Feb. 10, 2020
If you're looking for opportunities to earn extra money and build up a skillset, a job in retail may be on your radar screen. Whether you know exactly what career direction to go into or you have no idea, a retail job helps you gain transferable skills you can apply to future professional endeavors. And despite what you may have heard, the National Retail Federation wants you to know that opportunities are expected to grow, and most sales still happen in stores, not online. To make your retail job search intentional and strategic, consider these common questions you may encounter during interviews.
Retail jobs aren't easy, and employers face multiple challenges including high turnover and a lack of qualified candidates. It's no surprise, then, that they care about your motivation to work for them. "When I interviewed to work for Anthropologie, I was asked about my interest in fashion as well as my personal style to show my motivation to work at that specific clothing retailer," says Michelle Jones, senior associate director of career education and life design at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Consider your reasons and prepare a genuine response. Even if you have no aspirations of staying in retail long term, you probably won't enjoy working just anywhere in the meantime.
Though there's a sharp increase in hiring for retail jobs during holidays, most retailers hire throughout the year. What retailers do you have access to? Which ones appeal to you and why? Start with the ones you already frequent as a customer, which could bolster your motivation story. If you are still in high school, consider working seasonally at the same retailer as that could show consistency, dependency, trustworthiness, and high performance to future employers.
With questions like this one, employers seek to uncover your understanding of retail in general and their context specifically. Before going after jobs, talk to sales associates, research the reality of working in the retail world and get a clear idea of what makes one successful. Be honest: if you think you're that person, jot down your biggest selling points. Focus on two or three points to highlight how you are a match for the industry and retailer. One way to do that is to show off your knowledge of the employer, the products and promotions, and their mission and values.
Good customer service is critical in the world of retail, and a question about your approach to it is inevitable. An ideal response would include examples from previous experiences that show -- don't just tell -- interviewers what you mean by good customer service. If you don't yet have related experience, you could share examples of when you received good customer service, how it made you feel, and how you've learned to use the same approach.
A more specific question regarding your customer service skills is the one gauging your ability to address upset customers. Though what makes them upset varies across situations, when you encounter them, what's your approach? Think about a time when you had to work with a difficult person (in retail or in another context). What happened? How did you respond? What was the resolution? Focus on sharing specific details about the steps you took to de-escalate the situation and address the issue.
In some interviews, you may be given a scenario, often something that has happened in the store, and asked to share how you would have handled it. Think of common issues that retail employees encounter (returns, items out of stock, shoplifting, rude customers, long lines for the fitting rooms, etc.) and draft a response. As with any behavioral and situational questions, enhance your response with a real-life example from your past experience, if possible.
The retail industry relies on sales, and you can expect questions that ask you to share your experience with reaching sales targets or your strategies for increasing sales. These could focus on your ability to persuade customers, in person and via social media, and on your ability to arrange displays that would attract more customers. You may need to share ideas and recommendations to show understanding of products, accessories and style. "In one of my interviews, I had five to 10 minutes to go around the store and pick out an outfit to style a customer for a Saturday and then explain my choice to the group," shares Jones. "I opted for a transition from day to night look with jackets and accessories, which impressed the interviewers as a fairly unique approach."
Whether you are applying to work during busy shopping times or not, you'll be asked about your ability to work independently under pressure. You may need to share how you've handled multiple priorities in the past and what your attitude is when working in a fast-paced environment. Your response can focus on two things: how you handle stress in the moment, while at work, and what you do outside of work that keeps you grounded and helps you relax.
What do you do when there's a downtime?
Although retailers would love it if their stores welcomed a constant flow of customers purchasing multiple items, depending on the time of day or year, you may find yourself with an empty store floor. What would you do when that happens? This is your chance to show yourself as someone who takes initiative and knows how to stay busy. Bring understanding of what else is involved in retail jobs (aside from engaging with in-store customers) to shine as a candidate.
Questions about time management, scheduling and flexibility are unavoidable when interviewing for retail jobs. Retailers look for a reliable, flexible and trustworthy workforce, so be prepared to speak about your other commitments and your ability to take on extra shifts if necessary. For example, what would you do if your replacement doesn't show but you are scheduled to leave? The interviewer wants to know how flexible your schedule is for a role with nontraditional hours and whether you're quick on your feet and able to adapt when things don't go as planned.
Lastly, remember to prepare your own questions! By virtue of its context, retail is one workplace you can freely check out prior to applying and interviewing. Become a customer ahead of time, visit the store and observe -- the environment as well as the sales associates -- and follow the brand online (visit their website and re-share content). Doing that will help you determine if this is the place for you and will give you insights on what to ask. Don't forget to use websites like Glassdoor to learn more about interview questions asked for specific roles, at specific retailers.
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