Finding the job for you: Retail

As I said last week with my hospitality post, I’m making a little series of jobs you can do part-time at university to get a bit of extra cash.  Of course, I only have experience in hospitality, but I have looked into these other jobs so that I can give you a range of options. This week I have decided to talk about working in retail. Like hospitality this is a customer service job, but it is obviously going to be different in some ways.  For this you will be working in a shop; maybe re-stocking the floor, helping out customers or working on the tills.  It’s a great job for you if you are a people person and want to engage with people constantly while you’re at work. 

How do I find a job? With retail it probably best to look outside of the university. I know my university does have a few on-campus shops which people can apply to, but this is limited. There is also a co-op on our campus that employs students so maybe look into privately owned shops close by. You can of course also apply to jobs in the local area, most of these you will be able to apply for online if they have vacancies or their websites will give information of how to apply but it won’t hurt to see if they’ll accept your CV in person, especially if it is an independent shop.  

Positives of working in the industry: The big positive of working in retail for students is the flexibility, whether it is set shifts or different shift patterns each week they will usually be able to accommodate you around your studies.  This means you can have your university life and work life separate and won’t have to worry about them clashing. This is also the type of job that will keep you on your feet and while some people may see that as a negative it’s a nice change from studying. I find while at university a lot of it is sitting down; in lectures, when revising and when preparing for seminars. Having a job that requires you to keep moving helps towards having an active lifestyle.  There are so many retail opportunities up and down the country meaning that wherever you are at university there should be plenty of places for you to apply to. Lastly, the one a lot of people would consider the best perk is that most retail places will offer a staff discount as an incentive to work there, so if you’re looking for a job it’s something you might as well take advantage of. 

Negatives of working in the industry: You’ve probably heard many negatives when it comes to retail and a big one people talk about is difficult customers. As annoying as it is this is something you will need to prepare yourself for and if this is something you want to avoid it might be best to look for a job in a different industry. It can be inconvenient hours; if you’re hoping for a break at weekends this may not be possible if you’re working in retail as this is going to be when they are busy, and they will need staff.   The work can become very monotonous after a while; there are very limited tasks you will be able to do, and you will find yourself doing things over and over again with very little change.  As with hospitality, there will be many people going to university looking for jobs and many of them will have experience. It can be a difficult industry to get into without that experience and so may take some work to find a job. 

Juggling a job at university

We all know the student stereotype of being broke and for a lot of us that is a reality. Yes, you can apply for a student loan but that may not be enough, for some it doesn’t even cover the cost of accommodation. You may be able to turn to the bank of mum and dad but for one they may not be able to fully support you and two it takes away that independence moving away to university brings. This means you may want to get a job and there are so many ways to go about doing this, but I will save that for another post. This post is to advise you on how you can juggle a job alongside your studies. 


I am able to speak from personal experience as I had a job for about three months in first year and for the majority of second year. My experiences differed between the two years due to different commitments and workloads, but it is definitely possible to juggle if you’re prepared to put in the effort. Both my jobs were in waitressing as this is what I had experience in prior to uni. 


In my first year I didn’t get a job until after Christmas, I had saved enough money over the summer that I didn’t need one as soon as I got to uni. This would be first tip, try and work over the summer before uni so that you have some cash when you arrive. Of course, enjoy this summer!  The summer between sixth form and uni holds so many fond memories for me and it’s important that you take this time to relax. Hopefully, you will feel you don’t need to get a job straight away but if you do, I would recommend waiting until after freshers if it is something you want to take part in. If you are planning to go out every night you don’t want to have to worry about having to get up in the morning or getting out of work to go home and be ready for a night out. Also, first impressions are crucial you don’t want to turn up hungover especially if it’s a new job. Once you have found a good time to start a job, you then need to decide how many hours you are willing to do. This will greatly depend on contact hours and how much work you need to do out of class, personally doing history I had very little contact hours and so I was able to be more flexible with when I could work but I gave a limit of how many hours I was prepared to work each week. This is very important as you need to give yourself time to socialise, do uni work and to make the most out of your uni experience. In the end I gave up my first-year job because I wasn’t enjoying it and didn’t need to be doing it, there was also a bit of FOMO so be careful of that. Friends were however understanding and would often work nights out around my shifts but if I was working when there was an event on it couldn’t be helped. 


In both years, I would still work shifts at the job I had before I went to uni during the holidays. This is perfect if you feel you could do with a bit more cash going into the next term without the full commitment of having a job while you’re studying. This again is something you need to balance with your social life, if you have friends from home you don’t get to see often, you’ll want to spend time with them. It was, however, nice to go back to work, somewhere familiar and tell all my work friends about life at uni and have a good catch up. 


Second year was a very different experience, I got my job almost straight away as I’d applied before going to uni and the attended interviews in the first couple of weeks. This is something I’d recommend if you are serious about getting a job when you get to uni; start looking before you move so you have something lined up for when you arrive. Again, I had little contact hours, but I did take up Tango in second year, so I worked my availability around that. It is important when giving your availability that you not only think of lectures but if you plan to take up any extra-curricular activities you don’t want to double book yourself. This year again I gave a maximum number of working hours I was able to do and when I began being put on shift for a lot more, I brought this to the attention of my manager, and it was sorted. Remember your uni work comes first and you should not allow that to be compromised for a job. I felt that because we went out a lot less and I had an established group of friends in second year there was a lot less FOMO with having a job. In fact, I was actually able to make friends through my job and see colleagues out of work which was a plus. The downside with having a job in second year is that the workload does increase and so you really should prepare yourself for that and maybe commit to less hours at work at least until you have a good routine worked out.  Due to coronavirus my place of work closed in March and so I didn’t have the experience of doing exams alongside going to work which was something I was beginning to question how manageable it would have been. This is something to think about, you don’t want to sacrifice your exams for the sake of a job but then at the same time work could be a fitting distraction. 


Overall, I’d say my main piece of advice is finding that balance, make sure you put your studies first as that is the whole reason you are putting yourself through uni. Getting a job can have many benefits; money, meeting new people, learning new skills and having a distraction from work to name a few things. It’s all about finding what’s best for you!