A few weeks ago, I was asked to provide some insights about interview questions that may be overlooked during a typical retail manager’s quest to hire a “good” associate. We all know the processes of recruiting, hiring, onboarding and – then keeping – good retail associates (meaning: she or he will consistently show up for work, effectively perform their tasks, and support the brand’s value proposition and customer service standards) is desperately frustrating and challenging, yet absolutely crucial to every brick-and-mortar retailer’s success.

Along with perusing a candidate’s application, and perhaps their resume, there is often an interview guide employed with standard questions intended to vet the person’s qualifications and experience. Yet often these scripted questions do not delve deep enough to gain a solid perspective of how the candidate really perceives a role in the retail industry or working for your company – much less how they will handle the highly critical components of customer service.

A recent Parker Avery blog post discussed “The Softer Side of…Employees” – essentially traits like Sense-Making (i.e., the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed) and Novel & Adaptive Thinking (i.e., proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond those that are rote or rule-based). During the typically hurried retail interview, these softer skills are very difficult to identify, and may only materialize when the associate is tested in a live customer situation – if they even exist in a candidate. Moreover, they are virtually impossible to glean from a resume or application. Granted, while a solid training program can help provide a foundation to develop some of these skills, it is much more effective to try to hire associates who innately possess them.

To help identify these abilities, we suggest adding questions similar to the following when interviewing a candidate for a position in a retail environment:

Question #1: Why are you interested in working here and what experiences best qualify you for this job?

Rationale: This helps define the person’s interest level in retail and also gives an understanding of whether they’re really interested in being a vested, long-term part of the company or if they view the job as just a means to a paycheck. It also helps them to show off their experience and gives the interviewer a feel of how enthusiastic the candidate is to be a part of the industry and the company, as well as whether or not they possess a solid understanding – and passion for – the retail industry.


Question #2: In a typical retail environment – especially in some circumstances where very personalized experiences are key – there are many competing demands. Tell me how you would prioritize and handle a face-to–face customer, a customer calling on the phone, and a fast approaching project deadline.

Rationale: This question directly addresses the soft skill of Novel & Adaptive Thinking. The answer should provide an in-depth understanding of the candidates’ ability to prioritize and focus under stress, as well as how they perceive the value of in-person experiences vs. phone interactions (which are very different, but both are important). A solid candidate will be able to smoothly transition the in-store customer to a decision point or product display, where they may need some time just to think through their options and needs, as well as effectively handle the phone customer to improve chances of conversion (I.e., effectively and quickly generate enough interest on the phone for that customer to come into the store to discuss options, services, complementary, pricing, etc.).

Question #3: Tell me about a personal experience where you received excellent customer service, what elements stood out for you, and how you would apply that experience in your role at this company?

Rationale: This lets the interviewer see if the candidate pays attention to best practices “off the clock” and is able to leverage them in their own work. It provides an indication of whether or not the candidate has both of the softer traits by effectively leveraging elements of alternative situations into the retail environment and their contribution therein. It also shows a vested interest in their role as a retail associate and the ability and willingness to learn from others and / or extrapolate ideas from other situations – especially if the answer is an experience from a different industry (e.g., restaurant, hotel, doctor’s office).

While the above questions were expressed more for a retail store environment, the overall themes are actually applicable in other functions as well. We hope these help a bit in solving the ongoing dilemma of finding and nurturing exceptional retail candidates. As always, if you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic or any other retail challenges, please don’t hesitate to contact Parker Avery.

Shop on.

Published On: March 2, 2017Categories: Efficiency, Labor Management, Retail Strategy, Tricia Chismer Gustin