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Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field?

A: I am an area supervisor in a retail department store, and have been in the retail industry for over ten years. I spent about a year or so working part time until I became full time and starting working towards various supervisor and management positions.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: As an area supervisor, I have a very broad range of responsibilities. I like to think of what I do as having a taste of everything in the store; I think this is the most apt description I can find. The people that work below me are usually assigned to one department. There are four executive managers above me, the store manager, the hardlines manager (housewares, domestics, etc.), the softlines manager (apparel), and the personnel/operations manager.

I work the floor as a kind of go-between for all of them. It's the job of the executives to come up with plans and procedures, and it's the job of the floor associates to physically implement those plans and procedures. My job is to oversee the work, to ensure that it is being done correctly, and to properly maintain staff so that the work can get done.

A common misunderstanding about what I do, usually from people who have never worked retail before, is that I simply supervise cashiers, and that we are all cashiers. Cashiers, of course, play an important role in the retail process; they handle the money and are the last face customers see before they leave the store. It is for me to show, however, that there is always someone on the floor, changing and updating merchandise as it comes in, and waiting to provide good customer service before people even reach the cashiers.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: Job satisfaction is a constantly fluctuating thing in my field. Some days I go in to work and it is a solid ten, when everything comes together, when everyone shows up for work and does what they need to do. There are much more difficult days when people don't show up for work and the system breaks down, and my satisfaction drops to four or five. Overall, I'd place my average at a seven. Most days are better; it's not normal to have a really bad day, but it does happen.

To unleash my full enthusiasm, I'd like to see retail move back into a much more customer service oriented career. Unfortunately, after the economy went sour, the big retail companies pushed for more merchandise, higher sales, and higher numbers, and customer service got left behind quite a bit. I love helping customers find what they need, but anymore find that I have less time for customers with the constantly changing flow of product.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: I would love to say this job moves my heart, but it doesn't. My real love since I was a kid is writing, and I want desperately to be a novelist. Unfortunately, there are far more jobs in retail than there are for writers. I have discovered a certain sweet spot in customer service, but it's certainly not my dream job. If I could sell a couple of novels, that would put me over the moon, and I think there are a lot of people just like me working in retail: people who might rather be doing something else, but find some satisfaction in retail anyway.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: I don't know if there is anything unique about it, but I take a great deal of pride in a day of hard work, and that is key in moving into a position like mine. As I mentioned previously, I started as a part timer and worked exceptionally hard, often taking on responsibility that wasn't mine to begin with. I paid attention to everything that was going on around me, and learned from that.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: Again, I started as a part timer. My first job was in a tiny arts and crafts store, where I started out getting paid a pittance, but had the opportunity to do a lot of different things. I was a cashier first, but as a hobby-level artist, I spent more and more time in the art department, learning the basics of merchandising, product knowledge, and customer service.

My interest in art definitely helped me along, and those first couple of years helped me fill out my resume and move up greatly. I honestly wouldn't change a thing about that, because in spite of the pay, I had a great time in that little store.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this hard-learned lesson?

A: I learned to be very careful what I said in a retail setting, even if I was joking. I made a joke about a store manager once that got me fired. He took it as a threat against his life, and when I showed up one morning, a police officer was waiting to escort me out. The officer said I hadn't necessarily broken the law, but it sure felt like it. That was a pretty miserable, embarrassing lesson, and one of the few things I would definitely change about my career.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: I've learned that education often only helps with the basics in the working world. When it comes to real work, I have to get my hands in and learn something new from scratch. They don't teach merchandising in school, and no one can get social skills from a book.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: I can't pinpoint a single strange event because the strangest thing that happens to me happens over and over. Customers in a large department store often have a difficult time distinguishing between the fitting rooms and the restrooms.

The first time it happened, I was working in the men's department, and an older gentleman walked straight past me into the fitting room with no merchandise and fiddling with his zipper as if to mosey up to the urinal. I had to stop him quickly and gently propel him towards the restrooms. That was awkward, and unfortunately, I've not been there to stop all of them since. It can get pretty ugly.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: Honestly, I get up and go to work each day because I have to, and I think I'm not alone in that. On the other hand, even if I was rich, I think I'd still get up and do something, otherwise I'd lose my mind from sheer boredom. For now, though, I go to work because I have to get my mortgage paid and my kids fed.

I am proud, however, when a manager tells me I've done a great job, or simply that something I've worked on looks good. No matter what I'm doing, I'll always need that occasional boost of self-confidence to keep going.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you really want to pull your hair out?

A: The challenges I handle are mainly personnel issues, like how to get the job done if someone calls out sick. Again, everything moves smoothly if everyone comes to work on time, but that rarely happens. What makes me absolutely pull my hair out is when people just don't show up for work, a no call/no show, we call that.

Not only do I consider it a firing offense, but it means that person has completely wiped out the ability to put that job on their resume later on. Losing a job over something like that is pretty much a waste of time from beginning to end, yet so many people do it.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?

A: My job is highly stressful on a seasonal basis, Christmas time being the worst. On a daily basis, however, I would say it is difficult, but not exceptionally stressful, not as compared to being a police officer or Alaskan crab fisherman. Do I wish I could have a healthier balance? Yes. I certainly wish I could quit smoking, but sometimes those cigarette breaks are the only moments of peace I get during my working day.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: I'd say an average salary range for a position like mine is going to be $25,000 to $35,000 a year. Before the economy went south, I had heard of some people with similar positions making upwards of $50,000 a year in some cases, but I think those days are long gone.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I take 1-2 weeks of vacation a year, not always all together. So far, I've never had a vacation that felt like it was enough, but I think going back to work will always do that. Even if I took two months straight, I still wouldn't want to go back to work.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: To start, a high school diploma is usually enough. I have gotten through with a few years of college but with no degree. As you start moving up into management positions, many companies prefer a degree in business management or something similar, but will often take experience over education.

I think the single most important skills people need in this industry are people skills. Repeat customers are only earned through great customer service, and great working teams are built through patience and the ability to listen. The only things that I had when I first started in retail were some education and a lot of people skills, and they benefited me enormously.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: Don't consider my line of work out of desperation, I've seen too many people fail in retail that way. To get to my position, you have to not only do the work, but be willing to accept responsibility. The phrase "that's not my job" doesn't exist in my mind when I go to work. In my line of work, you have to be willing to accept the good with the bad.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I'd be a rich novelist, of course, watching as the royalties poured in around me, spending more time at home with my kids. I'd also have no stress, and no higher-ups telling me what to do. Essentially, I'd be my own boss, make my own hours. If I could do that, I could possibly live without being rich.