Working Retail

So, as of one week ago, I officially have a retail job. I’m trying not to feel lame about it, because I know it’s only temporary. But it’s awkward talking to younger, college-aged co-workers who say things like, “I used to work at Forever 21,” or “My last job was at Hollister” (Have I even ever been inside a Hollister? Probably not). And they turn to me and say, “What was your last job?” and I reply, “I was a teacher.” *Cue awkward silence.* Some of them respond by saying something so sweet and endearing, such as, “OH really? You don’t look that old…” Thanks! I realize that most teachers have white hair pulled into a bun, and wear reading glasses with a neck chain, and generally look like they’ve just crawled out of a grave…it’s so nice to know that I don’t look that old.

But I digress.

I needed to find a part time job that will last me for a couple of years while I work on grad school (starting in January). I wasn’t even able to apply for a teaching job in Pittsburgh during the summer, because my Florida teaching certificate carries very little weight in the state of Pennsylvania. There really isn’t any rule of reciprocity, so I would need to sign up for the Praxis exam, and go through the whole process. And the employment website for Pennsylvania schools was very clear that if I applied for a teaching job before I was completely qualified for the position I had applied for, or had made any small mistake on my application, they would promptly throw all fifteen pages of it into the trash. What can I say? They like to be straightforward in the north. I’ve never seen an HR website worded quite as rudely as that one. And now that I’m here in Pittsburgh, there is a hiring freeze for full-time teachers all across Allegheny county. But honestly, I never really wanted to teach full time while completing grad school. I just don’t think I could do a quality job on both of them at the same time…either my students or my grades would suffer. So now I’m working retail.

I did a Facebook poll awhile back concerning the three places in the mall that I had applied for: Yankee Candle, Victoria’s Secret, and Aeropostale. There are places in the mall I might have rather applied to, but those were three on the list that I liked, and that were hiring. The result was an overwhelming majority in favor of Yankee Candle. I really love Yankee Candles, too, so the discount would be  a great perk! However, there are some serious downsides. For one, I have really terrible allergies. I try to keep it under control with medication, but even walking around the store for a few minutes prior to my interview, I could feel my nose start itching and twitching. I love Yankee Candles, but being in a room with hundreds of them at once might be too much for my nose to endure. Another thing–I am hoping to make friends at my work place. If I work at Yankee Candle, all of my new friends will be 50 years old and up. There really isn’t anyone my own age working there!  And finally, the lady conducting my interview informed me that she was hiring holiday positions only. Meaning I have to work constantly throughout the holidays, and I have no guarantee that I will be kept on staff come January. I definitely don’t want to go through the application and training process all over again once I start grad school! So, Yankee Candle offered me a job, but I declined.

I had another interview at Aeropostale, a clothing store that once stocked about 80% of my wardrobe. However, I didn’t realize until I stepped inside just how long it had been since I’ve shopped at Aeropostale. I suppose when I started my teaching career, I decided that I needed to focus on buying more professional-looking clothes, and I took my business to New York and Company (I wish they were hiring!) and the like. Walking around the store before my interview, I saw a bunch of twelve-year-old girls dragging their mothers by the arm, saying, “Mom! Mom! I really want this hoodie!” and “Mom! Come look at these jeans!” What am I doing here? I wondered, but I didn’t have a chance to run away, because the manager spotted me and began walking over. Much to my surprise, I was interviewing in a group with two other girls, both of whom also looked to be about twelve years old. Both of them showed up to the interview wearing t-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops. I was wearing a pin-striped pencil skirt with heels and a silk blouse. Guess who felt out of place? Both girls were sweet but a little nervous, ending their sentences in question marks, such as, “Hi? My name is McKenzie? I’m eighteen years old and I just started college? My major is undecided? My biggest pet peeve is people who like drama?” (I’m guessing she doesn’t mean the theater.) When I introduced myself and gave my age as 27, they both stared at me in disbelief and exchanged glances with each other that seemed to say, “OMG! She’s like ancient.” It’s true…I was probably the same age or older than the store manager interviewing us.

Each girl tanked during several points in the interview. One time, the manager asked us to list some of our favorite stores in the mall–both girls excitedly listed a myriad of stores (one girl listed Claire’s, and I had to stifle my smirk) ….but somehow forgot to name Aeropostale. The manager asked, “What is the difference between selling and service?” One girl answered, seeming to think out loud, “Well….I think selling is talking to customers….and like, you know….figuring out what they need and stuff. And finding it for them?” she shrugged. “And service is more like….well….actually….I’m not really sure?” she ended with an uncertain giggle. I tried to help her out. “Actually, service is figuring out what a customer really wants, and helping them find it, or empathizing with them if, for some reason, you can’t help them. Selling is more just pushing a particular product on people whether they want it or not.” The manager beamed at me. “That’s exactly right!” she said. “Do you have anything to add?” she asked, turning to the third girl. The girl silently shook her head “no,” looking frightened. What? I thought. She can’t just refuse to answer an interview question! But the manager moved on quickly.

In the end, the manager hired all three of us on the spot. Can I just say that I was a little disgruntled that she hired all three of us, even though I felt I was the only one who aced the interview? She gave us instructions on when to come in for training, and reminded us to wear clothes that look like the kind of clothes they sell at Aeropostale (with a sharp look in my direction. Hey, can I help it if it never occurred to me that I should wear jeans and a t-shirt to a job interview?) In the end, I decided that Aeropostale makes me feel uncomfortable and out of place, and even kind of OLD, and that is something that I just don’t need. So I turned down their offer.

That leaves Victoria’s Secret.

I am really not this boudoir, lingerie-wearing Victoria’s Secret kind of girl, but I still feel drawn to the store. Everything in there is so pretty and girly and lacy and PINK! Just try spending ten minutes in that store without your inner girly girl suddenly getting the urge to buy all things glitter. To me, walking through Victoria’s Secret is like exploring an older sister’s closet…there are some things that I really like and I want to try on, and there are some things I steer clear of, that are for “big girls” only. (I know, at age 27, I am officially a “grown-up” and a “big girl,” but I don’t think garter belts and suspenders will ever be a part of my wardrobe.) But I don’t think you have to be a Pamela Anderson garter-belt girl to shop at Victoria’s Secret. For all of the sexy, lacy lingerie they sell, they have equal amounts of cute printed cotton underwear, as well as yoga pants and hoodies. They have body lotion and shampoo and perfume (there’s one bottle of perfume that I want to buy simply because it comes in a pretty pink bottle with an old-fashioned pump). I think they really have something for every girl.

And though I felt nervous interviewing with them (I was almost afraid that you had to look like a Victoria’s Secret model to get a job in the store), the interviewer and the girls working behind the cash register really made me feel more at home there than the other two stores. There are some younger college students working there, as I mentioned at the beginning. But there are also a lot of women my age, who are married and have children, and there are women older than me too. Everyone is welcome! And I like that the VS philosophy (as I learned during my training) is that they want to help every woman feel comfortable and confident in herself–they want every woman to find something that makes them feel beautiful.

So, surprisingly, I have also felt pretty comfortable and confident working there, so far. Somehow, I have become a Victoria’s Secret girl. 🙂

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