As we near the end of February, murmurs of “summer plans” are growing louder. As classmates announce their internships at major finance firms or enrollments in courses abroad, it’s easy to feel behind. Both of those plans are great ways to spend the summer. I believe, however, that when searching for summer opportunities, Princeton students often overlook positions that emphasize customer-facing service; one such example is the retail industry.
As part of the larger service industry, the retail sector requires interaction with customers on a daily basis. Working in the retail sector can provide many useful skills for future employment. In this industry, problems arise constantly. Employees must think creatively, while also remaining calm and patient. These are virtues that are beneficial to any job, regardless of the industry it falls within.
Princeton students come into contact with customer-facing workers every day. Think of the chef who prepares your dumplings at late meal, the cashier who scans your purchases at the U-Store, and the employee who swipes your prox in the dining hall.
After you gain experience in the retail industry, you have more respect for the workers who hold those jobs. Last summer, I worked retail at a country club golf shop. Some of the people I encountered were incredibly kind; frequent customers learned my name and interests. Others were less compassionate; they grabbed golf balls while shouting their member number without looking at me.
It is easy to pay no attention to retail workers; we are often preoccupied. We all, however, have the time to be polite. Just by looking up from your phone when you order an omelet and asking the cook behind the grill about his week, you can make someone’s day significantly better. Working in customer service can make you more aware of how you treat customer-facing employees.
After my time working at the golf shop, I’ve been more conscious of how I interact with people working in retail. When I am shopping, I am careful not to mess up stacks of neatly folded clothes. I now understand how frustrating it is to watch clothes that you folded moments earlier get destroyed by a customer within seconds.
People often validate their mistreatment of those in the retail industry by telling themselves, “It’s their job.” They think, “It’s their job to clean up after me, so who cares if I spill coffee all over the floor and make no effort to clean it? It’s their job to fold merchandise, so I might as well search through stacks of organized shirts in order to find my size and leave the clothing in a chaotic heap.”
If you take up the challenge and work in the retail industry, suddenly “their job” will become “your job.” Even if you do not plan to have a career in customer service, the experience can help you develop useful skills for future jobs and teach you to respect the millions of people who work in the service industry.
If you procrastinate like myself and are scrambling to find summer plans, I suggest you consider working in the retail industry.
Katie Goldman is a first-year from Western Springs, IL. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.