoint, etc., is excellent advice. This is advice she’s asking for–in fact, her “do I even have a prayer” is, to me, and indication that she KNOWS there’s different stuff that admin people do, and that she wants to know what those are.

      No need to slam her, it seems to me.

    6. KR*

      I’m as confused as the other people about your post, but I’m also bothered by your depiction of the OP’s current job as “unskilled”. She isn’t entry level. It sounds like she’s essentially the assistant manager of a department or a step below it. While she may not have hiring and firing power, she most likely has the power to write employees up, give them reviews, train employees, lead and coach them, use software to find sales information and run reports, order product, and serve as a middle person between management and general employees. She also needs to have the ability to be professional with customers and outside vendors. I don’t know this for sure, but this would be true in the major grocery company that I work for in a similar position. Just because she doesn’t sit behind a desk doesn’t mean that anyone could do her job. Not all retail work is unskilled, much like admin work.

      OP, don’t worry. Office work takes some time to get used to, but it’s very similar in some ways to the work you do now especially if you’re looking at Admin Assistant jobs and receptionist jobs.

    7. pope suburban*

      I don’t know, depending on the industry or company, childcare skills can translate very well to receptionist work. I wish I were kidding, but some of my most effective techniques for managing the desk from hell have come from watching Supernanny. Often, the ability to keep one’s cool and track multiple things at the same time are all you need. That’s all that temping really taught me (I’m entirely self-taught in Office and score “Expert” every time I take the assessments, though I admit I did grow up using computers, which I realize is pretty fortunate), but boy, has that been useful. I grant that I have a slightly off-center view of these particular transferable skills, but anything customer-facing requires the ability to stay calm in the face of people who are rude, unreasonable, or having meltdowns. I would at least interview someone with that background, because I deal with a large number of people over the course of a work week who could probably benefit from a nap and a juice box.

      1. JAM*

        My substitute teaching background prepared me very well for being an admin in charge of attorneys. The children were much better behaved though.

        1. pope suburban*

          Oh, lord. I’m having flashbacks to my first “real” job out of college, with a large corporate firm. I was lucky in that the attorneys I worked with were reasonable, self-sufficient folks, and also that they had secretaries to manage them so the interns wouldn’t have to. But I remember a few who would insist that a secretary come into their office and hit “ctrl+p” for them, and then bring them the document from the printer, and a few who had awful tantrums. I can only imagine that heading a classroom would have been invaluable when dealing with those folks.

    8. MaryMary*

      I don’t want to insult any receptionists, but many moons ago when I was temping I ran into a couple receptionist positions where my sole job was to answer the phone and greet visitors. Some had no computer at all at the front desk, and another had a computer that didn’t have Office installed and wasn’t connected to the internet. For a position like that, the customer service skills from a retail job would definitely qualify you for the role, even if you didn’t have any office experience. I think positions like this are the exception, not the rule, but some do exist.

      1. pope suburban*

        That’s been my experience temping, and in a couple long-term positions. I’ve felt underutilized at…well, every bill-paying job I’ve ever had, but particularly in front-desk roles. I’ve been trying to get out of my current position (Dysfunction abounds, but it’s more draining than it is demanding or engaging, and I’ve wrangled it into a fair holding pattern for a year now), and I still see a lot of postings that just want someone to answer the phone, receive/distribute mail, and make sure visitors get to their meetings/get coffee. That stuff is not very hard to pick up. Someone with good retail experience would probably be a great fit for a client-facing role like that, and if they pick the right company, could work their way up the chain.

    9. Honeybee*

      I’m not saying that admin work is unskilled, but I also don’t think the OP needs to take courses to develop skills in any of those areas. Work experience does the trick, especially for MS Office and SharePoint.

    10. sam*

      Given that every single office I’ve worked in seems to use a different system, and even the office i’m in now changes systems every few years, having to learn some of the more complex stuff (not the MS Office stuff, but the travel booking, personnel software, etc.) should not really be seen as a major issue. What you want is someone who can learn this stuff quickly.

      Quite frankly, we’ve got people in my office who have worked here for years who still don’t know how half the systems work. and I’m including myself in that category – I wouldn’t know how to book travel myself or submit reimbursements if my life depended on it.

  5. beachlover*

    Don’t think of it as being in retail, thing of it as being in Customer Service. I started in retail and because I had the skills to work with customers that gave me the foot up to a Customer Service/Order desk job for a Mfg company. From that I worked up the ladder into Inventory control (also a skill I learned in retail) and eventually production control and Purchasing and Production planning. I worked my way up into Management positions. You can do it. You are not too old to start. I started at 22 as a Clerk and in 2 yrs was dept mgr.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Thank you for saying this! I have full faith in the OP’s abilities. What I do wish was that more hiring managers would look at a resume and be able to see where skills transfer into the role they are hiring for. AAM has good advice in the book and the archives on doing this in your resume and cover letter but if the hiring manager wants to define a candidate as “retail, never worked in an office” they are doing everyone a disservice.

      1. Future Analyst*

        I agree that some hiring managers will write off people as “retail only,” but for the rest, it certainly helps to highlight transferable skills on the resume/cover. Sometimes all it takes is to frame the experience differently, and the manager can then easily see how the applicant’s previous experience applies– they just need a nudge in the right direction. You’ve come to the right place for help, OP!

    2. kac*

      Very good point!! Definitely consider help-desk/customer service positions as well as admin assistant roles!

      1. AnotherHRPro*

        This is very good advice. Your current skills will be transferable and you could move from a customer service office role to receptionist very easily.

    3. Former Retail Manager*

      YES! Excellent advice. I was personally in a similar situation, but obtained a degree that, once obtained, is basically guaranteed employment. You definitely have a challenge ahead of you. I would focus your search on entry level customer service/client management roles for small to mid-size businesses where you would routinely be in contact with business’ clients and potentially taking orders/following up on shipping or delivery issues/pricing issues, etc. My advice is small to mid-size because you can typically talk to someone who either is the owner/partner or is in close communication with them. These organizations tend to be more flexible regarding a candidate’s background/requirement for the position and are also more willing to promote you, regardless of credentials/degrees if you’re doing a great job. Most small to mid-size businesses just want someone to get the job done quickly and efficiently to maximize their profits and tend to get less hung up on degrees and the like. And also, quite frankly, they can’t compete with big companies in terms of pay and benefits so it’s often harder to retain good employees. When they find one, they want to hang on to them. Might be a good stepping stone to a larger company in a couple of years. Best of luck! Don’t lose hope.

  6. Annoying Girl*

    As a Retail Store Manger for more than 20 years I also had this problem. I was able to change my career from Store Manager to an HR position because the basic HR Generalist and recruiting duties are something I always did as part of my job (on-boarding, new hire paperwork, recruitment,). I also found that changing the names of the companies I worked for made a huge difference. For example I worked for Mont Blanc (luxury brand) but by calling it Richemont Group (the actual parent name of the company) I found that I received way more interest in my resume. I started looking at the jobs that I really wanted and found that the skills listed on the job listing were things I was already doing at some level at all my previous jobs. I then tailored my resume to fit the positions I wanted. Nothing I put my resume was untrue. Just more focused on the position I wanted.

      1. Elle*

        Yes, well at least I think so. They’re a hobby like any other but they don’t have to be prohibitively expensive. I’d be glad to recommend a few entry level pens and good basic inks if you’re interested.

        1. Mike C.*

          Sweet, another collector! :D

          To clarify, I meant the Mont Blanc ones specifically. I already have an assortment of TWSBIs, Monteverdes, Sheaffers and Pilots. My favorite though is a Pelikan Souveran M600 in Black/Blue.

            1. oldfashionedlovesong*

              As a lefty fountain pen lover, I will be keeping an eye out for this thread this weekend :)

            2. blue_eyes*

              I will be looking for this thread. I asked for a hand-lettering/calligraphy book for Hanukkah, but I’ll need some pens to go with it!

          1. Elle*

            Oh okay, I’m a Pilot and Levenger fan myself. I hear absolutely wonderful things about Mont Blanc’s but I can’t convince myself to buy pens more than about $100, however their ink in on the short list for next pen related purchases. My current favorite in the Pilot Vanishing Point, I picked up a matte black one up for $90 on eBay.

        2. CA Admin*

          I have a Lamy that I truly love. Are the Mont Blanc’s as thick as they look? I tend to prefer a thinner pen.

      2. Annoying Girl*

        Absolutely ! Beautiful product. Love the company and the brand.
        Just could not do the nights and weekends and every holiday anymore. This was the first time ever that I was not working at some ungodly hour the day after Thanksgiving.

        1. Bellen*

          This! This is me right now, in the depths of retail holiday hell. Thanks for giving me hope! I’m also looking to transition into an HR role, after being in retail for 5 years (and management for over 3). Same skills (the recruiting, onboarding, etc) I’ve been identifying as those I can transition. Thanks!

      3. super anon*

        I have one of their roller ball pens for every day use (a fountain pen isn’t practical for in-purse use sadly) and I really love it. A family friend got one of the fountain ones as a gift and they use it for writing in Chinese primarily and they love it and it produces beautiful characters, so I want to say that yes, it really is as awesome as people say. I wonder if any of the commentors here have used the fountain ones for western calligraphy and how they work for that?

        (They also have a pen with a diamond in the top that’s been cut into the Montblanc logo shape that I want desperately, but even I realize $1000 for a pen is a bit excessive on an entry-level salary)

    1. TootsNYC*

      Excellent strategy, to look at jobs you think you’d like to get, and see what skills they’re looking for.

      Then look at your own experience, and see what you’ve got that fits. Work that into your resumé. AND…more important, work up the stories you have that make these skills clear.

      Works at ANY stage, for ANY job.

      Also–sit and think for a minute: “If I were hiring an office person, what would I want?”

      Another way to be able to work up that list of what qualities you need is to talk with someone who’s got a job you’d like to GET, and find out
      * what’s the tough part of their day?
      * what do they do most often, or do a lot of?
      * what skills or personality traits do they see as valuable? or a hindrance?

      Then, especially if it’s someone who’s willing or has the skills to do this, see if they’ll talk through with you what YOU currently do, and see if there are any parallels.

  7. Mike C.*

    * Getting creative about your network. You say you don’t have a professional network, but what about all those parents you provided child care for? Can you reach out to them and explain what you’re trying to do, and see if any of them can connect you to openings? They might be good sources of leads. (It also might not go anywhere, so don’t be devastated if this doesn’t lead you anywhere — but it’s well worth trying, because it’ll only take one.)

    Holy crap, this this this!

    My mother cleans houses. While I was in high school, a client knew I was really interested in the sciences and her father was retiring from a position at the state university and offered me a tour. The tour was great, I was talking with a bunch of the scientists and they offered me a summer position doing grunt work. I worked there for two summers, and I am positive that it helped me later get into an amazing school.

    Yeah, it was complete and total luck, but that’s the sort of thing that happens when you tell people what you’re interested in and where you want to go.

    1. Dan*

      You’d be surprised at how often wealthy people help out the children of their staff. I used to work with corporate jets, and I was shooting the breeze with one of the staff of a wealthy client one day. One guy told me how the big boss was paying for his (the staff’s) kids to attend some yuppity private school.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        YES! Some of our best entry-level/admin hires have been babysitters for one particular executive’s family. Several have been with us for years now and advanced beyond administrative work.

  8. Melissa J*

    Long time lurker here….popping in because I just got out of retail and into an office administration position. It took me about 8 months of on and off again job hunting. I had a few good leads here and there and multiple interviews, but my lack of experience got in my way.

    I actually got my current position through a temp agency. These guys were really looking for a good fit for the company culture which is how I probably got the position. It’s a manufacturing plant and they needed someone who could deal with working with all men in a construction sort of environment.

    I think the best thing to do is what Alison has recommended: highlighting skills that are transferable. You can learn about the filing systems they’ve got, they can teach about the programs easily enough – what matters are the soft skills. Being able to remain calm when someone is yelling at you for something that is not your fault is huge and that is a skill you get in retail. There are so many useful skills that you get from retail, particularly one in a supervisory position.

    If you wanted to get back into working with children, I’d recommend looking for paraprofessional or instructional assistants/aids positions. You have an AA in early childhood which would also help. There are job websites out there designed for just school positions ( It doesn’t pay well (I worked in a wealthy town and still got paid poorly), but it’s regular hours and related to your degree. Usually you don’t need any experience so that’s helpful. There’s a high turnover in that field so they’re usually always hiring. If you can’t get into that, you can also try substituting. Not sure what you’d do in the summer if you were just substituting.

    Good luck!!

    1. some1*

      I agree in a lot of ways admin temping is a great way for the employee to try out the org and vice versa. Cultural fit is so, so important to being an admin, and many times the Hiring Manager is in a non-administrative position and isn’t able to give candidates a clear picture of what the day-to-day will entail.

      1. Melissa J*

        I got lucky in this specific position because the company was looking for temp-to-hire and after interviewing, my boss wanted to hire me out right (giving them a finders fee or something). They had to come to a compromise and I was a temp for a month instead of the original 3 month contract they had. After the one month, my boss hired me.

        I had another interview the same week with a different company in the same Industrial Park through the same temp agency and the interviewer wished I had applied directly 2 weeks before hand. That was for an HR admin position and she and I were talking about how personality is a major part of the process at this level because everything else is trainable.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Re: learning the computer system

      OK, you might need to learn theirs. But have you learned some OTHER computer system? And have you re-learned?
      All computer systems have things in common, and I firmly believe that if you can learn one, you can learn them all. If you learned a second one, did you see that you learned it more quickly? What did you do that made your learning curve shorter and steeper? *Can* you learn new computer systems? TALK ABOUT those things, and put that as an accomplishment: “mastered new computerized inventory system rapidly and trained others.” Then I won’t worry whether I need to teach you our job-booking system.

    3. Dasha*

      Op, this! I really agree with Melissa. If I were you, I’d look at small companies (it’s easier to get your foot in the door) and work with a staffing agency or recruiter. I would also strongly consider manufacturing companies- I’ve worked in manufacturing before and a lot of the time experience is more important than education. Even if it is a customer service role some of them aren’t that bad. Let me tell you about the CS department at one job I had. Background it was a small manufacturing company and this was maybe 5 years ago?? It was a small company so everybody knew everyone’s business…

      One young woman, fresh out of college with some fancy degree (MBA or something?) but this was a few years ago when the job market was really bad. She worked the CS job for a year and was able to find something way better after she just needed more experience.

      One guy, worked CS for a few years (maybe 2 or 3) and then he went out into the field to do repair work for our products. He had a high school degree only.

      One woman, she was about mid-career but had been laid off and took the CS job. She worked in the CS department for three years and then moved up to inventory controller, then to something else. She only had a HS degree.

      Another young girl, she had a liberal arts degree. She worked there for 6 months and then found a way better job. (Um, but probably don’t leave in less than a year.)

      One older lady who had been there 20 years- she liked it! She said there were rarely mean customers and she got to talk to people all day long. This was a business to business customer service position but still I think it goes to say that not all CS positions are bad.

      Don’t give up, if your search takes a while! Even people with fancy degrees and years of experience have difficulty in this job market. I hope when you do find something else you will come back here and give us an update.

      Good luck!

  9. OP*

    I didn’t mean to imply that those kinds of job don’t require skills. And in looking at job postings, I have seen that many Admin jobs require 2 years of experience, so perhaps they are not exactly entry-level. I suppose I’m looking for jobs that will get me into an office setting and train me in the basics. What kind of positions should I be targeting?

    1. INTP*

      Hi OP,

      I replied below, but I would target positions where you would have contact with the public, either in a sales or customer support role. Maybe as a receptionist in a busy, public-facing office, or a call center rep (which I know is its own kind of hell, but at least it gets you into an office). Your background would be an asset, because dealing with the public is a skill in itself, one that a lot of more traditional entry level candidates with degrees and internships might not have developed. Also contacting a temp agency and letting them know that you’re willing to start wherever but are ultimately looking to get into a more professional career is a good idea. With no experience, they probably won’t be able to put you into a temp-to-hire role right away, but they can send you to assignments that last a few days, which you can relay into assignments that last a few weeks, and work your way up.

      1. misspiggy*

        Exactly. Plus, with your degree, something like volunteer coordinator for a nonprofit that targets young children or families would be perfect. Some part time voluntary work in that area would probably be needed first.

      2. mistojen*

        Re: call center – it IS its own special kind of hell, but with that said, SOME call centers have a lot of room for movement into management positions if you’re willing to stick it out. I was promoted twice in the first 18 months that I worked at Sitel and by the time I left there to go back to school for a degree, I had a WEALTH of knowledge that will prove useful to me at pretty much any other job I end up doing – the training courses they allow and the experience I had, not only with the customers directly, but with the clients and with the agents once I moved into management, was priceless to me and I use it in my daily life to this day. Call center jobs suck…but they can give you a LOT of useful skills for the future.

    2. 1023*

      I think if you are not trained in the basics, such as MS Office, you are going to have a difficult time. If it is true that you have no office skills, I would recommend taking a course, even if it is online. Asking someone for a chance to prove yourself and asking to be trained in skills that many employers feel is necessary to entry are two different things.

      1. NJ Anon*

        I’m willing to bet op already knows MS Office. As I stated above, my kids learned it in high school. Also, OP has her associates. He/she most likely knows the basics if not more.

        1. some1*

          You have to be able to do more than just knowing how to use it. I have worked with admin counterparts that had been in the workforce for decades who didn’t know how to cut and paste, save a file to a folder on the server, insert page numbers, convert a word doc to pdf, etc.

          1. Kelly L.*

            But a lot of people know these things, too, without having learned them “at work.” They learned them writing papers for a class, or playing around with the software at home, etc.

            1. TootsNYC*

              Yep. They’re also not that difficult–the biggest thing is to emphasize how flexibly you learn computer systems.

              The people who don’t know how to convert a file to .pdf can learn that one little trick VERY rapidly. Like, what, 60 seconds?
              The thing an employer wants is someone who will teach herself that thing. Who will ask someone, and then write or down or remember it.

              So OP, if you’re worried that people won’t believe your office computer knowledge, then a class and certification may be a great thing to get so you can put it on your resumé. But even if you have that, when the computer thing comes up in an interview, tell some stories about how you taught yourself some new trick or shortcut, or made up a list of shortcuts to use later, or something.

            2. Natalie*

              Or just being a digital native. Most people I know who grew up with computers pick up new software or operating systems pretty quickly, since they’re deeply familiar with the underlying architecture of a personal computer.

            3. pope suburban*

              I turned into my company’s de facto IT person just because I Google things. I kid you not. It’s often less about formal IT experience (I have none, just a lifetime of using computers to play games, write papers, and browse the internet) and more about the willingness to learn. If I’m not sure how to do something in, say, Excel, or if I want to make sure I’m remembering how to to a mail merge correctly, I look it up. There are tons of great support guides and forums for Office, and it’s always a quick fix. This is how I learned Quickbooks on the job, and knock on wood, in the year-and-change I’ve been running the system, nothing has broken and no money has disappeared. OP, an open mind and a willingness to study go a long way. There’s nothing wrong with taking a course on Office if you think it would help, but it’s really not very scary or opaque. You can do this!

          2. KR*

            I would argue that if they don’t know how to do those things, then they don’t know how to use it. Many colleges (tech schools are still colleges!) require you to take a course that educates you on these things.

      2. OfficePrincess*

        And if money is a concern, there are plenty of free tutorials online for a variety of office software. They may not be as thorough as some actual classes, but they are enough to get familiar with the software. Many programs are becoming more and more user-friendly so knowing what it can do and how to navigate the menus gets you halfway there.

      3. Artemesia*

        This. There is no entry level admin type job where I would ever have hired someone who was not able to use Office and similar basic softwares. This is an entry level requirement; there is no on the job training for this. It is also easy to master if you want to do so. I would also suggest an on-line or self guided course in Excel as this is also the kind of tool that someone at entry level is expected to be able to use. You can claim competence in these things if you are competent — you don’t need to have used them on the job.

      4. K*

        A good place to get some training on various software online is It offers lots of online videos tutorials for everything from Business Software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.) to Management videos, to more creative software like Photoshop or InDesign. It costs $25/month for a subscription, and there’s not minimum number of months you need to subscribe for. It’s a great resource.

        1. hermit crab*

          And sometimes you can use it for free! Our public library has a subscription that anyone with a library card can use.

        2. Natasha*

          I want to put in a vote for, too. That’s where I’ve learned the most advanced Excel skills. Look up Pivot tables, they were a revelation.

    3. Snarky McSnark*

      OP, I work in a financing company (there are many out there for all sorts of industries) and one of the easiest transitions for you could be into a customer service role. It’s not the “most ideal” role for some as you have to deal with angry people occasionally (most of the conversations have to do with late payments), but the people in our company work basically 7-4, 8-5 or 9-6 type hours. One of the customer service people just got promoted into a documentation specialist role after proving herself as being detail oriented (making sure orders are placed correctly and timely in order to ensure proper inventory would fit this no matter what role you are looking at including Admin). The following bullets are the requirements.

      I would re-iterate that becoming fluent in Excel is crucial as everyone from the receptionist to the CEO works with it in every office company I’ve ever worked for. You can find some online classes, but finding one at a local community college is probably the best way to truly get comfortable with the system and pick up some good tricks.


      1. KarenD*

        Actually, that brings up one possibility that – reading this far – I haven’t seen: Call center work. Specifically, working telephone customer service for a bank or credit-card company.

        My niece had a rough start – had to do an alternate-route HS diploma, signed up for but did not complete cosmetology school (yes, she’s heard the song). Around the age of 24, she got her head on straight and got started in call-center work processing credit applications for in-store cards. She quickly rose to the top, got promoted, switched companies, got promoted again. After a few rounds of that she’s now a mortgage underwriter supervisor and about to be promoted again – if she doesn’t get hired away by the big national bank. It’s not glamorous work and there can be jerk co-workers, but she finds it challenging and interesting.

        Best part? With a high-school diploma and on-the-job training, she is making about $55K plus bonuses. After about four years. She tells me that someone who’s bright and motivated can expect to move up very quickly.

    4. Dan*

      Two years of experience means that they want you to know more than nothing, but want to pay you like it’s your first job. IMHO, they’re the worst kinds of jobs out there. When you’re fresh out of school, they won’t hire you because you don’t have the experience, but when you do have the experience, you expect to get paid more.

    5. TheAssistant*

      I live in a major city, and our network of libraries has some really excellent free software training classes. If you are rusty or just don’t feel confident with the basics, try checking out free resources that you can utilize in your spare time.

      My first job was entry-level admin work in a nonprofit fundraising setting. I had a Bachelor’s degree (in an unrelated field) and a few random internships/jobs to talk about, but I really had never worked in an office setting. I was honest about it in interviews, but my references raved about how detail-oriented and inquisitive I was. They talked about how I liked to figure out problems on my own before running to my boss, and how I took initiative in unique ways. The job was all about Word, Excel, and data entry – I swear I spent half my time merging mailings – and outside of using Word processors for basic functions, I really didn’t know what I was doing. So I took an hour in my first week to learn the basics through Google/the question mark button and had the instructions by my side for the first merge. You don’t really need the skills to succeed if someone’s willing to take a chance.

      I’d look for nonprofits – especially those in which you have a personal interest. A lot of times, that interest is enough to get you in the door. They want you to care about the mission as much as you care about your mail merges. I agree with all the advice about customer service, etc. skills, but also play up any truly soft skills you have. Are you naturally inquisitive? Do you like to learn new things? Do you have eagle eyes for typos? Are you a whiz at changing the toner or fixing alarm clocks? Focusing on these, and having great references that will speak to them, can really go a long way.

  10. Carrie in Scotland*

    I did this.

    My experience to age 25 was bar/retail work. My last retail job was in a bookshop chain which I managed to transfer into a library assistant position which – eventually – lead to admin work and I’ve been doing admin ever since. I also don’t have a degree (yet!).

    You mention that you oversee the department, order and stock product, plan and build displays, and other various duties.

    In ordering product do you use spreadsheets to track what sells/needs to be re-stocked? This can be used as an eye to detail, as possibly your planning & building of displays. E.g for my experience bookshop to library – I used this as they both use displays to make certain books/authors/seasons/whatever stand out and generate sales. What do your displays do? What is their reason for existing?

    Without knowing your other duties or what exactly overseeing your dept means I’m not sure if any of this will be suitable. But do you set employee hours or breaks? E.g if you have 5 people working in your dept, can you tell person A their breaks are 1pm, & 3pm and person B 2pm, 4pm?
    Do you do corporate/large orders?
    Do you/your dept have high sales and what do you do to generate them?

    I think you could spin your grades as that you are a highly motivated person as due to circs you had to finish school part time/night school/whatever in order to graduate high school. This is how I put across working towards my degree (studying from 2010-17) and most people appreciate that by doing it a non traditional way (e.g full time university) it shows what kind of person you are.

    Also: my friend works at the bookshop chain I used to. She has recently gone from retail on the floor, to overseeing the shop/the area’s shops stock. So there’s hope for you OP :)

    Sorry for the long post! I might be back when I’m at home and have had a think.

    1. OP*

      I’m supposed to have part-time people in my department that I would supervise, but they haven’t hired anyone yet to replace me since I was promoted to the lead. I have been maintaining a #1 ranking in sales for my department among all the store in my district (it is a big retail chain, and they track things like that). The display plan change every 4 weeks and while they give me the basic list of what is supposed to be in which location, I have to be creative in how the displays are built, what related items to tie-in to drive sales, things like that. I’m trying to think of things that I can frame as accomplishments, etc.

      1. Christy*

        You sound like you’d do well as a library assistant in a public library. Perhaps look there? Displays are things you have to do there, too, and you could talk about them directly.

      2. Carrie in Scotland*

        So, accomplishments: you’ve maintained the #1 ranking in sales. Is there anything you are doing to maintain it specifically? that said, maintaining IS an accomplishment in itself, esp as you’re new to the job.
        Displays: again, you could say: made display of…suffragettes. This increased sales in not only the materials on display but also related items such as x, y, z. Or after they were on display, they maintained higher than average sales which I put down to the exposure of the display, raise awareness etc.

        1. Snarky McSnark*

          While it is good to have maintained #1 position, that doesn’t clearly indicate anything directly to you. It could be because there are only 5 people and their stores get less traffic, are less motivated, etc. However, if you can phrase it in a way that says maintained my ranking while growing my sales x% this year, that proves that you’re not just doing status quo, but always working to improve yourself. For me, having someone ok with the status quo as long as I am #1 is very different from someone who may not be #1 (can’t always control circumstances) to someone who is growing themselves (and maintaining #1 is better).

      3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        What about a sales assistant position?

        When I first started out I worked for a local television station and the other entry-level people I hung out with were the sales assistants for the account executives. It’s a lot of boring clerical work (inputting orders, making sure contracts are signed/paid), but I know they liked people who had sales experience. One of the girls had come over from Banana Republic.

      4. TootsNYC*

        I think w/ your #1 ranking, you should reach out to someone upstream in your chain, maybe in HR but probably more powerfully in management, and say, “How can I get into corporate?”

        Touch base w/ your store manager, perhaps, both so she knows it’s happening and doesn’t feel betrayed/blindsided, but also perhaps to tap into HER resources.

        If she’s promoting you, she should know you’ll want to move up another time. And you both know that it won’t happen immediately, so it’s not like you’re running out on her. Spin it as, “I’m so glad, and I’m enjoying this! But it made me realize that there IS such a direction as ‘up’ here. Where could I go once I’ve proven myself in this job?”

  11. INTP*

    Agree with temping here. I worked at a staffing agency and anyone who looked and behaved professionally at the interview and had a clean background could get a placement for, say, stuffing envelopes for a few days. (To be fair, sometimes we had so many great unemployed candidates that we didn’t need to send “new” people to those jobs, so it can take awhile, but they come up.) If you got a great report from the client company, we could send you to be a file clerk for 2 weeks, and so on. It’s a slow-ish way to get into office work, but it IS a way if you are motivated and professional and just don’t have the background.

    Also agree with the person above who suggested looking for an office job at the department store. I know people who got into office work after long retail careers this way.

    Finally, when you do apply to entry level jobs, look for something with a sales or customer contact element. Your background will be an asset in positions where you need to be able to handle the public – especially for hiring managers that might have been burned in the past by stellar college students who it turned out weren’t able to handle random people yelling at them well.

    1. Dawn*

      Temping was great for me as well. I was praised by my temp agency (they actually wanted me to come work for them in their office but had just placed me in a 6-month contract) because I would 1- show up to work every day on time, 2- be proactive about calling out when I was sick, 3- take a shower and dress nicely, 4- perform my work satisfactorily and be pleasant to everyone. I mean yeah I could *do* the actual work and all but the main thing was I was professional the whole time. Apparently that doesn’t happen generally in the pool of temp candidates.

      1. INTP*

        Yeah, for the lower-level (less experienced) positions, it was very common for people to no call-no show the interviews, be very unprofessional in appearance/demeanor (which probably isn’t their fault, but still precludes sending them to a client), etc. When I temped I got a glowing report for my work ethic and efficiency while stuffing envelopes, haha. I don’t really understand how one can stuff envelopes in a lazy way (I didn’t even have a computer or anything to be lazy with, I would have had to just stand there looking around the office doing nothing to slow down) but apparently people do.

  12. Rowan*

    Are you actually applying for the sort of jobs you’d like? My background wasn’t so different to yours when I applied for the admin job I’m in now, and retail gives you a ton of transferrable skills but you have to be confident in them and refuse to feel apologetic that your background isn’t traditional.

    A good retail employee is detail-oriented, can work under pressure, has experience at implementing processes, is well-organised, can solve problems on her feet. Those things are the traits of a good admin. I bet you do have all sorts of great accomplishments, you just feel like they aren’t – I bet stock ordering is a real challenge, especially at this time of year. If it’s been successful, how did you do that? People who pick up processes quickly tend to find ways to streamline then – have you done this? I bet you’ve had to change your displays frequently – how many were you asked to do? How quickly did you do it? Etc. These are all great, solid achievements, but it can be really hard to think of them as such when they’re just the things that you do in your job.

  13. Sins & Needles*

    I used to fill in for my church’s office manager when she was on vacation. There were skills involved, computer and other technical, but the biggest part was customer service. For that time, I was the face of the organization. I absolutely could not gossip about anything I saw or heard. I had to be compassionate, but I also had to stand up to people.

    The office manager also needed help around the office at other times. She handled most of the technical stuff, but volunteers made copies (learning how to trouble-shoot the copier is an important office skill), folded bulletins, and answered the phones as needed.

    This is a specific way of volunteering or temping.

  14. TootsNYC*

    Re this:* Volunteering. This too can be a good way to get office experience on your resume.

    So many nonprofits, hospitals, etc., have openings for volunteers during the day doing office work. Many of them!
    I noticed this as I was looking for volunteer opportunities to suggest to my employed-in-an-office niece. She can’t do any of those. And she has a lot of competition for volunteers to do fun (walking dogs, etc.) stuff in the evenings.

    So if you find yourself with odd mornings or late afternoons, you might be a prime candidate to help w/ office stuff as a volunteer (the need may be high enough, and the supply low enough, that they’ll be more than willing to work around your hard-to-predict schedule) , and that can pad your resumé. Heck, it might even lead to a full-time office job.

    So really–look into that.

    And, this same niece (who just went full time at her temp position!) has made the switch from retail to entry-level office.

    1. Bostonian*

      I used volunteering when I was switching careers, though it was from one office-based career to another. If you can commit to regular hours it can be a great way to get into an office environment, learn a few skills, get some references, figure out what you actually like doing within an office setting, etc. Depending on what sort of help they need, it doesn’t always have to be the same hours each week, but they usually need someone who can commit for long enough to make it worth training you – at least half a day a week for a couple of months would be a typical minimum. Check craigslist, idealist, and any local sites for your area.

      If you have a personal connection with a church or community group or arts organization that can really help – you’ll be in a good position to spot ways to create a volunteer gig for yourself. In an awful lot of community organizations there’s a backlog of filing or data entry or other projects that you could step in to handle, or they need phone coverage when the one employee goes on vacation, or they’re looking for regular front desk volunteers or what have you. Also consider little volunteer gigs or side projects that show off office-y skills, like putting together an organization’s newsletter or handling its membership database, even if they aren’t actually done in an office. If I were looking at a resume with mostly child care and retail experience I’d want evidence that you have some basic computer skills. MS Office isn’t hard, and most people your age have basic computer fluency, but if I were hiring I’d still want evidence you wouldn’t flounder when given computer-based work.

      And temping is great. I only ever did one temp assignment out of college – because I became an employee after a couple of months and stayed with the company for four years, with a couple of promotions. Atypical, but it does happen.

  15. Eric*

    I wonder if there is a way to leverage the Associates degree. Are there schools or the like in your area that may be hiring for a receptionist?

    1. Devil's Avocado*

      I was thinking the same thing. Another good option would be non-profits that have an education or family/child focus.

    2. Sara*

      I came here to suggest this as well. Having a background and interest in education certainly couldn’t hurt your application for an administrative/non-teaching position at a school or daycare center, or another agency that focuses on children and families.

  16. V2*

    I’d also suggest looking at call center jobs. They’re entry level, high-turnover positions (like retail), but they’re still office jobs. And while the opportunities to internally transfer into other positions will vary from company to company, they definitely exist (it’s how I was able to move from retail into a professional office job some years ago, lacking a college degree).

    One aside, the GED vs. finishing high school thing shouldn’t matter at all, especially since you have a college degree. High school doesn’t go on your resume and it would be extremely unusual for anyone to ever ask about it.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Yes to your point about education. OP seems to see that as a black mark when it’s really not. Just write that you have an associate’s degree in early childhood education. It doesn’t matter what you did before that.

      1. Alienor*

        Yes – I dropped out of high school, then later went to community college before transferring to a four-year university. My resume says I have a bachelor’s degree in my area of study, which is true, and no one’s ever asked about the path I took to get there.

        1. V2*

          Yup. As an extreme case, I know of a tenured MIT associate professor of computer science (Dr. Scott Aaronson) who never finished high school and got his GED instead. High school is completely irrelevant once you have some post-secondary education.

    2. afiendishthingy*

      I was thinking call center too, or maybe operator-type positions at a hospital or similar.

  17. Dubby*

    Been there. For many years my career goal was to find a job where I didn’t have to work black friday. But don’t knock the value of your current job’s experience to an office job. You can deal with customers, manage other people, be presentable, responsible, accountable, etc.

    Check out your community college offerings for office assistant certificates. You don’t have to complete the certificate to get valuable cred out of it. I got mine while finishing my A.S. before transferring to a 4 year university. I’m finishing grad school now and in another professional position, and I pull out skills from that experience more than from my B.S. coursework.

    The pros of these classes is that many of them are self-paced and online, so you can work them around your crazy retail schedule. For example, you’ll take classes on Word, Excel, databases, keyboarding, etc. Mine also included machine transcription (which transferred over to academic research so well, as I’ve had to do transcription work for my grad school job). Also consider taking accounting courses as well. I loved the crap out of my intro to accounting class. You can mention that you are taking these courses in your cover letter which will show initiative, time management, and that you are serious about making this move. Bonus is that you may have already taken some as part of your AS coursework.

    You’ll want to consider making the move to get a BS/BA as well, as many of the professional gigs require it. Just depends on what you’re after professionally.

    An easy way to start off though is temping, depending on how you can work it around your retail schedule. Temping can also help you explore the different office/professional jobs out there.

  18. MM*

    Definitely talk to the parents of the kids you babysat for – if they trusted you with their child, then they’re probably willing to vouch for you in their work place. Plus, they already know some important things about you – you show up on time and you’re not crazy – things that employers don’t necessarily know when interviewing strangers with good resumes. I did go to college and did a number of internships – but I got my first office job out of college because the parents of children I babysat for had good connections and recommended me for it – so that’s definitely something worth pursuing!

  19. Sierra C*

    I was in a similar position years ago, although the job market was a bit better. I looked for very entry level receptionist jobs, either just answering phones, data entry, or filing.

    To get started I did a couple volunteer positions where I spent a few hours a week answering phones, and general office work at an organization. Some nonprofits in my area have a lot of need this time of year with end of the year donations coming in. One volunteer role I just started by packing boxes and mailings, then they asked for data entry help.

    I then applied for work at small businesses, lots of tax companies hire for help during tax season. I was able to get a job answering phones and filing at a small local business, they were impressed with the organization I had volunteered for and I had a good first interview.

    I also worked retail at a large department store, and talked about my experience dealing with angry customers, problem solving, and reaching goals. All of that worked to my advantage. I also had bar tendon experience and that was harder to relate to office work.

    I never had luck with temp agencies although some friends have. And of course your mileage may vary based on your city.

    Good luck!

    1. TootsNYC*

      Bar tending is incredible multi-tasking and incredible attention to detail and memorization. Staying calm in a fast-moving situation.

      Knowing the importance of “office” (bar space) organization and discipline. What is “washing the glasses when it’s quiet and getting them ready to go” but “filing,” hmmm? You’re moving glasses around; I’m moving paper around. Same principles and concept. Processes, reliability, organization, efficiency, flexibility.

  20. Anita Newname*

    You could also try applying at the corporate HQ of a retailer if there happens to be one near you. My husband had some IT experience but most of his jobs were in retail, and when he applied for an IT job on the corporate side of an area retailer, his retail experience helped him because he understood how they operated.

  21. FuzzFace*

    I’m interested in following this. My office is looking for a receptionist/admin, and the hiring manager is just tossing out anyone without professional experience. She’s let me glance at some of these resumes, and while it seems some of them wouldn’t be a good fit, I think many of them would be hard workers and could learn the job. (Of course, everyone who applies that does have professional experience is “overqualified,” but that’s a problem for another thread). I’m all for giving people chances, especially during interviews, but I’m not in charge of hiring.

  22. Dr. Johnny Fever*

    If this is an affordable option, check out your local community college and see what kinds of professional certificates they offer. These can include business applications and software suites, as well as specific vocational routes for those skills. You may also find a job-posting board there with entry-level positions geared for these students.

    I’d recommend that you also think of your experience in a more positive light. Instead of focusing on what you lack, embrace what makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd. Find job descriptions that match your interests, and use the qualifications to rethink how your customer service and analytical skills apply. Focus on the amounts of cash you handle and reconcile, your management skills for inventory and tracking, and your techniques for gathering and sorting through that information to develop actions. That can help you frame your resume and kick-ass personal cover letter.

    FYI, I made a jump from retail into IT through a gradual process. I leveraged my customer service skills to gain a call-center position, used observations to suggest improvements, and brought my skills and experience in – through hard work, I found opportunities to break into new tasks. I lack a college degree and studied humanities, so I embrace my people skills to stand out my peers. Sometimes the biggest help is your own self-perception.

  23. Spooky*

    I second Alison’s comment about looking for off-hours jobs- something like the overnight shift at a hospital will be high-stress, but because the burnout rate is high, there’s more turnover, and therefore you’d have more of a chance.

    Also, since you’ve got a degree in early childhood ed, could you start off by admin-ing for a preschool or elementary school? I have a relative who just entered the market for the first time in her thirties, and she was able to get an admin position in her kids’ school. Try reaching out to the schools directly, or asking the parents you’ve nannied for if they could provide recommendations at their kids’ schools. Good luck!

    1. Spooky*

      Also, I know this isn’t admin but it’s worth throwing out there: have you tried call centers? While they may not be the best, at least you’d have regular hours and less physical activity, which solves two of your problems. Not a great option but worth considering!

      1. KR*

        Yes! My friend transitioned from food service to a call center and she loves it. She’s frequently the top performer (it’s a bill collection agency).

      2. LBK*

        And call centers are considered a little higher up on the professional experience scale, so that would make it easier to transition into a different office job instead of going straight from retail to a corporate environment.

    2. Sunny With a Chance of Showers*

      There’s a company I know of that hires entry-level workers — people who have not had the advantage of much of anything beyond a HS diploma — for health savings accounts/call center work. They pay $12/hour to start. Showing up every day would put someone at the top of the heap in that company, from what a supervisor told me. It would be easy for someone like OP to excel there.

  24. ThursdaysGeek*

    If you’ve got the ECE degree, why not apply for jobs as a lead or running a childcare center? It will be using your degree, but you’ll be moving from childcare to the management. Your lead position in the retail store can help that too. That will also help with getting experience that can help you move out of childcare.

  25. Kelly L.*

    I did this. It was a combination of these two things from Alison’s post: “Maybe that’s making a personal connection with someone who gives you your first office job” and “Targeting office jobs that may have less competition”. I freely admit it was largely dumb luck. I knew somebody through a hobby, who knew somebody whose AA had just quit, but who had just had a baby and was overwhelmed and hadn’t had the chance to really search yet, and I honestly think she hired me so she wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. :D I learned a lot on the job, and more importantly, it got me out of the typecasting–I think it’s less that a retail or food service worker can’t do office work, in many cases, but that people will look at their resume and not realize that they could do office work.

    1. Dan*

      There’s another example where job hunting is like dating (at least online dating):

      Online, I’m screening matches based on some sort of criteria. If they don’t meet the criteria, I never see them. Yet, some of these people I may actually date if I had met them in real life.

      The same is true for job hunting: Employers are looking for employees with a certain type of experience. If they don’t have it, it’s unlikely that their resumes will get seen. Yet, meet the manager in real life, and you may very well get a shot when you otherwise wouldn’t.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yup. Perfect analogy. When I was looking at dating ads, I ruled out people whose spelling was bad. But now I’m in a long-term relationship with a guy whose spelling is bad. Because I met him in person through mutual friends, and had a rapport with him before I ever saw anything he wrote, and knew he was smart as hell.

  26. some1*

    I transitioned from retail to a receptionist in 2001 by going through a temp agency, so I would definitely give that a shot.

    I second Another Alison by looking into courses for MS Office Suite, and start taking typing tests online if you are <65 WPM.

  27. RKB*

    I went from grocery store to government employee. Lots of government institutions need some well-versed in customer service for various reasons. I became a clerk for the labour and delivery floor, as well as a front desk clerk for the city gyms. With both of these positions I was able to transition into more professional settings! I think the key is to find something which suits your retail skills and use it as a starting point. Like someone else said, there’s administrative retail positions, as well as court clerks, healthcare clerks, city clerks, etc.

  28. Carrie in Scotland*

    On temping: lots of people throw this out as an amazing opportunity still but in my experience (& it’s possible it varies somewhat from UK to US) but

    a) you’d need to be able to jump in straight away to cover the gap of why they need a temp in the first place. We had a temp admin in one of my jobs and she could NOT do the job (it was fairly skilled and highly detailed; reading reports of school inspections).
    b) obviously the job is temporary. It’s not great if you have a fluctuating income if you have rent/mortgage/loans etc to pay.

    1. Kelly L.*

      The problem I had with temping (I tried this too) was that they always called when I was already at work (pre-cell phone ubiquity), and all the temp hours were also when I was already scheduled to work, and they wrote me off pretty quickly, I think. I could only have done it if I’d actually quit the other job first, and then who knows if I could have gotten enough temp hours to live on.

  29. Cheddar2.0*

    I recommend going the healthcare route. If you start as an appointment line answerer, or general office support or something, you can probably move up pretty easily once you get some experience! The mentor I’m working with right now (as part of an official professional mentoring program) started in retail and went to scheduling appointments for a primary care clinic. Then she worked the desk at the clinic, moved to Orthopedics, became a clinic manager, learned medical coding, moved to the insurance claims department, and now is the person who trains all the incoming insurance people. She says it took her about 9 years to work this far up, and she doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree.

    My mom also had a similar route – only retail experience, worked at a clothing store within a healthcare system (think, branded uniforms for the staff mostly, with a few random other things), got laid off, was given a temp as a warehouse assistant sorting old medical records, they saw she was good with it and moved her into a lab assistant position sorting lab supplies, and now she’s just been chosen for a career-level lab assistant position, and they’re training her on all the cryogenetics equipment, and she’ll be responsible for running the tests on the samples that come in. Her background is in education (BS degree) and interior design (AA degree), for reference.

    1. Adara*

      I second the healthcare option. Maybe also look into reception positions at veterinary clinics. Emergency clinics are open 24 hrs/day and many require a flexible schedule. Day practices are generally closed Sundays with short hours on Saturdays, but full time is generally four days/week. A vet practice would give you many office-related skills that are transferable and many are willing to train on-the-job. Most often, vet clinics are looking for someone with a good attitude who will fit in with the culture of the practice and be able to handle clients professionally vs. someone with all the office skills they need. You can always train someone on the technical side of things, but you can’t train a good personality or a positive attitude.

  30. Mark in Cali*

    I graduated with a theater degree and worked for many years teaching theater and waiting tables and occasional acting jobs. After so long I was fed up and wanted exactly what you wanted. Trouble is, no one takes a person with a theatre degree seriously for a business role (though they will all tell you to your face that you are talented and have so many transferable skills, but the business major is always the “best fit”).

    I did the temp route. I was lucky to land into a company and a department that I thought was very interesting. I took advantage of all the networking and training opportunities I could as a contractor, bought many people coffees, and tried to find special projects. In less than a year I applied for and got a FTE marketing assistant role and another year a half got a associate role. I’ve certainly showed the folks here that you don’t need a business degree to do well in the business world!

    You can do it! Good luck!

  31. OP*

    I’m trying to keep up with all the comments! :-) Thanks for all the advice, I really appreciate it! As for volunteering/interning/temp work, it’s extremely hard with my schedule. I basically have to be available for work 24/7, and I get my schedule for the new week 2 days before it starts. Also, I’m afraid to leave a solid job for temp work, because I’m to sole provider for myself and my disabled father who lives with me, so I need something stable.

    1. K*

      I made a comment on an earlier comment, but is a great online resource to learn various softwares. You can do it at your own pace, from home, and no I don’t work for them I just found a lot of benefit from using it. :)

      1. Retail Lifer*

        Coursera has some “verified certificate” programs that you can work on at your own pace and then you get a certificate and a “badge” for your LinkedIn profile.

    2. Bostonian*

      That does make it tough. I’d encourage you not to give up on volunteering, though – a lot of places want someone who isn’t flaky, but that isn’t the same as a regular schedule. If you’re helping with data entry or filing and are reliable about communicating when you’re available, they may not care whether you come for a couple hours on Monday one week and Wednesday the next.

      Alison’s advice on this site generally leans towards applying for fewer jobs, but more carefully selected ones. In your case I think the opposite is true – just apply to a bunch of stuff and see what happens, if you haven’t been doing that already. Tell everyone you know what you’re looking for – friends, family, parents of kids you’ve cared for, people at organizations you volunteer for, etc. Some hiring managers want someone with experience exactly aligned with the job. Other people are more excited about taking a chance on someone who’s obviously smart and a hard worker – those employees tend to take more training up front but are likely to excel in the long run. And if that person comes with some sort of personal connection or recommendation, so much the better. You just have to keep applying and networking until you stumble across the right hiring manager.

    3. CA Admin*

      I hate that retail jobs do this! I was an Assistant Manager at a store for a couple of years after college and I always made sure to do the schedules at least 2 weeks out–preferably as many as 4. It’s not fair to the employees if they can’t make appointments or have lives outside of work.

      /end rant

      1. TootsNYC*

        Actually, now that you’ve been promoted, maybe you can make a case for having your own schedule be more even and predictable.

        1. KR*

          Same thought here. Another thing that has worked for me (I’ve been juggling two part time jobs for a while) is giving myself a “weekend” in my availability. Basically these are one or two days (not necessarily in a row) a week that I cannot work at all. I know most retail jobs make it seem like you need to be available 24/7 in order to get any hours at all but this is purely for the convenience of your manager and you have every right to designate time that’s yours reliably every week. They will survive without you.

        2. Melissa J*

          I was able to do this at the store that I worked at. I had developed such a relationship with the other managers that I was able to specify which days and times I absolute could not work because I have activities outside of work that I was not willing to give up. I even had at least 1 day off every week that was the same day (Wednesdays). I also received my schedule about 2 days ahead of time (getting it on the Thursday before the Sunday we needed to work – so frustrating).

          Also, don’t feel guilty about leaving when you do if they haven’t properly staffed it yet. They’ll make it work.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I agree, don’t give up on volunteering. The supply of daytime volunteers is really low, and having someone come in intermittently during the week (a morning here and there) to file or tackle some other administrative thing might be valuable enough that they’d take you when they could get you.

      (for that matter, since it’s retail, are you reliably free from 8am to 10? Even something short like that might be enough to be helpful in some nonprofit’s office.)

    5. Natalie*

      I would sign up for a temp agency because you basically have nothing to lose other than the hour or two for the interview and testing. You wouldn’t have to quit your existing job – there are lots of 1-2 day assignments due to someone’s illness – and you can ALWAYS turn down an assignment if you’re not available.

    6. Mark in Cali*

      You can make it clear to your temp agency that you want long term contract work 6+ months and even to go as far to say you’d be interested in jobs where people get hired on full time.

      Even if you get a 4 month contract, it’s during month three that you start working with the agency again for your next role. My experience with agencies is that YOu have to be proactive about working, they won’t look for you if you don’t show them you’re excited to work.

    7. Mark in Cali*

      But also, to be constructively honest, if you are going to use all those excuses to stay in your current job then that’s where you’ll stay. There’s an element of risk here, but I don’t think it’s as bad as you might think.

    8. Maeve*

      As someone who supervises interns and volunteer at a nonprofit, an ever-changing schedule isn’t a huge problem for me as long as someone can commit to a certain number of hours per week and lets me know in advance. I imagine many nonprofits are similar.

  32. LawCat*

    It’s been a long time since I have done temping, but when I did it, it was a great way to start out (and did lead to a couple permanent positions). Back when I was temping, the temp agencies I worked for offered opportunities to improve your skills. For example, you could go into the office and work through self-directed trainings on their computers for typing speed and various office software programs. The agency staff could point to what trainings would provide the most value for making one competitive for temp placements. The trainings were free.

  33. tod*

    You excelled academically. I am betting that this means you have some professors in your corner who are really rooting for you. E-mail them to reach out and see if you can make an appointment to come see your old teachers during their office hours, and have a chat with them about any opportunities they know of. Remember, they are your professional network as well, and they have seen you shining at the top of your class.

    If you want to work as an admin for a school or something else related to your degree in early childhood education, that may also be a good foot in the door to reception/admin style work. Not sure if childhood ed is like this, but in my industry (land management), even our front desk staff have degrees in land management-related disciplines because otherwise some of our industry-specific jargon and tasks would be gobbldygook to anyone else.

  34. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    You may want to look for office work in the child care sector – receptionist at a child care center, assistant at a child-focused nonprofit, etc. Your experience with children and families, and your obvious interest in the field, will go a long way in overcoming the other deficits in your background. (My large nonprofit, for example, would absolutely consider someone with your background for an entry-level role on our child development program team).

    Good luck!

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, OP, if you have an AA in Early Childhood, have you 100% decided that childcare isn’t for you and you want more of a desk job rather than a working with kids job? Because working as an assistant teacher or a paraprofessional at a school or preschool or daycare would definitely get you a more consistent schedule than retail – it would almost definitely be a M-F job with set hours each week. I know you say you never graduated from high school, but I’d say a 4.0 in your AA is pretty impressive and you shouldn’t sell your education short on that. I know daycares don’t necessarily pay all that well, but it is probably on par with retail. And our daycare also has a handful of admin positions, like the person that handles billing or the person that orders the food for the kitchen. In my area, there are more and more public schools opening pre-K programs that hire assistant teachers with AAs, especially if you have any experience with Special Ed.

      Or, related, what about applying to be an admin at a public school, or a Special Ed paraprofessional/Aide?

      1. Apprehensive*

        I want to chime in and say that this is a great idea! I went to school for teaching but fell out of love with it during student teaching. While getting my bearings, I was hired as the administrative assistant in the front office of an elementary school. Many of the people I worked with pulled for each other when openings came up–as in, maybe you could start as a teacher’s assistant and do a transfer to administrative assistant when an opening comes up. I know in most school districts, current employees tend to get a lot of priority when openings come up. I personally ended up going back to school for Business after that job–maybe if you found a decent school year gig, you could use your summers off (if applicable) to take some more college classes. When I was doing it around 2010, I was hired at 215 days per year, with the option to spread some of my pay through the summer months or not. Good luck, and you can do it!

      2. afiendishthingy*

        I would just add that – as I’m sure the OP realizes – childcare and paraprofessional jobs are also very physically demanding, as well as generally pretty low-paying. My field is special education/human services and until I finished my masters and professional certification I was making about $22k. I do love working in this field but from what OP says it doesn’t sound like full time entry-level work with kids is what’s s/he’s looking for.

  35. 42*

    The OP comes across as very articulate and self-aware. This is a very attractive quality, and will work in her favor.

    You’ve gotten great advice OP! I wish you the best.

  36. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    Good luck, OP!

    I was in your boat a few years ago- retail experience with smatterings of professional internships here and there, and some volunteer work. A friend who knew the field I was looking in recommended me for a position at her employer, and when I was interviewed I played up my interest in the field and my desire to learn and advance in said field, not just take a secretarial job at face-value. But that was after a really long, frustrating battle of playing up my skills and applying for jobs I knew I could do but couldn’t compete with more advanced applicants. I know that I got my current job on my own merits, but I don’t think I would have gotten the interview if it had not been for my friend, so if you have any connections you can draw on don’t be afraid to do that! But mostly it will be perseverance and not letting rejection make you complacent if you really want to move on from retail.

  37. Turanga Leela*

    I’d add that if you’re interested in admin work, make sure you have the skill set for that work ready to go. If you can write reasonably well and spell and punctuate correctly, that’s going to be huge for whoever hires you. If you have the skills to edit their writing when asked, even better. Being able to type well, use Microsoft Office (including basic proficiency in Excel), and get details right (like the spelling of clients’ names) will serve you well.

  38. Erin*

    I *love* this question.

    You can definitely find some office-related duties volunteering. You mention you don’t have time to go back to school and etc., but volunteer positions can be really flexible (like a couple hours a week).

    Also: people hate answering phones. If you can find a receptionist/admin position (volunteer, temp, or what have you) where that is the main duty, I think you’d be able to get your foot in the door.

    I’ve found a lot of times businesses really need someone to cover phones so they can get their “real” work done, but the pay is low and the job is boring and it can be surprisingly hard to fill. And you’ve probably answered phones at your retail jobs before, right? Experience!

    And I have to second getting creative with networking. I’ve made connections from commenting regularly on local blogs, through people my parents know, etc.

  39. NK*

    I don’t want to take this on a tangent, but can someone elaborate on why temping doesn’t work as reliably as it used to? I have a cousin who has been unemployed for a while, and temping has been suggested but it doesn’t seem that she’s really pursued it. Just curious about how worthwhile it is (she has general office and customer service skills that would seem to lend themselves well to temping).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      At least anecdotally, there’s less temp work than there used to be; companies stopped hiring as many temps when the economy plummeted in 2008 and it’s never picked back up to where it used to be.

      When I was in college and home for the summer, I could call a temp agency and have solid work starting the next day and throughout the whole summer, and I was not particularly skilled. I rarely hear about that happening anymore.

      1. Natalie*

        I imagine tech changes have also had an impact – with email and smart phones and whatnot there’s less need for a general receptionist, so if your receptionist is out sick you an just make do for one day.

      2. MaryMary*

        I think more companies are just making do instead of hiring a temp. So if the receptionist goes on maternity leave (an assignment I used to frequently cover when I was a temp) the company makes the admins/entry level people cover the front desk instead of hiring a temp.

        One winter break, I got paid $10/hour (which was double minimum wage at the time) for a week to stuff envelopes for a company’s customer Christmas cards. Now, I think the existing permanent staff would probably be handed a pile of cards and be told to figure out how to make it work. Assuming that company is still sending that many cards to that make customers.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I had a regular gig through the temp agency stuffing paychecks every other Thursday evening right after college. It was great because you could bring music and there was no thought involved what so ever. But I would pick-up an extra $36 and they provided snacks.

      3. Retail Lifer*

        Definitely true. My boyfriend was laid off a couple of months ago, signed up with several temp agencies, and it still took two months for anyone to find anything for him that was paying more than $10 an hour (which was the same as his unemployment check).

      4. Felicia*

        In my experience, trying out temp work 2011-2013 with pretty much no experience, it’s because they have an oversupply of people with lots of relevant experience who’ve been laid off going for the temp jobs that were once entry level.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I think it depends on the temp agency, but I’ve noticed that they have become more stringent with who they talk to. Back in the day, you would call the agency, you would have an interview and the agency would uncover what you were good at. You could be placed immediately, or they would keep you on file and contact you when something matching turns up. If you were a personable candidate and could learn quickly, you would eventually be placed in a job.
      Now temp agencies seem to be more like outsourced hiring departments. They don’t keep lists of qualified applicants, they just post jobs and talk to people who apply for that particular job. And if you aren’t perfectly qualified, they won’t bother talking to you.
      At least, this is what I am observing.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Oh yeah, and some of them are really annoying–I had forgotten about this, but there was one job I applied for via a Craigslist ad a few years ago. I was really interested in this specific job, in terms of its location and some other specific things about it. When I emailed my materials as requested, it turned out to be a temp agency, they weren’t really hiring for that job, they didn’t even want to talk about that job, they just wanted to put me in their database. And it turned out they mostly serviced a different geographical area, one that I couldn’t get to easily.

        1. cardiganed librarian*

          I saw a posting for a professional-type job, with a degree, experience, language skills and a security clearance that I had. The library field is way oversaturated but not too many people have that clearance and are sitting around unemployed, willing to take a near minimum-wage three-month job. They never called me. I’m 95% sure I just added another entry to the database that they are selling other companies access to.

  40. Anon-na-na*

    I live close to a major city on the East Coast, so YMMV, but we have local Young Professionals groups through our Chamber of Commerce for early 20s-late 30s individuals for networking/professional development. The cost to attend events is usually very low and might help you make some new connections if you have anything similar in your area. The school where you received your AA may also have alumni meetups, which would probably be free to attend.

    As an aside, I made the jump from small business retail to higher education about five years ago. It is amazing how many of the skills I used in retail–meeting clients’ high expectations, presenting to groups, supervising a staff, problem solving every minute of every day, cultivating a large clientele base (some of which did information interviews with me before I made the leap!), working with educators and students, budgeting, and developing a reputation for excellent niche knowledge–are all reasons I was hired into my first job post-retail. Best of luck, OP!

  41. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

    Are you looking at craigslist?

    I did a quick scan at my city’s job board and noticed there are a few admin positions that don’t say previous admin experience required.

    Small businesses tend to post on craigslist and maybe more willing to give someone a chance. Also, it likely will go directly to a person than a ATS system.

    1. Erin*

      Yeah, I feel like Craig’s List isn’t utilized that much for job searching, for obvious reasons, but I ended up finding a job through there. You never know.

  42. Persephone Mulberry*

    OP, I think you probably have way more office-relevant skills than you realize or are giving yourself credit for. You probably know Word, PowerPoint and Excel from being in school. You know how to interact with the public, work with little supervision, professionally answer a phone, multitask, learn new software, operate a copier and fax machine. You’ve handled money and I assume you know your alphabet so you can handle filing. In your store roles, have you made suggestions that have improved systems (even it it’s something that sounds dumb or obvious like moving the copy paper from the back office to a cabinet near the copy machine!) – tt demonstrates that you are proactive.

    Don’t get hung up on things like not knowing what Sharepoint is or how to transfer calls on a multi-line telephone. Focus on what makes you a great employee!

    As for what kind of jobs to target, I’d actually recommend steering away from larger companies – IME they’re more likely to have a more rigid qualification process. I’d also consider, if you can swing it, looking at part-time positions. A company hiring a 10-20 hour a week receptionist or filing position is more likely to consider someone with limited experience because the expectations of the role are limited as well. And sometimes – no guarantees on this – you’ll get lucky and once you prove you can answer the phone and file, they’ll start giving you more interesting projects and expand your hours.

    Good luck!

    1. KR*

      Most retail jobs do use multi-line telephones to communicate throughout the store! See if you can pick up some shifts at the service desk at your store – I do a lot of admin/receptionist type duties there and use multi-line phone systems a lot.

  43. Laura*

    This is what I did. It isn’t a short term solution quite and it’s not free.

    Find someone you can trust who is doing something already to make extra money. Go in on a business license. They will be your ‘boss’ and provide a reference when the time is right.

    Take some quick books classes at the local community college extention. Each one of these was 2 Saturdays for 4 hours.
    Sign up with quick books pro advisor program and complete their certification. This is a monthly subscription. The certification is not intimidating . It’s multiple choice with multiple tries to get the right answer.
    Keep track of the finances for the business. For me this was something that there was only occasionally money coming in. I also read up on all the rules that applied to the work being done.
    I did this for 4 years before I was in a ‘I need a job right now’ situation.
    I made a resume and sent it to a resume assistance person on fiverr with a list of stuff I had done even on the low key scale of this business that could have easily gone on as not a business but which I did take seriously regardless of the low amount of actual work.

    I applied to a temp agency with my new shiny resume and I was straight forward about the experience coming from a tiny company where I mostly figured things out on my own but I also gave evidence of the quick books and other research I did to understand how to do the work.

    I almost right away got a really decent job where they trained me on everything anyway. I have been permanently hired at this job after a year but if I hadn’t I now have 2 jobs with references and 5 years experience in a professional field and I’m confident I will never have to go back.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I am happy this worked for you but I wouldn’t recommend this for the OP. Also, there is some deception there with the whole business license and boss/reference thing. I think the OP can get her foot in the door with a good cover letter and resume and some interview practice.

  44. AndersonDarling*

    OP, don’t be so hard on yourself! Reading the letter, I thought you had great qualifications. Customer Service, an Associates Degree, and you’re currently in a team lead position. I would think the early childhood education would make you a great candidate for a position with a children’s oriented non-profit.
    If you follow the advice here about creating a great resume and cover letter, I’m sure you will start getting interviews. It may take a while to find the job, but I’m sure you will land one eventually.
    And like others have mentioned, a weekend class in MSOffice could help you out, they have CE classes at the community college for about $150-200. I’m not sure a whole certificate program would be necessary, but a few focused CE classes would boost your resume and your skills.

    1. TootsNYC*

      yeah, I agree. You have a high school diploma; GEDs count, by gum! And in fact, I think they show a lot of determination, especially since yours is combined with an associate’s degree!

      So just don’t worry about that. Put down your associate’s degree first, and the GED second, and don’t sweat it.

      It’s my experience that people really only care about your most recent academic credential, and you’ve got an associate’s anything before that doesn’t really count; you have to get a high school diploma to even get into the A.D. problem.
      I’m wondering if you can just leave high school off. I’ve never put it on my resume, ever ever. Well, not after I got my bachelor’s.

      You’ve been promoted where you work–that’s huge, to me.
      You’ve achieved #1 ratings–that means you showed a lot of initiative. It also means –important here– You learned your business. You trained yourself on how to succeed in retail. You can certainly train yourself in how to succeed in an office.

      1. Natalie*

        With the AA, does OP even need to list their GED? I know with a bachelors you generally just leave high school off entirely, so if this is similar with an AA they can avoid any kind of subconscious bias against a GED.

  45. OP*

    I am taking notes on all the great suggestions! Just to clarify, I am proficient with Word and PowerPoint. Less so with Excel. I was trained on it in college, but haven’t used it much since. I will definitely look into some free online tutorials.

    1. Zahira*

      Honestly, I’d apply to anything that doesn’t say something like “heavy Excel use” or “Excel is a must/must make complicated charts”.

      You can google most anything you don’t know off the top of your head. There’s usually several different ways to accomplish things in it, and depending on the job, they may want specific things that they’ll have to show you how to do it anyways.

    2. Turanga Leela*

      So many people are intimidated by Excel that even limited proficiency (plus Googling, as Zahira says) is useful. In my office, being able to do very basic formulas has made me the office-wide Excel guru.

    3. Famous Blue Raincoat*

      Last year I transitioned from nine years in a retail job to a temp office job which then promoted me within 4 months to a full time, non-entry level admin HR role. So miracles can happen!

      As for Excel, I was worried about that too; but have found that the basics aren’t as bad as all that to just learn on your own. Obviously some jobs will require more advanced knowledge but you can actually practice making spreadsheets & doing data analysis on your own if you want to.

      Let’s say for example you’re into awards shows like the Oscars. You could create a spreadsheet with each category (Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, etc), previous nominees and winners in each year (viewable on Wikipedia), with another column tracking awards each of those films/people receives leading up to the Oscars. You could practice sorting & filtering data to see how often, say, a Golden Globe win coincided with an Oscars win. Or you could dig in even more and put down the age of each performer at the time they won, to find the median age of an Oscar winner. The possibilities go on and on (and you can probably tell this is a pet hobby of mine).

      You could do the same thing with baseball statistics, or with contestants on a reality show, or with political races–basically just think of a question you have and see how you can make all these pieces of data work together to answer your question. Excel is really helpful with these kinds of projects.

      Another easy way to get into Excel–are you sending out holiday cards or gifts? You could enter the addresses into Excel and track the date each one goes out, enter tracking numbers, update when packages or cards are received, etc.

      TL;DR: Excel isn’t as scary as I once thought, and if you can Google well enough to land at AAM for career advice, you can Google well enough to learn Excel basics. The library is also your friend–mine not only has a computer lab and plenty of books on various Office programs, but the people who work there are often more than happy to explain basic functionality if they have time. In fact, sometimes they even teach a free class on how to use a program. Sure these are going to be pretty basic, but it might be a place to start.

      Good luck in your quest!

    4. JAM*

      Most of my admin jobs require me to know how to make columns, make a table, use formulas, and be able to sort. Maybe make a pie chart 4x a year. I know how to do far more advanced things but most days I can’t even convince someone to let me make a pivot table or do conditional formatting. Start with the first batch and add in knowledge of the latter and you’ll be fine. Anything more advanced will be asked of someone in a non-entry level job and you can learn on the job in a lot of cases.

    5. Melissa J*

      If I remember correctly, the actual Microsoft Office has some great tutorials on it. I learned a lot about the Note program from those. Plus there are a bunch of tutorials all over youtube as well. I’ve definitely used those while at my current job because Excel was being wonky and I couldn’t figure it out.

  46. Liz L*

    I have a legal admin background, and it began at the age of 19 because I used to type up business reports for my dad that he showed to his lawyer (not to talk about my skills but during their regular meetings as part of business). The reports weren’t that outstanding and pretty basic, but the lawyer wanted a part-time admin to take care of tasks that the full-timers didn’t have time for outside of daily tasks. At the time, I didn’t have a certificate beyond high school and had only retail/service experience. But I did have basic skills like being detail-oriented, ability to type quickly, writing well, etc. Eventually it led to full-time jobs even without the relevant “legal admin certificate” and I ended up with a well-paying job at a national firm doing work beyond what I imagined. But that was supplemented by pursuing a university degree while working. Basically, all it takes is for you to prove to one person to give you a fighting chance. One of the receptionists at a big firm I worked at used to be a pharmacy cashier but got the job through a recommendation from a staff member who got to know her.

    Good luck!

  47. Shannon*

    The Red Cross has a huge administrative side. I frequently see them looking for admin volunteers in my area. Depending on your area, they may even have telecommuting volunteer options.

  48. Ashley*

    I am going to suggest the path I took – get into banking. Being a Teller is a nice medium between retail and entry level work, but a job that’s seen as more professional and can lead to a lot of great opportunities. After about 2 years of being a teller, I was promoted into the HR department. It was an entry level HR position, but I quickly excelled and have now been in payroll/HR for almost 8 years. There are a lot of different paths you can take once you get into banking, too…you can stay on the retail side, move into lending, HR, management, accounting…lots of possibilities. With your background, it might be a good place to start. You’ll have to stick with being a teller for a few years, but it might be the fastest path with the most possibilities. And of course, you don’t have to stay at a bank forever…once you move into a position you like, you can take those skills anywhere!

    1. Ashley*

      Not to mention it’s also a set, regular schedule (usually), and my experience when I started was childcare and retail work, so not too different from yours! Plus the money is usually decent (not great, but better than traditional retail in my experience).

    2. Ad Astra*

      Many banks also offer some kind of tuition reimbursement program so you could pursue a bachelor’s degree if that’s something you’re interested in. Being a teller is considered “retail banking,” so it uses a lot of the skills you’d use in retail. When I worked at a bank, many of my most important and successful colleagues started out as tellers. There really is a path to advancement.

    3. Silvercat*

      That’s what I was going to recommend. I have a friend who transitioned from teller to (finally) an office job. (His primary problem was not going for them).

      If you can start temping, there are a lot of short term jobs this time of year for inventory and such. But stay on the temp rep so they don’t just send you to those.

      A plus to retail – it’s possibly upped your ten-key skills, which would make you good at data entry, another thing that temp agencies always need. Take free online typing and ten key tests and add the scores to your resume.

    4. Angela*

      Yes – I went from retail to bank teller and it is definitely seen as more professional. The bank I worked for loved to promote from within also. I ended up moving from bank teller to an accounting assistant position.

    5. Natalie*

      Oh, great idea! Even as a teller, the OP will get the more regular hours they want as well since banks have pretty standard hours. Bankers’ hours, even.

    6. MaryMary*

      This is a great idea! I know of several professional services (accounting, financial services, insurance) organizations that hire former bank tellers into their entry level* analyst or coordinator positions.

      *1-3 years of experience preferred.

    7. Sarasaurus*

      Yes, I came here to say this! My husband worked as a teller during college, then worked his way up and is now a district manager. He works traditional office hours and makes a very good salary. Banks love promoting from within, so it’s not at all uncommon for someone to start from the bottom and move up the ladder.

    8. overeducated and underemployed*

      This was the case with the local credit union where I worked as a teller one summer during college. Lots of the people in the “back office” jobs were people who had moved up from teller positions, and several of the relatively new permanent tellers I worked with were very open about their desire to move into different positions in the organization in time. One person who was interested in security and fraud detection even got to start building relationships and learning about the work in that department as a result. This may be an organizational culture thing but it seemed really cool that you could get hired on at the entry-level and look forward.

      (Me? Turned out I was really bad at being a teller! I am great at customer service but that particular kind of detail-orientation is not my strong point.)

    9. Tara R.*

      I was a teller for a credit union in 11th grade, and it definitely impressed people and helped me land an office job internship this past summer. Plus, you typically get treated slightly better than a retail worker (guy who threw his ID at my face aside), and paid really well (I made almost $15/hour and the non-student tellers started at $16.50-$17).

  49. Rebecca in Dallas*

    I moved from a store management position to the corporate side of retail. It depends a lot on your own company, the chain I worked at notoriously did *not* like promoting from the stores into the headquarters. Some really love promoting from within, though. So start by asking someone at your company, maybe you have an HR contact that can point you in the right direction and give you some advice about whether that is realistic in your current company.

    In my case, I moved from a big department store into an allocation position at the home office of a closeout retailer. The experience you have in the stores can really help you for that type of position. You’re used to managing inventory at the store level, this is the same type of analysis but just from a higher level. And you can think about things in terms of what it will mean for the store personnel/customer. (I.e: if I send 20 units of the same sku, will that look like a nice presentation?)

    A lot of allocation/analysis positions really prefer a bachelor’s degree, but again it might depend on the company. In some cases your store experience might count for just as much as a degree.

    Alternately, take a look at your distribution center/warehouse if your company has those, usually there are office jobs there as well, although in my experience they are not quite as “professional” as an office setting.

    Good luck!

    1. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Forgot to add that if you go this route, make sure to brush up on your retail math skills. Just google for “retail math formulas” and commit them to memory. It’s not hard math at all, but it’s definitely something that they will ask you about.

  50. Jazzabration*

    I can’t recommend volunteer work enough. I know it can be tough to find time for volunteer work on a retail schedule, but it can help with so many areas, from building your network to getting experience in the field you want. Ronald McDonald House is often looking for administrative volunteers.

  51. Deirdre*

    When I was still handling employment, and as long as they had the technology skills, I would take someone from retail in a minute! The admins I hired from retail were great with multitasking, customer service, strong on initiative, and had tremendous follow through.
    – if you have regular customers, and it’s appropriate, ask for suggestions/ideas (I had two job offers from customers when I worked in customer services)
    – love the volunteering/temping suggestions.
    – consider looking at colleges/universities around you. many have book/campus stores on premise, and if they are hiring, it’s a great way to get on campus. (some campus stores are outsourced but it’s still a great way to get on a campus and connect)
    – does your technical school have any alumni resources (job listings, support, etc,?)
    – in Michigan, we have a great state site ( to job seekers and companies. does your state have anything like that?
    – when possible, go to job fairs. There you can meet people and look at opportunities. Plus many companies have listings that aren’t always listed.

    good luck with your transition!

  52. Cheeto*

    I went from being a reporter to doing five years in retail to four years of closed captioning back to retail. I just landed an office job doing something I’m interested in. It’s entry level, but has an actual trajectory. I’m 34. It’s disheartening because those closest to me in age all have “director” or “senior” in their titles, but I imagine I’ll catch up at some point. Good luck. It’s a hard struggle.

  53. Blight*

    I think she should focus on going to school, even part time, for anything that will help. No business in my own town will hire a receptionist unless they have years of experience or a diploma. The local program for admin assistant is only 2 years… I am sure there are other options available that can shorten the timespan.

    Competition for admin spots is fierce, particularly entry level spots. Most applicants will posses not only the educational requirement but will also have years of customer service experience from working during school.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I would hesitate to tell someone the OP’s age with work experience and some education to go back to school without knowing more specifics. The OP asked about entry level professional jobs and mentioned admin jobs but didn’t necessarily say that is what she is interested in. There are many jobs with set schedules that can be done in an office. I think if the OP can narrow down what she wants to do for the next 3-5 years minimum, it can better determine if going back to school in the immediate future is a viable option.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Our OP has years of customer service experience; so it sounds like the only thing missing is the educational requirement. But…she’s got an associate’s, as well as community-college classes in the software required.

  54. Anonymous Educator*

    or maybe it’s writing an incredibly personable cover letter that demonstrates why you’d excel at the job and that you’re smart and motivated and that you’d be an awesome colleague

    Small nitpick: did you mean personalized and not personable?

    1. Ted Mosby*

      I took her to mean personable, like pulling the reader in and making them like you enough to take a chance on you.

  55. LizzyB*

    If MS Office is a barrier, you might look into online classes through your local library. Mine offers them free (with a library card), last 6 weeks, and you get an “award of completion” when you take the final test. There is an instructor, so you can ask questions. I believe the company, Gale Courses, contracts with a lot of libraries. I’ve taken a couple of Adobe classes from them and learned a lot. I also found it a little easier to stick to than using a book and trying to do it myself. If you don’t have MS Office at home, you could probably reserve time on library computers. Also, many libraries allow people who live outside their area to get a library card for a fee. Good luck!

  56. eplawyer*

    I just want to say,don’t be discouraged, give it a shot. I don’t have employees but I have friends who have hired assistants, just an assistant, no legal skills needed. Let me tell you, good help is hard to find. You have already shown you will show up on time and work your shift, that you are dependable, and have an attention to detail (those window displays to look nice take A LOT of work), you deal with unruly customers as noted (try being a receptionist when someone is bullying you to put you through to the boss when the boss said NO CALLS, NONE). Believe it or not, just finding someone with those skills can be a challenge. If you know the alphabet (even if you have to sing it to yourself ocassionaly) and can type a simple letter, you are good to go for entry level work.

    1. TootsNYC*

      If you know the alphabet (even if you have to sing it to yourself ocassionaly)

      Ha! When I was a library aide in high school, I taped the alphabet to the pull-out tray on the 1950s-style desk. It kept me from having to go, “j, k, l, m, n…” or “e, f, g, h, i,” or “o, p, q, r, s.” Everything else, I was totally good on instinctively.

  57. OP*

    I am applying to bank teller jobs. I actually know someone who works at a local bank, so I have been using him as a reference when I apply there (they ask for references and if an employee referred you on the automated application). I’m completely re-doing my resume now using all the great advice on this site. The format was sadly outdated and listed duties rather than accomplishments, so I’m really trying to improve it. I also know someone who works at a local library, so I will be reaching out to them, as well as some of my former child care clients. Thanks again for all the advice!

    1. TootsNYC*

      Especially for you, list accomplishments! And maybe try to word duties, if you include them (I know I would in many instances, along w/ accomplishments) in broad-stroke terms that could apply to many different businesses. Ditto for accomplishments, of course.

      “Learned inventory computer system” instead of “learned BooksOnShelves computer system,” for one example. “Handled correspondence,” that sort of thing.

    2. Retail Lifer*

      Banks like people who have worked in retail since you have both customer service and money handling experience.

  58. Chriama*

    OP, you have a degree in early childhood education. Do you want to pursue a related career, or are you just looking for a predictable 9-5 entry level position? I think it might be hard to get those kinds of jobs when *both* your education and experience speak to something totally different. I do think that temp agencies are a good place to start, as well as small businesses. Tell your parents, neighbours, etc that you’re looking for entry level office work – when I was a kid I helped out a neighbour who had an event-planning business while she was on vacation. There are probably quite a few enterprising adults in your life who could use the help a couple of days a week. At your age the money probably isn’t worth it, but the work experience is. And getting your name out there is key.

    1. Ted Mosby*

      Maybe you could look for office work at an education related company? They might be impressed by your degree.

      1. Chriama*

        Hmm, now I’m thinking if there’s something like an educational toy store that occasionally has kids’ events she could move into more of an event coordinating position that would translate well to admin work.

  59. WLE*

    As Alison said, this will be hard but not impossible. Be prepared to really put the time and effort into giving yourself a competitive edge, and I think you’ll be able to break into the industry you’re seeking. Some recommendations that I don’t think anyone has mentioned:

    1) Professional Headshots. Make sure your LinkedIn has a really nice headshot. It makes such a big difference when you see this and not a selfie that someone took on their phone. It will probably cost your anywhere from $100 – $200, but it definitely makes you appear more professional.
    2) Start a blog that is related to the field you’re trying to get into. Blog about topics related to the work you’d like to do. This will be great to bring up in interviews or when applying for jobs. It shows how interested you are in the industry and gives prospective employers a taste of your personality.
    3) Personal branding goes a long way. Make sure that your resume, cover letter, business cards, and thank you cards all have the same fonts, formatting, etc. You can purchase a logo for yourself on etsy at a pretty reasonable price. This could also be used on a website or blog.

    Think of yourself as a brand, and market yourself as such. I also dropped out of high school, and I’ve now been working in my field for nearly 4 years. It’s only a big deal if you make it a big deal. Most of my bosses have never even realized that I dropped out, even though I was honest on all of my job applications.

    Best of luck!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think people need to worry too much about #3. If you’re someone who loves that kind of thing, it’s fine to have fun with it — but most employers won’t care either way, so I don’t want people to think it’s a must-do or anything like that. (And I’d actually stay away from a logo on job application materials!)

      1. WLE*

        Maybe it’s different for different fields. I work in Marketing, and it’s fairly common to have a personal logo.

        1. LBK*

          Definitely specific to the industry. I would only recommend it for fields where that would be in some way related your work, like marketing or design.

    2. Erin*

      Great advice. Start a blog – even a simple, free one – so you have a web presence when prospective employers look you up. You can blog about all that great volunteer work you’re going to do. :P

  60. Amiga*

    Kudos to you for realizing you want something different for your career and going for it! I’ve worked in retail for about 3 years after graduating from college with very little work experience except for my college’s deli and library. After school, it was in the height of the Great Recession and I had no helpful connections to get a job. I started working seasonally and then transitioned into an administrative role while applying to graduate schools. After law school, I still couldn’t find a job that was a fit so I worked in retail again. It can be really fun but the hours can be long, scheduling is random, you have to be on your feet almost all day, and there can be so much drama! Anyway, my one piece of advise to you, is to HUSTLE! Obviously you can do that because you achieved your GED and Associate’s. I know many young retail workers who are figuring out what they want to do or have given up on furthering their education. I agree with Alison’s advice and I think you should (1) get connected with a recruiter, (2) network with people in your desired career field, like associations and use LinkedIn, and (3) volunteer/intern to gain experience that you can put on your resume.

    Your best bet is to work with a reputable recruiter to get a contract job related to your passion. I did this after about a year of working retail. In the meanwhile, I studied for the bar exam and networked like a mad-woman. I also asked to be an intern in an environmental organization’s office when I got rejected for a job interview with that organization. I got extra cash and kept my hand in my interests while still working retail! Then something really amazing happened – a casual friend from law school recommended me to a recruiter for a job she couldn’t do. I got 6 months of solid work in the legal field and would have had a job if I wanted to stay. Other opportunities came up right after those 6 months last year through my connections that I had made previously that I couldn’t turn down. Things just snowballed from there and now I’m working in a great office and doing exactly what I envisioned for a career.

    I believe that you can do whatever you put your mind to! I suggest doing everything possible to make it happen. It takes patience and time, but it will happen. Good luck!

  61. Retail Lifer*

    I haven’t ever applied for any admin work since I can’t type properly and I will probably never fully grasp Excel, but I’ve applied to every other job under the sun and I can tell you this: apply to EVERYTHING and be willing to take a pay cut. I’ve been in retail 20+ years and moved into middle management. I hate it, but even with a degree I’m not qualified for anything else that will still allow me to pay me rent. Had I tried harder to get out years ago, when I was only making $10 an hour, entry level pay in another field wouldn’t have meant the difference between being able to pay rent or not. There is a ton of great advice in this thread. If you take it and are persistent then you won’t wind up with a user name like mine.

  62. coffee powerrd*

    To the OP:

    The challenge:
    As other commenters said, it cannot be repeated enough that the first professional job will be a hard sell due to: 1) no previous experience.

    I think the college degree thing can be overlooked. Negative self-talk about your education will carry vibes of uncertainty into your job search and your interviewers will immediately pick up on lack of confidence and it will probably cost you the position. Rather, acknowledge your achievements for how far you’ve gotten so far. This is the time and place to have an inflated ego (to a point). Be proud of what you’ve done so far, then acknowledge that you have a long way to go and a lot to learn and that you’re super super super excited for the opportunity.

    Human connection:
    You may connect with your more experienced interviewers if you can show them a younger and less experienced version of themselves, in you. This will reduce their uncertainty about you (See Uncertainty Reduction Theory, social psychology). If it helps, think about a romance that happened only after you felt less uncertain about that person. Of course you felt stand-off-ish at first, it’s natural, but something happened along the way that led you to trust this person. Jobs are the same. It’s often the people needing to be sure and confident in one-another more than the work itself.

    No skills? That’s okay, I Like you:
    My first manager who hired me straight out of college when all I had was food service and a bachelor’s degree reminds me of this scenario. I had, in hindsight, TERRIBLE office skills, but I went into the interview full of energy and zest and had a great time during the Q & A and got an offer. My entire office career has piggy-backed from there, with one good reference leading to another, to another, to another.

    Would you buy your own story if it were a book?:
    Think of the resume as your autobiography of your professional life. So far your story is just an introduction with a couple of chapters. It’s non-fiction, it’s dry, but there’s opportunity to add your passion to the story to bring it to life. This will differentiate people who “want a job” from people who “WANT THE JOB!” (big difference). You’re selling your story and your character; you can be the hero in your own book. Take visual queues from your interviewers about what types of stories pique their curiosity and which ones have their eyes glazing over. Keeping their interest and curiosity about you up throughout the whole process is paramount.

    Networking and Rapport:
    Working with people at the top of the organization helps tremendously for two reasons; if you have any experience working with high-ups, use that to your advantage:
    1) You are “in-the-know” about what’s going on, more likely to get important projects, your autobiography grows.
    2) A nod of the head in your direction goes exponentially further than talking ’til you’re blue in the face. If your reference has an irreproachable reputation, that becomes your reputation through his/her words.

    Cover letter:
    I totally agree that the time and care of crafting highly personalized cover letters about WHY you want to do the type of work you are applying for (re: passion), since you’re low on experience at this point in your career. For example, “My passion is in the field of…legal, medical, social work, finance/budget/revenue, marketing, insurance, technology, telecom, networking…” The trick here is to make a collegiate-like bond with your interviewer through a shared common professional interest.

    Big fish/Little fish:
    Things to think about: What size of org. are you looking for? Smaller orgs usually allow you more freedom to take on challenges (due to lower overall staffing) and this can be really, really, really good for your career since you may end up in charge of something very important to the company’s bottom line or mission, which in turn will get you your next job, and eventually the exact job you want. Big orgs will have the budget to get you trained and up to speed, so that may jumpstart your career, but you may be doing more menial work and for a longer time, since larger orgs are usually more rigid with the delegation of work.

    Sharks in the water:
    The exact job you want is probably the exact job hundreds of other people want, too, so be prepared to compete, bring your best, and walk into the place with your mind on repeat: “This will be/is my job.” Also, the very sharpest of appearances is needed. It’s worth it to go spend a few hundred dollars+ on excellent interview attire (no cheap stuff). Buy nice high quality material as it’s the little things that will set you apart from the other candidates.

    I could write til the sun goes down, so good luck, OP!!

  63. Retail Lifer*

    I work for a mall and the mall has a part-time administrative position; some of the other malls owned by the same company have a full-time position. They’ve been really big on hiring people with retail experience for this position since it really helps when you’re dealing with mall tenants. Are you close to a mall? If so, look up who owns it and check their corporate website for open positions at your local mall.

  64. Ted Mosby*

    OP, getting a GED and then going on to get a 4.0 in your associates IS impressive! Don’t tell yourself that it isn’t.

    1. Mando Diao*

      Absolutely! I’m of the belief that ANY degree or certification beyond high school is a major accomplishment.

  65. LBK*

    Oh yay, one of the few topics I have direct experience with! I went from being a retail supervisor directly into an office job in finance with zero finance background. Some thoughts:

    -Write your resume as if you’re currently doing an office job that just happens to be located in a store. Don’t talk about retail-specific responsibilities or use retail terminology – you want to paint a really clear picture that if you were picked up out of your store today and plopped down in an office, you’d fit in perfectly. I think a lot of retail people make the mistake of trying to come off like a team player who’s willing to do anything by listing duties like ringing out customers, answering phones, cleaning the store, etc. That is a desirable trait, but it doesn’t read right when you’re trying to transfer industries – it reads like your experience is in doing things completely unrelated to what you’ll need to do in the office.

    -Look for positions that are vaguely sales-related, like sales support or a relationship manager position that involves soft sales (eg getting existing clients to re-up or upgrade). For whatever reason, I find hiring managers see more of a parallel between retail and sales than retail and administration/operations, even if your current role has nothing to do with selling. I was surprised to find that I got much better responses for those positions than I did for admin or customer service roles even though my skills were more in line with the latter.

    -Try to find large companies with a lot of entry level listings that have low experience requirements (most of ours say 0-2 years). That usually signals a culture of being willing to hire people on potential rather than direct experience.

    -If you haven’t already, accept that you’ll have to move down in the hierarchy. A team lead position in retail isn’t going to qualify you for a team lead or even a senior position in the corporate world – you’ll have to start at the bottom again. It sounds like that’s already where you’re looking, but that was a hard pill for me to swallow when I felt like I’d already spent years proving I was ready for management.

    -Come up with any excuse you can to utilize programs and tools you’d be likely to use in an office. I put as many things as I could into Excel just so I’d have professional examples I could use to show my Excel knowledge. Scheduling, duties checklists, employee rankings, whatever.

    -Build strong business acumen. This one’s a good trick because I think a lot of hiring managers don’t even realize it, but there’s a subconscious assumption that retail workers are myopic and won’t be able to transfer into a role that requires seeing the big picture instead of just performing day-to-day transactional work. Be able to speak naturally about the workings of your store and your company beyond the day-to-day – sales goals, trends, business plans/models, etc.

    Overall, I would say the key is to treat retail like a serious career rather than a day job and many hiring managers will take their cues from there. If you come across like you’re writing off the job as beneath you and therefore your experience as meaningless, they’ll do the same.

    1. fposte*

      Big upvote for visibility :-). I especially like the point to treat the retail work like serious experience–because it is.

  66. sy*

    I’d recommend looking for a customer support role. You already know customer voice and how to help people, you should be able to transition into it. Also, customer support is generally one of the lowest rungs in an office, but many companies use their support teams to feed into other roles. There are a lot of call center based support roles out there but also a ton of email and/or chat only roles as well. Good luck!

  67. Penelope Pitstop*

    Sorry if this has been said.

    You might consider how what you do now could translate into value in a professional/office environment. I’d consider framing what you do or have done in a way that is meaningful to someone in an entirely different organization, especially when it comes to the so-called softer skills such as customer or team communication, conflict management, etc. For example (making these up, so illustrate with your specific background and experiences), maybe:

    – helped implement and train on loss prevention measures that resulted in an x% reduction to lost inventory within three months
    – tracked key business and store performance metrics
    – consistently met or exceeded sales performance targets
    – successfully navigated cultural and language barriers daily working with a diverse customer/client base
    – communicated sensitive information and worked to resolve conflict
    – revised emergency procedures and standards and helped develop documentation and training

    ETC and insert your specifics. Not at all suggesting you should claim experience you don’t have, but at least some of the experiences you do have if you break them down will almost certainly translate and can be meaningful elsewhere. Continue to be realistic, but don’t discount what you do offer. You’ll get there. Good luck–you seem to have a lot going on and someone you meet is going to recognize that.

  68. JAM*

    OP, one job type I haven’t seen mentioned is government. I worked retail for years and managed to get a customer facing government job at a payment window. It wasn’t glamorous and it was essentially the same thing I did at Walmart some days but I did it in a chair, in front of a computer, for an employer that looked fancy. I managed to work my way up and out in 18 months and transitioned to a job that was more of a career. My mom got a job in government after being a SAHM for years and she’s very happy in her role. I actually started as a seasonal temp though my mom didn’t and it was really a great transitional job for the both of us. The pay isn’t much better than retail (okay, it was actually worse for a time) but the basic insurance package was free so it evened out. Plus, I assure you most government agencies don’t look for advanced Office skills for the entry level admin.

  69. Aimee*

    I worked in retail for 11 years, in stores, and got completely burned out. But I loved the company and did not want to leave. They were based on the west coast and I’m in the northeast and didn’t want to move to get an office job. I kept an eye on internal job postings for an office job near me that I could transfer into. They didn’t come up often, but long story short, that’s how I got started in recruiting! Maybe there’s some kind of similar position that might be an easier transition than going outside the company. Employers will often take a chance on someone internal with less experience if they know your work ethic, drive to learn more, etc.

  70. Mando Diao*

    OP, can you afford to go back to school, even for another associate’s or short certificate program? Sometimes having a “fresh” graduation date can reboot your job search. Maybe even an online certificate through a good school.

    I think your current degree is confusing to people who might be interviewing/considering hiring you. An associate’s in a field like education is a stepping stone; you get that degree because you intend to get your BA afterward and then take the national exam. Stopping after the associate’s lands you in an odd spot where, yes, you did complete a degree, but it doesn’t allow you to teach, so to me it would raise some questions about what job you’re looking for.

    You could also try interning at companies that don’t require their interns to be students.

  71. R2D2*

    Maybe people are more optimistic than I am, but we live in a very class-based society, and you are working-class; the easy jobs are ear-marked for the kids of middle-class folks. The entire system is designed to funnel Junior from respectable college to respectable internship to respectable white-collar position, even if they spent most of their time in college goofing off with their fraternity buddies and are not particularly talented. They just need to look talented enough that nobody questions why they are there, which is basically what the college and internships were for. At worst, the reason Junior’s job is easy is because your job is hard.

    If you’re willing to risk it, look into unionization. If you succeed, your pay will go up and some of the most exhausting policies will go away. (On the other hand, if you fail you may get fired. Sure, technically it’s illegal, but proving it can be expensive.) Or if that’s too much, see if there are any union shops in your desired field, and then start networking with union members. Show up in solidarity to rallies, drink where they drink — it will help.

  72. Dee*

    What you’re doing is merchandising and it is a real job that has real potential for phenomenal growth. You’re making decisions in markdowns and placement… I do that in an office for an ecommerce business and make very good money. My advice is to find a resume writer or job coach whi can help you position your very legitimate experience at a higher level. There are tons of cpg companies that hire roles in retail marketing who lease with big box stores to drive better on shelf placement and promotional opportunities. You can play this up and find a real road in.

    All that said… Is that what you WANT to do? You got you associates in early childhood ed. Do you want a corporate consumer goods job or do you want to work in childcare? If childcare then I would doubly reccomend a resume writer to position your retail skills as useful in a childcare setting. It’s possible. I also have a degree in education and went from being a teacher to a job in retail in the back office. The road runs in both directions but having a resume writer definitely helped.

  73. Question Answered*

    I moved from retail to an administrative position in 2015!
    This is what helped me:

    *Start looking at job descriptions now and match your experience to their expectations. You may already have many of them covered.
    *At your present job, volunteer for extra tasks that are administrative-related for the experience.
    *Tell everyone you know that you are looking. I found a job through an acquaintance.
    *Try a lateral move to another retail job that includes administrative duties. Small businesses and cooperatives are good options for expanded duties.
    *Target positions that match other areas of your life. I got a job with an arts organization because of my personal interests. Corporate office jobs with the same job description never even contacted me for interviews.
    *Temp agencies were a waste of my time. Most never responded to my applications. The one that took me on never sent me for a single assignment. It seems they want previous experience in corporate offices.
    *The biggest fact is that not only is this a change in job type but it is a change in economic class. You will be working in a different culture with higher-educated people. Make sure you address this before you go on interviews, otherwise you may not be considered a good fit. Reading Ask A Manager helped me immensely in that regard.
    *Definitely volunteer. I found remote positions on-line which really built my computer software skills. I could finish the tasks on my own time. Plus I gained an administrative position job reference.

    Good luck! You can do this!

  74. Student Supervisor*

    In my job I hire a lot of early twenties and soon-to-graduate college student types, who usually only have maybe a lifeguarding or camp counselor job on their resumes. Some of the better student resumes I have seen for people without work experience also give more details about their coursework. If you went to a school that you think maybe is less-than-prestigious just by name, maybe have a concise description of your studies and successes while there.

    The other thing I personally am always impressed with is when people have completed some kind of big project. When you already work full time, it can be hard to also find several hours to commit to a long-term volunteer position. But if you maybe find some kind of event, or annual occurrence that recruits volunteers or needs some leadership, that would look really good. One example is that one of my employees who had no zero previous work experience was a volunteer for a state-wide history festival and he was really detailed about everything he did to contribute to the success of the event. Maybe look around for opportunities like those.

  75. Tuckerman*

    I worked in day care for the first 5 years out of high school. During that time I took some college classes but had no degree. I was in your same position at 24, looking for a way to transition.. Here’s what I did. I was able to get a job at a call center because I had a stable work history. The call center utilized proprietary technology so everyone had to be trained regardless of background. I had to take a dollar an hour cut but within a year I had been promoted to a call floor supervisor, making $3/hour more than when I was working in day care. I did that for a year. I moved to a new city and within 6 months I was able to get a part time paraprofessional library job at a University, making $7.50 an hour more than I did in day care. I worked part time at a cafe during that time, as well. After a year of doing that, the University made me full time. I took advantage of the tuition benefit and finished my undergraduate degree. During this time I also picked up shifts occasionally at the cafe to pay for untimely expenses like car repairs. A couple months before graduation I was promoted to a professional admin position in the library, making $12/hour more than when I worked in daycare. I continued to take advantage of the tuition benefit and started grad school two months after finishing my undergrad degree. I picked a program where there is a critical shortage of professionals in that field. I’m 31 now, halfway through grad school, making almost $13/hour more than when I worked in day care.

    I would encourage you to think bigger than an admin position. Administrators are a dime a dozen. Higher education gets a bad rap but it’s all about what you study. Figure out which fields pay the most for the least financial/time investment. My bet is on anything computer programming/ information security related. But do some research.

    I have spent much of the last few years sleep deprived. Sometimes I’m so exhausted I choose what to eat according to how much energy I’ll have to expend chewing it. But my work has paid off and I believe it will continue to pay off. Realistically, you’re always going to be working hard (unless you win the lottery!) So why not work extra hard and get ahead?

  76. Cronkite*

    Definitely apply for office admin jobs. You’re obviously a hard worker and dependable — that’s what people need in office admins. You can also get a Bachelor’s degree online at some places. I’m about to leave my admin job for a new job in my field of choice. My current employer (an offshoot of a major university) has ways for you to work and get a degree which will further your options. Best of luck. You can do it.

  77. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today*

    I think, combing through some of the comments here, that it is really weird that some people think someone who has worked retail can’t EASILY get an entry level admin job, simply by applying for one. I worked retail and I applied for admin work in my early 20’s and got it, easily. With no “skills on paper”

    In 2015, it’s harder and harder to find a young person without computer skills simply for being born in the generation they’re born in. Often they are quicker and much more adept than even the person hiring them or managing them. It should be NOTHING for OP to apply for any open receptionist or office assistant positions she finds. Sure they’ll probably pay poorly (in this area, probably $10-12/hr at best, but retail isn’t paying that much, so it could be a pay increase for OP) and can work her way up from there.

    An auto dealer receptionist comes to mind. You will likely be the retail cashier as well as the receptionist and keeping tracking of customer logs, filing, handling emails for the dealership, scheduling appointments for the service area, routing phone calls, answers questions etc. I always see open positions for reception at local auto dealerships.

    You can work your way up there, oftentimes too. You can work your way into doing the warranty work, or into the finance department or work over in marketing/sales. Just one idea of several.

    The only thing stopping you OP is not believing you’re a fit. Apply! Tailor your resume as AAM suggested and apply. The worst that could happen – nothing bites. The best that could happen, you can move into something that is in line with what you want to do. Even if the first job doesn’t grow, it is now a job on the resume that shows you’ve had practical use of the skills that I am sure you already have (I’m sure going through school already you have: MS Word experience, you already have CS experience, can surely answer phones, direct people, you are a lead so you have supervisory skills, I am sure you have computer skills, you are young enough that you likely have SM skills) You can probably pretty easily get into an office environment in admin, or find a small business that you can do marketing/SM marketing for etc. Don’t’ tell yourself you’re not qualified!! Impostor syndrome perhaps?

    Best luck

  78. Donna*

    I don’t know if someone already mentioned this, but you could also apply to be an admin assistant for the local school system. A lot of elementary schools prefer people who are relaxed around children and know how to deal with parents. Depending on how large your school system is, there is usually a lot of opportunity to move up. The central offices usually have a lot of business and computer personnel to keep the school running.

  79. EvanMax*

    I just made the switch to professional from retail after 11 years. The best advice I can give is to develop a plan not just to get your foot in the door, but for where you want to go once you’re in, and start putting the pieces in place for those next steps before your foot is even in the door. It will make you that much more well prepared for that first job, and more attractive as a candidate for it.

    For me, that meant finding the time to go back to school (when I was in my late twenties, 31 now), and finish up a degree that I had pretty much given up on. I transferred as many credits as I could to the continuing education/non-traditional student branch of my state’s university system, and then buckled down part-time online 100% to get the degree that I was closest to, just to have it all on paper. In the meantime, I also pushed hard at work, getting a couple of promotions through various levels of assistant management (I was a full time sales rep when I decided to really make this happen.)

    It was more than the degree, though. It was also the vision for what I wanted to do. I don’t know that I would say that I found my one true passion in life, but I decided one day that I enjoy polishing teapots, and I’m pretty good at polishing teapots, and I would even catch myself polishing some of the teapots that we had in the store sometimes, even though it wasn’t really my job, so I should aim to work in teapot polishing. That way, when I applied to jobs, on my cover letters and in my interviews I talked about how I was on a path to being a teapot polisher, and that I thought the skills I was developing would make me a great fit for this intermediate role, and that the role would be great experience along my path, and how the company I was applying to was one where I could see myself polishing teapots. I also gave myself permission to wake up some day in the future and decide that I hate polishing teapots, and move on to something else (you don’t spend 13 years as an undergrad if you have an easy time deciding what you want to do with your life, and personally I’ve always found giving myself permission to just go for something hard, out of fear that it won’t work out.)

    Once you have a plan and a path, even if it’s just a preliminary one, finding the experience to fill in the blanks isn’t so hard. In the interview that got me my current job I drew experience from school projects, from short film productions that I’ve done for from, even from games of Dungeons and Dragons, in addition to specifically work experience. Your goal should be just to prove to someone that you are capable of certain skills when you are being paid for them, but that you have a certain skill set in general, and THAT is worth paying you for.

    Also, don’t sell short your customer service experience. Sure, plenty of college students held a retail job on the side, but that is a different experience from working retail as your job (and ding it well enough to be advanced.) Even if you end up applying to something that isn’t customer facing or isn’t a support role, having that level of skill with just dealing with the interests of others is a wonderful thing to be able to point to in terms of how you can fit in to a work dynamic.

    But again, I would say it all comes down to framing, for yourself and your intentional employers, where you want to go to, not just where you want to get away from. Getting out of retail can be so difficult that it is easy to forget that an office isn’t a refugee camp. Getting in isn’t about being rescued, it’s about having a desire to be there. Frame yourself in terms of where you are going TO, and you will get there.

  80. Bri*

    I went from retail to being a bank teller and then moved into sales. I make about 5 times what I used to. Good luck.

  81. Development professional*

    One bit of Alison’s advice that’s worth highlighting is to focus on applying to some of the “less desirable” admin/reception jobs, *especially* the ones that are off-hours. It’s often much harder to find admins who will work nights and weekends, so you’ll be more competitive in applying for those jobs. And coming from retail, the hiring manager will be more likely to believe that you’ll stick with the job for a while and not just immediately want to switch to M-F 9-5 as soon as you get hired.

  82. OP*

    Thanks so much for all of the advice amd encouragement! I am really taking it to heart, working on my resume and cover letters, reaching out to friends and former child care clients for leads, etc. I’ve already gotten a call from a local call center I applied to yesterday! Just a note, I didn’t mean to sound negative about myself in my letter, but I wanted to be realistic about myself as a potential candidate so I could get the best advice for my situation. I do believe I have a lot to offer the right employer and am willing to work hard to get there!

  83. RoMan*

    Hey OP, I’m a 32 year old with a successful career at a Fortune 500 company. From 22 to 28 I was in the service industry (bartending, waitering, etc). While I have an undergraduate degree, after tons of online apps led nowhere I thought I had “missed my window”.

    How did I deal myself back in? I took an internship at 28. It was only a couple days a week and I continued restaurant jobs to pay the pills, but eventually I was hired part-time, then full-time. About a year afterwords I decided to look for something better, and armed with a significantly improved resume, I started getting callbacks and interviews, which eventually led to my current job. ** Also, as stated above, don’t be afraid to use your network. It’ll get your foot in the door, after that its up to you.**

  84. NaoNao*

    Hi, long time reader, first time commenter.
    I did this successfully, and from a very similar trajectory. When I look at my feeble resume that led to my first training job I have to smile–it’s hard yet doable!

    Things that helped me:

    -Doing tutoring work in college
    -Presenting my “all over the place” work history as a kind of apprentice ship. I organized my resume with a “quick look” section that listed my last three jobs and the dates, then I organized my remaining jobs into three categories that matched up with the skills companies were looking for. They were corporate training, academic training, and customer service experience. For each section, I listed the jobs, the accomplishments, and the dates (in chrono order from most recent to least recent). I left off “off books” jobs such as nannying or babysitting or anything more than 10+ years old. For retail I focused on things like meeting OSHA standards, scheduling, and any special events I helped organize with the store, rather than helping customers or sales.
    -Any accomplishments from college, such as being published, awards and other recognition went on there in a separate section
    -I worked at “transitional” jobs where the work was customer service, but it was in a white collar atmosphere–like call centers, being a page at the library, tutoring in college, etc. I often had two jobs at once–nanny and retail, retail and tutor, tutor and library, etc.
    -I made sure to tailor resumes and cover letters to the job requirements
    -I was flexible in my first job–overseas, Asian country, overnight shift. It was hard, but I’m so glad I did it!

  85. J*

    I was in a similar situation years ago. I made the decision to advance into retail management (currently assistant manager). Might I suggest uploading a copy of your resume? (with personal/employment details altered or hidden for privacy reasons). Perhaps someone here, myself included, could give you some useful feedback on how to market your resume toward your career objectives.

    Maybe to get you started here are a couple of bullet points from my LinkedIn profile. Please note that these extracts could definitely be improved. Sometimes it’s really hard to showcase significant accomplishments in retail.

    Department Manager – Seasonal Department & Inventory Management Preparation

    ✔ Merchandising Coordination ✔ Merchandising Resets ✔ Inventory Control ✔ Task Management

    Accomplishments 2009-2013

    • Reset key aisles in the Food Department to improve stock rotation and significantly reduce product expiring on top shelves.

    • Managed merchandising resets and seasonal inventory counts for merchandise returns sent back to the corporate warehouse with the assistant store manager.

    • Supervised up to 3 associates who worked in the Seasonal Department and delegated tasks such as stocking shelves and resetting department aisles.

    • Selected as member of the “Inventory Team” for third consecutive year to assist up to 4 other stores in the district with yearly inventories. Executed inventory counts with extremely high degree of accuracy.

    Good luck! – J.

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