Retail Sales Associate Career Information

Read about the entry-level education requirements and skill sets that can help you qualify for a position as a retail sales associate. Find information about employment and earnings outlook here, before deciding if a career as a retail sales associate is right for you.

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Career Definition

Retail sales associates work in apparel, sporting goods and other related establishments, where they assist customers in selecting and purchasing merchandise. In addition to helping customers, retail sales associates stock items, take inventory, clean their work area and handle the cash register. They also create window and store displays and help keep the store presentable for customers. Many retail salespeople are employed on a part-time basis while going to school or working a second job.

How to Become a Retail Sales Associate

Required Education

Although no formal education is required for becoming a retail sales associate, most employers prefer workers who have at least a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Development (GED) credential. Those with an associate or a bachelor's degree are more likely to advance to supervisory positions, such as store manager. Courses that prepare individuals for a career in retail sales include math, economics, English and public speaking. Many companies also provide on-the-job training to new hires.

Skills Required

Retail sales associates should enjoy interacting with shoppers and be skilled at appeasing frustrated customers. A good memory can be helpful when referring customers to merchandise locations. Many stores expect retail sales associates to push certain products, so associates should also be persuasive and well-spoken.

Employment and Earnings Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average yearly pay of a full-time retail salesperson was $25,310, as of May 2012. Nationwide, retail sales positions are projected to grow at an average rate between 2012 and 2022, due to the high turnover of employees. Part-time and temporary positions may be more prevalent during the main shopping seasons (www.bls.gov).

Alternate Career Options

Insurance Sales Agents

Insurance sales agents who are employed by single-company or multi-company brokerages make cold calls and try to interest potential customers in casualty, health, life and property insurance. While a bachelor's degree may help candidates stand out in the job market, aspiring insurance agents can get started in the field with a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Employment prospects for agents are expected to increase by an average rate nationwide through 2022. Independent insurance agents work on a commission-only basis; those who were employed on staff in May 2012 earned an average yearly salary of $63,400 (www.bls.gov).

Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives

Sales representatives who work for manufacturers and wholesalers sell products to companies and government agencies, and job duties may include making cold calls and traveling to meet with customers. Sales representatives who specialize in industrial, medical or pharmaceutical products may have a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry or engineering; high school graduates may be able to obtain jobs selling nontechnical products. Openings for wholesale and manufacturing representatives are projected to be average from 2012-2022. As of May 2012, representatives in general earned average yearly salaries of $64,300 (www.bls.gov).

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