Does retail count as sales experience? I think it depends, but there are certainly ways you can make it count. Here’s how.

It all begins with knowing the products the store sells, and knowing what makes one product different from another.

How I made retail count as sales experience

In early 2015, I was interviewing for a job with a major security vendor. The hiring manager asked me a blunt question, after looking at my resume and seeing 10 consecutive years of work in corporate and government environments, with no sales experience. “Can you handle a sales job?”

“Give me a product worth believing in and I can sell it,” I said. “I sold computers at Best Buy for a couple of years in college. I couldn’t sell a Packard Bell, because it was junk. But I sold more Compaq, Dell, HP, and IBM computers than anyone else. And they were more expensive.”

“Ah, the good stuff,” he said.

“Yes. Like your products,” I said.

He hired me. And I did fine working for him and working for his successor.

How you can make retail count as sales experience

does retail count as sales experience

If you want to make the most of working in retail, learn how to differentiate something as simple as this light switch.

Retail is what you make of it. You can spend hour hours unloading trucks and restocking inventory and straightening shelves. If that’s how you spend your time, you won’t learn anything about selling.

Sales experience comes from talking to customers. So when you see a customer, ask if he or she needs any help. Often they’ll say they found what they need, or are just looking. Some will ask a question. Sometimes you’ll know the answer and sometimes you’ll have to find it. It’s OK to need to find the answer. Find it and try to remember it.

Try to set goals for yourself. If you work at a home improvement store and a customer asks about light switches, know why one switch sells for $1.19 and one sells for $.79. Often the expensive switch is overkill, but it’s not hard to justify it. The more expensive switch will last longer. The time and trouble it saves you by lasting longer is worth dollars, not cents.

Tally up how often you upsell a customer. You’ll want that information in case a manager ever asks you why you spend time talking to people. You’ll also want that information for when you apply for a sales job in the future.

The money in sales comes from working as a sales representative. When you apply for that kind of a job, the hiring manager doesn’t care about your ability to unload trucks or stock shelves. But the hiring manager will be very interested in hearing about that $1.19 light switch. If you can explain why that light switch is worth the extra 40 cents, that hiring manager can teach you whatever you need to know about any other product. If you can make someone care about that 40-cent difference in a light switch, you can find the edge you need to close six- and seven-figure deals.

What if you’re not in retail yet? You can even turn fast food into a sales position.