how can I move out of working in retail?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I graduated with an MFA in fine arts several years ago and worked briefly as an adjunct after finishing school. The work was low-paying for the effort I put in and so unstable that I found myself abandoning the thought of pursuing a career in academia. I eventually got a job as a salesperson with a fashion retailer with a reputation for treating its employees well. I initially never had any plans in staying with this company, but I was encouraged to pursue a promotion and got it! After two assistant manager positions, I eventually landed a department manager position in 2018. I am grateful for everything I’ve learned during my time with this retailer and am currently working under a lovely store manager and alongside good people.

The problem is I can’t stand being in a customer-facing retail position. As an introvert, it’s the worst, most stressful part of my job. In the last two years alone, I’ve had to kick customers out for having sex in the fitting rooms or using the fitting room as their personal bathroom (eww). I’ve had to deal with entitled customers abusing salespeople or attempting to commit fraud. I’ve had to deal with a customer spouting homophobic nonsense at one of my salespeople and have been the victim of harassment a time or two myself. It’s to the point where every time I get a call for a customer issue, my heart starts pounding and I get that horrible sinking feeling in my stomach.

I’ve tried pursuing non-customer facing opportunities inside and outside of the company with no luck. Even with a resume focusing on my accomplishments and a tailored cover letter, I’ve never been invited to an interview outside of my company.

This past winter, I went to a career counselor who confirmed that retail wasn’t for me. I have many skills that I feel are transferable to other work and she guided me towards academic recruitment (combining my sales and academic experience) or executive assistant type positions. With her help I revamped my resume and made sure my cover letters explicitly linked my skills from my current position to what each job description is looking for.

And then the pandemic hit… The northeast metropolitan area I live in went from having a good job market to a terrible job market overnight, and the positions I’m applying for sometimes have over 300 applicants. I’m glad I didn’t lose my job through all of this, but dang do I feel pretty discouraged. I’m terrified that I’ll be pigeon-holed in customer service positions forever. The burn-out I’m feeling right now is affecting me in my personal life and is finally starting to seep in at work as well, despite how much of a happy façade I have.

Do you or any of your readers have any advice on escaping retail? Am I going about this the wrong way? Am I going to have to wait out the pandemic to have any sort of chance?

Readers who have successfully moved out of retail or seen others do it, what’s your advice for this letter-writer?

{ 353 comments… read them below }

  1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I like the Executive Assistant idea! Be sure to tailor your resume for those jobs specifically, listing the relevant skills (and you have developed a lot in this time) such as scheduling, prioritizing projects, professional communication, putting out fires. You could start by working as a Virtual Assistant to at least get that on your resume perhaps, and go from there.

    1. AAperson*

      Executive Assistant may be difficult to obtain without any previous experience. I have 5 years of admin asst. experience and can’t even get a call back for an EA.

      Personally I would start with a AA position. It gives you a ton of valuable skills and I use my customer service skills all the time. I like to say that my “customer” is the team I support.

      1. OP*

        Letter writer here, I’m finding this to be true… I feel I have plenty of transferrable skills but it seems that for every person like me, there are 50 more that have actual experience in the role. I’ve tried applying to admin and reception roles too without much luck. Even before the pandemic these entry level positions were pretty competitive in my region. If I want to go this direction temping seems to make the most sense. It would be a bit risky for me financially at the moment but it’s definitely something to consider in the future…

        1. boredatwork*

          OP – my company exclusively hires their admins through a temp agency. If they show promise after a year, they get hired by the company. If they excel at being an admin, they can move into being an executive admin, or other departments like treasury, HR, accounting, ect.

          we can’t be the only company that likes to “try” before they buy.

          1. calonkat*

            I agree with the temp agency idea. I’ve been in a job for 12 years now that I got after temping with them. And before then, I’d moved to a new town with a “colorful” and varied work history and temping gave me experience in town and references in town (from both the temp companies and some bosses that were impressed with my skills and OFFERED to be a reference, always show dedication even on non-temp to hire jobs!)

        2. BabyElephantWalk*

          You may need more education. Which – you have an MFA! This sounds ridiculous, right?

          But, many roles like admin assistant, or paralegal, or medical clerk have their own educational pathways and employers can be loathe to hire outside of them. Which is frustrating and annoying as anything, but it’s a position lot of us have been in. And sure, some people get into those fields while avoiding the direct education, when unemployment is high and employers have the pick of the field, they will be picky.

          Sometimes we are overeducated in a way that employers don’t care about but under-educated in the ways they do care.

        3. Kate 2*

          I know how you feel OP! Maybe try temping or a staffing agency? I worked retail before getting a temp receptionist job. That gave me a foot in the door for a permanent office manager job. Now I have a lot of general admin experience and I am trying to break into payroll/account clerk/bookkeeper roles, which I have some experience in and qualify for. But I keep getting passed over! So I am going to try to get a bookkeeping certificate. Hope you get a great job!

        4. Just @ me next time*

          Do you have any connections through your job or MFA to people who might have enough social capital to suggest recruiters consider your application? For entry-level positions where the organization is getting hundreds of resumes that look the same, some recruiters might be more willing to consider interviewing an applicant who has been vouched for by someone they trust.

        5. A*

          I definitely encourage you to consider temping. I started out my career as an AA through a temp agency (also in the NE metro area). They bought out my contract after two weeks and offered me an advancement that I would never have received otherwise and it truly launched my career.

        6. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          I think temp work sounds best for now. But then when things get normal again, maybe keep an eye out for AA positions in museums or similar cultural institutions. Your MFA might signal “She’s one of us!” to them, and if it’s a reasonable place, you could move up from admin to other positions when they become available.

        7. AAperson*

          OP you should try for AP/AR roles. You usually don’t need any experience and they are great for learning office, admin and accounting skills.

        8. Jane*

          I used to work in an administrative role at an Ivy League university and later earned a Master’s at the same university. Honestly, I wish I had never quit that job and never gotten a graduate degree. More than one of the admin coordinators I knew from graduate program were working artists with this as a day job. And I’m my experience those jobs were low stress although not particularly well paid. Excellent benefits though.

        9. Mr. Shark*

          Yes, I took the Temp Agency approach, and it gets your foot in the door in a lot of places. Yes, it’s not great pay to start off with, but you gain more experience and also are able to check out different industries to see if you are a fit, and different positions. And I’ve found that if you are a good fit, some locations look to hire you on permanently. Even if not, you at least will have some experience to point to on a resume outside of retail where it shows that you can excel in an office/business environment. And you can get recommendations from your temp contacts.
          I ended up at a temp spot and they kept me on for a year before finally hiring me full time (I survived multiple layoffs), and now I’ve been here for more than 5 years full-time and have moved up quickly and seen my pay rise as well as I’ve proven myself more than capable for the roles I was given.

    2. Missbee*

      I think entry level like receptionist might be the best route. I commented below, but I started as a receptionist from retail and it took me years to work up to EA. She should look for entry level receptionist or general office admin positions. All of the large offices I have worked at have had an office services team that do document management, printing, binding. Those are good entry level positions to get into and work your way up.

      1. EA in CA*

        This! As an EA, you aren’t going to get hired in those positions without previous experience, especially if there is more competition. You’d have a better chance of starting in a more junior role, like Reception, Data Entry Clerk, or Administrative Assistant. From there, you can add more experience and work your way up to an EA level role.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I got a temp receptionist job that I turned into a different position after a while by being willing to take on additional work. Eventually a FT position for that work opened up and I transferred into the other role.

        The job market may be tough but I’d keep trying. I would look for anything with a communication skillset. Have you considered a Project Coordinator role?

        1. Formica Dinette*

          I agree with you about temping. Temping was got me into admin work fresh out of high school with only fast food work experience. After I had a little experience under my belt, I started getting full-time offers from temp employers. I turned some down because I had enough experience with the company to know I wouldn’t like working there, but the ones I did accept were great.

        2. lunchtime caller*

          I was about to suggest temping too! There aren’t a lot of placements near me because of the pandemic right now, but when I was temping more regularly there was almost always at least one kind person who took an interest once I showed I was good at the work and reliable, ready to tell me about full time openings and whatnot. I was never looking for full time because it was a side gig for me, but it’s def a great way to prove yourself and get on people’s good sides!

        3. Rachel in NYC*

          That was how I transitioned out of retail after college. I got into temping- actually through someone who picked my resume out because he had a connection to my college- two temp jobs letter, I had a permanent position that I got because people liked me. (And I showed I was always willing to step up.)

        4. Orca*

          I also got out of retail through temping (no college degree so seemed like best route) to an admin position that became permanent. I’ve been here for five years now.

      3. Stef*

        It’s so, so, so hard to move from retail. I know I’ve commented here on the open thread about my struggles to even move into retail banking like teller or FSR or even p/t receptionist. Everywhere I’ve turned to has been you don’t have enough experience and it’s drilled into your head time in and time again. Even banking managers look down at retail workers and think we’re all some sort of scum. The worst part is that I don’t live close enough to temp anywhere. The nearest temp location is another county away–over 50 miles away!

        I’ve turned my attention to going to school for accounting because I want a career that pays well, there’s always jobs available because everyone needs accountants, one needs to go to school to attain the job (one proceeds the other and it’s the order of things), and I’m planning to get 150 college credits to sit in for the CPA exam. I’ve just started intermediate accounting 1 and working my butt off because it’s known as a “weed” out class alongside IA2 and other courses. I really want to make it known to people that retail workers aren’t some vapid, braindead Valley girl. I’m no Olivia Jade.

        1. Former retail worker*

          Everywhere I’ve turned to has been you don’t have enough experience and it’s drilled into your head time in and time again. Even banking managers look down at retail workers and think we’re all some sort of scum.

          This has not been my experience, nor that of many of my friends who’ve moved from retail to other types of work. I don’t want the OP to be completely discouraged after reading this. Several hiring managers have appreciated the skills I gained from my years of retail work, especially the one who hired me fresh out of my retail job and who specifically mentioned several skills I gained there that we’d discussed during the interview process as big factors in why she hired me.

    3. Secretary*

      Admin is a great place to transition out of retail into, especially if you have management experience. Office manager, secretary, admin assistant, EA, anything in an office! There’s also a lot of admin temp work out there. When interviewers are asking why you’re moving to admin, you don’t even have to talk about hating dealing with customers, you can just say you want a more consistent work schedule and to have your weekends back. No one is going to question you on that!

    4. mf*

      Former EA and AA here. Yes to everyone who saying she should start with AA and reception roles. EA roles often require a lot of experience. Temp companies are good place start.

      Also, keep an eye out for reception roles at large corporations and local universities–these workplaces tend offer tuition support as a benefit for FTEs. Great way to move away from admin work if it’s not something you want to do for the long haul.

    5. introverted af*

      I feel like the virtual assistant jobs have even more competition though, since people are looking for WFH opportunities. If you have a different take on that or where to look though, I would love to hear it.

      I definitely recommend more general admin assistant positions for the LW though.

    6. Rayray*

      One thing that’s tough about EA jobs is that it is another path the LW may get stuck in. I did it once and absolutely hated it because of my micromanaging lunatic of a boss.

      As I was job hunting, I submitted my resume to some temp agencies and very clearly stated that I was not interested in these types of jobs. They were absolutely dumbfounded by it. I even got rejected for jobs I applied to (and was qualified for) and then asked if I was interested in the EA position. Look up “pink collar ghetto” many women especially get pigeonholed in this type of work and it’s hard to find a decent job that actually treats you with respect.

      1. OP*

        This is such a good point. In my current role my store manager is actually part of what makes my job tolerable. I understand how getting stuck with a dreadful boss would make every aspect of work awful… That’s definitely something to keep in mind.

        1. Rayray*

          I think there are positions in Project Management or Project coordination that are similar, but more in supporting a whole team vs a person. Maybe something like that could work too.

          1. A*

            While I’m sure it depends on the industry… I think this might be an unrealistically high jump. I work in project management in the CPG industry, and it takes quite a while to work up to and draws from skillsets gained by experience in the separate function lead roles. Definitely something to keep in mind down the line, but I think it would be a challenge to go from retail straight into project management.

            1. Foxgloves*

              Completely agree. I’m in higher education project management and it’s a specialised job with a lot of skills required. I’d recommend project assistant or admin assistant, and trying to work up from there, if OP is interested in project management type roles.

  2. 2legit*

    This is similar to me, except I work for a bank. Customers are awful and workload has more than doubled since pandemic. Please help us. Grateful to have a job, but a person can only take so much.

      1. Watry*

        If you work in a service role for more than a day, someone has been mean to you. And dealing with money often makes things worse, IME.

      2. ThatGirl*

        People are mean to anyone in customer service for any number of reasons, but usually because they can’t get what they want — like, to cash a check with no ID, or access an account that isn’t theirs, or because there are charges they don’t like, etc. Entitlement and issues surrounding money is a bad combination.

        1. Lacey*

          Yes, my sister used to be a teller and she had tons of these kinds of stories. People are just insane when it comes to dealing with the bank.

        2. Dan*

          One of those reasons for perceived meanness is cultural… in the USA, we’re generally a no-haggle society. Yet, we’re also a society where the squeaky wheel gets the grease. When management tells front line employees not to waive rules, the customer complains up the food chain, and then management waives the rules in the spirit of “customer relations”, that actually sets up a long term problem. TBH, I just see this as how we do business in the USA. (There are cultures outside the USA where that kind of meanness in public Would. Not. Fly.)

          There are times where I’ve asked for something reasonable, been told no, and thought to myself, I bet if I make a stink I’ll get what I want. Sometimes I make that stink, sometimes I don’t. And when that stink gets me what I want, I feel a little bit badly, because management didn’t have to wait for me to raise that stink to give me what I wanted.

          1. Not always right*

            This. BTW, I’ve found that kindness and respect go a long way towards getting what you ask. By being polite and respectful, I saved myself almost $1,000 on a car repair. I was 1,500 miles over the mileage limit on a recall repair on my car once by being nice.

          2. HBJ*

            To me, this is not at all the same thing. You can appeal issues up the food chain and “make a stink” without being, as LW says, abusive or harassing to the front-line people.

            1. Quinalla*

              Yes, agreed HBJ, this is an issue that may contribute, but you can respectfully ask for escalation without being rude/abusive/etc. When I’ve needed to escalate something, I am never mean to the person helping me, sometimes I have gotten a little emotional because of good reasons, but I don’t take it out of them.

              I think the issue with customer service jobs is there are a lot of people who if they feel someone is beneath them in some way, they treat them like garbage or like they are machines and not people. I have worked customer service in the past and seen it and I see it all the time when I am doing my current job which often involves site visits to retail stores where I am around employees a lot. A significant though still small percentage of people treat all customer service like they are servants/slaves/subhuman/not human. It is awful and yes generally a daily or more frequent occurance. And if you are a woman, Black, POC, etc. then it is even worse of course.

            2. Tom*

              I work for a multi-national Point-of-Sale company and I learned that there are a lot of software companies that offer solutions to retail businesses and are hiring sales people/ account managers / customer success managers etc, with a background in the industry. Even if you have relatively low level experience (like a cashier or a salesperson) but you have in-depth knowledge of how a retail business operates on the ground, you might be sought after by sofware companies.

              This also applies to people with restaurant experience. Look for software companies that offer solutions for these kinds of businesses (payroll softwares, accounting integrations, point-of-sale, delivery softwares, e-commerce solutions etc…), and I think you will be surprised how seamless it can be to transform experience in retail and hospitality into a lucrative career in tech.

              Good luck!

          3. aunttora*

            Agree. Years ago I was traveling with a friend who has severe respiratory issues, and we specifically reserved a “no smoking” room at a (Vegas) hotel. When we got there — NOT late — we were told there were none available. I asked what accommodation they would make, i.e. book us at a different hotel. Their response was, not our problem lady. As the conversation became less pleasant, my friend was basically agreeing to whatever would make the unpleasantness stop, but I wasn’t having it. Eventually we were given a non-smoking room. It wasn’t an upgrade or a room that we shouldn’t have received for the reservation (like a more desirable location or the honeymoon suite or something). As I told my friend, they HAD a room, they just weren’t going to give it to US. I hate it when I turn into my crazy sister (who went straight to “unpleasant” for most interactions).

            1. BubbleTea*

              That’s ridiculous, why would they pretend not to have the room you booked? Were they expecting someone else to come along and… I don’t know, pay more for that room?

              1. HBJ*

                I used to work in a hotel. We had a contract to provide rooms for airline crew whenever they were in town overnight. And part of the contract was to put them in quiet areas of the hotel because it was important that they get good rest and not be woken up by any loud neighbors. We were rarely full, so we typically kept a certain corner block for them, tried to keep that area and the areas directly above and below filled with people we expected to be quieter, and generally kept at least the immediate next rooms on either side and the ones above and below empty if it at all possible.

                Or sometimes, we’d have rooms that were in the system as dirty because they were labeled clean in blocks – Fergus has 10 rooms to clean, he cleans them, he comes back, the head housekeeper checks them, then his rooms are marked clean – so if things were really getting full, we’d go ask the housekeeper what was already cleaned that we could sell. Sometimes, we’d even ask the housekeeper to find a room that was very minimally dirty that could be cleaned quickly so we could sell it.

                So yea, there were a few reasons why someone might “pretend” there weren’t rooms available.

            2. Tidewater 4-1009*

              As a person with a severe tobacco smoke allergy, I applaud you for standing up to the hotel and protecting your friend! You’re the best, and being in that situation would make me so crazy it would make your sister look good. They’re trying to mess with my health! And your friend’s health!
              I went to Vegas once, before I knew I’m allergic to cigarettes, and was sick the whole time. I don’t go there anymore. I don’t leave my city unless I have to. I know what’s out there and don’t want to see it.

          4. ThatGirl*

            You can absolutely make a stink without being mean or nasty about it. I have worked in customer service myself, there’s plenty of ways to be pleasant while also being firm or escalating something. And sometimes you have to take no for an answer – sometimes someone CAN help you, if you’re nice enough; sometimes they’re bound very strictly by regulations or policies.

            1. JohannaCabal*

              This. One of the very few useful bits of education from my middle school years was when our health teacher lectured us on the difference between assertive vs. aggressive. I worry sometimes this is becoming a lost art.

          5. Artemesia*

            This is so ingrained in our culture that some automatic phone systems are programmed to only give you a person if you get mad. I read this and doubted it and then was getting chased around a phone system not being able to get a. complex system answered by a person and so I calculatively swore — immediately I was transferred. So they automated rewards for being a jerk.

            And we see countless examples of first line customer support not being backed up for enforcing rules and thus rewards people who bring back dirty worn products for exchange or insist on using expired coupons etc. Nice people follow the rules and creeps learn that if they are obnoxious they get free stuff.

            1. nonegiven*

              I noticed that when I said ‘representative’ like I was instructed to and it repeatedly said it couldn’t understand me. When I started swearing at the phone system it immediately said I needed a representative.

            2. Starbuck*

              Hah, I always had a feeling that might be the case…. luckily, I don’t have to worry about feeling guilty for swearing at an automated phone menu. It’s always so much nicer to talk to a real live person.

        3. Old and Don’t Care*

          I’ve noticed that with so many routine tasks being automated, people going in person to a bank, pharmacy, etc. are much more likely to have a problem transaction. This sets up all kinds of problems, frustration from the person with the problem, impatience from the person waiting, etc. Far fewer people at the bank just to deposit a check, and the last time I was in a pharmacy, to pick up a new script for my father, it seemed like half the people were there because they lost their pills, on vacation and forgot their pills, etc., etc. I felt for the pharmacy techs who had to deal with this all day.

          1. RecoveringSWO*

            That’s such a good point. Especially if your automated system is quirky or standard procedures involve bouncing customers from one department or another. It’s much easier to face someone whose been primed for maximum annoyance.

            1. Jim Bob*

              True. If the customer has been bounced through your phone tree for 10 minutes before they ever get to you, they’re probably not going to be super pleasant.

              1. tangerineRose*

                I remind myself that it’s not this person’s fault that I had to wait.

                I think sometimes you get father by being nice but persistent.

          2. Stephanie*

            Yeah, I am having trouble remembering the last time I needed to go to a bank in person. The last time, it probably was something complicated or problematic.

          3. TechWorker*

            Plus in all of this it seems relevant that EVERYONE is super stressed out at the moment. That applies to customer service employees as much as it does to their customers, but it’s got to be a factor in some people jumping straight to ‘unreasonable’.

        4. KTV123*

          When I was working on food service, a person threw a menu at me bc we didn’t serve chicken tenders.

      3. kaia*

        people are mean to anyone they feel is beneath them. people think that if you’re in a customer facing service job you deserve abuse because you obviously didn’t do anything worthwhile with your life. *eyeroll*

        1. Allypopx*

          Yes and with bank tellers I think there’s often the added layer of “you’re beneath me AND telling me no”…the amount of people who think they can just bully their way into getting the answer they want is unbelievable.

          Plus people become monsters when money is involved. There’s just so many compounding factors that make it a perfect sh*t storm.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Yeah, library workers get “you’re beneath me and you’re telling me no, AND I PAY YOUR SALARY WITH MY TAX DOLLARS.”

          1. Rayray*

            One of the silliest things customers fly off the handle about at banks is when they’re asked to show ID. Do you really not want added security when withdrawing money or making any transaction?

            1. Dust Bunny*

              RIGHT? I hand over my ID every time, even though the teller has known me for 15 years. Hell, one of the tellers is a former coworker. YES, PLEASE, ask for my ID!

      4. Littorally*

        People are awful to bank reps. It’s the combination of money stress, general customer-facing awfulness, and the perception that because banks are big, powerful, and often crappy, that all the people who work for them must be big, powerful, and crappy.

      5. SentientAmoeba*

        You would be amazed at the number of people who blame the bank for their money woes.
        Why did you let me overdraft my account?
        Why didn’t you tell me my credit card was past due?
        Why did I have to wait so long in line to see a teller?
        Why did you give me 100s instead of 50s when I cashed my paycheck?
        Why did you only tell me 5 times when I opened an account there were fees if the balance was below a certain amount? You have to tell me 6 times for it to stick.
        Why would you give me an $x credit limit and not expect me to use it.
        Of course I had to buy the nicest, most expensive car possible! I can’t have my neighbors thinking I’m broke. You can’t repo my car, that would be embarrassing.

        I can go on.

        1. BookishMiss*

          Yep. I’m so glad that i got out of banking. Honestly, I went banking (teller and service rep), then retail, then call center, and now I’m in technical training. Bit of a winding road, but I’m no longer customer facing, which is such a blessing.

        2. Ash*

          All of the things you mentioned happen. And also, banks do legitimately screw people over. See: Wells Fargo, subprime mortgage crisis, payday loans…

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            But the bank tellers didn’t make those things happen and they’re the ones being yelled at for it.

      6. Dust Bunny*

        Former veterinary assistant here, which is one of those weird jobs where you need to hire smart, conscientious people and then pay them peanuts, and clients often assume you’re a dimwitted high school girl who’s only there to hold the dog still. And that’s before they see the estimate, at which case they get mad because the vet is “padding the bill”. Bwa ha ha nobody is getting rich being a GP veterinarian. It’s uninsured healthcare on the small business model, people, and you don’t get taxpayer money to back you up like you do at a public hospital ER. The supplies are expensive, the medications are expensive, and it takes a lot of staff and good people to run a veterinary hospital safely. It’s no wonder the profession has such a high suicide rate–it’s enormously stressful and clients can be absolutely monstrous.

        1. AAperson*

          One of my previous jobs, was working in high end retail in a booming industry at the time. Most of the employees had a bachelor’s, others had many years of experience. I’ll never forget the day a man came in with his 15 year old son. He insisted I give the kid an application. First of I tried to explain it was an online application. 2nd I tried to explain that most of had college degrees and many years of experience. He was dumbfounded and did’nt believe me. Honestly it really upset me. I worked really hard, got paid well and this person just didn’t believe me and thought someone with zero experience could apply. I left retail shortly after.

      7. Anon and on an on*

        Because they are busy and important and the bank teller is keeping them from their money and wasting their time while they are doing it.
        At least, that was the thesis of the person in line in front of me.

      8. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Some people flip out when you ask for their ID. In a bank. When they are withdrawing a lot of money from their account. I kid you not. They prefer to think “they know me here” and get insulted when you are just following the rules and protecting their account. Makes them feel important. (Granted, if you actually do know them then you don’t need to ask for ID. But if you’ve never seen them before and ask for ID, God help you.) I was once a teller for a few months. Awful.

        1. Not Your Sweetheart*

          I work in a hotel. We ask for IDs to make sure you are the person listed on the reservation. This helps prevent the front desk from checking you into the wrong room (especially if there are similar names like Lee and Leigh), and to make sure you are authorized for that room. It’s rare, but we do occasionally get stalkers and abusive exes. We don’t ask for your ID to hassle you, or because we feel like it. We ask for your safety, and as a method to double-check names. The only exception is for regulars whose names and faces we know.

    1. Kuirky*

      I feel the exact same way. I work the front desk at a govt office where people apply for SNAP, cash assistance, etc. I’m grateful to still have a job, and I know the work our office is doing is important, but danggit I’m so emotionally drained from people taking their frustrations out on me on a near constant basis.

    2. Frodo of the Shire*

      I only worked retail for a little while. More because I currently had a well paying administrative job and after 7-8 years I wanted to learn something different. something that allowed for standing up and moving around. So I took the part time job. Loved it. But yea…the customers…ugh! What I found was everyone always felt you are about to rip them off. They would watch the register and I don’t know how many times I would have to tell someone ‘the discount get’s applied AFTER I total it’. I could see the same thing happening in the bank. God forbid you forget a time here or took to long there. People just have no idea.

    3. FormerInternalRecruiter*

      I feel your pain, I worked at bank for 3 years and I hated it. I got yelled at all the time and once I even had a customer physically assault me. He was trying to cash a check that was fraudulent and when I told him I wouldn’t be cashing the check and would not be giving it back to him, he reached across the wicket and grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go. He then also called me horrible names. Thankfully that branch was large and had security, he didnt let go of me until security pulled me away. It was very scary. So happy to not be in that job anymore.

    4. OP*

      Oh boy, I get it completely. I just sell clothes but you’d think we do open heart surgery with how worked up some people get about what is essentially just a few pieces of fabric sown together. Someone down-thread said that people will be mean to those they feel are beneath them. I feel the majority of our customers are lovely people however it’s really the ones who act this way that stick with me. I sympathize with your comment a lot.

      1. Theater Pro*

        I worked retail for many years right out of undergrad. I loved my coworker and bosses but didn’t want to catch the “retail bug” as one awful interviewer called it. You mention your lovely coworkers and clients- use those connections! Someone mentions they work in a field your interested in- say so! I got a job working in non profit admin in my original undergrad field through a coworker who worked multiple jobs. I had other coworkers get recruited by customers and former managers who moved onto other companies/fields. It took no schmoozing on anyone’s part- just good work and mentioning that you’re looking for other opportunities (because, hello, fellow introvert). You seem like you’ve got a good handle on things and are good at your job- I swear you’ll be getting business cards in a months time. Good luck!

  3. no more stores*

    I didn’t have to do it in a pandemic, thank God, but when I transitioned out of retail and direct customer service several years ago I relied on recruiting / temp agencies to do it. There were a couple of very good ones in my city and they understood what was transferable from my resume and got me solid, decently-paying long-term contract work that eventually became a full-time direct-hire position.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This would be my advice.

      It helps if you can be flexible with the length of assignments and don’t need health insurance though.

      1. Natalie*

        Post ACA I think more of them are offering health insurance provided you meet a certain amount of hours on average. And local sick leave Definitely worth

        1. Natalie*

          Argh, I was mid editing and accidentally hit submit.

          That second sentence fragment should say that local sick leave ordinances cover temp workers and more of them are offering some PTO. Both questions are worth digging into with specific agencies.

      2. Staja*

        I transitioned out of retail via a temp agency, back when I was still in Boston. I think it’s a great way to do it, however it was mumble-mumble years ago (2007) and I transitioned into a call center (although, it was not a stereotypical call center, it was still customer service).

        I have found that customer service roles at small companies (with all the issues that small companies can bring to the table), can offer opportunities to grow the position into something more. I worked as a CSR for a regional Jan-San company and then we grew it into a Pricing Coordinator role for me.

        I’m fully out of customer service and entrenched in Finance now. I do not have a college degree, but I have a “real job” (And, no – there is nothing wrong with retail or customer service . It was my life for a good 15 years. As an introvert, I’m happy to not do it anymore)

        1. Who is the asshole*

          Yeah I would look at customer service as well. As somebody mentioned up-thread: look for customer service in industries where you have background knowledge or that provide tech solutions for those industries.

          Make sure to ask if you have to make cold calls (if yes I’d decline personally, I prefer talking to people who wanted to talk to me). I recommend going for smaller firms (not tech giants) that sell their own relevant software and need to offer support for that software. When they’re smaller and not out-sourcing to a call center, you have quite reasonable customers in my experience.
          For extra bonus ask if they also provide written support (emails, support tickets), which makes it likelier you won’t have to do telephone support all day (except if you love talking on the phone).

    2. Weekend Please*

      My husband transitioned out of retail into insurance sales. It is 100% commission so he also waited tables while building up his book of business but within a couple of years he was able to do just insurance sales.

    3. PT*

      It’s now a buyer’s market for temp agencies, though. I’ve never had any luck with them. They really only want people who have experience in the field where they’re making placements.

    4. Emma*

      This. I got a temp job because I had good clerical/computer skills, and it turned into a career when I turned out to excel at it. I worked at that company for 9.5 years, and then followed my boss when he moved to another company, where I will hit 10 years in April.

    5. Chc34*

      Was coming here to suggest temp agencies as well! I had good experience with them and ended up in a position that would have become permanent had I not left. This was in 2012, though, so I don’t know if things have changed since then.

    6. Katrinka*

      Temp agencies have taken a real hit in the pandemic. Companies are simply not hiring temps for WFH positions unless it’s going to be long-term (like a maternity leave). It’s just not worth the hassle to them to hire someone for just a week or two – training and getting them equipment is more involved and more expensive. Time will tell if temp jobs will pick up when everyone is cleared to return to offices, I expect it to be slow going because a lot of companies are going to have to run lean for months or even years to recoup losses.

      1. Natalie*

        Is that affecting the temp-to-perm staffing as well, or just short term placements?

        I’ve never worked for a company that made use of short term temps – it seems like there just aren’t that many jobs where bringing someone in for a week or two is worth the effort. But I’ve worked at multiple companies that have made extensive use of temp to hire, particularly for entry level positions where people have rather thin resumes and it’s hard to really assess their track record.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        Honestly, I realize this isn’t helpful, but this pandemic is an incredibly difficult time to try to switch fields. I have never seen such a low rate of callbacks in my current search; I think there are just a lot of great applicants right now. I’m only getting nibbles when I’m 100% in my lane, and have given up trying to stretch for the moment. Maybe OP can focus on coping strategies and building up a resume for once things are a little better but not beat herself up if it’s not happening right now – a few more months may make a difference. Sorry not to have anything more helpful :(

    7. Ace in the Hole*

      This was what I did as well. It also helps a lot if you’re not picky about what you end up doing… “anything but retail” is much easier than going for something specific.

      In my area most of the staffing agency jobs are for laborer/utility positions in agriculture, infrastructure, mills, etc. I took a part time extra-help job as a laborer for a local government agency a few days per month. When a full time position opened up doing the same work, I took it. The pay was slightly better than food service (what I’d been doing before) with good benefits, stable hours, and a MUCH better working environment. The work itself wasn’t particularly pleasant but having supportive management and good relationships with coworkers more than made up the difference for me. From there I was able to get training and experience necessary to move into more specialized positions with better pay and more interesting work.

    8. OP*

      The career counselor I worked with connected me to a recruiter right at the beginning of March. She was about to arrange an interview for a project manager position that seemed like it could be a good fit when everything shut down. Unfortunately, she must have been let go from the staffing agency because the next time I tried to get in touch, her email was unreachable. I’ve tried to work with temp agencies before and haven’t had that much luck in the past. I mentioned in another comment that admin jobs are really competitive in my area. So I think that recruiters for even temp positions favor candidates with more direct experience. When the job market gets a little better I may buckle down and pursue this more diligently.

  4. Susan*

    I have an MFA and made the transition from retail manager to working in the industry of goods I was selling through people I had met while managing the shop. It took a long time to get a job but I finally landed a good one! I do think the pandemic is going to make everything slower/longer/more frustrating, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t forget to rely on your teachers at your alma mater for advice and connections to other schools if you are applying to jobs in academia.

    1. cleo*

      Absolutely use your professors and all of the networking available through your alma mater.

      I worked in higher ed for years and it can be hard to break into. Many, many people start by working their alma mater, particularly in recruiting or advising. Even if you don’t live in the same town anymore, you may be able to get remote work now.

  5. Watry*

    Hoo boy, I almost wrote a very similar letter a few years ago. I got laid off and had trouble finding a new job so I was sort of resume-bombing, but I focused on entry-level office jobs that had a minor customer service element. Make sure you emphasize office-type skills over customer service skills on the resume. Now I’m in a job where the bulk of my customer interaction takes place over email, which is an enormous improvement.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is you may have to ladder-step your way out of it, and that I sympathize.

    1. Rayray*

      This is similar to what I was going to suggest. I’m at a mid sized company and I got my job during this pandemic after having been laid off. It’s definitely not ideal but it is a great company. I’m hoping to move around here after a while, even if I have to take some courses or something.

      My position was hiring just about anybody but lucky for me I had similar experience and was able to get in at a better pay rate. It’s not a widely advertised job, I had just worked in the same industry and had heard of the company so randomly checked their job board. There’s so many entry level jobs that you wouldn’t just know about but they’re out there. Network as much as you can, maybe someone knows of something or has a company you can reach out to.

    2. Mad Harry Crewe*

      I was going to suggest this as well – lots of industries have an entry level where there’s some customer service/customer facing work, but it’s not straight retail. And once you’re in the door, you’ll have a much easier time getting other jobs and moving around within that industry.

      I went from retail (during the 2008 crash and a few years after) to B2B (business to business) travel wholesale, worked up to supervisor, and then jumped to tech support at a tech company.

    3. Beatrice*

      Agreed on the jumping. I went retail > banking > temp office work > perm office work.

      Banking is a good segueway if you can handle a little more public facing work. The hours are better and holidays are not crazy, but people aren’t nicer…in some ways they’re bigger jerks because their money is involved. But I never had to deal with urine, poo, or vomit…the grossest thing was the time a gas station assistant manager sneezed into the hand holding the $40 she brought to buy change, then….handed it to me. There is boob money and sock money, customers who smell bad and desperate people in a bind that you can’t help. Picking your location helps with that a little…stand-alone branches and main branches are better than branches embedded in other retail spaces.

      My current company hired me as a temp and eventually perm office worker. I’ve been there for more than a decade and am a mid level manager now. I’ve done some hiring and we tend to see banking experience as a plus for entry level roles.

  6. retail to admin*

    I moved from retail management into a receptionist/administrative assistant role and am now an executive assistant/project coordinator. I worked with a staffing agency who really helped me explain my skillset to prospective employers. The company I ended up working for right after working at the mall for 8 years was very interested in my customer service experience, especially for a front desk role. Retail teaches you interpersonal savvy, conflict resolution, organizational skills, learning on the fly – everything that you need to be a successful admin. I have had very good experiences working with recruiters at staffing agencies, so that may be something you want to look into!

    1. Shenandoah*

      Cosigning your comment about the skills that retail teaches you. OP, please remember not to feel down on yourself for doing “just” retail. These skills learned from retail are **valuable and transferable**.

      1. OP*

        Thanks for saying that. The people skills I’ve learned at this job have been tremendous. I don’t always handle things perfectly but when I compare myself today to what I was like 7 years ago, the difference is wild. I may not love this role but it’s definitely taught me a lot!

    2. irene adler*

      “Retail teaches you interpersonal savvy, conflict resolution, organizational skills, learning on the fly – everything that you need to be a successful admin.”
      Brilliant post!

      Another angle: Quality Assurance. Auditing (no, not the tax auditor whom everyone fears). Companies need internal & external auditors to make sure things are being done as management expects. This requires organizational skills, some interaction with people (in a professional environment), some degree of conflict resolution.

  7. Lyd*

    I made the jump during 2012 where I went through a temping agency, I told them I was looking for starter office roles and was put on data entry/ reception roles for a bit, reception is still pretty customer facing but in some companies it will probably be not nearly as bad as retail, especially if you tell them you’re keen on a quieter office maybe. I did a lot of insurance HQ office work back then, hard for anyone to get too worked up or aggressive about that, I was mostly alone all day. Once you’ve built up a little experience or proven yourself then more opportnities will open up, the agency will start trusting you with more desirable placements and you’ll then have actual experience to interview with. Just be honest about what you want. “I’m looking to transfer into the (corporate/ office etc) sphere so am keen for work to cut my teeth on, here is some evidence from my retail work that proves I can handle it.” Good luck!

    1. Charley*

      Reception is a good place to start for someone looking to transition out of customer service into admin-based jobs. Especially if you work for a large company, it’s a foot in the door to different roles within the same place. I know a few people who started on reception and moved after a while to different, non-customer-facing jobs at the same employer.

      1. Cascadia*

        Yes to this! I also want to add that although reception is customer facing – the amount of crazy you’re dealing with really depends on where you’re doing reception. I work at a private school, and the people who work in our front office are AWESOME! There’s definitely some room for movement, some of them have become executive assistants for our heads of school, some have become registrars or do other office work supporting our school and programs. Working at a school can be a wonderful environment if you like kids, and you definitely won’t have to deal with some of those nightmare issues you mentioned. This is all to say that you could use your customer service experience to get another customer service job with better customers that will offer you more opportunities for getting out of it eventually. Good luck!

      2. Sequitur*

        As a communications manager who started out as an admin assistant, and as someone who hired one of our former receptionists into a communications role, I completely agree that reception and AA roles can be a really great foot in the door and a gateway to other different kinds of work.

  8. luvtheshoes*

    Hi, OP.

    I can sympathize with your predicament. I, too, worked retail mgmt right out of college and worried that I was going to be forever stuck working nights, weekends, and holidays. I actually followed the exact path your career counselor recommended and became an executive assistant after leaving retail. In the NE in particular, salaries for executive assistants can be very lucrative but, of course, that is generally after some time in the field. Something to consider, though, is whether you really want to be an executive assistant. It’s common to get stuck in an EA role, too, so you should be sure you want to do it before setting yourself on that path.

    Are there particular aspects of retail that you enjoy? Maybe display design? That could possibly be translated into a design-focused career and you could tailor your retail experience to more broadly speak to that area. Maybe it is the people management part you like? HR is another common avenue my former retail coworkers took after leaving retail. I’m not sure if you are responsible for any purchasing at your retail location but procurement and purchasing might be another angle to take.

    Some food for thought. Best of luck to you!!

    1. Michael Valentine*

      Yes, OP should also themselves whether admin work is something they even like. I was an EA as a transitional job, and it’s really hard to move out of admin work from there. If OP is interested in a career of it with perhaps a chance at office management, then go for it! If COO is the goal, consider an MBA instead. Rising through the ranks isn’t always a path in admin work, and there’s a good chance your boss will have never done admin work ever, so there’s no way to move up, so to speak.

      We are currently hiring a new EA at our company, and most of our candidates have faced tough times, layoffs, one temp contract after another. Admins provide great services but are often seen as luxuries, and therefore disposable when times get rough.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        If you can get admin work at a smaller non-profit or association management company, you’ll probably get the opportunity to pick up a lot of extra skills, as there is a lot of pitch-in and multi-hat-wearing. Don’t go TOO small – I think 25-100+ is a great size for learning and also for getting the chance to make your pitch.

    2. Good Wilhelmina Hunting*

      As an escapee from this type of work, I would second the sentiment about thinking twice about being an EA, AA or secretary unless the OP would enjoy and be committed to doing this type of role long term. Jobseekers, particularly if female, have frequently been advised to take admin support roles as a stepping stone to a professional, technical,or managerial role, but in my experience that almost never happens. They do not as a general rule invest in the education, training, or career path of what they regard as “mere” support staff to enable them to move up the org chart, regardless of how bright and enthusiastic the person is.

      Despite having a plethora of self-taught skills and knowledge I was unable to move out of such a role until I went back to school and obtained a degree in the sciences, after which I have been almost spoilt for offers of undergraduate teaching work. Admin work by contrast is difficult to come by, and difficult to move on from.

    3. OP*

      That’s a good point about getting stuck in an EA role. I’ve pursued both Visual Merchandising and HR within my current company. Unfortunately, those positions are very competitive. Despite my arts background (which even included wood shop and gallery install experience) I was rejected three times for visual roles. I’ve also applied internally for assistant HR without any luck. I like the numbers side of things, so buying would be an interest but it’s tricky at this particular company. It would take several years more experience before I even had a shot at applying for assistant buyer.

      Another thing I have to keep in mind is that these positions tend to get restructured/consolidated at brick-and-mortar retailers even faster than the customer-facing leadership roles do. For example, a visual team that consisted of a manager, an assistant manager, and a team of several merchandisers for one store now have to service a whole region with the same number of team members. The same thing goes for HR and the buying office. I may look into pursuing something similar outside of the company but I have a feeling that I just need to get out of retail for the time being.

      Thanks for the well wishes! Hearing about everyone’s experience has been really encouraging.

      1. Raea*

        Do they have any lower level supply chain positions? I work in strategic sourcing, starting out as an AA and working my way up as a purchasing clerk, buyer etc. It can definitely be challenging to try and jump in at an assistant buyer position at a large company, but in my experience it is really difficult to fill the lower level “less desirable” positions in supply chain or logistics largely because they are positions not often thought of and assumed to be labor-based roles when they are actually desk jobs serving as a liaison of sorts. None of the members of the team, myself included, have a formal background or education in the field (although my pre-law degree helped expedite my advancement).

  9. Esmeralda*

    Academic recruiter: I assume that means “admissions counselor”. Same job, probably more common title.

    Do some info interviews for that, as I wonder how many people in that job are actually alums for the school, at least for an entry level position. If you believe in the mission of the school, it can be a very rewarding job. Find out about being able to move up, what kinds of jobs people in those entry level positions go into.

    Executive assistant and other admin positions: these positions are available in higher education, if you like the idea of working at/for a college or university. And good people in these positions are hard to come by! You might take a look at the jobs page for nearby campuses. Colleges, universities, community colleges.

    1. Anononon*

      In the before times, I used to volunteer for my school’s admissions department, which included attending college fairs at local high schools as the college rep. Most of the other reps there worked for the school, and there was a good mix of recent alumni grads and “career” reps of all ages.

    2. pugsnbourbon*

      Plug for community colleges here. I’ve been working at one in a non-academic role for about two years, and I’ve seen numerous adjuncts move into full-time faculty positions. We have fine arts and design programs and we’re often looking for adjuncts in those roles.

      1. Properlike*

        As someone who just left community college teaching (and has also adjuncted at universities), I would say that the move from adjunct to full-time is increasingly rare.

    3. 'Career' Admission Counselor*

      For anyone reading, there are tons of us that aren’t alums of the school we work for! Most people assume that folks in entry level roles are, but it’s just as common to end up at a different institution that might have some similarities with the one you attended.

      The job can require a lot of customer-facing time, but what I will say, OP, is that typically you have a lot more support from your leadership when problems arise. That, and they’re usually nicer to you because they believe you have their kids’ fate in their hands.

    4. Caraway*

      The only caveat here is that education as an industry has been hit pretty hard by the pandemic. Enrollments in higher ed are down, sometimes really significantly. So I’m sorry that I don’t have specific advice about moving out of retail, but I just wanted to give a heads up that many colleges and universities are not adding employees at this time. You might need to consider a different industry for now. Good luck, OP!

      1. Esmeralda*

        Depends on the school. Large state U where I work has had very little decline in undergraduate enrollment. Larger decline in the number of international students, especially at the graduate level. We’re strong in science and tech, so that’s no surprise and has been the case for several years.

        And depends on the department. Our academic adjacent department hired three people last year. Housing and other departments that depend on earned revenue laid people off. Academic departments need administrative staff. And there are non-academic departments as well that need admin staff.

        I wouldn’t say higher ed is dying off as an industry, rather some parts of it.

        1. Caraway*

          Yes, I agree, my community college has been doing really well in terms of enrollment! But we’re an outlier in our state, and still being cautious and slow with hiring, and I’m sure many other schools are, too.

    5. mf*

      Yes, I worked as an admin in higher ed for 8 years. It’s a good gig. Pay is moderate but the benefits are great and it’s not a tense, stressful environment (at least not like a corporate workplace). And I wasn’t an alum of any of the schools I worked for.

  10. Susanne*

    I’m also a huge introvert and worked in retail from the age of 16 until a couple of years after college, also ending up in a retail management role. I moved out of retail into customer support at a very small tech company and from there eventually made the jump to a software role.

    Customer support roles at most tech companies are similar to many retail roles without the face-to-face interaction, so it might be an easy next step (relatively speaking)

    1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

      This comment needs more love! As someone who hires (and has been hired for) helper-type positions in tech, I love love LOVE people who have backgrounds in customer service. I’m a fellow long time retail employee who shifted into office work, and I cannot emphasize enough that out of everything I learned between school and work, retail management is the most useful skill set of all. Definitely look for help desk coordinator positions- and as a nonprofit lifer, we need those!

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*


      Any beside-manner skills are going to transfer over readily, and will help you stand out in a good way almost immediately. *Anyone* can learn the hard IT support skills. The soft skills separate the gems from the chaff.

      Plus life gets easier when you’re doing in-house support; you can cc the user’s boss (or grandboss, or HR, etc) if the user insists on being a tool.

    3. Julianna*

      Yep, I got hired out of college from only retail roles into customer support at a small tech start up (where I am now a software developer!).

    4. been there (sorta)*

      Yes. However, not all companies realize how much more important the customer service experience is to the tech degree/experience. I worked a call center job while taking networking/software courses after deciding I wanted a career change. I managed to get a job as a customer service rep in an IT department thanks to connections and the coursework I was doing. The call center experience was hands-down much more relevant than any of the classes. It took management years to learn that though after making a lot of disastrous hiring decisions.

    5. Cascadia*

      This reminds me of the story of the memoir Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner. She got a job as a customer service person at a small tech start-up and then went from there and got deep into the tech world. The book does not make Silicon Valley sound like a great place to work but she writes a lot about her inexperience/transferrable skills/on-the-job learning.

    6. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, my partner hires tech support and he loves hiring folks with retail experience. When a job is 90% answering a phone, you need folks who don’t mind answering the phone. Tech support is also less public facing than a lot of retail work.

    7. OneOfManySarahs*

      I did something similar but moved to a customer service job at a food production company. Did that for a couple years and got promoted to sales admin. Now I’m planning on doing some PowerBI certification so I can move up to sales analyst. Always helps if you’re working for a smaller company because you get so much cross-training.

  11. Temperance*

    I wonder if a career in operations might suit you. It can be more interesting than administrative or reception work, and your management experience would be useful.

    You also wouldn’t have as much public-facing stuff to deal with.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah, this could be good. I worked at the Brown Shipping Company and a lot of the floor supervisors had retail background. Customer service and conflict resolution would be good for that. It is weird hours still, though.

    2. what do job titles mean*

      Can I ask what you mean by “a career in operations”? I chose my career path as a 19 year old who had no idea about what other jobs even existed in the world, and now that I’m contemplating a change, I’m finding I don’t know what any of the job title terminology means.

      1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

        Operations person here! It’s one of those things that can mean a wide variety of stuff, depending on the industry – but generally speaking it describes behind-the-scenes support. So for instance, the operations team at the nonprofit where I work handle things like procuring software for the rest of the team, managing publication subscriptions, ordering and inventorying office supplies, tracking paperwork like contracts and grants, etc. I happened to be coming off a three-year career at a tech support desk (after transitioning from retail/call center life), so tech support got thrown in there as well. We’re a small company, so that might be more of a grab bag than it would at larger companies, but it’s all infrastructure stuff that helps the other teams focus on their work. I often say “I’m the one who makes spreadsheets so other people can go save the world. :)

        Think of it as, like, internal customer service – a lot of customer service skills apply, but you’re supporting your colleagues rather than the general public.

      2. Lluviata*

        Very interesting to read No Sleep Till Hippo’s point of view, since I would also consider myself having been in “operations,” and I have a different definition.

        In my circumstance, I worked at a chemical manufacturing plant as a production engineer. Most of what I did day-to-day was troubleshooting equipment problems, organizing outside expertise for problems I couldn’t solve, thinking about how to improve the processes we used, and communicating between product planning and “operators” how we need to adjust to make more/less product this month to meet demand (operators are the people who directly run the plant, connection hoses and flipping switches and etc). I also did a whole lot of maintaining paperwork so that the various diagrams/references we were using were actually correct.

        1. Lluviata*

          So in my case, “operations” meant the people making the product or directing the making of the product.

      3. Retail Not Retail*

        And my experience is another completely different definition! “Operations” at my non-profit is HVAC, grounds, custodian, carpenters, mechanics – everybody behind the scenes who makes no dang money.

    3. OP*

      I’ve actually considered operations. I already do a lot of back-of-house work at this job – stocking, inventory control, stockroom optimization, organization, shipment processing, etc. I like this kind of work much better than the customer service stuff. Like Stephanie said though, hours can still end up being crummy… It’s still a good thing to look into.

  12. Elementary Fan*

    If you are interested in academic recruitment / admissions advising, that is a role that can be done from home for online programs, which are definitely in business during the pandemic. You can check sites like my higher Ed jobs or look for roles at Ed tech companies. It’s still a bit of customer service, but you can do it on the phone (so no gross bathroom stuff) and use that experience to transition again in another year or two. Good luck!

  13. booklessbookworm*

    Please consider academic publishing! Your background would make you an excellent candidate for a sales position in textbook publishing. It’s still customer-facing, but a) the customers are not abusive and respond really well to talking to others with academic backgrounds, and b) there is a ton of room for moving into other positions after a relatively short amount of time. Most publishing houses prefer to hire internally for all non-entry level positions, because there’s so much industry-specific knowledge. My publishing house just hired a new rep with almost exactly your background, and they couldn’t be more thrilled to have her.

  14. AAperson*

    Great roles to transition (I did it 8 years ago) would be Accounts Payable/Receivable, Account Management, Administrative Assistant, Virtual Assistant. You may also look at companies like Progressive (which is all remote for now) and work in their customer service. They are a great company and typically hire people from retail all the time. My partner works for them and transferred his way up to Claims.

  15. SentientAmoeba*

    Perseverance and being willing to go backwards to go forwards. I was stuck in the retail loop for a while and I was tired of the inconsistent hours, rude customers, poor management and all the stuff that goes with it. I ended up getting an entry level job in call center and used my knowledge and skills to quickly move away from a position on the phone to document processing. I was able to in turn use knowledge and skills gained prior to working for that company to move into a supervisory position. Ironically, I got laid off from that job after 5 years and ended up being able to use the knowledge and skill I gained in that job combined with what I brought to the job and finally made the leap to my preferred path, which is HR.

    TL:DR It’s a marathon, not a sprint and you have to be willing to step back to move forward.

    1. Littorally*

      This was my path too. The call center is a hell of a wringer to go through, but it makes that critical jump from retail to office, and going from “retail department manager” I could see an easy jump to a second-level call center role rather than starting over from the bottom in the “general customer service” pit.

      1. BookishMiss*

        I mentioned it upthread, but this is exactly the path I took. Retail, then take a step backwards to get into a call center, and then transfer off the phones. The phones aren’t easy, but it’s a solid springboard.

        1. Littorally*

          Yep. And when I did an industry jump from merchant services to retail investing, I had to start over in the customer service pit again, but only briefly — I was in it for less than a year the second time around before I got to get off the phones.

    2. LQ*

      Call centers have a bad reputation, but the difference between retail and call center can be a good way to transition to office job. No more dealing with human waste! No more worry about being physically assaulted! Nothing thrown at you! No walking in on illicit behavior (duck squad not included of course)! Generally schedules are less weird than physical retail, though not always.

      And in call centers a lot of places hire and promote from within and quickly. Often all roles will be entry level, but not always, and usually a quick promotion of folks with management of line staff experience.

      *And yes it would be good if humans didn’t assault other humans, conduct illicit behaviors with unwilling participants, and the like, but that’s a problem of humans. A company can certainly impact this, but the person pooing in the stall is still a person.

      1. Harley*

        I totally agree with the call centre route! I started on the phones, and gradually moved to an administrator position, and then team lead. I eventually transferred to another department, which is non-client facing. The turnover in call centres is very high, and most people leave within 1-2 years, often to other departments.

        As a fellow introvert, I hated being on the phones, and hated dealing with escalations when I was team lead. However, it is a great way to get your foot in the door, and as long as you show up to work, don’t be late, generally be pleasant, and be of above average intelligence, you should be able to move up the ladder, and out of customer service.

      2. Littorally*

        When I was in a call center for the first time, I had a little printed out sign taped to my computer monitor: “Smile! They can’t throw things at you.” This referenced actual events from when I worked retail.

      3. JohannaCabal*

        I was going to suggest this. After being laid off in ’09 from my post-college job, I could not get a job anywhere. Eventually, I found a full-time position cold calling for a market research firm. I had to say it but showing up everyday and putting everything I had in to it for eight hours helped.

        We also hired quite a few college grads who were working retail after graduating.

      4. No Longer Looking*

        Just remember that call centers are always hiring, and there is a good reason for that – the turnover/churn is fast and brutal. Few people enjoy working in call centers, it seems – or at the least, a large number who think they will, do not. I did outbound call center to existing customers for half a year. That was more than enough for me, and cold calling or inbound calling are both more stressful than making sales calls to existing customers. If you go that route, go in with a thick skin.

  16. Lyssa*

    Reading this was like reading my own journal (except I only have a Bachelor’s degree). OP, I have complete empathy for you and I can’t imagine dealing with this during a pandemic. I worked in retail all through college and for almost a year after graduation. One day, I was helping a very sweet woman and she quietly asked me if I wanted to move out of retail. She gave me her husband’s business card and I called him the next day for an interview. I got that job, which led to my current career as a paralegal.

    Lesson learned? You NEVER KNOW who you’re going to meet on the job, so do your best to remain polite, professional, and warm. I also know people who fell into long-term jobs through temping, so I recommend finding a temp agency in your area. I wish you the best of luck! You can do this.

    1. infopubs*

      Seconding this. When I worked for my family’s business, we hired several employees in this way. We would see the same efficient, polite, well-spoken bank teller month after month, for instance, and when we needed to hire would give her a business card and a heads-up.

      Obviously this isn’t any sort of guarantee that a job will fall in your lap in your current situation, but maintaining a professional attitude can sometimes open a door. And a crappy attitude can slam a door closed!

  17. AnimatinginMichigan*

    I did my MFA too, doing painting and installation. Academia wasn’t for me either. I ended up looking into Motion Design, loving it, and I’m now a happy animator. If you do visual design at all, look into it- animation is thriving because it’s all digital and easy to be remote. I just took the time to learn digital tools, and came up with my own little project ideas to build a portfolio and start connecting with others. Not that it’s been easy, but once I learned what commercial art positions were available, it made it really clear what I was working toward.

    1. Eyeball*


      I’d been doing motion design in an art/experimental sort of way forever, and worked in retail (managing to work my way up to several jobs that were Decidedly Not For Me). Your letter brought back lots of memories — ooh! I can’t overstate how unsuited I was and am for that work. Being halfway good at it was like pulling out my own teeth, and I felt like I had no choice but to take promotions (5x the work, 1.2x the pay) that I didn’t want and that made doing my job effectively even freaking harder! I could go on about the effects on my physical and mental health, but I’ll spare everyone.

      The pandemic made it 2347834792x worse (especially since I was at a freaking grocery store when it hit). I had the incredible luck to marry someone who was willing to cover me for a while so I didn’t have a nervous breakdown, and I hit the job search hard. After a couple of months I managed to find a good job at a company that has done REALLY well through the pandemic and is projected to do well going forward.

      If this path interests you, I recommend School of Motion as a place to learn the ropes. The courses are expensive, but if you can swing it, they’re worth it. If you can’t swing it, there’s some decent stuff on YouTube and Skillshare as well.

    2. Boof*

      fab! Yes, I feel like there’s so much creativity that is flourishing and possible now – the MFA intrigued me, seems like that might be the way to go if it is an interest for LW. Glad you made the transition!

    3. OP*

      What an cool direction to take! Our grad program didn’t make us specify our concentrations but I was mostly drawing and painting with a little bit of fabric and silk screen thrown in. I’ll certainly look into this further.

  18. Stephanie*

    I made the jump by applying to less-competitive, low level office jobs, which are a lot more forgiving regarding experience, and in fact tend to often be specifically look for people with backgrounds that include a lot of customer service. The key is to look at very large corporate offices, as smaller companies generally won’t hire these types of roles. Job titles to look for would be things like host, hospitality clerk, or office assistant. The jobs themselves tend to be doing stuff like tidying internal kitchens, reception break relief, and setting up meeting rooms. Once you’re in, you can definitely work up to an administrative assistant or executive assistant role.

    My boyfriend followed a similar path, but his very high typing speed got him first into an entry-level typist role, which he worked up from.

    1. New Job So Much Better*

      Look for entry level jobs at mortgage companies. They will usually be happy to train you and your customer service skills are a plus. Interest rates are still very low and companies are always hiring.

  19. Shenandoah*

    Hi OP! I am a former retail manager who works an analyst-y office job now. Don’t be afraid of looking for service/support positions in an office setting. My first out of retail job was doing customer support in an B2B setting. Some of the same annoyances of dealing with customers, but worlds better than retail. (I know *exactly* that panicked feeling you are describing, and never felt that in my office customer support job. Better money and benefits also was a big help in dealing with the minor annoyances.)

    After 2 years in that role, I was able to get promoted to my current job. (I did get a big helping hand by knowing someone at my company – I’m sure you are already working your network, but the temping agencies can help you broaden it.)

    I’m wishing you all the best of luck – some people thrive in that retail environment but I was definitely not one of them, and it sounds like you are not either.

    1. Sleepy*

      Yes, don’t write off customer support. It may sound like you would get stuck in the same trap as you’re in now, but it’s not necessarily that. My sister went from retail to customer support in high-end sales and it was completely different. It varies from company to company, but in her customer support role, she was responsible for working with a specific group of high-paying clients, so she built relationships with them over time. That can have its own headaches for sure but it is WORLDS away from customers using a fitting room as a bathroom. Customer service skills are so key in these kinds of roles because a single client might be spending $50-100k at the company. She was able to eventually become a supervisor and then transition to internal company operations.

    2. OP*

      Good advice! Yes I’ve worked with people who thrive in sales and customer service roles. I admired their attitude but recognize that it’ll never be me…

  20. Maude*

    I have not had to make the transition, however I have had to hire temps to fill in for employees on medial leave or for projects. I have found it very hard to find good, reliable temporary employees and in several instances we were so impressed with the work of a temporary employee that we ended up hiring them for another position. If you can manage doing temporary work for a while (you may loose benefits and have gaps between assignments so it may not be doable) that may be an option for you. Good luck, I know something will work out for you eventually.

  21. Wicked Stitcher*

    I went from retail, to bank teller, to internally transferring to a data entry position within the bank. Honestly, I seriously lucked out because the data entry position was only in a city i just happened to want to move to anyway. I genuinely don’t think it’s possible to transfer out of customer facing positions in most retail settings without going through multiple layers of management first, but I’m only going off my own extremely negative experiences in that assumption, so I’m interested to see if other people had different experiences.

    It really helped to buff up my typing skills and tack on familiarity with Word and Excel in my case. I think everyone is gunna have a different “in” (or would that be “out”?) but I hope you can find yours soon!

  22. Life after retail*

    I worked in retail for almost 20 years from 2 months after my 16th birthday throughout college and for the next 7 or so years before I completely burned out after a transfer to a store whose manager created such an unbelievably toxic environment I would literally cry on the way to work. I got out by blindly applying to LITERALLY ANYTHING open on Indeed that I was even remotely qualified for. I was going for quantity of applications over quality. I would then make a decision if it was a better fit either at the interview or right after it. Self storage district manager? Pass. Shellfish operations manager? Pass. Llama wrangler? Pass. I’ve been a property manager for the past 4 years and love it. I have 2 rental properties of my own and that was my only transferrable skill. But I just found the right boss who wanted to train someone his own way. I do move in & move out checklists with tenants. Schedule and oversee repairs in units and common areas. Some light cleaning, painting, lightbulb changing. The best thing is tenants can’t be too rude to me since I am the one who writes them back their security deposit refund.
    There is hope. Try the quantity approach. Apply even if it’s not a perfect fit. You can always turn down a job if you get weird vibes.

    1. Joan Rivers*

      That’s impressive. I was an English major ending up in publishing, so my path was logical to me. I used my skills even in office work, proofreading and taking on writing, once they knew I could. My education and skills applied and made me more valuable.

      It alarms me to picture how much an MFA in Fine Arts will cost in student loans, when there doesn’t seem to be a path from it to a retail job. I’d be concerned if my kid took out big loans and then works in jobs that they could have gotten w/o that education if they had some work experience in the field. It’s great people have an income, and knowledge is never wasted. But I’d want to know what 4 years of tuition prepares them for. I took night classes even after getting a publishing job because I enjoyed learning, so not anti-education here. Just anti-debt.

      I’ve known women who realized after law school and a law job that they DIDN’T LIKE IT and quit the law. That’s a lot of time and money and effort. Not wasted necessarily, but a lot.
      It’s too bad there’s not more pragmatic exposure to the careers people are studying for — more focus on what that degree can lead to, what it prepares you to do.

      1. OP*

        I was actually pretty fortunate when it came to paying for college. Undergrad was at a small state school and was covered mostly by scholarships and work-study. My MFA program fully subsidized all candidates with the added bonus of a teaching stipend. I took out some student loans (federal only) for living expenses but my debt is relatively manageable. I wouldn’t have considered going to grad school if I didn’t get such a good deal. My family is blue collar and my parents were blessedly realistic when it came to the money part of higher ed. If they weren’t I probably would have made some unwise decisions…

        I also have some acquaintances who are in mountains of debt to private student loan companies. Some have bills over $1,000 per month. The cost of college, even at once reasonably priced state schools, is far outpacing wage growth and I feel that a lot of people in my generation had a “worry about it later” attitude when it came to financing their education.

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          I was just about to suggest work-study, and if your field allows it, research! I’ve gone over my own story of being forced out of retail because management thought I was overpaid in several comment sections on this site. (And they found out the hard way WHY I was full-time non-management!) I’m autistic, and SWORE to myself I would never work retail again. I haven’t and I won’t. I did work at a friend’s Bed and Breakfast for a few months, and then got hired as work-study, increasing my schooling hours from part time to full time. (I was already a student before I got the boot.) I quickly showed my skills, and got put in charge of a project that fit my cataloguing and computer skills perfectly. I’m applying to grad schools now, but if I don’t get in, I’ll have my work-study job back for a semester in the fall, and will do another research project while I job hunt in my field.

          Good luck, and may we both be able to escape forever!

  23. Missbee*

    I worked in retail for 10 years and was desperate to get out. I had also made it to management but I just wasn’t good at it. I did luck out with an opportunity to take an entry level receptionist job. It meant a significant pay cut. I was able to swing it, but I had to make some tough choices.
    One specific thing about my circumstances, I was recommended for my job by a friend that was moving to another state. Her office needed her replacement and luckily I had that connection. I know that “networking” is often an empty answer, but if I were you I would really work my contacts. You went to college and grad school. Do you have any friends that work corporate office jobs? Do they have any knowledge of entry level administrative positions in their companies.
    You mentioned EA work and while that could be great for you eventually, I think you need to focus on entry level admin positions. It took me years to work up from receptionist to EA, so I don’t know that you can expect that immediately.
    You should also seek out some temp agencies. I’ve had friends have great success doing temp work, and you might have an easier time convincing a temp agency that you are capable. Companies often think that retail skills are non-transferable.

  24. EEB*

    The place I currently work often hires people from retail for our customer service team. We’re big on internal promotions, and people from our customer service team who have shown themselves to be good employees often get jobs on other teams doing a variety of non-customer facing work. I know some employees who have only been on the customer service team for 6 months to a year before moving into another role. So perhaps trying to get a customer service job at a medium-sized organization with room for internal transfers might be an option.

  25. Allypopx*

    What I did was find retail/customer service jobs that were related to organizations I’d like to move up in as a foot in the door, and that worked for me but we were dealing with very different economic circumstances than we are now. my fear for you is that there’s a lot of good advice on this thread that just won’t work until the job market picks up, and I hate telling you “wait for more opportunities to open up”, but I wonder if that’s just the reality of the situation. Don’t stop looking! Don’t stop applying. But this might be a waiting game.

  26. Stratocaster*

    Your experience and degree remind me of several people who work in the project management and process improvement areas of the IT department at my university. Those types of jobs don’t really require any technical experience/knowledge, but good organizational and customer service skills. You’d still be interfacing with people, but it would be more “internal” customers. Project management usually requires a PMP certification, but some places will pay for that. I’m not sure what business process improvement certs are required (if they are required at all), but that could be another thing to look into, if organization things and improving processes are your jam.

    1. OP*

      I do like the back-of-house organizational aspects and process improvement type stuff, so this is definitely worth looking into. Thanks!

  27. Pam Adams*

    With the MFA and the previous foot in academia, I definitely recommend college/university work. Admissions, financial aid, development, administrative assistance- there are lots of paths you can follow.
    Perhaps looking for a new adjunct position would help you start getting your foot in the door- even teaching one class per term.

    1. Annika*

      I work at a university. I was thinking like a departmental coordinator. You can always use that position to find others within the university once people get to know you. I worked my way into the IT department that way.

  28. Sabine the Very Mean*

    Hold very firm in future opportunities and be aware of when something is disguised as non-customer service but truly is. Also customer service is still a huge part of my job however, the customers are internal in my agency. They are not members of the public and are generally adhering to a social contract.

    I left teaching because I dislike children, to be quite blunt. I like them from a distance and care about their lives and health and happiness but I hate being around them. Moved to being a dishwasher at a ski resort while I went back to grad school. The ski resort kept nudging me to go help in the kids kamp since I was a teacher. NO. NO!!!! And then some, “trust me, you don’t want me around children. I turn into a witch”.

    Lean into being burned out and hold firm. Tell future bosses that while you are good at customer service jobs, you’ll burn out in no time and just talking about it gives you anxiety. Hold very firm.

    1. Joan Rivers*

      I commented about how great it would be to be exposed to one’s future career in a pragmatic way while in school, because people go through college and get that debt and then discover they don’t like their field. Student teaching seems like it would reveal that. Do you like to teach adults?

    2. BubbleTea*

      I’m similar, except that I love children and I love teaching. What I do not like is schools. No way on earth will I train as a teacher, I’m happy tutoring and running adult education courses sometimes. Know thyself I guess!

    3. OP*

      Great point. I’m pretty good at the customer stuff mostly because I care about not sucking at my job but as a result I always end up getting promoted to customer facing roles! I definitely feel pigeon-holed at this point.

  29. Anon Fed*

    You might also consider working for the government. Depending on where you live, various city, county and state jobs pushing paper can be decent. So can various federal jobs, once you get past the horrible USA Jobs website and their convoluted months-long hiring processes. It took me more than a year and several applications before I was hired for my present job. (It was the third application and the highest-level job that I applied for at the time.) It’s not my dream job, but it pays very decently and is good for an introvert such as myself. IME the larger the organization, the more diverse the group of employees is, and I’m really impressed by the diversity I see in my current federal job. It’s certainly more diverse at the higher levels than any private business or corporate job I’ve had.

    1. CheeryO*

      Came here to say this. Look into your state’s civil service process for sure. My state has a “professional career opportunities” exam every so often that you can take, which will put you on lists for anything that you qualify for. A lot of entry level office jobs only require a 4-year degree, and if you test and interview well, the experience barrier may not matter as much.

    2. Cascadia*

      Yes to this! A friend of mine started working for her city government as it was the only job she could get, graduating into the great recession. She now has held 3 or 4 different positions there and has really worked her way up into areas she’s more interested in. While it’s not something she’s super passionate about, the pay is decent, benefits are great, and the job is super steady and reliable. She has no plans to leave anytime soon.

      1. Jane METZGER*

        I also suggest you look at your State’s website for jobs. I just checked my State’s site and found these words which should help out:
        “The vast majority of state jobs do require that an applicant take and pass an appropriate civil service examination in order to qualify for consideration.”
        GOOD LUCK!

    3. Aerin*

      One of my best friends spent nearly 20 years working in retail. Her escape was the DMV. Which sounds like a level of hell, but she really enjoys it. It’s customer service but the dynamic is very different, and the jerks are more rare. (Having a regular schedule, plus being able to sit down most of the day, makes the jerks easier to bear.) She’s also getting more office experience that she’ll be able to use to make her next move. She’s actually intending to stay with the county because the benefits are great and she really likes her coworkers.

      1. Shenandoah*

        Yes! I genuinely cannot overstate how much more bearable customer service is when you are 1) able to sit and 2) working normal hours. When I was in retail mgmt, I frequently worked 50+ hours a week and got phone calls and texts at all hours. My body hurt all the time from standing at a till and lifting boxes. I just had nothing left to give my customers or employees.

        I absolutely would have taken a DMV job to get out of retail with JOY in my heart!

    4. OP*

      I will absolutely explore this option too. I remember trying to navigate that awful USA jobs website right out of school. I’m glad you reached the light at the end of that tunnel. My current company is very diverse too. It’s one of the things I like about it so I’m glad to hear many of the federal organizations seem to be as well.

  30. IvyGirl*

    A lot of your skills would transfer to a support role in development/fundraising. Check out your Alma mater’s job board (or higher ed jobs website) for these types of positions.

    1. JessicaTate*

      I was just thinking that as well, especially targeting arts organizations. The mix of your arts specialist knowledge and sales experience could set you up to the non-profit version of sales — development. There are some entry-level roles that could get you experience to build on. The arts sector is hurting, but development is always one of the first on the “to hire” list (because money).

  31. Barefoot Librarian*

    Granted this was NOT during a pandemic, but I transitioned from customer service work to administrative/libraries work gradually in my mid-30s. I went back to college (sounds like you’ve already got that under your belt) and used my customer service experience to get myself a customer facing job in an academic library (I was store manager at the retail place I worked so it was a step down). Then it was a matter of moving from customer service at the circulation desk to back end work in the cataloging/processing department. Then I was well positioned to apply for a librarian role when I finished school. Now I run a department in a library.

    Maybe there are customer facing jobs in the field you want to work in (higher ed but not teaching?) that look more like what you’re doing now and would be suitable for an intermediate step. It’s frustrating, I know, because you’re clearly more qualified than that but you might have to get your foot in the door.

  32. Mimi Me*

    I moved from retail to health insurance. I started in a call center. I worked there for a little over two years and then was able to use my insurance knowledge to apply for positions outside of that company. Now I’m working for a major specialty pharmacy, at home, and I love it. I do have to do some interaction with people as part of my job, but it’s almost scripted in how routine the calls are.

  33. Elenia*

    Oh my god. Not during a pandemic, but I temped. I went through Office Team and did a series of temp jobs and then eventually landed an office job. I wowed them and they hired me in the first week. Then I just kept going and now I am director level.

  34. AGD*

    I worked retail as a teenager, noped out of it for the same reasons as you (introvert versus reliable stream of misbehaving/demanding customers), and ended up in academia. I think there are a lot of excellent/inspired suggestions above (the academic publishing sales representatives I know are amazing and get lots of thanks for good reason). I’d say a graduate degree plus substantial experience in retail would make you a strong candidate for a departmental administrative assistant or EA to a dean or something – my giant northeastern institution never has enough of these and is constantly advertising.

  35. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    Letter Writer,
    I went through a similar situation to what you’re going through now in which I have a degree but I was working in retail. I feel your pain as it was a very toxic and demeaning environment. I had to make the leap and it was an uncertain time for me. However I am so glad that I did.

    Now, it depends on what type of Industry you want to get into. In my case I got into the IT industry. What helped me get my start was I worked with an IT recruiter and they placed me as a contractor. It wasn’t the greatest job but I gained relevant experience for several months. After the contract ended, I was able to get another it position because of the previous position. I wouldn’t have been able to do that going straight from retail. So you might need to go the route to a recruiter and whatever field do you want to switch to and then maybe work as a contractor until you get enough experience to get a more permanent position. Another thing you could look into is see what programs your state has in regards to paid apprenticeships . I’m not talking about internships . In my location there was an apprenticeship program I was thinking about going for and that one entailed paying for your training and then guaranteeing you employment after the end of the program. I wish you all the best.

  36. 867-5309*

    I worked for L Brands – parent company to Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret – and their corporate offices LOVED when retail employees wanted to come to HQ. Even for internships, we always gave resumes of students who worked in one of our stories extra points. Are there remote jobs you can do within your current company?

    Also, a friend of mine parlayed her front of house retail into an operations and people engagement role at another retailer. She was working with employees instead of customers.

    1. jodi*

      Good to hear that L Brands does this, but sooooo many more companies don’t, unfortunately. Apple is notorious for not hiring up their retail employees into corporate jobs. It’s a lot of classism and “if you were good enough to be corporate you’d already be corporate” thinking.

  37. Cassandra*

    Several years back I decided to make a switch from a customer-facing position to an administrative support position as well as completely changing industries. It sounds like you’ve worked on your resume to highlight the skills gained and can be applied to your ideal sort of job which is the first step. If you are having trouble finding something because you don’t have the experience, maybe see if there are temp jobs or temp to permanent placement. That’s how I ended up where I am now. 15 years ago I went to an employment agency and took a temporary to permanent job as a front-desk receptionist. From there I was promoted to project management support and I’m now the office manager and recently been made an officer of the company. So, chin up, even if the job market in your area sucks at the moment that doesn’t mean that you’re trapped in retail forever. Keep your eyes and ears out for interesting jobs and pursue them. Good luck!

  38. DivineMissL*

    I did this jump 25 years ago so my experience is dated. However, I had worked in retail for years (sales, assistant manager, manager, district manager) and eventually wanted out because the long hours and general grind were eating me up. I wanted to work normal M-F, 9-5 hours in a place where I could actually take a day off and spend holidays with my family. I saw that this type of job required the office skills I lacked. So I went to a local business school for 6 months under their Office Tech program to learn how to type, programs like Excel, Word, etc. while I was still working in retail (I went to school from 9 am – 2 pm, then worked 3 pm – 10 pm every night). After I finished the program, I got an AA position through the school’s placement program (they set me up for an interview, I got the job on my own merits). That allowed me to work my way up in that company, then move to a higher position in another company, and eventually get a better position in the company I work for now; I’ve worked my way up here based on my reputation and work product. The business school allowed me to get my foot in the door in a non-retail company; my skills and performance allowed me to work my way up from there.

    It was not an easy or short path, but getting out of retail was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

  39. Badasslady*

    I never worked in retail but I did do a huge career change and this is what I’ve learned:
    1) be really clear about where you are going. In your letter, you mostly talked about not liking the job you’re in now, but not so much about being excited about something new. My guess is that perhaps potential employers can feel that in your material and are therefore less likely to want to hire you. Really take time in iterating to yourself what you want and why (and the fact these jobs would be easier to transition to isn’t a good reason).
    2) Tailor each resume to the position you’re applying to. Each one. It takes time but would increase you’re call back rate.
    3) try to find professional development opportunities that are geared towards the job you’d like to pursue. There are tones of free opportunities right now, and doing professional development could help you feel more confident and present yourself better.

  40. Frenchie Too*

    My friend got a federal job in HR. Their retail experience included management, screening, interviewing, training staff. This might not be their dream job, but they love the M-F 9-5 schedule, great benefits, and being treated well by staff and management.
    Check the usa jobs website (make sure it ends in .gov, to avoid imposters). Also check local and state government websites.
    Might be worth checking it out.

  41. lemon*

    I transitioned out of retail for the same exact reasons– customers were constantly giving me panic attacks. I transitioned out by switching to ecommerce. I had sales floor experience, and knew how to use computers, so I got a job at a small boutique running their website. I parlayed that experience into a role at a startup. I had a really great manager there who let me develop my creative skills (writing and design), which got me into content strategy (where I was finally able to step away from any and all customer service once and for all).

    Your retail skills/experience could transition over nicely into somewhere in ecommerce. You could potentially utilize your creative/MFA skills, too.

  42. Sherman*

    Would you consider the more admin/office setting side of retail? Meaning applying for buyer/assistant buyer positions? I initially went to college for an apparel design/merchandising degree though I eventually dropped the design aspect, but many of my college friends went the buyer route after college, as it felt less stressful and less customer facing than straight retail. A lot of those companies also looked at working retail favorably, since my friends had been on the other side and their experience in retail was relevant.

    1. DivineMissL*

      This works if the retailer has offices near where OP lives. My second admin job after retail was with a national specialty retailer that happened to have its home offices about 15 miles from my house; I was EA to the vice president. The next closest retail home offices are 50 miles from my house, and while many are 100 miles away (NYC /NJ area), that’s too long of a commute for me. If OP is willing to move (or can do remote work) this is a good option.

    2. Lorine*

      I second the advice to look at buyer positions within the company and at different retailers. Your “customer” would be the company you work for, and you would be the customer of the companies you work with. Neither of those will likely come to being as exhausting as dealing with the general public. Plus, you can probably spin your MFA into an asset, being able to look at potential items for sale with both a retailer’s and an artist’s eye.

  43. Courtney*

    I worked retail for a long time. I didn’t get my first real office job until I was over 30.
    So here’s my thoughts for you to take or leave:
    Look into government jobs. Recruiting is often based on a points system and you will get points for a master’s degree. The jobs are hard to get, but so are most jobs right now, so it doesn’t hurt to try. Your MFA and management experience could be an asset at federal museum or archive positions. The application process is really different to the commercial sector, so do your research on how it works and how to write a resume and cover letter that will get you marked as ‘qualified’.

    I think it also depends on what you want to do. Do you want to tie it into your MFA at all? Or do you want to try something totally different?

    I have a BA in English and an MA in 19th century history; neither are applicable to any job whatsoever but they both helped me get jobs as a writer/editor because I tied them into my reading comprehension and writing skills. I don’t think you need to apply for executive assistant jobs, when you have managerial experience. I think retail is a great training ground to teach patience and a certain unflappability. It involves a lot of logistics to manage retail departments and schedules, etc. You just have to show these offices (in your cover letter and interview) how easily that applies to office work. You can sell yourself as someone with the creative skills (MFA) and the logistics skills (managing a department). If they look down on you for your retail work, you don’t want to work for them tbh.

    My job search took some time. It took several years after that to find a job I really like. But if you have patience and confidence in your own skills, you can make the transition. My advice is patience, perseverance, and a lot of research. I was tripped up at first because office job interview etiquette is really different from what I’d experienced in retail work. Lots of cultural gatekeeping and unspoken rules about sending thank you notes and whatever. Research is vital.

    1. OP*

      Some commenters above also suggested pursuing government positions. If I go that route I’ll make sure to do my research before applying. I’d love to get job that involves my MFA more directly but I’d be glad to just leave the retail grind behind at this point. I’m glad you found a job that you like! Thank you for the advice and encouragement.

  44. Madtown Maven*

    The commenters are doing so well at giving suggestions today. Something else you may consider is going to a temp agency. You could register and ask for temp jobs in admin roles, and find out how that kind of work feels to you, and there may be longer temp-to-hire positions that work out for you.

    1. Former call centre worker*

      I thought this, but it’s quite a risk going from permanent to temporary. Temping is insecure at the best of times and these are not the best of times!

  45. Sleepy*

    As many others are suggesting, look for places in the short term where you can put your customer service skills to use where the customers won’t be as terrible. A lot of these will be at big companies or organizations where you can then look for ways to transition internally to roles with less customer interaction.

    Alternately, IF you enjoy interacting with children as well as adults, being a school receptionist can actually be quite rewarding and customer service skills would translate well there, as well as the organizational skills you have as a manager. Yes, some people will be rude, but I think much less than retail. I noticed when I was a public school teacher that all of the school receptionists and administrative assistants were much happier than the teachers were.

  46. retail no more*

    I started by working from home at a call center for a major tech company and from there was able to apply to positions internally that were more corporate. It does mean having to bear with customer-facing work for a bit longer, but the jump is much easier within a large company since call center turnover is high and it doesn’t take as long to stand out as someone with potential beyond answering phones.

  47. Xavier Desmond*

    I’ve never understood why employers don’t value people who’ve worked in retail more highly. I’ve always thought anyone who can do well in a retail/customer service environment, as the OP has,will have the skills needed to thrive in most office jobs.

  48. Boof*

    Start fiction writing? (JKR reference) – ok but seriously you could try to get a creative side gig and then expand on it.
    Or all the other great advice above if you don’t have any side gigs that are compelling.

    Also, I know people gonna people but @#$#@ I hope all managers and people in charge of customer facing positions everywhere make sure abusive customers are shown the door. The customer is never right when the customer is abusive. (and, abuse is not asking something politely but persistently – abuse is swearing, name calling, etc – no matter what the issue is that shouldn’t be tolerated)

    1. Boof*

      I wanted to expand a little, and I hope this question doesn’t come across as insensitive – LW, why did you get an MFA in the first place? I ask because I associate that with wanting to do something creative and eventually have your own studio etc. Was/is that something you are doing/want to do?
      With the age of information I feel like being a maker is an increasingly viable option.

      1. OP*

        Totally valid question! Short answer is I love art. I’ve had a knack for it since I was a toddler and through a lot of hard work I was able to hone my skills considerably through training. I did some of my best work in that MFA program. As for the present: I have a group show coming up next year (it was delayed for obvious reasons) and a commission to finish. My masters was also free with a teaching stipend… so I was able to get a second degree with minimal financial consequence.

        I definitely feel that I could and should be doing more with this degree. Outside of the pressure of an academic setting I struggle to focus on any single thing. I have a million ideas and a studio space littered with unfinished projects. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD about four years ago. After initially getting some help, I neglected treatment for awhile until this past fall when I finally bit the bullet and went to a doctor (not long before I wrote this letter to Alison). Meds have definitely helped at my retail job but I’m still struggling to find that focus in my creative practice. It also doesn’t help that retail is so emotionally draining to me that I just want to be a lump outside of work. I’m my own worst critic too. So that can be self defeating in a lot of ways.

  49. StephThePM*

    My recommendation would be to look to your company’s supply chain. Look in the fulfillment and delivery side – your fulfillment centers that service e-commerce customers or stores. There are well paying positions in back of house where your retail experience and knowledge will be an asset….and you’re just dealing with internal customers.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Back when I worked in a Walmart I noticed a literal geographic correlation: the further back in the building you spent most of your time, the better the job. I worked on the sales floor. I was grateful I wasn’t a cashier.

  50. Librarian*

    Customer service translates really well into library work! Some of our best team leaders in my library have come from a retail background :)

    1. TM*

      This is very true, but you will deal with much of the same customer service issues. And this is an uber-rough time to be trying to break into the work.

      (Source: I work in a public library. I am reading these comments for tips in my own job search)

  51. Jean*

    The job I transferred out of retail into was an office-based customer service/inside sales job for a manufacturing company. Processing orders, taking customer phone calls for price quotes and other information, setting up shipments, things like that. You’re still working with customers, which isn’t the greatest for people like us, but it’s better because you’re over phone/email and not face to face. In my opinion, it’s much easier to transfer from that job into other types of professional office-type work. And you might even find that you like that work. I’ve been moving up in that same field ever since and I love it (most of the time, lol)

  52. Former Retail Lifer*

    Retail is SO FREAKING HARD to break out of. I worked retail from the time I was 17 until I was 38. I tried hard to get out but could never land an interview in any field other than as a for-profit college admissions advisor (I had three interviews over the years) or in property management (four interviews over several years). It took me 15 years of trying and very few interviews, but I did get out and land in property management. This is also not a great career for introverts, but if you can land a position as an assistant manager, it’s mostly administrative. I’m sure neither career field I mentioned is ideal, but those two fields do appreciate retail experience.

  53. Manager no more*

    I transitioned out of retail management just over two years ago. I was a little lucky in that the company I worked for had a corporate office right down the street and a number of associates I had worked with through the years had already made the jump. One of my former associates told me about the position and I was at the done enough point to apply. I went from an assistant store manager position to an entry level buying position. A lot of data entry and execution, no strategy position. It was a big change for me, but I’ve just been promoted into a role I am really enjoying – entry level product development. A friend of mine that I worked with in the stores transitioned into HR – she leveraged her hiring, payroll, and scheduling experience and she is really enjoying her current role. There are so many aspects to running a retail store that I think you could move into just about any career, though convincing yourself and future employers can be the hard part. Think about the aspects of retail that you enjoy and like others have said, tailor your resume and make connections.

  54. el knife*

    if you can, see if you can find “office jobs” in the head office of companies that run retail. I worked in that environment and they really prized people who had strong retail experience, because it made you better at things like range reviews or redesigning new units.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Many years ago I managed a chain convenience store. We frequently got missives from on high. I could always tell how high by how divorced from reality they were. My district manager was great. He had both feet on the ground and was all about making things work. Get two levels above that and it was a guy who clearly had not actually run a store in many years.

  55. Brian S.*

    I was able to transition out of retail with some strategic volunteerism – I spent my off days working reception for a nonprofit organization that I believed in. After a few months of enthusiastic volunteering (never missing a shift, taking on any task they asked me to) I was hired in a entry-level client facing role, and I worked up to the program director level over time. I recognize there is some privilege involved in volunteering like this – I had the spare time and a predictable retail schedule – but I recommend it because a small nonprofit will often want to engage smart, motivated people who can learn new tasks quickly. I think small nonprofits are best for this approach, because had I looked to a large established organization they would never have bet on a 25 year old ex-retail employee to run their entire operation! I am still working in the nonprofit program managment sector after 22 years and I can’t imagine doing anything else!

  56. Richard Hershberger*

    I worked for Walmart back around 1990. I got out of the store when they bought one of their vendors. Talking got a lead into that. Vendors generally are leery about hiring people away from the stores they service, but since they were now owned by Walmart there wasn’t any conflict of interest issue. I only did that new job a few years, but it got me out of directly working retail.

    I see that you have pursued internal job openings. Given that you like the company, keep pursuing those. But in the meantime, you otherwise are asking how to start your career over. That is a perfectly fine option. The advice of other commenters about temp agencies is sound, or at least it was twenty years ago. They can provide both short-term employment and open some doors.

  57. Former call centre worker*

    I work for a retailer in a head office role, and a large number of our office staff started out in shops. Lots of our office roles specify shop experience as desirable in the job advert. I think there are two main routes:
    1. People in shop management roles progressing into central management/SME roles relating to shop activity (eg someone managing the teapot sales dept in a shop moving into a role setting direction for teapot selling across the business or for a particular region)
    2. More junior shop staff moving into lower level roles and progressing from there. Contact centres (either customer facing or internal helpdesks like personnel/recruitment) are probably the bulk of these, but other office jobs too, eg supply chain or admin.

    So my suggestion is to apply for head office roles at your own company (some are probably remote right now if you aren’t based near their office) to give yourself some office experience, because you’ll have an advantage over external applicants. Then from there it’ll be easier to move into office jobs in other companies.

  58. Lacey*

    Reception/Admin work is a good start. You’ll still be customer facing at the start, but it gets you in the door as an “office person”. A number of my coworkers started off as receptionists and got opportunities to be trained in higher level work after a year or two.

    Depending on your area, temping can be a good way to get a little experience in non-retail roles. I did a small stint as an office admin and a couple of friends of mine have temp work for tax preparers (they didn’t do the financial stuff, just filing, taking information, that kind of thing).

    1. Jareth*

      Commenting to second this. Years of retail got me into temping, being a good temp for a year got me permanent offers from a few companies, then promotions at the company I chose got me … back in retail thanks to bad local economy BUT in the warehouse side, then I climbed the ladder, got laid off for COVID, and now I’m the lead at a warehouse for a recycling nonprofit.

      Aside from customer service, working in a position where I was supposed to encourage consumerism also made me heart-sick. I’m glad to now work somewhere that aligns with my values.

  59. The Latte Factor*

    My husband, who is a retail “lifer” (10 + years), is in a similar boat. He fell into retail during the Great Recession as a way to pay the bills and it’s been really difficult for him to find opportunities outside of retail. Prior to retail, he was a golf professional. He absolutely loved teaching golf and made a solid income.

    Luckily, things seem to be turning around for him. He has gotten into the training aspect side of the work and is this close to getting a promotion which will be a much better fit for him. Not to mention, he won’t be working nights/weekends/holidays nearly as much as he does now and won’t have to deal with customers. He’s talked to others who work in training and they really enjoy it.

    So, OP you might look into training.

  60. gbca*

    Network, network, network. I know, as an introvert myself, that is also a terrifying proposition. But it’s mostly about leveraging your existing networks (i.e. family and friends). Make sure everyone knows you are looking and open to opportunities. Add everyone you know on LinkedIn if you haven’t already, and any time you see a job you want to apply for, see if anyone you knows has any connection to the company. When I was job searching, I got FAR more traction on jobs I had some kind of connection to than those I did not. But here’s the thing – in all but one case, it was the flimsiest of connections. It’s literally just getting your resume into human hands.

  61. Transitional Idea*

    My SIL, who has her BFA in art, does work retail right now, but she is at a high-end furniture store where she assists rich customers in picking out stylish things for their home, and helps them think about a whole room’s design when making purchases. Would something like this be a good transitional step for you? Perhaps it would be easier to step towards a retail position with a strong focus on design/art, or towards a retail position at an art supply store, as a way to start leveraging your skills past retail. I can imagine shifting towards merchandising or store displays, too, if that’s possible

    1. Joan Rivers*

      Yes. As an English major I found ways to drag my skills into office jobs, even when they weren’t in publishing. I initiated a newsletter at a non-profit and proofread into the grant proposals I typed, which the CEO appreciated. “Making a great catch” is always valued.

      If those skills are visual, offering ideas to customers could lead to more confidence and you never know who you’re talking to. Sometimes you connect to a future mentor or employer. Don’t be afraid to “give away” your expertise, it’s satisfying.

    2. RC Rascal*

      Also look at specialty lighting, window coverings, & plumbing stores. Associates there do the same thing and can also start working directly with the trades, smaller home builders, etc. Its more about relationships and repeat business. Fewer evenings too. You may need to work Saturday but usually not Sunday.

  62. OyHiOh*

    On your new, spit polished resume, are you listing responsibilities, or accomplishments?

    The “trick” to getting out of retail/hospitality (been there, done that) is setting up your resume to detail accomplishments in each position, rather than just bullet-pointing your duties/responsibilities in that role.

    So one of my accomplishments for my job previous to CurrentJob is phrased as “increased food and beverage sales by X%.” What that one bullet point, on a duties/responsibilities list, covers is all of the menu development, ordering, inventory, and training of kitchen volunteers. But an office hiring manager can’t hear a quantified increase in sales, when you rattle off industry specific responsibilities.

    I saw at least one person suggest operations, to which I would also add logistics as a possibility. Look at the job skills those types of roles want, and see how they compare to your department manager skills. I’m willing to bet you’ve got enough cross over to at least get some interviews.

  63. Accounting Otaku*

    I actually accomplished this. It took me about three years to pull off. I knew I couldn’t suddenly get the non-customer facing positions I wanted mainly because I’m very good at customer service despite how much I was burnt out on it. I had to slowly transition away from it. I started targeting positions with less and less customer service duties in their descriptions and more back-end work. In one position I even traded some customer-facing duties for more admin tasks with someone who despised the admin tasks. Our GM did not care as long as things got done. The increase in our branch performance from this really made him not find issue with this. As I did this, I was able to show my skill in the back-end work and improve it. I was able to use these improvements as strength for why I should be given more admin (accounting work in my case). I repeated this process with my next two jobs after that. Now, I’m in position where I’m actively discouraged from talking to customers because the sales team wants to be the only ones to do.

    You might not be in the position to make a sudden change. So, I suggest finding someone who doesn’t enjoy the more admin tasks your seeking to do more of and see what you can trade off. See what little changes you can make now to make things just a little more bearable in the short-term. Finding a path that slowly weens you off of customer service might be more viable in these times.

  64. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

    Since you have a pretty solid job, could you look for volunteer opportunities?
    Be very specific about what you want, that you are not just a warm body who wants to help, but on the team that does branding, marketing, communications?

  65. Twisted Lion*

    Hi! I moved from that type of job to a banking job but since customer service is awful and you want out, I would like to suggest looking at federal government jobs (assuming you are in the US). You can be hired solely on your level of education but it is best to find series that are inline with what you did at school or with your manger experience. Federal resumes tend to be longer, like pages so i suggest looking online to see what they look like. I started in a low grade job, 0301 series which is “miscellaneous admin” and have moved my way up. Local government jobs might also put weight into your education as well even if its not in art. Dont be discouraged! You can do it!

  66. Essess*

    I started in heavy retail work and wanted to move out of it. I went to a temp agency that did short-term assignments in clerical/office work and worked in about 5 or 6 different offices over the next year, some for a couple weeks and some for a couple months. I made sure to have a positive attitude, always be on time, and do my job efficiently and made sure to show I was a hard worker even though I was doing mostly basic filing/typing, organizing and general clerical duties. This gave me an ‘in’ to knowing about jobs coming up in that company, and one office actually made a new position so that they could hire me into their accounts receivable department because they were impressed with my skills and work ethics.

    After a couple years with them gaining a wide range of additional skills, I was able to get another office job that was fairly entry-level but was in an office that did technical mission-critical work in a large corporation. I took classes in the specialized knowledge areas for that department and as my knowledge grew the managers starting giving me occasional small assignments that helped take pressure off of the upper-level skilled workers. Within a year or two, they had an opening for one of the skilled worker positions and they interviewed me for it because I had been doing a lot of that work already by that point and from that point on my career zoomed up in a very technical field that is completely different than retail.

  67. Project Problem Solver*

    I’m not sure it’s at all transferable from The Before Times, unfortunately. For what it’s worth, I transitioned from retail/server jobs into office jobs by temping in the early 2000s.

    I didn’t get a job through the agencies, but I did get 1-2 years of office experience that I was able to use to get into a permanent job – and I’ve now been at the company for 16 years and have gone on to move into non data entry positions.

    But 2002-2006 was SUCH a different time, so I’m not sure this is even still doable.

  68. Adam*

    Management skills are often transferable to other businesses. I started my management career by working in call centers, and shifted focus to medicine after I got tired and burned out. (I literally applied for a management gig at a large urgent care company and landed it.) I think it takes guts and some creative application for the skills you possess, but it’s absolutely doable.

  69. Admin 4 life*

    I started in retail and hated it. I switched to an office job by starting as a receptionist for a tiny company (15 people and it made learning much easier) and shadowing the admin assistant I was working with. Thinking back on that resume, I actually had a line on my resume about “diffusing tense interactions with customers and getting positive outcomes” and that got me the phone interview that led to my first admin job. (I’ve found a lot of traction mentioning my ability to work well with difficult personalities.)

    When the admin I was shadowing left, I was offered her position and took it. I moved on after 2 years in that admin role and took another admin role at a company with 100 people and a more diverse list of services on offer. 7 years later I’m at a global tech company in a senior admin role that doesn’t have customers walking in without scheduled appointments and maybe ONE unscheduled phone call a year that usually terns out to be a wrong number. I work with other introverts so it’s perfect for me.

    My customer facing experience has been very helpful in providing “inward facing customer service” to my coworkers and the people I support. I’m also self studying so I can move to a data analyst role that will allow for more flexibility and a higher salary.

  70. StripesAndPolkaDots*

    I volunteered my way out. I volunteered for three places, eventually twobof tgem offered my part time jobs, then one of those gave me a full time job. Very career-dependent and time-dependent, of course. But I just didn’t have the practical skills jobs wanted without it.

  71. Secret Name this time*

    For me, I managed to move from customer-facing jobs where most people treat you badly (plain retail) into public-facing jobs where I had less and less contact with the actual customer, and the default of how well they treat you got a little bit better- medical/dental reception, etc. Definitely still plenty of awful humans, but more on a weekly or biweekly basis then on a daily basis, and in medical at least they will fire patients who treat their staff badly enough, whereas in retail they would never do that because they desperately need their money.

    Medical also has more complicated administrative parts to the job (besides just being default more interesting than retail and giving you a lot of ancillary medical knowledge and how-the-healthcare-system-works knowledge that’s useful in life), so I was able to excel in that part of it and move more in that direction, eventually getting a straight administration job with no direct contact with the general public. It took a long time but it’s a huge relief!

    1. Secret Name this time*

      Forgot to add, one advantage of moving from retail into say, medical reception, is also not having to work weekends or evenings, if you’re at a private practice or somewhere with limited hours.

      Dental might be even better because a lot of those jobs are 4/10s, and dental appointments are very long, so it’s relatively few people per day. Plus at least an entry-level the pay can be a good deal more. It’s still a midpoint into administrative or other work that doesn’t put you at the mercy of the general public, but as a step up from retail it’s huge.

  72. NoLongerAManager*

    It certainly is possible to leave retail.

    When I wanted to do so, I looked around for what it was I wanted to do, then took an adult apprenticeship (NVQ for the UK) course and worked for a couple of months until the place offered me, at first a small paid position of an hour a day, until I passed my course, then I was offered a casual contract filling in for staff absences as requested until that particular year ended and I found a full time position elsewhere.

    You can, on occasion find programme funding to fund course costs or an employer that wants you to expand your knowledge may be willing to pay for certain courses that make business sense.

  73. x*

    I initially dropped out of college and was a retail/food service manager for several years and I now have a management role at an institution and handle HR and accounting (I did eventually get some degrees). Over the years, I also said yes to every opportunity to learn a new skill. There is one job I held early on that I think would especially lend itself to this kind of transition. I worked in customer service for a small distributor. Once a customer placed their order, I kept an eye on fulfillment and kept them updated of any delays, etc. It was still customer service, but a lot of it was done via email and people just didn’t seem to get as mad about things in that setting. I also had other random admin duties.

  74. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    My husband and a friend of ours both went from retail to warehouse logistics. Friend (who switched about a year and a half ago) is now a supervisor for her shipping group, husband (who switched three years ago) went kind of sideways into IT working with their actual logistics software.

  75. Secretary*

    A note about temp agencies: I agree, working as a temp is a great way to break in… ESPECIALLY if you’re already a really good employee. My husband’s company has to hire temps sometimes for transition periods, and every time they do I hear about the adventures in temps because he says so many of them end up being really unreliable. When they’ve had reliable temps, they usually try to find a place in the company that they can hire them. They can’t always do it, but when it’s a good fit it’s a good fit.

  76. Justme, The OG*

    I did! I went from retail to higher education. I started in finances, then moved to an admin role in an academic department, and now do more behind the scenes things with program support and development. I am also super introverted and this current role is probably the best suited to me. I think academic recruitment might be a great fit for you, but what I have learned in academia is that you generally have to get your foot in the door somewhere before you find the perfect job for you.

  77. Robin Ellacott*

    I had a similar trajectory to you… arts degree, and my temporary work in retail during and just after university kind of organically resulted in promotion to manager, but I never liked the work. I (like you) didn’t appreciate being abused by customers, and I also hated selling things to people who didn’t need them and probably shouldn’t be buying them. Also, the pay was pretty terrible.

    In my case I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but saw an ad in the local paper for a small, growing, locally-based company looking for various vaguely described admin roles, and after a particularly frustrating week at my job I applied. I wrote a very carefully crafted cover letter which talked about the management role and the administrative tasks it entailed, but then moved to talking about the personal characteristics I had. In this company’s case experience dealing with difficult clients was a plus, but I focused on communication skills, ability to adapt to dealing effectively with different kinds of people, organization, and flexibility.

    I got an interview, really clicked with the CEO, and got offered a role as his executive assistant. I didn’t have any formal admin skills, so it was scary, but in a small company it worked well because he really needed someone to deal with various mid level issues more than he needed actual admin work. Within a few years I had moved into a new department which was mostly writing, then managed the department, and now ~15 years later I’m in the most senior role here.

    So what worked for me was the focus on transferable skills and finding a smaller, younger company where the roles were still evolving and weren’t as standardized in terms of tasks. It helped that I was genuinely interested in the work so it was easy to get immersed in. We still hire a lot of people with a background like yours and they have been some of our best employees, often staying quite a while too. The one thing we make sure of re their lack of admin experience is that they can type and they don’t hate the phone too much to deal with regular office calls.

    You write very well and I think you could write an impressive cover letter and interview impressively. You just need the chance to show that off to an employer. I hope you find one you can connect with like I did.

    I’d advise you not to dwell too much on the client horror stories in interviews, just have one good example that isn’t super dramatic. You can talk about the skills you have that you don’t get to use, or not much left to learn, or you’re not interested in the job above yours so are looking for something more challenging…. And of course you’re already thinking about who to sell your real skills.

    Good luck!

  78. turquoisecow*

    This is probably not an option for everyone but I went to work in the corporate office of the retailer I worked for. The company I worked for was bought by a larger company and shortly afterward had a “career day” to try to encourage people from small company to move up in the company – not just to the office, but to be department or store managers. I sat down with a recruiter and talked about my extensive experience (by that point I had been working there for 7 years) and he got me an interview with a guy in the office who hired me. I know I wasn’t the only person to do this, as a former store manager of mine ended up in a new role this way.

    Of course a lot of times the corporate office of your retail store is nowhere near where your store is, so this doesn’t help. The office I went to work for was about 30 miles from my store, which wasn’t a fun commute (until I moved closer) but it was at least in the same state.

    1. turquoisecow*

      I should add that in my industry (supermarkets), having an in-store background is seen as a definite plus. People who worked in the stores are seen as more knowledgeable and more understanding of what is possible than people who, say, got a business degree and went to work in the office and haven’t worked the retail side. I don’t work for the same company anymore but that background is still helpful in my day to day work.

      So even if you can’t get a job at the same office your store is a part of, that retail experience could be seen as valuable to other retailers.

  79. Retail Not Retail*

    I’m no longer in retail but this year when I interviewed for entry level office jobs, the interviewers kept telling me this was an indoor sitting all day job and do you understand that and can you do that?

    How can I overcome THAT? (Also i probably can’t sit all day but I need to if I want to make a living wage it seems)

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      I got my BA, did retail for 4 years, got my MA, flamed out horribly at the service corps job related to said MA, and now have an outdoors operation job.

    2. My Brain Is Exploding*

      Couldn’t you get accommodations for that? Like a desk that adjusts to standing, a special chair, a 5 min walking break every so often?

  80. Bookworm*

    OP: I don’t quite have your experience but I will say that yes, it is absolutely possible to move out of retail/customer-facing type jobs.

    Retail was my first job and I swallowed my pride by moving home and getting internships and temp jobs (placement agencies were extremely hit or miss for me). It took work (first couple of jobs after were customer service heavy) but by then I had built experience to slowly move out of that and my current job doesn’t even have a phone number (we rely on cell, email, Slack, etc. and cell phones are rare).

    I would guess that the advice you’ve already been given might be your best bet. Leveraging any connections you have in academia, anyone who is looking for an EA, etc. might work. And yes, I will say that organizations are definitely still hiring right now. Maybe not in what you’re looking for exactly, but they are.

    Good luck!!

  81. Lulu Sweet*

    I graduated with a BFA in 1997 and had the same issues getting a job in my field. After bouncing around retail (which I hated) I eventually did trades training in cabinet making. I learned that while I liked cabinet making better than retail as I used my hands and didn’t need to deal with customers, it still wasn’t for me. However – it was design adjacent enough to give me the idea of applying to architecture school and I never looked back. Architecture has a pretty big umbrella regarding possible work roles – there is not just the design of the built environment (arch speak there) project management, construction management, drafting, presentation drawings, property development, and the possibility of further training into niche consulting positions. Everything I learned along the way to getting there I use – every art history class, english class, high school science, you name it. Not every school accepts non-architecture undergraduate degrees as a basis for the M.Arch program but enough do. Other than that – I know people with BFAs who have gone into Art Direction for both film and gaming. So to sum up my advice in general – start looking for art adjacent jobs. Also – if you are willing and able to take on more schooling try looking for an art adjacent program that can lead fairly directly to a job/career such as landscape architecture, industrial design, graphic design, game design, and film work. Don’t overlook trades training – there is a lot of room for creativity within those fields and you can gain skills that apply to other positions. I am currently not working in architecture, but I have flipped a few properties and am working on setting up a niche commercial finishes business – for which I am using all my art school knowledge plus much of what I picked up practicing architecture. I hope my story helps – good luck!

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Sounds like you and I had a similar thought train. I jumped from retail in construction/architecture to the side acquiring the products for clients. It’s been a good fit for me.

  82. The Rural Juror*

    I worked in sales/retail for a bit and also figured out I didn’t like being the customer-facing person, even with the promotions I had received. I eventually moved to a company where I’m in charge of project coordination and logistics. Loooooots of purchasing, which I enjoy.

    Sometimes people don’t realize how many positions there are that support industries. For every job you see on the surface, there’s a whole iceberg of supporting positions beneath the surface. In fashion, there’s retail; and then there’s merchandising, purchasing, marketing, logistics…the list goes on! Although it sounds like the OP isn’t having much luck there since there’s so much competition in those areas.

    But there other industries with a lot of similarities to retail fashion, such as construction-supporting roles and jobs related to interior design/architecture. If you’re supplying a physical good that will eventually reach a consumer, then it’s all related in one aspect or another. Good luck!!!

  83. Former retail*

    I worked retail for several years as an assistant manager and manager, and then transitioned into finance. I started in call center customer service, became a team lead and advisor, and eventually an independent advisor. I completely understand your frustrations with retail and customer service, it involves a lot of aggravation. Most people that haven’t done it have no idea.

    The first thing I’d say is consider that ability to not get too aggravated a SKILL as opposed to a temperament. You can learn to let things go, not let other people’s attitudes not affect your own, etc. It’s not easy and a main reason why many people burn out of these types of jobs. Retail is also a field being heavily disrupted by online merchants, and that’s likely to accelerate outside of niche markets.

    Next, I’d focus on you accomplishments, and the transferable skills you have. It sounds as though you have done this, but many people think that because they are in a job they didn’t want much in the first place and only took to pay the bills, they have no useful skills. But people working retail often have skills at all sorts of things, such as customer service (not what you want, I know), sales (VERY transferable! Millions of people make great livings in sales), managing people, often accounting, bookkeeping, etc. I recommend taking time to list *every* skill and accomplishment you have, if you haven’t already. I did this and it really helped me.

    Then, think widely about who wants/needs those skills. You may be a good fit for lots of jobs you haven’t considered at first. You may need to break into it on the ground level at first, but be able to move up into something better in the field once you have the experience.

    Good Luck, OP, you can do it!

    1. PT*

      If you’re female, all skills or lack thereof are attributed to innate temperament.

      Male employees will be advised “Customers like it when you make small talk, so focus on making more small talk when they come in.” Female employees will be told, “You’re unfriendly and people don’t like you.”

  84. HR Exec Popping In*

    I haven’t read the other comments, so this may have already been recommended. I have found candidates have successfully moved from retail internally when they go into related roles like recruiting or training for retail workers. If that is of interest to you, see if you can work on a project for your store in these areas. Could you develop and lead your team on training? Or work on recruiting outreach to source great candidates?

  85. R.S.*

    I worked in retail for way too long after graduating from college with a BFA! Clothing, food service, letterpress shop, and finally a bookstore. I’m also an introvert, and get flustered by customers very easily, so it was really hard for me to be in customer-facing jobs for so many years. Eventually, I got hired on as a Receptionist/Office Assistant at a book publishing company. I was able to use that position as a stepping stone into the company, working my way to Publishing Assistant, and then up to Production Designer. I’m using some of the design and bookmaking skills I learned in college, and learned the rest of it on the fly! I don’t have to interact with customers AT ALL anymore and it is amazing.
    Sometimes all you need is to get in on the ground floor of a place, and work your way up. Think of lateral skills that you have and alternate ways in which you can come at things. If you have a job where you can get to know people in every department, you can often use those relationships as openings into applying for different jobs!
    I’m sorry you’re struggling, but know that you’re not alone. It sounds like many people have made this switch, and I wish you the best of luck. You got this!

  86. NYWeasel*

    I didn’t have time to read through all the replies, but my recommendation is to combine your experience and look for work in visual merchandising/pop marketing. Your skills are perfect for that field.

  87. Pop*

    I know many of my friends from my husband’s old employer, which is the service industry not retail, but there are a lot of similarities. Many people have successfully transitioned out!! Several went into insurance claims processing. One went into tech customer support, which he doesn’t love but it pays SUPER well, and he is hoping to use it as a stepping stone to what’s next – he’s able to save a lot of money so it gives him more flexibility. With your retail background, you’re most likely good at solving problems, great under pressure and in a fast-paced environment. have great interpersonal skills (important for things other than customer service, too) and know how to work in a team. Thinking about your transferrable skills is great – it took a long time for me to help my husband get out of the “I’m not qualified for anything” mindset. Good luck! I worked in retail for six years and know how draining it can be.

  88. Olivia Octavia*

    See if your local government is hiring for jobs you are interested in doing.
    Also, I hope it’s encouraging to say that the pandemic won’t last forever. I expect that in the future there won’t be 300 people applying for jobs. (I’m in local government and we are seeing more people applying now. Several years ago, it was hard to get enough qualified applicants.)
    It sounds like you’re doing everything right.
    Keep trying and good luck!

    1. Paris Geller*

      Local government is a good one, especially if you live in at least a mid-size town. I’m a librarian and we love hiring former retail workers for the libraries because we do so much customer service, but since you want to move away from working directly with the public, it doesn’t sound like you would like that. However, you would definitely be qualified for a lot of jobs in other departments I work with–things like reception in our facilities department, managing orders in our city warehouse where we get supplies, etc. A lot of those roles still have a customer service angle, but you’ll only be dealing with internal customers and not the general public. There’s also a lot of administrative roles in municipal government generally, because there’s so many different departments.

  89. Lady Heather*

    A lot of people are mentioning other customer service jobs. If that’s something you’re not eager to repeat, you can look for companies that serve businesses rather than consumers – while that’s absolutely not a guarantee for professional interactions, you’re likely to see less of at least some frequent retail customer conflicts.

  90. nnn*

    Don’t overlook the possibility of non-academic employment at your alma mater – perhaps even in a customer-facing capacity with room for advancement.

    – Some schools prioritize hiring their own alumni, so they’d see your degree as a positive (as opposed to some employers who see an unrelated master’s degree as a negative).
    – Some schools have a system of internal job postings, so once you have a job there, a far larger number of other job postings are open to you. I’ve found that academic institutions are more open to the idea of employees getting their foot in the door and moving up to something better than private-sectors employers are.
    – Pay/benefits/working conditions are often better even in low-level university staff jobs than in retail, and in many cases your “customers” would be students who might be more likely to see you as an authority figure and therefore approach the situation with less entitlement.

    A lot of this is cultural, and you’ll know your alma mater better than we do and might have connections for informational interviews to fill in the gaps.

  91. 911ismynumber*

    I also worked retail for years. Through a temp agency, I was able to get a job at a help-desk style call center. Still customer service related, but not face-to-face. I moved from that job to becoming a 911 operator. Very different from where I started, but I am still able to use the customer service skills I acquired.

  92. lulu*

    I moved from retail to an office-based customer service position. Five years later I moved to an HR specialist position and now I’m the Admin Supervisor and manage a small team. Personally, I would hire someone with a retail background for customer service, reception, or as an office assistant.

  93. PolarVortex*

    Been there done that, have years of retail under me.

    Start by looking for retail adjacent jobs, places where retail experience is useful. There’s a lot of vendors who are now selling things online who need people to manage that for them on the computer (which still confuses lots of people), there’s Third Party Logistics companies – people transporting all that merch places, supply chain companies, look for work in Warehouses. And, with the current economy being what it is, a lot of vendors who never thought they’d be busy are Very. Busy. Particularly with online sales, and so they’re hiring. At minimum this is going to get you a job outside of retail customer service.

  94. Eye roll*

    Before going back to school back in the day, I had to pivot from retail to something less soul-draining. Once I focused on retail adjacent jobs – stock ordering, merchandising, warehouse work, reception, night stocking, admin assistant, training – I was able to get callbacks and avoid the worst aspects of customer-facing work.

  95. cameron*

    Hi was in a similar situation. I graduated with a B.S degree (and a long, successful internship) in 2008 and was stuck. It was the recession, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I continued working the (wonderful company) retail job I worked all during college. The pay was excellent (especially when I became a store manager i got $2k bonuses every September, October, November and December), the benefits were lovely (they matched my 401k contribution at double) and I like the staff. But like you, I couldnt handle customers anymore. People were so rude and disparaging and treated me like DIRT because I worked retail even though I knew I most likely made more than them (not that that matters!!!). I also didnt see a pathway to retirement there. I was 28, had worked there 10 years before I decided to leave (college and then some time after) but how in the hell do people retire from retail sales in their 60s…I just couldnt see it. the physically toll of .5 hour lunch breaks, constant standing, walking and lifting, nights, weekends…I just couldnt do it anymore.

    So I volunteered at an agency in the field in which I went to school. I began volunteering at a social work agency to see what I wanted to do with my life and get the hands on experience I needed. a year into Volunteering, I was offered a job at that agency and haven’t looked back. I know run a program there and am very happy. So…that’s my suggestion, if it is feasible in your preferred field, get your feet wet in volunteering part time while you still do retail full time. I am so glad i did. it was so worth it!! Good Luck!

  96. Goldenrod*

    I feel your pain! I, too, despaired of ever escaping retail (graduated into a recession with an English degree and ended up stuck in retail for years).

    How I got out of it was by temping. I started temping at a University – if there is one near you, I recommend working at a University. It is harder to find temp work during rough economic times, it is true. But if you can get your foot in the door, you’ll start gaining office experience. If you keep temping in offices, you will eventually land an (entry level) office job, and you can move up from there.

    I eventually got to the career I have now, which is Executive Assistant. while it’s not exactly my “dream job” I am always grateful to have escaped retail, which was a bad fit for me….Good luck!!

  97. Erika22*

    OP, I worked retail (not management) for years, both during and after college. The way I moved out was transitioning to front desk at a hotel, then offering to help in the hotel’s administrative office when the front desk was slow, and eventually doing a split between front desk and office (and based on the work feeling justified in emphasizing the office work on my resume). From that I got my first project coordination job.

    I actually enjoyed the hotel work – yes I still occasionally had customers who were angry, but it was much easier to pacify them with an “upgrade” or complimentary bottle of wine, and I had some really nice guests who liked to bring the staff treats or give them tips. I also have a friend who works at a nice (like really nice) hotel chain. She moved from the front desk into sales for the hotel – she really enjoys it! There’s a lot of non-customer-facing work in hotels, and I imagine the industry will be picking up soon as people get vaccines and travel is safer.

    Good luck!

  98. Fizzyfuzzy*

    Try looking for jobs with titles “office coordinator”. I was able to get into office work even though I didn’t really have the experience at the time, and you can use these roles as as stepping stone. Also, try looking for staffing groups or 3rd party contractors that do this type of staffing. A lot of them aren’t great but if you can do a year or so you can turn that experience into getting into a better role.

  99. Red Fraggle*

    Okay, so, my trajectory has been SUPER weird, but hopefully you’ll find it encouraging. (I tried to leave out the identifying details, but it’s pretty unique. So no one call me out, okay?!)

    I graduated into the recession. Years later, I also eventually landed in retail management — and it was both a huge step up and utter HELL for all the reasons you described. But when I finally left, I leveraged that management experience to skip SEVERAL levels of underpaid-gruntery in the non-profit world. Now I’m the Director of Education at at museum — with only a BFA! — and spend significantly less time dealing with the public.

    With your MFA and management experience, you have a special mix of left- and right-brain skills / knowledge that are REALLY valuable in certain circles! Try looking for jobs with:
    – art museums
    – fine art galleries
    – art restoration
    – art / artifact shipping (this is a KEY niche market!)
    – arts education facilities (be warned that this field tends to be chock full of hell drama, so YMMV)

  100. RudeRabbit*

    I did this exact same thing, but I was obtaining my Master’s while I was transitioning. I went from big-box retail management (logistics, sales floor, & customer service leadership roles over 7 years) into HR for a manufacturing company. One of my best friends did the same: we met at the same store, they were focused on safety/security, and now they are an incredibly successful recruiter.

    The key is in your cover letter and resume. You need to relate your experience, and any data-based “wins” from your previous role for the one you are applying for. You can discuss your flexibility/adaptability, ability to prioritize different demands, learning agility, and attention to service whether it was an external customer or fellow employee. Your ability to have positive interactions with a variety of people, even if it was a difficult situation, would make you perfect for a customer service role (not necessarily call center; manufacturers have customer service too!), and potentially even a recruiter role. Did you get involved in any HR activities (interviewing, scheduling, employee relations, employee management, etc.)? If so – make that a focus!

    If you are able to obtain a certification, that would be a bonus to show a “commitment” to whatever you go into, but it is not necessary. Many commenters also suggested going to temp/recruitment agencies and working contract jobs, which isn’t a bad idea either.

    Your experience in retail is extremely valuable, and the right company will see it! Best of luck!

  101. Jason Funderberker*

    I went into retail after graduating with a BFA and, like you, it definitely wasn’t for me! I was also promoted to a management position as well.
    I actually worked with a temp staffing place to get my first office job. It was an Executive Assistant, but I didn’t have the best experience there. I reached out to my network (mostly friends) to let them know I was looking for something else and one friend helped me get a job at her company. When I started there I was working as an assistant to an IT Helpdesk. So while I was still customer-facing, it was all via the phone, creating help tickets, transferring calls, and helping to keep the Helpdesk organized and moving efficiently.
    Shortly after, I was given more responsibilities (and took on responsibilities on my own). I was then promoted to a less customer-facing position.
    Unfortunately I think it’s likely you will have to do some sort of customer facing role at the beginning, which is still draining, but it’s a lot better than retail.

    So what worked for me was a temp job and then reaching out to my network.

    Having a third party who has a relationship with the company vouch for you goes a long way.

  102. Yes Ma'am*

    OP I’m not sure if this has been mentioned already, but I built up my non-retail resume with volunteer work. In my instance, I wanted to work in immigration so I started out volunteering with the local newcomer’s association. First it was a few events on the weekend, then volunteering to help set up the apartments the sponsored families were moving into, then volunteering to tutor the children. After about a year of that my face was familiar enough around the office I was able to apply for a position that opened up and from there my career took off. I know it’s hard to cram volunteer hours into the week when working full time, but even a few hours here and there can connect you with the right people, or at the very least, get something else on your resume. Good luck, it’s been years for me but retail burnout will forever be fresh in my mind.

  103. CommanderBanana*

    OP, I’d second the suggestions to try for volunteer work (I know that is super hard right now when so many opportunities are suspended!) or internships, or something in that field. Sadly, a lot of interviewers who never worked retail/restaurant/etc., have a really hard time seeing past “but it’s retail!” and don’t get how those skills are transferable. If it’s any consolation, folks leaving the military face a similar issue. It can be really hard to make an interviewer see how skills transfer to other contexts.

  104. Regina Phalange*

    Make sure everyone you know (outside of work) knows you are looking to move into an office/administrative role — this may be a situation where ‘who you know’ is very important to get your foot in the door somewhere.

  105. Arachnophilia*

    I made this transition, and I’m in the northeast as well, so maybe my experiences will be helpful! I have a master’s degree in sociolinguistics, and I tried adjuncting, but I had to work full-time as a server/bartender to make ends meet, and I just couldn’t do it any longer. I ended up relying on my personal network – a friend of a friend had an opening for a position doing grant writing. It was a relatively entry-level position, but it grew from there, and I now direct the grant writing unit at my university. I’ve found – as a hiring manager – that I often get contacts for openings from the networks of myself and my colleagues as well.

    So here’s what I recommend – focus on the academic experiences that you had as an MFA student. The retail stuff is great – and many of the universities I work with stress “customer service” as a core competency. Talk about the skills you have within a university more, though – talk about projects that you led (an MFA will certainly have that!), talk about your understanding of university structures and especially administration. Stress your ability to work across units, and your ability to “think laterally” – i.e., take something you learned in one situation and apply it in an innovative way to a different situation.

    When I’m reviewing cover letters and resumes, I often look for those kinds of “soft” skills more than I look for direct experience in the fields we’re in. Above all, make sure your resume and cover letter are thoroughly copyedited! Academics tend to be a stickler for typos, more than other types of sectors, I’ve seen.

    All this said, as you know, it’s a tough time for higher ed, and a lot of universities have hiring freezes. But don’t give up hope! There are openings, and use your network that you developed through your MFA program to get contacts. Also, don’t be afraid to look at things that aren’t strictly executive admin-type jobs. If you’re a strong writer, you’d be a great candidate for something like what I do, or working for a university advancement office, or working for a research compliance office. Look for jobs in a Vice President/Provost for Research office, or a Research Strategy office.

    And good luck!

  106. lizw*

    Temp. Anywhere everywhere.
    -I have a BFA with concentration in K-12 education. I hate teaching in a school.
    -Worked retail through HS and college
    -First job using temp agency: doctor’s office as a patient coordinator.
    -I was then office manager for a different practice. Rage quit.
    -Worked retail another 5 years (CSR, then dept. manager) . Rage quit.
    -Signed another temp agency and began as a general admin for my current company. I have been here for 15 years
    this summer in three different positions. Plan on staying put.
    Point being, opportunity to try different jobs and different companies. No associate with the arts means I have plenty of bandwidth left at the end of the day for art.

    Hope this helps!

  107. CurrentlyBill*

    Retail is a black hole that sucks you in. It starts as legit entry-level work, an d then you find yourself with the first promotion. Then the second. Now, you’re out of the minimum wage level and getting more entrenched in the company culture. The pay is good enough that you can’t just quit; the hours are weird enough that it’s tough to look elsewhere.

    10-years later, you wake up as a district manager and wonder, “How the hell did I get here?!?!”

    One path out is as a vendor rep of some sort. That decreases the customer contact and increases the work you do with RSPs. From there, you can follow a path that aligns with marketing, marketing ops, or training. As you go down any of those paths, you will be able to choose more public interactions or fewer public interactions.

    The key that you’ve already realized is to get past the wall, of, “This retail gig is good enough for now.”

    ‘Cause that’s how they getcha.

  108. TotesMaGoats*

    Admissions (aka higher ed sales) is going to be just as customer facing and draining as retail. Advising is not much different. So would working customer facing for a university foundation (fund raising). Marketing or PR would be safer bets.

  109. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    My partner is finishing her MFA right now, and this letter has me a little scared for the career world she’s walking in to, especially amidst the pandemic. Prior to going back to school she was in sales, which I know she wants to avoid going back to. Her MFA is in creative nonfiction writing, so I’m hoping that she will be able to apply for some entry level positions that are writing focused.

    OP – what field is your MFA in? Are there any arts-adjacent organizations where you could possibly volunteer or look for front desk-type jobs? This might be a more logical leap compared to other office positions.

    1. OP*

      My MFA is in visual art. A bit of a different beast than writing but probably with similar career obstacles. I’ve tried applying for front-of-house positions in arts organizations before without much luck. Even though I live in an area with many arts and cultural institutions those roles are super sought after by every unemployed/underemployed job seeker who earned a BFA or MFA in the last 10 years. I just don’t seem to know the right people to get an in.

      I think your partner’s writing skills will definitely give her more advantages. I wish her luck!

  110. Kiwiii*

    I graduated in 2016 and floundered for a year in part time work and one-off jobs, determined to not go into retail because I knew I’d have a hell of a time getting out of it. Gave up avoiding it, and worked doing supervisory-level work for a grocery store, plus some behind the scenes pricing work for a stable paycheck, for the most I’d ever made ($12.50/hr + very poor benefits lol).

    I revamped my job search as soon as about 4 months in, but I kept getting rejected for not having any real non-customer service related work, until I worked with a temp agency who found me work that gave me experience in my current industry. It was a matter of working That job (basically part data entry/part “support staff”) for 7 months (at similar pay) before I found a permanent position where I finally made like $16ish with good benefits (and then only 9 months at that job though i’d intended to work there longer before i found my current job where I make $22ish).

    Maybe there’s positions around that can get you the /in/ to the industries you’re looking for, even if not in an interesting or well-paying role?

  111. Kittie*

    You could try transitioning into a clerical/administrative role with your current company. I’m sure there’s a store admin or executive assistant to the store manager, as well as accounting and other support functions. You’re a known quantity there with a proven track record, so they would be more likely to support you moving into a different role than an employer that doesn’t know you. Then you can use that experience to move to a different company eventually if you want to.

  112. Evon*

    I graduated in 2018 with honors and 2 fellowships under my belt and I couldn’t find a full-time job no matter what I did. I also moved to a better job market so lack of opportunities was also not the problem. It was the usual schtick of “we want mid level experience for entry level pay/position” so I took a retail job.

    I was able to pivot my experience by focusing on building accomplishments like Alison always says. I worked in stock so I created a filing system, managed orders, answered calls and did online orders. I tried my best to improve my work environment in a measurable way that I could use on my resume.

    It’s not spinning corporate BS if you are literally a manager, work with customers and have problem solving skills and describe it as such in your resume which is exactly what I did.

    1. Red 5*

      Yup, this sounds really similar to what I did and how I eventually got out. At my last retail position, I was basically poached by the stock team because they found out I liked doing paperwork and I completely overhauled the entire system for tracking orders and invoices so that things were paid more quickly, were easier to find, and everything moved more smoothly. If I was job hunting again I absolutely would use that as a story about how my skills can lend well to a team, because when you take a step back I looked at existing processes and noticed deficiencies. I then worked with management to develop new processes and procedures that saved the company time and money.

      But even if I hadn’t gone that far with it, it still was a job that had a lot of skills that are applicable to a lot of jobs if you just remember that just because the setting is retail doesn’t mean you’re not doing things that would be valuable to other job settings.

  113. H.C.*

    Would you be open to taking on a side gig or freelance opportunities aligned with your desired career paths? That’s what I did post-college; foodservice full-time to pay the bills with side hustles in writing & PR – which allowed me to build a portfolio & list of references to land permanent roles.

  114. aiya*

    Going to agree with everyone else – temp your way through. Reach out to every temp agency in your local area. You can look up specific recruiters and send them personalized emails or LinkedIn messages, but for me, it was as easy as making an applicant profile on the temp agency’s website. To find active temp agencies in your area, you can do a simple google search (of course), but I found it more effective to look for specific temp positions that aligned with my interests on LinkedIn, and then looking at which temp agency offered that position.

    My situation is slightly different, but I recently switched from the art field to marketing. I have a MA in Museum Studies and had been working for several years in entry level roles at an art auction house and then fundraising/event planning roles at nonprofit museums. I quickly realized the only way to move upwards was to pursue more frontline fundraising positions or art sales positions – both of which are essentially sales positions that I do not enjoy doing. I initially entered the art field with the idea that I would work in exhibit curation or educational programming, but I soon realized those positions are incredibly hard to come by and I simply don’t have that kind of mental or academic rigor to compete with my peers.

    During shelter in place, I had the time to pivot my career and submitted my resume to several temp agencies. I also updated my LinkedIn to demonstrate my interest in pursuing marketing roles. Both tactics eventually led to recruiters contacting me about the roles that they had opened – I didn’t even have to do a cover letter! I nailed all the interviewers and eventually landed two offers. One was even a 1 year role with high possibility to covert to permanent at the company. My overall experience with temp agencies was positive, and I highly recommend this route if you’re switching fields.

  115. Anna Badger*

    In the last recession I got out of customer service through an internal transfer to a junior internal comms/engagement role – they wanted someone who could write well and who understood what actually happens in a store. I then got as much experience as I could in that role – data analytics, content strategy, working with subject matter experts – and that let me transfer out of retail altogether and into a tech company, first doing tech support and then more product-based stuff.

    The tech support option might be a good one, as others have said above – it’s still customer facing, but it’s so much less of a pain when someone sends you a mean email than when they’re yelling in your face. One of my colleagues who worked in tech support has gone on to become a software engineer, another is starting to specialise in accessibility with a view to becoming a UX researcher down the line, and I’m about to start somewhere else as a product manager.

    At my current company there are two other entry level positions that we literally can’t keep people in because they get snapped up by other departments pretty much as soon as the six month ban on internal promotions is up: receptionists and editorial assistants. Literally everyone who has ever held those roles here either has been or is about to be promoted internally. So maybe look at entry level roles in smaller companies where people tend to wear a lot of hats.

    I won’t lie, a lot of it is sheer luck; there were more than a hundred internal applications for that internal comms/colleague engagement role, so the route I took was not an option for those hundred other people. If it helps any, you only need one job offer!

  116. Retail Therapy*

    Retail is a vortex. I am also in retail, in upper management. I love my job, but I have the best of retail worlds, which is retail tourism, so everyone wants to be at our business and 98% of our customers are outstanding. Here are my thoughts:
    1. You seem like a very valuable employee that I would not want to lose. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you want to do it, and your manager may have lost sight of that. Can you see if there is a position within the business that fits you better? With valuable employees, no one wants to lose them and will make all kinds of efforts to keep them, including creating a position.

    2. I’ll say it again: Retail is a vortex. If you are financially able to, the best thing you can do is quit because retail will always work into your life and it’s a habit now. This will allow you to be more focused in your job search.

    3. If you can’t quit, then you need to start treating looking for a new job like your second job.

  117. Gawaine*

    Working a complex office job, many amazing people who work for me survived retail or food service first. It’s great, because (tongue in cheek) their expectations are so low – we go whole weeks without having to kick anyone of a changing room, so the things we do have to deal with are better by comparison. Usually.

    In terms of escaping the retail vortex: Many of them got in as college hires or interns, in some cases enrolling in grad school for a class at a time just to make themselves eligible for that as a front-door. For people with a long retail history who are trying to re-invent themselves, this is also a trick sometimes to let you prune your resume and get past well-meaning gatekeepers.

  118. Anita*

    I hired a woman last year named Marin Johnson (who probably reads this blog) who escaped from retail and started her own business helping other small business owners take things to the next level. She is hugely inspiring and has a great instagram account and web presence where she is super transparent about her personal journey. She may have other plans, but I’m always hoping that someone like her will start a business hiring other people like you away from retail and letting small business owners pool resources.

    A lot of my friends use virtual PA services that offshore this kind of work – but this seems goofy to me because I’d way rather pay that money to someone in the US who hires single moms, helps create escape hatches from retail, etc. plus outsourcing copy overseas has NEVER worked out for me. I’d rather pay a little more and keep all that money here with people who really need it, rather than paying overhead for a middleman operating a call center in Bengaluru where people are almost certainly being exploited.

    I feel there is a huge untapped labor pool within the comment section of this site and have investors who would be delighted to fund this. OP, if you want to quit your job and do a startup, please comment, I will email Allison asking for an introduction.

    1. ambrosia*

      I think Allison has asked in the past that people not email asking for intros since she can’t be responsible for vetting those offers and I’d guess it’s a lot more work than she’s signed on for.

      1. Anita*

        Removed — what Ambrosia said above is correct; I can’t allow people to post this kind of solicitation here since I have no way of vetting them (also, a lot of spam works this way). – Alison

  119. Red 5*

    I’ve bounced in and out of retail a lot over my working years, largely because it’s the kind of thing where if you have some experience you can almost always get hired on SOMEWHERE even if it’s not ideal. I ended up going back to retail while working on my MFA actually, because oddly enough a job on campus wouldn’t allow me the flexibility I needed for my class schedule to change every semester. When I ended up burned out and depressed about how badly a dream job went, I went back to retail because at least I expected the customers to be awful. Retail is the devil I know.

    That said, I do also have odd job experience with administrative work and just a natural bent towards the sorts of things necessary for pretty much any admin job. I can tailor a resume to really show off that side of what I’ve done, which includes some of what I did in retail jobs because I would often end up being promoted or moved into jobs that had an admin side because I actually liked filing and paperwork. The last time I left retail was because I was burned out again and also I saw the writing on the wall that the company was going under (it went bankrupt maybe a year later). I spent a very brief period temping with one of those giant staffing companies, basically coming in and filling in for receptionists and secretaries for a day or two. That lasted until I found full time work as a receptionist, which I hated so much, if you don’t like the customers in retail then being a receptionist is NOT a good career move, IMHO.

    What finally got me out of the cycle of short term crappy jobs was actually that I threw my resume in for a job that was sort of diagonal to what I’d been looking at, and what I’d been trained in. On paper, it didn’t make any sense really, and I’ll be honest I’m not entirely sure how I got the interview (probably through my cover letter and maybe a touch of them looking at my application and going well that’s weird and just wanting to ask me why the heck I’d applied).

    Sometimes you have to remind people that retail jobs aren’t some sort of land unto themselves where retail only prepares you for retail. You’ve got managerial experience! That means you’ve done paperwork, probably worked with loss prevention and audits, more than likely been involved with inventory. Have you helped create work schedules for your team? Did you work on any of the budgeting or bookkeeping?

    You have a vast skill set that is applicable to a LOT of different places, you just have to figure out how to sell those skills as what they are to people who, quite probably, have never worked a day at a shop counter in their lives.

    You’re more than prepared enough to work in a lot of different jobs, so I guess other than just reframing your cover letters and resume to focus as much on your skillset as possible (as opposed to work experience) which I believe is what Allison usually suggests anyway, I would just say to throw your name in the ring for the jobs that you think don’t make sense sometimes. I literally applied to my current job almost as a joke, a “ha, well this would never work out but wouldn’t that be fun?” and I’ve been there for over five years now, and I love it.

    The job market right now generally sucks, so it might be a really long slog before you find the right place, but you are skilled, you wouldn’t have survived at the job you’re at without having real abilities. Make sure you’re selling yourself as strongly as you deserve, and keep trying. Good luck!

  120. notMichelle*

    It’s definitely a bit hard, but do-able. I actually went through a temp staffing agency and they got me into an office admin where I converted into a permanent employee there. This was in Massachusetts about 6 years ago. It was such a huge relief to get out of there. When I moved to NYC, I ended up going back into retail which I remembered why I hated it so much. It took about 6 months and I got a job at a startup doing operations admin work, blending the operations with the customer service side. It was still customer heavy though. I’m in a different role (current trying to make another career change to get even further behind the scenes and heavier in tech) that is far less people-y and more admin. Highlighting transferable skills is huge, especially the managerial skills. My customer service skills were also a slight foot in the door as they are so useful for reception and even admin work.

    I wish you all the best! I really hope you can get out of retail soon! My introverted self is so glad I finally got out of it!

  121. Sivy*

    This was me like – 20 some years ago! I was a newly minted BFA trying to find work in a museum or gallery that paid a living wage, yeah, didn’t happen. There were no jobs at all that didn’t require a PHD for entry level. So, I was working retail, and as an introvert, it was killing me. After a year or so as full time as a store manager, I was done. Stick a fork in me: D O N E.

    I contacted a temp agency. I was a nervous wreck when I gave notice at my retail job when I got the first corporate assignment. I was shifting away from a relatively stable paycheck to take a chance on being a contractor, what was I going to do if it didn’t work out? So many what if’s! The agency took what enjoyed about retail and pursued roles that touched on that. I liked the back office tasks that revolved around the money and inventory. I now I am an accountant, but I have also worked in logistics and procurement. And I still use agencies, because I prefer being temp-to hire when I’m job hunting.

    The agencies that I have used provided insurance, and after a designated number of hours worked, I got paid holidays.

  122. Message in a Bottle*

    I didn’t have luck with temp agencies in two different cities, one urban and one rural. Even when perm. jobs were available. I temped for about five years and finally got a job through applying directly to an organization. Even the temp agencies seemed to be discouraged after a while.

    Some of us are harder to place in jobs, especially in a difficult market. It’s like no one wants to really say that but it’s true. Doesn’t mean you won’t find something out of retail, just it may take longer.

  123. Elliott*

    This was something I really struggled with, and you have my sympathy.

    I ended up becoming an administrative assistant in higher ed, and it worked out well in that I discovered I really like higher ed as a field. But it wasn’t easy and I think I lucked out–there was a lot of competition with some of the positions I applied for. But I definitely think that entry-level admin/reception work can be an accessible path sometimes.

    I also tried temp agencies a little, but didn’t go down that route very far. I was frustrated because it felt like I was expected to do a lot of screening with very little assurance of a position (one place made me do frustrating and time-consuming tests). But I also had some special circumstances where I had limited access to transportation. If I’d felt confident in my ability to work where they sent me, I might have looked into temp work more.

    If it’s an option for you, volunteering or taking a part-time job in a field that interests you can also be ways to get some more specialized experience.

  124. Juneau*

    Did this a year and a half ago. 15 yes retail. Moved in to medical office work. Still customer facing but less demanding and I interact with people in a different way. Policies and procedures are in place for legal reasons, so no need to get in to confrontations with people over it. I am loving it. Really sell all the skills you have learned. You got this.

  125. Rainey*

    I too worked in retail for a few years after completing my undergrad. My first job outside of that was a call center sales type job that I only did a for few months. Then I got INTO grad school (where I eventually got my MFA) and when I moved up to the city my school was located in, an agency placed me as a receptionist/admin assistant in a private equity firm. Now I live in another city and am an Executive Assistant with 10+ years of experience and on the higher end of big city EA pay. I did start from the bottom though, and it was only with my current job that the responsibility of answering phones was finally taken off of my plate.

    Like others have said, it can be hard to pivot from the EA role, so if you go that direction, just keep that in mind. I think of Chief of Staff as the final evolution of the EA career path, but not every company has those roles and they often go to people who aren’t career EAs.

  126. Late Bloomer*

    See if you can find an agency looking for virtual/personal/business assistants, even part-time — it helps you get admin experience while using some of the stuff you’re already good at (I did floor sets and inventories for clients, as well as the typical admin stuff). Virtual assistant is pretty sweet because you can do it remotely. Try to find something that fits around your main job but gets you skills.

    I did retail/receptionist for years then started museum/gig work…now I’m switching to legal/civic service. It can be hard to switch but it just takes one job to start something.

  127. Orange You Glad*

    Similar to EA/admin type roles, I might also look for Office Manager positions. I could see a lot of skill overlap from retail management to office manager (one of my friends is making this transition now).

    Also if you can swing it, consider temping. My company exclusively hires receptionists through a temp agency. 8 out of the 9 receptionists that have been at my company during my tenure were shifted to full-time employment in either other administrative roles or in our operations department.

  128. Chickaletta*

    You can do it. I left graphic design four years ago and have been an EA for two years. My first job outside of graphic design was an entry-level clerking job which I was extremely overqualified for, but they didn’t know that because on my resume all I had was graphic design experience (and a bachelor’s of business, which isn’t required but didn’t hurt either). Tips based on my own personal experience:
    – Search for the company first, the job second. I narrowed down my initial job search to 2-3 companies in my area that I wanted to work for. They were all well-established, reputable, and large enough to move around in (10K+ employees)
    – Once you’re in, do your job, whatever it is, with the utmost professionalism and give it 100%. Even when my coworkers were “casual” about things, I kept the bar high. I dressed well, I didn’t gossip, I was friendly, helpful, and humble. I volunteered for UW campaigns and the like. If I was asked to do something, I did it quickly and well. I didn’t complain. I made friends (ie networked) but not in an obvious gross way. I genuinely made a few office friends with people I got along with. If you network with people you actually like and who are like you, chances are you’ll get lead into jobs with the same type of people.
    – Network, like I said above, but not in an overt “I’m here to advance my career” kind of way. I networked only with my peers and maybe one level above. After about 1.5 years at my job, I started discreetly letting people know that I was looking for something more challenging (including my boss, of course). Everyone was rooting for me at that point because I had proven myself by then. When the EA job opening came up, I didn’t go after it, it came recommended to me by other admins who already knew me and thought I would fit in at the executive suite. I honestly owe my current position to people who went to bat for me.

    I’m lucky that I got an amazing boss and get along with all the other EAs. Turned out to be a great fit for me. Networking with people I like and being my genuine self paid off in this respect.

  129. Artsy Blues*

    I feel you OP! I have an art degree and started working in customer service type roles in arts organizations right out of college in the hopes that it would be a good foot in the door and eventually I could move onto roles I was actually interested in. Over 5 years later, I am still in a customer service role I hate and I found it is NOT easy to change roles once you’re pigeonholed. It’s so frustrating! When I got my art degree, I told myself it would be okay if I made no money if I was doing something I cared about. Well now I feel stuck making no money in a job I definitely do not care about.

  130. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    Do you live in a city or metro area where your employer or other retailers have their HQ or regional offices? If so, you might be able to move into the buying office or another office job within the company or at another company. Also, check to see if your employer has any sort of executive training program. You might be able to get on a career path with the company that takes you either to an office job (buying, planning, inventory control, HR, business analyst, etc.) or regional/district management (without much customer interaction). I know people who have moved from retail department manager to other areas like that…there are a lot of roles in retail offices where experience as a department manager is really valuable.

    A lot of times, retailers want to keep you in the stores and sometimes make it difficult to make the switch to an office position. But others are better about not branding you a store-line person forever. Hope this helps!

  131. Mother Trucker*

    Look for opportunities within the same company that aren’t customer facing! I worked in grocery retail for a few years, then I was able to use the experience I gained from the company as a whole to move to an office position.

  132. PersephoneUnderground*

    Damn, I have so been there! I graduated with a BA in international relations in 2010- they weren’t hiring so I ended up in retail. This is how I got out:

    Went through several temp placements (lots of them pretty bad) but eventually got hired as seasonal help doing basic office tasks like checking spreadsheet numbers. I was able to transition from that to reception desk/admin and get hired permanently as an admin assistant (with lots of other duties since it was in a small business). From there I eventually grew into other roles- took an html class and was assigned to work on marketing emails, etc.

    On the other hand, I didn’t get my current career until I left to go to coding boot camp once I had worked at that first place for 4 years or so. With an MFA do you have any graphic design background? If you’re not averse to code, that could set you up to transition well into UI/UX design or front-end development, all of which there are legitimate, non-predatory code boot camps out there for. Affording them is another issue, but my boot camp paid for itself and waaaay more once I got my first job after finishing it (that first job did take me about 6 months to get, full disclosure).

    More info that might help: Some people in my boot camp did it part time while working a day job, because it was designed to at least have class times that worked for people with current jobs (20 hours a week, nights and weekends), but other boot camps are full time during the day plus homework commitments.

    I know the above isn’t necessarily in the best order, but I hope hearing how I did what you’re trying to do will help even a little bit. Hang in there- it is possible!

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Oh- to clarify, I think my starting temp job’s actual title was “Operations Assistant”, which roughly translated to “general gopher during busy season for the Operations department”. Checking tons of lists to ensure they were correct for upcoming events, printing out and mailing invoices (it was an industry where this made sense, though later it was secure pdf uploads and emailed links), etc.

      So when trying to find entry level work I recommend temping, but also looking for all kinds of ____ Department Assistant roles, not strictly Admin, as a way to get started.

    2. OP*

      Funny you should mention this. It’s been over four months since I wrote this letter and in that time I’ve applied and been accepted to a postbacc computer science program. I’m deferring to fall so I have time to decide it’s really what I want to do but I think my creative background could absolutely be an asset in front-end development.

      1. Carol*

        All of my degrees are in creative fields and it wasn’t until I had office jobs that I realized I was good at tech/data/software. That work requires a lot of lateral thinking, creativity, adaptability to get systems to do what you want them to do.

  133. JSPA*

    At risk of answering not-the-question-you-asked, if you have an MFA you likely have very good visualization and spatial skills. Probably also decent organizational and scheduling skills, or you would not be looking at the jobs you’re considering.

    I don’t know about your physical strength, attitude towards cobwebs and grime.

    I do know that women and artsy types and people who are sharply dressed are often steered away from the trades (which pay excellently, and continue to be in demand even during downturns) in favor of (cleaner but much lower paying) white collar jobs. Despite the fact that the trades can be absolutely excellent for quirky introverts with good spatial and organizational skills.

    If I were not in research–in fact, if I had it to do over–I think I might want to do plumbing, or maybe electric. Perceptions of relative status be damned.

  134. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

    I was in hospitality rather than retail, but I feel the struggle to escape the industry is similar. What worked for me was finding some volunteer work to build my admin/office skills – I did some data entry from home for several months which led to occasional in-office tasks, and managed to find a one morning a week volunteer position right near home helping out the admin person with basics lile data entry and covering the phones during meetings. I did that for about six months while still working full time in hospitality, the when the person I was helping got promoted they offered me the role! I still had to go through the interview process, but it’s a lot easier to respond to “What makes you think you’d do well here?” when the answer is “because I’ve been doing it successfully so far!”
    The whole process probably took at least two years from start to finish, and I am aware that I was very lucky in finding a role that worked out so well.
    But if you do have a regular day off i your retail schedule it might be worth seeing if you can volunteer in a more “office”-like environment so you can start building and listed those practical skills and experience on your resume.
    Good luck!

  135. Kathlynn (canada)*

    If you can find a good wfh call center job you might do well. I’m introverted, with phone anxiety…and I’m loving my detail oriented job. Will I stay for every? no, but it is so much less stressful then working retail was. And you have half the responsibility. (I worked gas station retail, helping at least 100/shift and having like 12-16 hours of work for each person to be done in 8 hours. now I deal with 20-60 people a day and have like 1 hour of not phone stuff to do at max. I read an entire book during one slow shift). Now there is still a lot of potential angry customers, and a lot of information you might need to learn. But a good call center will give good training for that. (mine took 2 months of paid training. compared to the 2 weeks or less you’d usually get in retail)

  136. OP*

    Letter writer here: I know this will probably get buried in the comments but I really appreciate all the advice in this thread! I tried to reply as much as I could during my lunchbreak and I spent much of this evening reading through the rest of everyone’s suggestions. For some reason, I haven’t heard many stories from people transitioning out of retail and it was great reading about all of your experiences.

    I emailed Alison this letter in October when I was in a pretty crappy place. We were ramping up for holiday and things were especially stressful. Now that the holiday season is over, my work life is a little calmer and I don’t feel quite as desperate as I did this fall. Even if it takes some time I feel more hopeful about my chances of leaving customer facing retail and have already made some positive moves in regards to my own mental health and education. Thank you everyone!

    1. allathian*

      Thanks for posting this update. I’m glad you’re in a better place and I wish you luck in your professional journey.

  137. theletter*

    With the MFA, you could use your writing skills for grant-writing. Non-profits especially like to bring in freelance writers, especially writers with experience in Art writing, to draft proposals with that special je-ne-sais-quoi that wins their annual budget. If your weekday mornings are free, you’d be available for consultations during regular business hours until you find a full time position or can support yourself with freelance work.

  138. Vegan Biology Hag*

    I know this does not make it exactly into your perfect career field, but have you considered an entry-level banking job as an interim? Try to become a bank teller. It’s much more professional job than it is retail job, but will have a lot of skills overlap to your current field, with better hours, and you can build a professional persona and wardrobe. You may be able to climb the ranks into an assistant role once your foot is in the door at a company.

  139. Carol*

    Not from retail, but got a masters in an “impractical” field and graduated into the recession. Temping was my rescue, both immediately after and another 1.5 years later when I relocated. Office work can be both boring and great–the better stuff generally happens later in my experience.

    I found really variable experiences with temp agencies getting entry level office work. The first one I worked with was fair and honest, and it was a temp to perm that paid fairly and did lead as promised to a full time job. The job itself was pretty boring but I ended up using spare time in that job to revamp some manual processes and figured out I was good at certain things that were in demand in office settings.

    The second time, in a large city, the temp agency was a lot less tranparent and fair–I made basement wages in an expensive city and the company I was temping at was also not really a great culture. In the end, though, I was finally, finally hired by that company and given a more decent wage, and I was able to build more skills and eventually get a better job.

    So with temp agencies it can be great or kind of rough, depending on how they operate and where they are. That said, they were still opportunities that in the end got me to the more interesting jobs I’ve had more recently. I did a lot of boring data entry and filing that was still miles better for me than direct customer service.

  140. Megan*

    I worked as a recruiter for sales and logistics positions and you fit the profile we would consider for either one, particularly the sales position. Entry level sales jobs are not that hard to get, so you might consider if you might like business sales type jobs. Also, I agree that taking temp roles or using a recruiter will help you.

  141. Captain of the No Fun Department*

    I have done this thing. I would check out startups in you area. You probably have at least one startup incubator with an online job board if not several depending on the size of your city. I found success with this avenue because credentials and experience are often rated less important. They will value your transferable skills. Because I was willing to just take on new things and put my hand up for work I wanted to try, I was able to find and build a career in a field I am incredibly excited about within the past ten years. I have taken a number of courses along the way, but I was able to do that in tandem with working on exciting projects.
    Some startups will be well run and some will be awful, but all will most likely let you take on as much work as you can handle meaning a wealth of new skills and experiences to add to your resume.
    Maybe also check out Angel list online.
    Also some former tech startups hire their customer service positions fully remote and look for a variety of backgrounds. Shopify, for example has basically been untouchable during the pandemic and they hire both Gurus and Recruiters without specific backgrounds. Keep us updated!

  142. Erin*

    I have done this. Here is exactly what I did:

    -updated my LinkedIn to reflect all of my accomplishments, etc etc
    -applied for roles in my desired field and had a few interviews
    -ended up getting recruited in a 3 month temp role in my desired field/company
    -turned the 3 month temp role into a permanent role

    I was given the same advice about becoming an administrative assistant. That was not the right path for me. Admins are incredibly valuable, and most of them know/do more than the teams that they manage. However, they rarely get promoted out of admin roles, and I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into admin roles indefinitely. It did take a while for me to transition out of retail, but, it has been totally worth all of the work I put in. I passionately hated working retail, and I 1000% feel you with the awful hours, entitled customers & limited growth potential.

    Anyway, my advice is to contact a reputable recruiter within your desired field, and show how you can be a solid candidate for them to place into a role they are hiring for. Like you, I have a specialized skill-set that is outside of retail, and I had to just plunge into shifting careers into my desired field. Good luck to you!!

  143. SEO Writer*

    I got out of retail by a government program. My state has a program that connects workers with companies in dire need of people. While your new job trains you, the state-run program reimburses them for your paycheck.

    This program got me my first real SEO writing job. I was a only with them for a year when another (much better company) reached out to me. I have been at this second company for almost two years and love it.

    I’d check with your state to see what type of job services they may have.

    I have tried using temp agencies, but never had any luck.

  144. Person*

    I work in the performing arts in an admin capacity. I’m wondering if you’ve kept up your artistic practice in any way since you left school. In more creative professions, it’s very common for people to be involved in multiple aspects of the industry – a main job, a side job, contracts, individual practices (for fun or for a side hustle), volunteer work, etc. What this means is that your resume doesn’t have to rely on your primary work experience only. You say you’ve been unsuccessful so far in roles that would draw on your visual background. Is there a way you can build your non-retail experience through volunteering, creating, working with small projects, etc.? It would build your network and allow your resume to show that you have credentials in customer service/management work as well as experiences and contacts in the creative culture world. Also, applying for nonprofits is still often competitive, even if the nonprofit is small and/or the pay is not amazing. We like to hire people who show they care about our field, as they tend to me more informed and engaged, and therefore both happier in our environment and better member of the team. We usually have applicants in our pools who are both qualified and have a track record of activity in the field, and they stand out more than the people who have the skills but don’t show the commitment to the field (at least this is my experience). It’s a long game to play, but it can really pay off eventually. Good luck (or break a leg, more appropriately)!

  145. Exhausted Trope*

    I worked in retail for several years in and post college days. I took a customer service rep job in a huge consumer credit card company, did that for two years and then transferred to human resources while doing post-grad work in education. After that, I went into teaching.
    Maybe a CSR position might help? You’re chained to a phone but at least customers aren’t in your face. And I was very fortunate that my company allowed reps to disconnect abusive callers.

  146. IrishEm*

    I had almost a decade of retail experience and Desperately needed to Leave Retail. I got my MA in Art History and applied to all the galleries and museums I could. No joy. Recruiters consistently gave me leads for Moar Retail despite me stating upfront I want Anything But Retail.
    Eventually I just stopped using recruiters that had retail jobs and stuck with office type jobs with transferrable skills. I then applied to the contact centre for a bank and got it based on my retail history as it was customer service focused but office based. I am now living my best life working there. I am now fending off contacts from recruiters in the financial sector that really like that I have a bank as my current employer. Not planning on leaving but it’s so nice to know that I’m now valued in a non-retail sector after struggling for so long to leave retail behind.
    If you go the recruiter route then make sure the recruiters you’re using know you are not doing retail gigs, no matter what. There are other customer service positions that are not retail based. (Not grumbling about the one guy who told me about a great lead that wanted to interview me but was defo customer service and not retail based which turned out to be, you know, the people who cook samples of the food in a grocery store for people to taste? Yyyyyeaaaah that’s actually a retail gig my dude.)
    Definitely like the idea of leveraging your sales and CS experience and going for EA roles.
    I also found spending time on LinkedIn and Indeed worked as it gave me greater control over which companies in which I was applying for roles.

  147. JN*

    I got out of retail with an arts degree by taking a pay cut to teach preschool, then an Americorps position with a nonprofit in Education, and was hired on at double my retail salary. But the whole process took 4 years to get the new job experience in education and was obviously very low paid.

  148. SofiaDeo*

    OP, you have said you are an introvert. Is this only in face to face interactions? Because until you get comfortable with & experience in a “career switch” to something else, if you’re temping, numerous short assignments may stress you out too, if face-to-face dealings with strangers are a problem. I am not sure you would be considered for a long term temp AA/EA position with little to no direct experience. But if you are good on a phone & phone interactions don’t aggravate your introvert tendencies, there are a number of jobs that would love your experience with customers, especially problem-solving the irate ones. I worked where there was a bit of both, and always found it easier to deal with problem customers on the phone than the ones in person. You can put a “smile” on your face on the phone, it literally affects how you sound & comes across more pleasant. Unlike the in-person interaction, no one can tell that “smile” is more of a grimace. And please don’t immediately consider receptionist jobs…you likely will be good at them (given your retail experience & expertise) but IMO it’s still a major customer-facing role, except you are sitting at a desk instead of standing.

  149. Maria R.*

    I’ve read for years, but this is the first time I felt I had something to contribute.

    I worked in retail for 17 years or so before moving into the video game industry. That’s an industry that is very much about who you know, unless you’ve got good credentials on paper. I don’t know what sort of art you practiced for your MFA – fine arts doesn’t necessarily map easily to games, but it could! Depending on your focus you could try to do something like concept art for a game. (This is assuming you’d want to make art as a job.) If not, I find that retail management provides a lot of relevant experience for game production. If you’ve got any understanding of 3D Art, that would be an even bigger benefit!

    Games don’t pay well compared to software, but better than retail did, for me. Also the worst companies have you working way too many hours, but there are some better ones. If this is interesting to you, there are a number of us in the field who are only to glad to share what we know with others.

  150. Maureen*

    Have you thought about looking for roles in customer support or customer experience? I worked in a customer support call center for a travel company, and now work in the customer experience department for a food distribution company. While it is still customer facing, it’s so much easier dealing with a disgruntled person when they are on the phone or over email as opposed to in person. My current job offers no phone support and is all virtual, so it gives me time to formulate responses without an angry customer breathing down my neck. These kind of roles usually have a much more normal 9-5 schedule, which is awesome for having a work life balance. You may even be able to get into a supervisory position right off the bat with your management background.

  151. Angelica L*

    I actually transitioned to heatlhcare after working retail for 9 years. I am now a receptionist for a small rural hosptial ER. The skills I learned in retail translated really well with working with patients. I know you said you are more of an introvert OP but, once I got my foot in the door I was able to learn more skills and now work 3 days a week 12 hour shifts which though the shifts are long as afforded me a lot of time off . There has also been opportunities to apply for other positions that were not so much dealing with people but with paperwork that I could apply to. Healthcare was not something that I thought about moving too but my mom was the one who suggested just applying and it turned out great.

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