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Retail Trends

To be a great employee, think like an entrepreneur

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Lands' End Social Media Manager Giovanna Dimperio inspired students to break into a retail career at Digital Summit's Student Program. Hear her cool job story and advice to retail career-seekers: Watch the video.

In a fast-paced industry like retail, it’s increasingly important to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. It’s a thrilling time to be in retail, when every part of the business is being disrupted by technology. What does that mean for college students considering their first jobs and internships? At the Digital Summit Student Program, top retailers and digital executives shared their best career advice for acting like an entrepreneur, regardless of job title or company size.

Taking risks

“The biggest risk is to not take any,” says Facebook Head of Retail and E-commerce Nicolas Franchet. Under Armour’s Jason LaRose says that one of the quickest ways to get fired at the athletic apparel company is to say “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Look for small things to test so you can mitigate risk as much as possible, but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

Making mistakes

What happens when you take a risk and it doesn’t work out? Own it and learn as much as you can. HSN’s Ryan Ross notes that taking ownership of an imperfect decision will get you much further than never making a mistake at all.

“We can no longer wait for things to be perfect,” says Sagari Medappa, director of omnichannel business development and digital strategy at Kohl’s. The speed of business requires projects to launch before they’re 100 percent ready, which means retailers have to be especially resilient and adaptable.  

Saying “yes”

Success often depends on luck and relationships, as well as a willingness to accept challenges. In the early days of e-commerce Ross wasn’t interested in working in online retail, but didn’t want to say “no” when the president of his company asked him to step into a digital role. Saying “yes” was the first step on a path to his current position as senior vice president of digital commerce at HSN.

Franchet cautions against obsessing over standing out and moving up. Abercrombie & Fitch’s Billy May agrees: “You don’t get a trophy, you get a paycheck.” An obsession with promotions and comparing your own career path to others’ is dangerous. Plan to take on responsibilities beyond your job description before you’re considered for a promotion, and don’t be afraid of a lateral move. Learning different areas of the business can make you a more valuable player as your career progresses. “There’s something to be said for a meandering path,” says Lilly Pulitzer’s Jane Paradis.

Staying curious

“Entrepreneurial thinking is about facing change and adapting as quickly as possible,” says Warby Parker’s Chris Maliwat. “Figuring out how to do more with less is at the heart of being an entrepreneur.” Trunk Club’s Shea Jensen agrees: “Great entrepreneurs are curious and resourceful.” You’ll feel pressure to be an expert, but “the customer is the only expert,” she says. Ask thoughtful questions and surround yourself with people who have the ability to answer them.

The more experiences you have, the better equipped you’ll be to make smart decisions. “Get street smarts,” Paradis says, whether it’s a corporate internship or in-store retail experience. Don’t worry about cultivating a perfect resume, “just do stuff” and learn whatever you can.

Being yourself

During her tenure as an executive at Tory Burch, NRF Senior Vice President of Communities Vicki Cantrell learned that “authenticity is what drives growth and success.” When it comes to finding the right job to launch a fulfilling retail career, Target’s Damu McCoy recommends that students “be prepared and professional, but be yourself.” Selling a false version of your personality to a potential employer means that you’ll be stuck playing that part if you’re hired, so it’s better to be the real you. “Life is short. Do something you’re excited about, whatever it is,” says Under Armour’s LaRose.

Of course, it’s not enough for “intrapreneurs” to have passion and vision. Throughout the program, panelists offered practical advice for executing innovative ideas: Learn to collaborate and work on a team; understand how computers work and develop some basic coding skills; find mentors inside and outside of your company; and have empathy for established organizations that may move more slowly than you’d like — the most effective innovators figure out when to push and when to follow.