How My Job in Retail Prepared Me for a Public Relations Internship

Senior public relations student Carly Owens thought missing an internship opportunity and working in retail would never benefit her education or professional career. However, she was surprised at the lessons she learned in retail that were applicable to her most recent agency internship.

Senior public relations student Carly Owens thought missing an internship opportunity and working in retail would never benefit her education or professional career. However, she was surprised at the lessons she learned in retail that were applicable to her most recent agency internship.

Working in retail means interacting with all types of people, and responding to all sorts of situations. I spent three years working in retail and ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. However, last summer, I was hoping to secure an internship and it didn’t happen. At first, I was disappointed, but now I realize just how much continuing to work in retail helped prepare me for my current internship.

Here are three lessons I learned that directly relate to my public relations internship:

Build relationships by remembering details.

I had the pleasure of working in a family-owned store that had a lot of loyal customers. By remembering their preferences, such as whether they wanted the receipt in the bag or in their hand, conveyed to the customer that I cared about them and wanted them to have the best experience possible.

In public relations, it’s the same thing: you want to demonstrate to your client that you care about them. Remembering details builds trust, which is essential in a client relationship.

Be able to adapt quickly.

One four-letter word has the ability to inspire fear into retail workers everywhere: Sale. Nobody in our store looked forward to sales, but we knew that the key to them going smoothly was the ability to adapt. One moment I was working the register and the next I was walking a customer to a sale item, then taking out the trash. Having the ability to handle any task I was assigned made the day easier, and made me an asset to the team.

Now that I’m working in an agency, I’ve discovered what you hear is true: there’s no typical day. I can start my day thinking I’ll work on one task, and then discover that something else is more urgent. Being flexible is vital to working in public relations because you never know what could happen.

Be organized and prepared.

Knowing where rewards membership paperwork is, where to find item numbers for products without stickers, where to find special orders and sale fliers are just a few ways you can be prepared in retail. It helps to maintain efficient checkout, which makes everyone happy.   

The same goes for public relations—being organized is one of the keys to success. There was a time that an email with a time-sensitive task was buried in my inbox, which caused something to go to the client late. This taught me to stay on top of organizing my inbox, as well as making use of to-do lists and writing things down the moment I thought of them. By practicing these techniques at work, I’ve noticed I’m much more organized in my personal life as well.

No experience is wasted experience, even if it doesn’t seem to directly apply to your career goals. I didn’t realize that working in retail would help prepare me for public relations, but now I know that those three years were an invaluable experience.

Have you learned something in a recent job that can be applied to your public relations career?

Carly Owens is a senior at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, studying communication with an emphasis in public relations. She loves the art of storytelling and looks forward to a career based around that. In her spare time, she enjoys trips to Disneyland and almost anything creative. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @magicalcarly.

 

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