Consumer Products & Retail

Consumer Products

Consumer products are the foundation of the modern economy and are typically produced by large corporations or conglomerates.  The consumer products industry manufactures and markets any product or commodity that can be consumed or purchased.  It can be divided into four groups: beverages, foods, toiletries and cosmetics, and small appliances.  In the field of consumer products, success can be measured by promoting a product or brand name.  Key elements of this process are package design, marketing, and customer satisfaction. 

Retail

Retail is the sale of products and services from individuals or businesses to consumers.  Retailers purchase products from manufacturers in large quantities and then sell smaller quantities to consumers through stores, direct sales, or websites.  Retail is a large industry that employs about 12% of the United States workforce.  Positions in the retail field for recent graduates include store management, buying, inventory planning, and product development.  In addition, opportunities in finance, accounting, technology, design and logistics can also be found within retail companies.

Resources

The resources below will provide you with more information about industry trends, career paths and employers in the fields of Consumer Products and Retail:

Job & Internship Search

To be successful in your job and internship search it will be important to use a variety of search strategies rather than relying on postings alone. Here are some tips to consider.

Getting Experience

If you’re interested in consumer products or retail, getting an internship will build your skills and give you exposure to the industry. These experiences will also help you explore whether consumer products or retail is the career for you. Within retail in particular, a part-time job or a seasonal work is another option to help you gain experience and exposure to the industry.  As in other industries, consumer products and retail employers value leadership experiences. Looking for opportunities to build your leadership skills will help you become a stronger candidate.

Training Programs

If you are interested in developing leadership skills, you may look for employers who have training programs. These programs are as different as the employers who sponsor them. Some training programs emphasize on-the-job-training while others offer a very structured, classroom type environment. Training periods can range from twelve weeks to two years. When you talk to the various companies, inquire about their specific training program and what it entails.

Find an Internship

Consumer Products

Internships are a great way to gain valuable experience and determine fit within the industry. Many consumer products internship programs offer an opportunity to find out what it’s really like working in the industry by exposing you to different departments within their business. Some consumer products companies look for innovative ways to engage students. For example these companies may use new media, such as online games, competitions or challenges as a way to connect within the organization. Look in Career Cat for more information about such opportunities.

Language skills, a global outlook and a willingness to relocate could all help you get your foot in the door for an internship, as consumer products companies seek to increase their presence in developing markets. For example, many companies run training or leadership programs for future leaders in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and China.

Retail

Internships in retail focus on such areas as store management, buying and planning, or product development. Some programs operate on a rotational basis, during which you are able to test out each of the different departments within the company and find out which you like best.

Some employers will:

  • Hire their interns if a fit is established and a fulltime opportunity is available
  • May offer perks like discounts on store merchandise
  • May reimburse you for your travel expenses

It is important to develop your skills during your internship. These skills will be highlighted on your resume and become valuable in your later job search. Some roles will require a very specific set of skills.

For example:

  • Merchandisers will need to have a creative flair with an eye for three-dimensional design and the ability to translate design concepts into tangible displays that will woo potential customers.
  • Buyers and Merchandisers need to be analytical, numerate and commercially astute. 
  • Store Managers need to be well rounded – sales people, team leaders, target driven and the ability to juggle a number of different tasks simultaneously.

Recruiting Timelines

Consumer products and retail employers hire year round. Stay updated on hiring cycle by regularly checking CareerCat for new postings, as well as company websites for open positions.

Recruiting Methods

Networking

This is by far the most effective means of securing a new position. Connect with NU alumni via LinkedIn or Our Northwestern. Many companies may offer referral bonuses to their employees, which means your network might be eager to get your resume in front of a recruiter for a fashion house, a large clothing company or a retail chain.

In addition to information sessions on campus, Consumer Products employers offer challenges as opportunities to connect with employees of the organization. If you are picked as a finalist you may get the opportunity to present your strategy or case to top executives within the organization.

On-campus Activity

Check CareerCat for new job and internship listings as well as to see who is coming to campus for company information sessions or attending a career fair.

Hiring

Consumer products and retail employers hire on an as needed basis. Networking, internship experience and monitoring CareerCat for postings will be important in this job search.

Social Media

Like many employers, the use of social media can be useful in your job and internship search to monitor trends, learn more about the industry or search for job and internship postings. Consumer products and retail employers use social media to connect with potential internship and job candidates. 

Here are some sites to search for retail positions:

Sample Internship and Job Titles for Consumer Products

  • Brand Manager
  • Customer Service
  • Finance Manager
  • Logistics or Manufacturing Engineer
  • Marketing Assistant or Analyst
  • Market Researcher
  • Research Scientist
  • Sales

Examples of Consumer Products Companies

  • Aldi
  • Burger King
  • Conagra Foods
  • Coca-Cola
  • Colgate-Palmolive
  • General Mills
  • Kellogg
  • L’Oreal
  • Mars
  • PepsiCo
  • Procter & Gamble
  • S.C. Johnson
  • Sodexo
  • Walgreens

Sample Internship and Job Titles for Retail

  • Computer Systems
  • Customer Service Assistant
  • Loss Prevention
  • Merchandiser/Buyer
  • Retail Manger
  • Operations/Distributions
  • Sales Associate
  • Store Design
  • Supply/logistics

Examples of Retail Companies

  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • The Gap
  • J. Crew
  • Hanes
  • H & M
  • IKEA
  • Limited Brands
  • Kohl’s Department Stores
  • Macy’s Inc.
  • Nordstrom  and Nordstrom Rack
  • REI
  • Sears Holdings Corporation
  • Sephora
  • Target

Resumes & Cover Letters

As you begin to build your resume for a position in Consumer Products or Retail, you should consider how your experiences demonstrate an interest in and knowledge of the industry.

Within Consumer Products and Retail, the responsibilities vary depending on position. But a strong resume should highlight experience and skills in the following areas, regardless of position:

  • Marketing, advertising, or sales experience
  • Knowledge of and a passion for the industry at any level (internships, retail positions, etc.)
  • Initiative and willingness to learn
  • Insight into consumer behavior

A strong resume will also be error-free. An industry focused on detail like consumer products and retail looks at grammar, spelling, and formatting. An error-free, well-constructed resume speaks to a candidate’s communication skills and attention to detail.

To further tailor your resume, consider the skills that are valuable to success in the industry. Careers in Consumer Products and Retail can vary widely, but the basic skill sets for each position are similar. Think about how your academic, professional, and co-curricular experiences reflect or demonstrate these skills, provided by employers and Northwestern alumni working in the industry:

  • Problem-solving
  • Curiosity, willingness to learn
  • Interpersonal skills, team-player
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Communication (written & verbal)
  • Ability to think on your feet
  • Work well under pressure and meet deadlines
  • Planning abilities
  • Attention to detail
  • Organization
  • Initiative
  • Entrepreneurial
  • An eye for trends

A strong resume within Consumer Products and Retail will demonstrate a candidate’s skills in these areas and a potential to learn and grow in their new position.  

If you don’t have direct experience in the field you’re looking to join, consider networking with professionals to share your story and connect the experiences you’ve had to the position you want.

*Much of this content is courtesy of “The Vault Guide to Consumer Products Production and Sales Jobs”

INTERVIEW TIPS

Now that you have consumer products and retail specific resume and have applied for the position, it is time to prepare for an interview. Interviewing for a position in consumer products and retail can be different from other fields. Below are a few tips when preparing for an interview.

Be mindful of company culture

  • Culture fit within an organization or team in these fields is a big part of the interview process. Employers look for candidates that will be a good fit with their team along with the organization as a whole. While employers look for certain skills and experience, many technical skills required for a specific position can be learned on the job or during training.
  • Candidates should do their research to understand the culture of the organization before the interview.
  • In most industries, unless you hear otherwise from a recruiter, it should be assumed that business professional dress is expected in an interview. However, in the consumer products and especially retail fields, it is not uncommon for employers to tell candidates to dress more casually.
  • Brands love if a potential candidate can demonstrate passion; if possible, wear the company brand. When in doubt, consult with an HR or recruiting contact.
    • For example, Abercrombie & Fitch expects candidates to wear clothes with a similar style to their brand and trends.

Be aware of customer-base, research and understand the customer

  • Familiarize yourself with the target audience or consumer of a specific company and understand why they market and sell to that population
  • Research recent and significant campaigns the company sponsored or was involved in
  • Be prepared to answer questions regarding current trends and brands in the field

Know the company and the business

  • Think about what the brand and company values mean to you, personally
  • Know the future of the company and any potential growth opportunities; think about how you can help drive the company forward
  • Understand the brand and the business model

Potential Interview Questions

Some common interview questions in Consumer Goods & Retail might include:

  • What does this brand mean to you?
  • What is next for [insert organization]?
  • What are we not doing that we could be doing in the future? How might you contribute to that growth?
  • How do you give feedback to others?
  • How do you respond to feedback?
  • Tell me about a challenging group that you’ve worked with in the past.
  • Tell me about a time that you had to compromise with others.
  • What is your biggest accomplishment?
  • Tell me about a time that you failed.

Interview Structure

  • Employers like to see how candidates interact with other team members and co-workers so be prepared to participate in some sort of group activity or case workshop. Typically there is a combination of one on one interviews and group activities.
  • Some employers might ask candidates to take a basic math test to assess math skills related to the position
  • Some employers might ask candidates to take a basic language and grammar test to assess writing skills and language competencies

Interview Advice

The following advice was provided by Northwestern alumni and employers working in consumer products and retail:

  • Know yourself, your strengths, and your interests; be able to tell your story
  • Be interested and show passion for the job you’re applying for; employers want to know you’re interested in their organization, specifically, and why you’re interested
  • Do your research; understand the organization’s recent successes, challenges, share price, board structure, and market cap. This information can inform your questions during the interview.
  • Review recent quarterly or annual reports
  • Be prepared with good questions specific to the organization and its recent successes or challenges; don’t ask questions that are easily found elsewhere
  • Practice; be comfortable with yourself and your story

Desired Qualities in a Candidate

  • Leadership
  • Drive
  • Demonstrated ability to accept and meet challenges
  • Authentic
  • Go-getter/motivated
  • Core values that are aligned with company values
  • Organized
  • Able to handle stress
  • Easy to work with
  • Flexible and willing to take on tasks outside of general responsibilities 

Get Involved

Professional organizations, Northwestern student groups, and Northwestern academic programs can provide students with an opportunity to gain the skills and experience needed for a career in consumer products and retail.

Many national organizations offer student memberships or provide online educational resources to help students prepare for a career in this industry, network with employers, and apply for potential opportunities.

In addition to the following organizations, student groups, and academic programs, students should also consider gaining experience in any student organization to which they belong or any professional experience. Students interested in this industry should seek opportunities to develop and practice their skills in marketing, sales, problem solving, and communication by taking on additional responsibilities in their organizations or holding a position relevant to one of these areas. Further, consumer products and retail is very team-focused; students should seek opportunities to collaborate with their peers and be a contributing member of a team.

Professional Organizations

American Apparel and Footwear Association: The association provides online tools and resources to anyone looking to understand more about the industry. Students interested in apparel can also access an online career center.

American Marketing Association: Go-to resource for marketers, providing knowledge, training, and tools to stay relevant, build connections, and share resources. Students can join the organization for access to resources, professional programming, and networking opportunities.

CPGJobs: A career network exclusively dedicated to consumer packaged products; CPGJobs posts open positions and provides an opportunity for students to explore career options.

Food Marketing Institute: Resource for professionals in the food retail business including industry trends, food safety, and sustainability. Students can access an array of resources online.

National Retail Foundation: The largest retail trade association, representing retailers across the United States and internationally. Students can access online resources on building a career in retail and exploring industry trends as well as a job board and networking opportunities.

Personal Care Products Council: Trade association representing the global cosmetic and personal care industry. The Council offers information on careers, industry trends, the science and safety behind personal care products. Students can access educational resources to further explore the industry.

Retail Industry Leaders Association: The association is committed to tell the industry’s story by providing a forum for members to understand common practices, areas of concerns, and solutions to problems. Students can explore online resources to learn about recent trends and areas of concern within the retail industry.

Northwestern University Student Organizations

Form and Function Marketing: Northwestern’s full-service marketing agency that provides innovative, holistic marketing resources to other student organizations to increase publicity and outreach efforts on campus. Members have an opportunity to gain valuable, real-world marketing experience which can translate well to branding or brand management within the consumer products and retail industry.

Mark: Student-run agency for student groups, small businesses, and entrepreneurs. Members are exposed to experiential learning opportunities in marketing, which will prepare a student for brand management responsibilities within the consumer products and retail industry.

STITCH: Student-run publication about fashion, trends, and the industry. Contributors have an opportunity to explore fashion, retails, and careers in merchandizing or apparel.

Northwestern University Academic Programs

Business Institutions Program (BIP): Minor focused on business practices including courses in marketing management and contemporary issues in PR. BIP is open to all Northwestern students.

Integrated Marketing Communications Certificate Program (IMC Certificate): Certificate program offered through Medill School of Journalism focuses on effective marketing communication strategies. The program prepares students for marketing communication positions in advertising, PR, corporate communication, database marketing, and social media marketing.  Students from any undergraduate school or college are eligible to apply.