How to Become a Department Manager


If you want to become a department manager, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for working in this field:


• You could see yourself leading and motivating staff to achieve sales targets

• You can take direction, and would enjoy supervising the work of others

• You are not adverse to working shifts that may include evenings and weekends

• You are interested in working in a fast-paced environment

• You are not opposed to working on your feet

• You place importance on providing great customer service

• You enjoy the idea of splitting work time between an office and the sales floor


Below we've outlined what you'll need to become a department manager. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, salary expectations, a list of possible employer types, educational requirements, and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Department Manager

The educational requirements for working as a department manager in a retail store can vary, although you typically only need a high school diploma combined with relevant work experience in a retail setting.


Many employers consider having a certificate, diploma or degree in a relevant field, such as retail management, to be an asset when applying for department manager jobs.





Experience Needed

You'll likely need retail sales experience in positions of increasing levels of responsibility to become a department manager, preferably experience in the department you will be managing. For example, if you are a worker in the produce department of a grocery store, it is likely that if you display competence and initiative you will have an opportunity to become a produce department supervisor, and eventually produce department manager, whether it is in your current store or an external store. 


Some employers may also prefer to hire candidates that have specialized knowledge of the products in the department that they will be managing. For example, the general manager of a sporting goods store may prefer to hire a candidate for the position of Hockey Goalie Equipment Department Manager that has actually experience playing goalie for a hockey team, in addition to having customer service and management skills. 


Having relevant work experience is the most common way to advance to a position as a department manager, although it is not the only way. If you have post-secondary education in an applicable field, such as retail management, employers may consider that a partial or complete substitute for having relevant work experience. 


Success Tip: Even with the right amount of experience, you will need to display competence, initiative and a commitment to customer service if you want to be considered for a promotion to department manager.



General Job Description

Department managers are responsible for ensuring the success of a particular product area within a retail store. They must ensure that the best available staff is recruited, hired and trained to work in their department.


Department managers must also ensure the staff is properly scheduled to ensure there is sufficient staff to stock the sales floor, perform inventory counts, ensure product is properly displayed, and ensure customer service needs are being met. They must also supervise and coordinate the activities of their staff, and motivate them to reach the department’s sales goals.


During busier periods, such as when there is a shortage of staff, or a company executive is coming to visit, department managers may be required to be on the floor selling to the public and servicing customers.


Department managers often work very closely with their store’s general manager. They must work with the general manager to develop the department’s budget and ensure it is being adhered to, as well as prepare and present sales and other reports to them. They also work with the general manager to develop sales strategies and organize promotional events. 



Typical Job Duties

• Confer with visual merchandisers to coordinate visual product displays

• Ensure customers are receiving high quality customer service from staff

• Deal with questions, complaints and feedback from customers

• Oversee housekeeping duties of department

• Supervise departmental workers

• Inspect merchandise to ensure it is correctly priced and displayed

• Develop and maintain employee schedules, break periods and vacations

• Order merchandise, supplies and equipment as necessary

• Organize sales promotions and in-store events

• Analyze sales figures and forecast future sales volumes

• Maintain awareness of market trends and monitoring what competitors are doing

• Prepare and present sales and other reports to senior company executives



Who Employs Department Managers

Small, medium and large-sized companies that sell goods to the public employ department managers on a part-time, full-time and contractual basis. Organizations of this type may include:


• Grocery stores

• Home improvement stores

• Furniture and appliance stores

• Clothing stores

• Department stores

• Sporting goods stores

• Hobby and recreation stores

• Automotive supply stores

• Bookstores

• Any other type of retail store 





Average Salary Level

The salary level of department managers can vary depending on a multitude of factors, such as:


• Their level of education

• Their level of experience and aptitude

• The size and type of their employer

• The region in which they work

• Whether or not they are union employees


Department Manager Salary Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2017 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (the latest figures available at the time of writing - June 13, 2019), Albertans working in the Retail Store Managers occupational group earn an average wage of between $27.93 and $45.53 per hour. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories. 


Department Manager Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers in the First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers occupational group earn a mean annual wage of $41,450.



Career Advancement Possibilities

Department managers have plenty of opportunities for career growth. Those who demonstrate managerial competence, initiative, sales aptitude and strong product knowledge may be promoted to larger stores, personnel management, regional management positions or management positions in specific areas such as materials acquisition.


Gaining experience as a department manager also opens doors for moving into more specialized areas of the business, including head office functions such as operations management, procurement, marketing or human resources.


Success Tip: Having post-secondary education in a relevant field will increase your chances of being offered an opportunity for advancement or specialization.  



Characteristics Needed to Be Successful

In order to enjoy performing the job duties inherent in this field, you'll need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your job duties is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which usually leads to having a long and successful career.


• A strong sense of customer service

• A results-based approach to work activities

• An interest in working in a fast-paced and demanding environment

• Able to take direction from a general manager

• Willing to work on your feet for long periods of time

• Enjoy having clear rules and guidelines for your work

• Confident and persuasive when making decisions 



Skills Needed to Be a Department Manager

To perform your job duties with competence and become effective in a career as a department manager, you need to posses a certain set of skills, which include:


• Excellent organizational skills

• Able to communicate effectively with staff, executive management and customers

• Able to recruit, hire, train and supervise employees

• Able to motivate employees to achieve sales targets

• Able to work well under pressure and effectively deal with unexpected situations

• Good knowledge base of product you are selling

• Able to forecast future sales volumes based on past sales and seasonal trends



Current Job Opportunities

Our job board below has 'department manager' postings in your area, when available:




Working Environment Typical to This Profession

Hours: The working hours of department managers can vary, typically depending on the hours of operation of their store. Most department managers may work shifts that range from early mornings to late nights, and often include weekends and holidays. Some department managers however, work standard weekday working hours. Department managers may have to work overtime, such as when there are staffing shortages or special events or sales to prepare for.


Setting: Department managers often have an office base in their store, and typically split their time between their office and the sales floor. They may work in a variety of settings, ranging from climate controlled and comfortable indoor environments to outdoor environments.


Conditions: Department managers may spend much of their day on their feet, moving frequently within their department, and from their department to their office and to the stock room. They frequently have contact with the staff they supervise, the general manager of the store, and store customers. 



Similar Career Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to department manager, as they involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Human Resources Coordinator

Office Manager

Retail Manager

Small Business Owner

Visual Merchandiser



References for This Career Guide

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of this profession:


Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Retail Sales Supervisor.” (n.d.). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

Occupational Employment and Wages:First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers.” (March 29, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

Explore Careers:Retail Manager.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

Job Advice By Industry:Job Description: Department Manager.” (n.d.). Monster website. Retrieved November 10, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Department Manager

Scholarships listed for majors that are relevant for becoming a department manager can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting into this line of work. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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