Want to Exchange Your Job? How to Change Careers from Retail to IT

If you've worked in retail for awhile, you may have great customer service, attention-to-detail and communication skills. A career in IT requires these skills too and may be more fulfilling in the long run. Learn how to change careers from retail to IT – it may be easier than you think.

Highlights

Changing careers from retail to IT is easier than you might think. Don’t want to read the whole article? Here are a few key points:

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Want to Exchange Your Job? How to Change Careers from Retail to IT

If you currently work in retail and are considering a change, perhaps a new career in IT is just what you are looking for. Maybe you don't realize it, but working in IT has similarities to working in retail, with fewer sweaters to fold.

Think about the skills you use on a day-to-day basis in terms of an alternative career:

  • You have to be a good communicator, have great customer service skills and most likely have to use some technology (like a register, scan gun or computer).
  • Odds are you have to interpret a lot of numbers, whether you're making change, figuring out a discount, counting down the cash drawer or seeing if you've met your sales goal. You're doing math, and you don't even know it!
  • Your attention to detail is key, just like in IT.
  • You have to remain calm and keep up with a fast-paced and sometimes high-stress environment. (Black Friday, anyone?)

Whether you work at the register, in the warehouse, in loss prevention, on the sales floor or as a merchandiser, your skills in retail can transfer well into an information technology career.

What's It Like to Work in IT?

Let's compare two entry-level IT jobs for you to see what sort of work and life you can expect with a change to information technology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a job as a help desk technician is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2014 and 2024, while a position as a computer support analyst is to grow by 10 percent.

  Help Desk Technician Computer Support Analyst
Salary $52,160 average $52,160 average
Availability “Normal” work hours Generally requires some nights and weekends
Work–Life Balance Can leave work at the office Can leave work at the office
Growth Potential Strong Strong
Possible Career Path

 

Help Desk Technician → End User Support Specialist → Network Administrator* Computer Support Analyst → Coder → Software Developer*
Training College degree not necessary, but certifications are beneficial Associates degree or post-secondary classes often required
Job Outlook 12% growth expected 10% growth expected
Main Responsibilities
  • Provides technical assistance to users
  • Answers questions
  • Runs diagnostic programs
  • Gives in-house support of technical issues and computers
  • Finds ways to avoid common problems and improve systems
  • Evaluates and tests current network systems

Estimated Time to Career Change

  • 3 to 6 months
  • 6 to 9 months

(Statistics and information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; items marked with an asterisk (*) are from itcareerfinder.com.)

The Skills Retail Workers Need to Get into IT

In retail, you have to think on your feet and solve problems as they walk in the door. The same is true for IT. Some days in retail, you're taking inventory one minute, ringing up a customer the next and then dealing with a problem after that. Your smooth transitions in working on many tasks at once help you succeed, and in IT, you also need to move swiftly and easily between tasks.

IT pros also need solid customer service skills. Not everyone has the personality to deal with people and problem solve at the same time, but if you are in retail then you may know a thing or two about dealing with the public on their best and worst days. IT needs people that know how to smooth things over and keep their cool when things may not go exactly as planned. Your skills are valuable to our industry.

According to thebalance.com, successful retail workers possess a number of traits that bode well in the non-retail world. When considering a career change to IT from retail, think about the skills you have and how they would translate to an alternative career, like IT. For example, you may have some of the following skills, traits, habits or values:

  • Diligence
  • Engagement
  • Ethics
  • Initiative
  • Leadership
  • Sincerity
  • Teamwork

Like in any career, technology jobs look for people with those traits. It's not just sitting at a computer in a dark room scanning lines of code. No way! There's a lot more than meets the eye in IT, and they need people with good people skills and personal integrity.

How to Get Experience

When you are looking for an IT career, experience is going to set you apart from your competitors. But how can you get experience while you are still working another job? Think about helping out friends and family with their computer tasks, volunteering at a nonprofit to solve some of their computer issues or simply playing around on your own computer.

Think about what areas of IT might interest you and do a little research. Maybe you can teach a class at the local library or community center to help the technologically challenged, or maybe there's a computer task at your current job that you can take on. Experience comes in many forms – don't count yourself out just because you don't have the traditional bullet points on a resume!

How Long Will It Take to Change Careers?

While you may be really excited to hit the ground running in IT, it's important to remember that a career change takes time. Corinne Mills, author and managing director of Personal Career Management, suggests patience when transitioning to a new career.

“While some people want to radically reinvent their career instantly, it is more realistic to work toward a new career over time. This might mean making changes in your current job, studying a course in the evening, shadowing someone in the role or learning new skills to make yourself more attractive to potential employers,” she told The Guardian. “It might also mean that you gradually move into your new career via a series of jobs rather than one giant leap – and this is important if you want to protect your salary rather than going back to entry-level wages.”

The amount of time will be different for everyone, depending on your transferrable skills and experience and the amount and type of training you need. Career coach Daisy Swan says you'll need to allot time “to (re-)educate, to develop a new network in that field and to gain meaningful experiences that introduce you as a player... which then leads to gathering credibility and accessibility to your new work and new career.”

For some, it may be a few months, but for others it may be longer. Regardless of how long it takes, remember to go into the process with patience and a list of SMART goals that will keep you steadily on the path to a career in IT.

From the Mall to the Office

Making the leap from retail to IT takes some time and planning, but just like anything else, the wait is worth it. Taking our free career quiz can help you narrow down which IT job would be the best fit for you. Perhaps you have a friend or acquaintance who you can talk to about how to get into the IT field; don't be afraid to pick their brain. When you are thinking about which career is right for you, someone in the field can be a big help.

When you have narrowed down what it is you want to do, look into what training is necessary. Do you need a class or two offered at your local community college? What about a certification?

Don't forget about practicing what you want to do. How else will you know if being a help desk technician, website coder or support analyst (for example) is for you without dipping your toes into the field?

When it comes to selling your unique set of skills, remember that you have cultivated communication and customer service skills over the years, as well as problem-solving skills and most likely a tough outer exterior…make sure you tell your interviewer how these will help you in your IT career!

What do I do now?

Take our free career quiz, to see which IT career matches your skills and interests. After that, start seriously thinking about how to quit your job in retail and change your career to IT.