The promotion

How often do you find yourself wasting time looking for something that's hiding right under your nose? No, not literally. I'm not talking about a moustache or your upper lip. I'm talking about things we spend hours, days, years looking for that are hiding in plain view. It could be the television remote that's sitting on the table in front of us, the glasses we've misplaced that we just happen to be wearing, that fairy tale romance we never considered with that childhood friend of ours, or the career potential that's been staring us in the face at our current part-time job.

That's right, this entire article is dedicated to helping you seize what's yours and take advantage of the opportunity that's standing right in front of you (We're talking about the career, of course . I'm all out of romantic advice, and I don't know where your television remote is)! Chances are, if you're a student, you've already paid a hefty price for tuition, and on top of that you'll need to support yourself financially throughout the year. That's where most of us turn to part-time work while in school, with retail being amongst the most popular employment options. But have you ever considered that your part-time retail gig could lead you to a satisfying and challenging career?

I started off as a [part-time] associate, working on the floor. Paint department, says Jamal Hamad, who has worked his way up the retail ladder and is now a director of contract services and tool operations at The Home Depot in Toronto. He became a part-time employee while in college, and has since been a store manager, a district manager, and worked in business operations. This wasn't my intention. I had stopped in for a part-time position just like anybody else, and then very quickly [took to] the whole environment . I got on this roller coaster ride and I haven't gotten off, says Hamad.

Retail may be the go-to option for students who are looking to make a quick buck on the side, but it's not often considered as a career path. That's because part-time employees often aren't aware of the opportunities available to them. The retail industry is huge and there are opportunities everywhere. Sean Sedlezky, manager of program design at the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management at Ryerson University, says the retail industry is one of the largest employers in Canada. The general public perception is that retail is made up of a lot of low paying jobs. In reality, there are a ton of management analyst types of positions to support all of the big retailers, small retailers, suppliers, distribution centers, and all the components that feed into making a retail organization run.

In the last report that was done by Industry Canada, in collaboration with the Retail Council of Canada, I think they used the number 600,000 for management and tactical jobs available in Canada, says Sedlezky. That's a pretty big number of positions that are clearly career progressive positions in a country of thirty-plus million people. I believe those were primarily in retailers, so that didn't necessarily include working for the supplier companies and manufacturers . This is purely head office jobs, distribution management jobs, analyst jobs, that kind of thing.

Management and office work not your cup of tea? No problem. Sedlezky notes there's a whole range of areas where students can pursue careers in retail. You've [also] got opportunities for those looking to explore their creative outlets in terms of visual merchandising, creating product displays, and designing what the store is going to look like in terms of lighting, signage, window displays, and general flow of traffic, he says. Some of the biggest product brands people think of'like President's Choice or Joe Fresh, or different private label brands that are available at retailers exclusively'they all have big brand management and marketing management departments behind them. So there's a whole range of areas in which students can pursue a career with retailers.

Hamad notes that, over the years, retail has evolved to include many new positions that weren't available 10 years ago, and that's in addition to a variety of other roles that already exist. E-commerce is a great example. You can also move into marketing, public relations, finance, human resource, inventory management, logistics, says Hamad. And these positions aren't limited to people who are store managers.  As long as you have the competencies they're looking for within the company, you won't be frowned upon for applying. In fact, it can work to your benefit to be a current employee with direct customer experience. You get the advantage because you work the store, you know what you're talking about, and understand what needs to be fixed. We go to the stores when we're looking for people to fill some of these roles.

There are a few qualities you can develop that may cause your employer to consider you above your peers for that promotion. You really want to be an individual who is forward thinking, who can envision a brand, a new program, a new process, and be able to articulate it extremely well, says Hamad. He notes that vision is another key quality to have. Where you want to go, how you want to get there, you have to have some [vision] in regards to what you see your group doing in two years, five years from now.

Strong leadership is another cornerstone that you can work into your foundation. Retailers are looking for somebody who wants to develop and grow within a company. Whether it's The Home Depot, or Wal-Mart, or Apple, you really need to have the leadership ability, says Hamad. And it's not about managing people; it's about being a leader for a group of individuals you're working for.

If you happen to be pursuing a business or retail management degree at school and you're already working in a retail environment, you've got a leg up on the competition. A wider scope of jobs will also be available to you, as some roles require you to have a degree in order to apply. For a lot of those roles, companies are looking for people who have an undergraduate degree because they need to understand so much about the supply chain and managing people and products, says Sedlezkey

That shouldn't discourage those without a business or management related degree from chasing a higher position, though. Only some of the roles'like analysts and supply chain managers'require a degree.  While Hamad says that having a degree will always be an advantage, there are other qualities that are sought after. What you need to have is charisma, says Hamas. You need to be inspiring to the people you work around.

Some retailers are so committed to the quality of their employees, that they even have specialized programs designed to help you figure out where you want to go in the company, and then help you get there. Gail Tanaka is the director of leadership effectiveness at Sears Canada. The program, which started a year ago, works with external applicants from colleges and universities, as well as internal applicants from Sears. The program combines formal learning (like classes, job shadowing, structured work assignments) with personalized coaching and mentoring from someone who's already in the role. Tanaka agrees that leadership is what makes a candidate stand out. If I was to boil it down to a nutshell, it's really about being able to inspire people, communicate, and hold people accountable for the work they're doing.

Part of identifying with Generation Y means being able to adapt to new things faster than you can say Google. It used to be common to fear change. Not anymore. Our generation practically craves it. That's why an industry like retail'which is changing and evolving as quickly as the technology that surrounds it'might be the perfect fit for many new grads. If you don't have the new iPhone or iPad out there within 6 months, you're knocked out, says Hamad. And it's the same thing in the retail world. Gen Y is extremely lucky because they get to continuously create and innovate new things. A major aspect of the retail industry nowadays is to be at the front, cutting edge. When it comes to product lines, that's what we're looking for.

Retail is not the way it used to be, continues Hamad. You think about Apple, The Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowes. There are all these big players out there . It's definitely changed, it's more unique. It gives you the ability to become the next new and innovative thing on the marketplace, which is really cool. Oh, and by the way, it's really good money.

Photo: Bplanet/Thinkstock