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QUALIFICATIONS FOR A CAREER IN BOOKSELLING
There are no prescribed qualifications for bookselling. Different employers look for different things. One shop may rarely employ non-graduates, another may prefer to take people straight from school, a third - because of the type of books it sells - may look for a strong religious commitment. In a small, owner-managed bookshop, a congenial personality that fits in comfortably with that of the boss and the rest of the staff may be rated more highly than almost anything else.

Even so, it is possible to generalize a little about the qualities that will help to make you attractive as a potential bookseller.

Education
The minimum educational qualifications typically looked for are passes in English and Mathematics at GCSE or equivalent. A number of bookshop employers expect A-Level passes too; the level of the qualification rather than the particular subjects is what matters. Increasingly many of the larger bookshops are looking for people with university degrees - again, all subjects are equally welcome.

In a general bookshop, the broader and more thorough your educational background, the more you will commend yourself as someone able to cope with the diversity of books and customers which characterizes the trade. In a bookshop with a subject speciality - for example, medical and nursing books or foreign language books - a relevant subject qualification would of course be an added commendation.

Age
Few specialist bookshops take on full-time staff before the age of 18. Probably most people start in bookselling in their late teens or early twenties. Many shops welcome rather older staff who are new to bookselling because of the broader experience and maturity they bring to the work. If your other qualifications for the job are satisfactory, neither youth nor age is likely to be a bar to your entry into bookselling or to the progress of your career.

If you're still a full-time student, you might think of taking a Saturday or holiday job in a local bookshop. This will give you a taste of what bookselling is like and give you a chance to learn some of the routines and practices of the trade: it will also look good on your application form when you come to apply for a full-time position later on.

Experience
Previous experience in any sort of bookshop will be regarded as a plus by a potential bookshop employer. Indeed, any retail work - whether in a bookshop or not - is relevant experience. However, lack of experience is no handicap as all good bookshops provide training.

Personal Qualities
To deal successfully with customers, you need a confident and friendly personality. You must
like people, and you must like helping them. You need a quick understanding and should be able to express yourself easily and clearly.

You must, of course, look presentable. You have to be able to maintain a pleasant manner through a long and often arduous working day. You must keep cool under pressure: all sorts of jobs have to be slotted into available moments, and at busy times you will rarely be able to finish any one job without interruption.

The personality quality that employers tend to value most is enthusiasm, and they look for evidence of it in your general manner and in your attitude to some of your interests in life - not necessarily connected either with books or with work. An active member of an amateur dramatic group or local sports team, or keen stamp collector or dedicated water-colour painter will impress more than someone who professes a love of literature, reeling off a list of examination set-books as evidence. Enthusiastic participation is valued more than routine achievement. Physical stamina is important too. You'll be on your feet most of the day, and unpacking, shelving and moving books are all more physically demanding than you might imagine. Add to this a certain amount of shift work and unsocial hours, and you can see that bookselling is for the fit not the frail.


TRAINING

All bookshops provide their staff with a certain amount of in-house training, though the amount and quality of that training varies considerably.

In the smallest shops - and some of the larger ones, too, training tends to be on-the-job instruction from colleagues:" This is how we order from publishers", " Here are the fiches we use for checking titles not held in stock", "That book there is a remainder so we can offer it at a reduced price, but this one here is a net book and we're not allowed to sell it below the publisher's marked price". and so on.

Informal training of this kind can be very good, if a little haphazard. Much depends upon how skilled your colleagues are, not just as booksellers but also as trainers. .

Some of the larger shops and bookselling chains have their own formal training programmes. These range all the way from basic introduction courses for new staff to detailed management courses for those selected for promotion. An induction course is designed to introduce new employees to the general routines of the shop, its key personnel, the rights and responsibilities of the staff and so on. More advanced courses, where offered, are for those with particular bookselling or retailing skills, and - for those going on to management - accounting procedures, financial planning, sales forecasting, employment law, personnel management and other general business matters. Some of these training courses may take place in the shop or branch itself, some may be held elsewhere, some may last only half-a-day or so, others may be residential and last a week or more. Some of the courses may be designed on the open learning principle which involves working through specially written manuals at your own pace.

Good training is expensive, and no company spends money on it without intending to reap benefits from the greater knowledge and skills its staff acquires. That means that the company will want to retain as many as possible of the staff it trains. So when you find a company that has a good training programme - not just a once-only course for new recruits, but a continuing programme for staff at all levels up to and including senior management- then you have also found a company which is likely to offer good career prospects.


PAY AND CONDITIONS
Most appointments are at first for a probationary period - typically three to six months - at the end of which a permanent position is confirmed if all has gone well, or the appointment terminated if not.

Pay and conditions naturally vary from shop to shop. In general, London shops pay more than others. The only way to ascertain exactly what pay is being offered is to ask a particular shop. However, see the information sheet on booksellers' pay which accompanies this booklet for an idea of current rates.

Bear in mind that the pounds and pence you receive each pay day form only part of your renumeration. To compare one shop with another, you must take account of the total package offered; the shop which pays the highest rates is not necessarily the one offering the best deal overall.

To assess the total package, these are some of the things to consider in addition to the basic pay: Are incentive bonuses paid - either to all the staff in a shop which exceeds target sales or to individual staff members?
In practice, how much are such bonuses typically worth?
How many hours do you have to work a week?
Are there opportunities for overtime, and if so, at what rates?
Is overtime voluntary or will you be expected to do a certain amount, at least at busy times of the year?
What is your holiday entitlement?
Is there a staff pension scheme, and if so, are contributions deducted from your pay or does the employer pay them for you?
Are there any other advantages enjoyed by staff - recreational facilities, for example, or opportunities for further study?
What discount do you get on books or other goods purchased for your own use?
If at some time in the future you are offered a more senior post at another branch, will the company help you with relocation expenses if you need to move home?

FINDING A JOB
Bookselling is a popular career, and shops do not always need to advertise for new recruits as so many would-be booksellers make direct approaches themselves. Brand new shops and branches

usually advertise for staff in local newspapers or at the Job Centre; and senior appointments for experienced staff are sometimes advertised in The Bookseller. As a newcomer to the trade however, you would be well advised to take the initiative rather than wait for vacancies to be announced.

What sort of bookshop?
You must make your mind up about two things:

(1) Do you want a job in a major chain or large independent, or would a small shop suit you better?
(2) Is your prime commitment to bookselling or to retailing in general?

Most of the leading chains and the largest independents try, as a matter of policy, to make senior appointments from among their own junior staff. So you have a better chance of making career progress from within one of these shops, than by working at first in a small shop in the hope of later securing a senior appointment elsewhere on the basis of your experience.

As we saw earlier, while non-specialist bookshops can offer you good experience of retailing in general, only specialist bookshops give you the chance of learning and practising the full range of bookselling skills.

A short list of possibilities
Having decided the sort of shop you'd like to work in , you need to draw up a short list of possibles. This will be based on your knowledge of the town(s) you would consider working in, or upon information gathered from the Directory Of Members referred to earlier. Your list will consist of the names and addresses of individual shops or branches and/or the names of the head offices of bookshop chains.

 

The first approach
Small shops are probably best approached in person or by telephone. Larger shops, branch shops
and head offices are best approached by letter. If you are interested in working for a -branch shop, apply directly to the manager of the branch unless you are sufficiently mobile to accept a job at a variety of locations - in which case a letter to the personnel manager at head office indicating your flexibility may be preferable. Enclose full information about yourself, with dates where appropriate: age, present occupation, schools/colleges' attended, examinations passed, jobs previously held, special skills or interests, and so on. Say when you would be free to start. Try to convey a sense of lively interest whether applying in person or by letter. If there are suitable vacancies, you may be asked to complete an application form and then attend an interview, or you may be called for interview without further formality. If there are no current suitable vacancies, you may be told that your application will be held on file and that you will be contacted again if any vacancies arise. Whatever response your first approach produces, continue applying to other shops until you get a firm offer of a job which you are happy to accept.


The Interview
From what you have already read, you will have a pretty good idea of what the interviewer -bookshop manager or his or her deputy - will be looking for. If job appointments just depended upon factual things like your age, examination passes, work experience and so on, there would be little need for an interview at all; these things can be understood perfectly well from your letter or application form. The interview gives your prospective employer the chance to judge your manner and appearance, your way of listening and speaking, and to get an impression of your general personality. These things are of great importance in someone who, as a sales assistant, spends much of the day dealing face-to-face with the public.

In an interview you are in a sense on display - just as you will be when you're working in the shop - and you should take whatever opportunity is offered to show yourself as bright, intelligent, pleasant and enthusiastic. But an interview is also a two-way affair. While the interviewer needs to assess what you can offer as a bookshop employee, you need to assess what he or she can offer as a bookshop employer. So when, probably towards the end of the interview, you are asked if you have any questions to put, here are some of the things you might want to ask about - unless, of course they have already been dealt with - so that you can decide whether you really want the job even if you're offered it:

(1) Has the shop got a training programme for new staff? How detailed is it? Will you be taught about bookselling in a formally structured way, or will it be a matter of picking things up as you go along?

(2) What opportunities for promotion are there? If you turn out to be a good sales assistant, roughly how long can you expect to wait before getting promotion?

(3) Who is responsible for buying the stock? Do junior staff have a chance to be involved in buying decisions?

(4) Look back at the section on Pay and Conditions. Now is the time to ask about any of these matters that have not yet been made clear to you.

More tips about interviews...

AND FINALLY...
When it comes to applying for a job, or wondering whether to accept one that has been offered, you're on your own. You have to make your own decisions. But if you have any further questions about bookselling careers in general, please contact the Training Department at the Booksellers Association, and we'll do all we can to help. Meanwhile, if you have decided to join our trade, welcome!

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