Aislinn Lea, Head of Fashion & Non-Food, Excel Recruitment

Excel’s Aislinn Lea- Retail is a career, not just a job

As the CAO and college places hit headlines again, head of Fashion & Non- Food Recruitment Aislinn Lea reflects on how retail can be overlooked as a career choice and why this is a mistake…

This past week has been a stressful time for many young people since learning their Leaving Cert results last Wednesday, followed by the anxious wait to see if they received a college place in Monday’s CAO offers. These 17/18/19-year-old will have many huge decisions to make in the next few days about the path they choose. Often in all the talk of opportunities in STEM subjects and the rise and fall of points, many people, regardless of age, overlook retail as an exciting and rewarding career path.

When I began my career in retail, I had no idea it would provide me with the opportunities and experiences that it has, eventually leading me to recruitment, working every day with fantastic clients and candidates, meeting new people and filling new and different roles every week. I couldn’t recommend retail more highly as an industry or a career path.

Progressive Careers

Retail Management is one of the most progressive careers in the market, an industry where the opportunities and careers available are ever-changing and as a result exciting, challenging and rewarding. The doors that are open to an enthusiastic candidate pursuing a career in retail are endless and include Management, Head Office, Buying, HR, Marketing, E-Tailing, Visual Management, the list goes on.

Not only that, but the vastness, variety and pace of the industry can provide anybody willing to work hard and learn with countless opportunities to meet new people, try new things, and see new places. Retail is an extremely fast-paced industry and is constantly innovating and evolving which provides anybody who wants to embrace new ideas and technologies, the opportunity to really make their mark and add real value to their employer, and their CV.

Those who see retail as a career and not just a job can open themselves up to a whole world of learning. There are many engaging, challenging and ever developing facets of the industry, both technically and commercially, so not only are there valuable life-skills to be gained there is also a huge depth of knowledge to be learned and countless career paths to potentially follow.

Inclusive Industry

Retail as an industry has become more savvy in terms of developing talent and employers are willing to invest more and more into their people through training, learning and development. There is a wealth of fantastic degrees, courses and Graduate Programmes available in retail, including any of the specialisms mentioned above.

Retail is a huge industry and is Ireland’s largest private-sector employer, employing over 282,000 workers across the country.An industry of this scale offers a wide range of opportunities and possibilities for all types of individuals and personalities from those with a natural gift for sales and customer engagement to others with a keen interest in data, tech, marketing or visuals


Aislinn Lea, Head of Fashion & Non-Food, Excel Recruitment

My Journey Into Recruitment – Aislinn Lea

What titles did you hold while working in Retail?

Retail Store Manager

Area Merchandising Manager

How does it compare going from working in Retail to a Recruitment environment?

Retail and Recruitment are very different industries. With Recruitment, you are confined to the one spot in an office, it is a very administrative business and you are only really measured on your sales which is driven through your relationships with your Clients and your Candidates

With Retail, you have a wide range of duties and accountabilities, it is far more creative and commercial where you are constantly looking to drive business through a variety of areas, People, Product, Merchandising, Standards and Costs. However once you have loved retail, recruitment taps in on this as you will thoroughly enjoy learning about a company, understanding their business requirements and passing this knowledge and understanding of a business to your candidate.

What was your favourite part about working in retail?

Visual Merchandising and Commercial success

What is your favourite aspect of working in Recruitment?

My favourite aspect of Recruitment is when I found myself really busy with a lot of live roles. I love filling roles and achieving that goal of finding the right candidate for the client.

Are you seeing any difference in applications over the last 12 months?

Yes, there is a lot more quality candidates however there is also a lot more jobs therefore I am finding that candidates are often out for 2/3 interviews at one time.

What do you favour most when a CV comes into your inbox? What must haves does a candidate need in order to be considered?

Not too many jumps on their c.v is the main thing I would be conscious off.


What has been your most favoured candidate placement and why?

I have had a few great placement that I would consider memorable for a variety of reasons.

Gary. I placed as a Territory Sales Manager with a relatively new client. Why, because he listened to all my feedback and took everything on board, he researched, practised and proved to our client that what he didn’t have in experience he had in enthusiasm, energy and ambition.

Fran. I placed Fran as Regional Manager with one of the largest mobile telecomm. operators in Ireland. I spent 6 months on this placement and was up against 3 other agencies. Fran was fantastic, she showed her enthusiasm and energy time and time again through each assignment asked of her throughout the interview process

Mari. I placed Mari as Department Manager with the a luxury Irish retail group. Mari has being trying so hard to get into the Retail Fashion Industry. She is an award winning grocery retailer however was finding it very difficult to get an interview with any Fashion house, that is until the our client group offered her an interview and ultimately loved her and offered her the position.

A young sales assistant aspires to be a Retail/Area Manager – Buyer/Senior Buyer. Describe what they should do in 4 sentences?

I think for a Young Sales Assistant looking to progress to Retail Area Management I would suggest you put in the work, studies, long hours and be as flexible as you can with regards to location when you are young and energetic therefore availing of all the opportunities and training afforded to you at the beginning of your career.

Listen and take on board any criticism, compliments and training offered and always be looking to improve yourself and let your employer know where you see yourself down the road.