8 pro tips to turn your retail gig into an exciting career in fashion

How to work your way up.

For all its quirks, working on the shop floor can be a pretty great gig. It’s a job that sees you talk to people all day, play personal stylist and witness some pretty incredible human behaviour.

But at one point or another, many retail workers may pause to wonder: ‘what next?’

If this is you, settle in my pretties. We asked expert Jo Barr to help us craft some tips on taking those next career steps. Jo is the Careers Manager for Cotton On Group, and has helped many a shop girl and guy climb their way around the company. Some have moved on to roles locally and abroad, in areas like Visual Merchandising, Global Operations and even General Management.

Here’s how you can too.

1. First off, work out what you actually want to do

It sounds silly, but it’s surprising how many people have no idea what they actually want from a fashion career.

You need to first work out where your interest lies, then be real about why you want to work in fashion. From there, find out the detail behind different roles.

“For example, fashion buying isn’t all about travelling to Europe and designing dresses. It’s a highly fast-paced commercial role. You need to be confident with the negotiation process and understanding the commercial complexities of range planning,” says Jo.

If you are loving the shop floor environment, great. A lot of people want to move into a Head Office environment right away, but first, consider whether the right role exists there for you. If you love the fast pace and buzz of the shop floor, why leave it? There are so many opportunities to progress within retail operations, whether that be store management, area management, visual merchandising or supporting new store openings.

As for other opportunities to research? Here’s a few you can take to Google:

“One of the biggest growth areas in fashion is the area of product planning and merchandising. These roles suit an individual with a great head for figures and who wants to work in a more creative environment than some of the more traditional finance roles.

“If marketing is your thing, we have exciting marketing and digital marketing roles across our seven brands. The experience for our customers is critical, so we have roles like VM, store experience and store design as well as roles leading the online experience of our ecomm site, finance, planning and more.”

2. Check your experience

While starting on the shop floor is a great way to get your foot in the door, don’t rush your way up to the top. Jo recommends giving yourself 12 months to learn the business and the role.

3. Speak up

Most companies look to hire internally before advertising roles to the public. But if your superiors don’t know about your goals within the company, they won’t put you forward.

“We always recommend chatting to your direct manager first and being open with them about wanting to explore further opportunities. Being transparent also means that if they hear of any positions coming up, you will be top of their mind to recommend,” says Jo.

It’s also worth reaching out to the recruiter for your preferred area. Get their feedback on what they’re looking for when recruiting certain roles, so you can start practising those skills.

4. Show off on the shop floor

Because you’re hired, you don’t have to wait for an interview. You can start showing your mad skillz right now. Jo suggests introducing the following to the shop floor.

  • Show your personal leadership in your everyday work: It will elevate you in the eyes of your manager so that they see your potential for growth.
  • Share your ideas: Your ideas are likely to be great ideas that add value and suggest positive ways to better the business. This shows you’re invested and passionate and we love to see that!
  • Go the extra mile: Show your entrepreneurial spirit and identify those extra responsibilities you can take on in your team. Become a natural leader just through your actions even if not yet by title.

6. Keep an eye out for jobs

Many larger businesses will have their own careers pages, so check these regularly. Follow companies on social media and LinkedIn, and sign up for job alerts. These posts also give you insight into the company culture and what it’s really like to work there.

“Also, ask questions! Once you know the area you want to work in, build relationships in that team,” notes Jo.

7. Send your resume

While a conversation with your manager is great and all, you’ll want to follow up with your resume. You want to stay top of their mind, and sending through a follow up makes sure they have your information to refer back to as roles come up.

As for what to include? Here are Jo’s tips.

  • Tell a story: We want to be able to see your career story in your resume. What skills and experience do you have that make you someone that we absolutely have to meet?
  • Make it personal: It is always a good idea to customise your resume for the role you are applying for, so that you can highlight the skills, qualifications and work experience you have that are relevant to that particular industry. Tell us what you can help us achieve and what you can bring to the role.
  • Do your research: Knowing about the company and the role helps you stand out from the crowd, and shows that you have a real passion for the role.
  • Add some personality: At Cotton On Group we also love to get an insight on your personality so try and give us a bit of a peek into who you are and what you value.

8. And remember, the shop floor is great

While there are some great opportunities to move around a company, there’s no place like the shop floor.

“No day is the same in store; you get to be part of a fun, ever-changing, fast-paced environment where you work with a team who become more like friends. You might start off as a Christmas casual in Australia and end up as a Regional Manager in the US. The opportunities to grow, develop and learn are endless with a global retail business.”

Cotton On Group is now hiring retail managers nationally, with plenty of opportunities to grow. Click here to apply.


Illustration by TwylaMae.

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