How to Use an Entry-level Job to Learn Foundational Business Skills

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Almost everyone has worked an entry-level job. Basically, an entry-level job is a job that puts you at the bottom of the ladder but is accessible to most early in their careers. You aren’t paid much, you don’t have benefits, and you do a lot of hands-on work. A good example is a retail job at a clothing store, bookstore, or grocery store.

When you work in retail you learn a lot about the four different areas of a business and how they work together. You learn how to interact with customers, how to sell things, how marketing is effective, and how a business operates. All of these are valuable for your career and you don’t need a fancy job or an overpriced classroom to learn them. 

My Entry-level Job

My first job was at Barnes and Noble. This is a great example of an entry-level job. I was paid minimum wage and didn’t receive benefits. To most people, this would be a negative thing but I decided to use it as a learning experience. I was getting paid $9 an hour to learn how a business operated.

Working with books is fun and I love my coworkers. When starting my job I wasn’t thinking it would be beneficial to my professional career. Over time I realized all the valuable skills I learned. I learned how to work with and build relationships with customers, how to sell books, how marketing was valuable for a business, and how a business works. 

What I Learned About Customer Success

Customer success is important in any business. A customer success rep anticipates issues before they happen and are constantly thinking of ways to improve a customer’s experience. Their job is to make the customer’s experience run smoothly and efficiently. When a customer complains about a problem they work to fix it. 

In retail, customers are our number one priority. Every decision revolves around our customers and what they will be looking for. We want all the displays to be neat and appealing to our customers. 

At Barnes and Noble, we work to put books in the best place for a customer to find them. New books are put in the new hardcover section so customers can find them. If there are a lot of popular books in a specific genre that is selling well we will put them on a display. All of this is to ensure our customers’ shopping experience is easy. 

What I Learned About Sales

Sales is arguably the most important department for every business. A sales rep talks to people and tries to sell their company’s product. They make phone calls every day to try and find prospects. They are constantly talking to people and learning what works for their sales. The point of sales is to try and help people find what they need and what will benefit the company. 

In my job at Barnes and Noble, I’m always focused on what is selling well. We pay attention to what everyone likes and the highest-selling books. Hand-selling books is also important. If we want a particular book to sell we try to tell everyone about it so it will sell better. We try to help our customers find their next great read. 

What I Learned About Marketing

A marketing rep is very similar to a sales rep. They search for prospects, people that will fit their product and want to buy it. They can also do social media posts, newsletters, and even paper flyers. Their job is to get the company’s product out there and be noticed. 

I learned how effective marketing was at Barnes and Noble. We learned how to take advantage of Tiktok and the famous books on the platform. Keeping up with the Tiktok books helped us sell a lot of them and be sure we had enough. Most of the employees aren’t on Tiktok but we can easily look up the books. We compile a list and find the books throughout the store. 

A specific book, We Hunt the Flame became popular on Tiktok. One of our employees found that out and I helped her put it on the table in the middle of the store. Now it sells super well because we capitalized on the opportunity. Most people look at that table before anything else. 

Sports cards and Pokemon cards are also very popular. Whenever we got a new shipment we posted on our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. People would show up so fast after we posted and buy the cards. This made sure that we would sell very quickly. 

What I Learned About Operations

Operations is the inner workings of a business. Someone in operations solves problems and helps a business run smoothly. Without operations, the business would be in chaos and no one would know what was going on. Operations look different in every business.

The inner workings of a business can be hard to see from the outside. Every business is different in how it operates. At Barnes and Noble, there are employees that have managers and the managers have managers, and so on. What we all have in common is that corporations call the shots and set the rules. We have no control over anything they do besides complaining about it. 

That being said, we have control over what we do in our store. We can change displays, order popular books, and sell whatever we want. The company is still all about the customers. We become our own operations team. We fix problems and make everything run as smoothly as we can. Corporations don’t have time to fix our problems, we have to do it ourselves. 

High-Quality Skill Building Doesn’t Have to Come From the Classroom

Most people will tell you that a fancy job or an overpriced classroom will give you the most value. They are wrong. Big fancy jobs don’t just fall into your lap. You have to work really hard to get those. Overpriced classrooms are just that, overpriced. Almost everyone comes out of college with debt. They have to pay that money off for the rest of their lives. Most people go to college just for the fancy school name on a diploma. Use every experience wisely. 

Skills on how to run a business don’t always come from conventional places. In almost every job someone has they can learn a valuable skill that will help them in the future. An entry-level job isn’t glamorous or very high paying but it is valuable. I learned so many amazing skills at Barnes and Noble that will help me further my career. Almost everyone has had a job like that before. That means that they have those skills too. That will be the most valuable thing for your career.

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