By Anne D'Innocenzio, AP Retail Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Don't count on a job selling sweaters at your favorite department store. Retail jobs from sales associates to managers are harder to find as merchants close stores, lay off thousands of workers — or go out of business completely.
Whenever a retailer does hire employers, it's usually inundated by people hoping for a job. J.C. Penney Co. received 15,000 applications, more than double what it expected, for 500 positions at its new Manhattan store. SnagAJob.com, an online site, said 160,596 applicants applied for jobs at one national department store chain in July, more than twice the number of a year ago.
The overflow of resumes, particularly from people laid off in fields such as construction and finance, gives merchants their pick of the best workers but also presents a challenge for people who want to get started in retail or get back into the business. Some do find that with extra effort, it's possible to get a job that, if not ideal, at least gets them inside the door.
Darren Gray, 44, who had 13 years of banking experience including managerial stints, learned that recently when he applied to the new Penney's.
After the financial crisis erupted last fall, the Jersey City, N.J., resident decided to leave finance and return to retailing, where he worked for six years after college. When Gray applied to Penney's, all the management positions were taken, so he accepted a job as a commission-based jewelry sales associate, which meant up to a 50% pay cut. But Gray remains upbeat about his career prospects.
"There's definitely opportunity for advancement," said Gray, who aims to be part of Penney's top management someday. "Sometimes you have to take short-term sacrifices for a long-term gain."
The dearth of retail openings is particularly disheartening because in past recessions, the industry served as a safety net for the unemployed. That net isn't there now, as the most dramatic plunge in consumer spending in decades has led to a rash of liquidations of major chains from Circuit City Stores Inc. to Linens 'N Things. And other companies have been shutting stores around the country and laying off managers.
"This recession is all about the consumer, and spending dropped off because consumers are tapped out," said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray & Christmas, a consulting firm.
There are ways to make your resume stand out. Applicants who are on an executive management track should pad their resume with short-term jobs even if they don't pay, according to Chris Higgins, senior associate director of MBA recruitment at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
Wharton has been working with retailers to develop short-term projects, in areas such as operations and merchandising, for MBA candidates who want to pursue a retailing career.