Kickstart Your Career: 5 Essential Skills Gained From Retail and Food Service Jobs

Kelsey Wolf-Wallace

Many individuals have embarked on or bridged career gaps through employment in the retail or food service industries. Perhaps you honed your skills at a fast-paced pizza joint before joining the military, or you led the front register team at a prominent retail chain while pursuing your education. In either scenario, you acquired professional expertise that can significantly enhance your resume and personal brand.

If you possess limited professional experience, incorporating your pre-military or college retail/service industry background into your resume can be advantageous. Effectively highlighting your relevant skills while considering the job description is key to showcasing your potential to prospective employers.

As you prepared for your transition from the military, you likely came across the term “transferable skills” repeatedly. Integrating these valuable skills into your resume, networking efforts, and interviews will enable employers to better comprehend the unique contributions you bring to the table.

Explore these five fundamental skills commonly acquired from working in food services and retail, which hold significance in any career:

1.) Customer Service: In either food service or retail, you worked with customers from all different backgrounds to understand their needs and help them find the products or services they desired. You handled or escalated customer issues. You assisted customers, answered questions, and made recommendations. Being able to work with customers is critical in many occupations.

2.) Teamwork: Both industries depend on people collaborating and coordinating with one another to run a successful business. A team player is typically good to have around and means that you are able to get along with others. It’s rare for a job to be effective without some level of teamwork.

3.) Problem-Solving: Maybe the kitchen made a mistake on a customer’s order or a customer wanted to return a sweater but didn’t have the receipt. How did you handle either of those situations? You were developing your problem-solving skills! In any job where you are faced with problems, highlight the problem-solving skills you’ve gained.

4.) Attention to Detail: From overseeing inventory, stocking shelves, pulling products, using the register, and taking a complex order, the details matter, especially for the performance of the company. Cueing into the personal details of customers can also help to build relationships. These skills are essential in any job you do and are valued by employers.  

5.) Time Management: To succeed in any role, time management is key. Reflect on the time you worked during peak hours. You had to divide your time between all the tables you were serving to ensure every customer’s needs were met. Or maybe you worked during the holiday season at a retail store like Target. You were working efficiently to minimize customer wait times while providing quality customer service during the busiest shopping season of the year. The situations helped you learn to prioritize and multitask, which can be utilized in any position!

Today, many companies are incorporating a skills-focused approach to their recruitment and retention efforts. Companies like Walmart are even helping people grow by offering special programs to learn new skills. According to Tommy Jones, Sr. Director, Military Programs at Walmart, “Walmart’s Find a Future initiative is a four-pathway approach encompassing employment, education, entrepreneurship, and wellbeing, offering a chance for personal and professional growth for both the military community and beyond. Walmart both acknowledges the power of transferrable skills and actively supports people in their journey to apply these skills in new and impactful ways.”

Remember to keep the job description in mind, leveraging your experiences and essential skills while you craft your resume and prepare for interviews. If you need resume assistance, check out our Resume Success Guide. If you’re unsure about your qualifications for a particular position, watch our informative webinar recording here. You can also explore the Hire Heroes USA Job Board, featuring over 40,000 job opportunities from our partnered military-friendly employers.

Harness the power of your unique skill set to confidently pursue your desired career path!

Kelsey Wolf-Wallace is the Junior Enlisted Program Manager at Hire Heroes USA.  If you would like more information or need assistance getting in contact with your Transition Specialist, log into your MyTrak or register at to be assigned a Transition Specialist.