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In their own words: Highlights from Retail’s BIG Show Student Program 2013

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Retail’s BIG Show can be a whirlwind experience for the brand new attendee, but even a seasoned BIG Show attendee like myself is blown away by what I see, learn and hear every year. Now put yourself in the shoes of a college student coming to the Big Apple for retail’s flagship event. Combined with a star-struck cast of the most recognizable brands and CEOs in the industry, you’ve got the inaugural Retail’s BIG Show Student Program, made possible by generous support from Macy’s, Saks, The Container Store, Walgreens, and Walmart.

With over 200 students and educators from the NRF Foundation’s College and University Partners schools, the next generation of retail leaders had a front-row seat to rub elbows with the likes of HSN’s Mindy Grossman, BJ’s Wholesale Club’s Laura Sen, Tractor Supply Co.’s Jim Wright, and Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman.

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay kicked off the new program by cutting right to the chase, letting students know that they are the future of the retail industry, and will be the ones who help us tell the industry’s story going forward. It sounded like a tall order for many who came to Retail’s BIG Show to learn how to put their best foot forward in such a fast-paced industry once they graduated.

But our panel of recent graduates representing Victoria’s Secret, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Belk put the audience at ease by explaining what it takes to make the transition from a classroom to a career. The signs of confidence were visible, and students carried this self-assurance through our speed networking and get hired programs designed to bring real-world experiences right to them. I could see students took Belk’s Amanda Varnadore’s sage advice to heart. “Even here, every day is an interview. You’re interacting with a lot of people in retail right now.” You can watch a recap of that session here.

The results of our program were incredible: 78% of students surveyed said they are more excited about a career in the retail industry, 66% are more aware of careers and retailers they hadn’t previously considered, and 48% would consider working for a different retail company than they had previously.

We asked our students for a first-hand account of their favorite parts of Retail’s BIG Show, so I’ll let them speak for themselves. But I do think one tweet from Jess Ludlow (@jess4short) sums the sentiment perfectly. “I have never been so certain that I am in the right major. #retailpride.”

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