With plenty of retail experience under my belt, I’ve endured my fair share of failed and successful interviews. During the failed interviews, I faced challenging questions which – quite frankly – I wasn’t prepared for.
So, to help you become fully equipped for your big day, and to avoid those awkward long silences while you conjure up some form of response, I’ll guide you through the top 10 unexpected questions that might come in an interview for a job in retail, along with suggestions on how to answer each one.
1. ‘Why do you want to work for our company?’
Besides being asked a handful of common interview questions, hiring managers want to understand why you’ve applied for a role at their organisation. Naturally, if you’re not passionate about the brand and just want a job to get by, this will show!
So, to successfully answer this question, explain how your goals relate to those of the company’s and show how much you admire the brand. For example, when I interviewed for one of my favourite high-street brands, I was extremely enthusiastic about the marketing, brand profile and current stock, which gave me a huge advantage above other candidates.
2. ‘Can you provide an example of when you went above and beyond for a customer?’
Although this question isn’t that uncommon, it’s one that many candidates fail to prepare for! Hiring managers pose this question to gauge your motivation and willingness to go the extra mile.
That said, if you’re someone who just shows up to clock in, this is when you’ll be caught out. By asking for an example, interviewers will identify whether you’re a top performer or not.
To pass your interview with flying colours, you’ll need to have a few scenarios prepared that display your willingness to go above and beyond for a customer. A great example that always stands out for me concerns a Zappos employee who sent one of their customers a pair of expedited shoes to their wedding (due to a miscommunication in delivery) and refunded the order for the inconvenience.
3. ‘If a customer is rude to you, what do you do?’
With many customers hiding behind keyboards these days, there’s been an increase of absurd and rude emails, and as a customer service advisor, you’re going to receive the brunt of it. So, to judge whether your blood boils or whether you can win the customer over, interviewers typically ask this question.
When answering, explain how you will always remain sympathetic to the customer and will not take it personally when abuse is being hurled your way. You can use an example of when a customer has shouted at you in the past and how you stayed calm, let them vent and then helped solve their complaint.
4. ‘How would you promote or sell a product?’
While great customer service is a vital skill to possess when interviewing for a retail role, you’ll also need to have some selling skills in the bag. To show just how good you are at selling a product, you’ll probably be put to the test. Some interviewers will ask you to ‘sell’ them a pen, but you’ll usually be expected to offer an explanation of your own.
To do so, you can use an example from previous work experience where you were assisting a customer to buy an item and then suggested an accompanying one that would go with it. For instance, when I was working the changing rooms, I would always recommend an accessory to go with a piece of clothing that the customer was trying on.
5. ‘The credit card machine is broken. How do you deal with it when you have a long queue of customers?’
When working in retail, technological issues are bound to happen. So, to get an insight into your problem-solving and communication skills, you’ll usually be asked this behavioural interview question.
When answering this question, explain the steps that you’d follow to solve the issue. For example, the first step would be to notify your manager and then to arrange for a sign to be displayed to show that the credit card machine is down. Once you’ve done that, you would then apologise to customers for any inconvenience caused.
6. ‘What do you hope to gain from this position?’
To avoid high staff turnover, interviewers want to know that you’re going to stick around for a while. So, to get an understanding of your career goals, hiring managers will typically ask you this question.
To show that you’re genuinely interested in the role, you can explain how you want to develop your collaboration skills and grow as a professional and potentially learn about leadership by advancing in the organisation.
7. ‘You’re locking the store and a customer wants to come in. What do you do?’
When answering this question, you’ll need to show your logic and ability to go the extra mile after a tough shift. When I was in a similar situation in the past, I had already cashed the till, meaning that the takings had already been submitted for the day and the register was closed. However, I allowed the client to browse and offered to save the items aside for them so they could come and purchase them the following day.
If you’ve been in a similar scenario, use this to show how you followed company rules but also stayed beyond your shift to accommodate the customer.
8. ‘It’s the end of your shift and your replacement doesn’t turn up to work. Do you leave?’
Like the above question, an employer wants to know whether you’re reliable or not. They also want to understand if you’d be willing to go out of your way to help the business when needed.
When answering this question, explain how you would remain in the workplace until your replacement turns up because it’s important to help your colleagues out. You could go into further detail on how you would want to place too much pressure on your coworker by leaving them on their own.
9. ‘A customer asks you a question and you don’t know the answer. How do you respond?’
If you’re working in a specialist store, the customer will expect you to know all the details on the products that you sell, and a lack of knowledge may even deter them from making a purchase. However, it’s important to be honest instead of playing the guessing game and potentially facing a complaint later down the line.
When providing your answer, explain how you would be honest with the customer and guide them to a colleague or manager who is more knowledgeable about the product specifications that they’re enquiring about.
10. ‘What do you enjoy most about working in retail?’
Working in retail can be challenging at times, but most people love it because they get to deal with products that they love and enjoy helping their customers. Giving an honest answer is key here! You could also choose a particular responsibility that you enjoy or a skill that you mastered – for example, if you work in fashion, you can explain how you like styling clients or offering tips and how you feel thrilled when a client returns for your advice and suggestions.
How you respond to interview questions is crucial for your success. The goal is to give an answer that leaves a great impression on hiring managers and that effectively secures your chance of bagging the job. And by following the tips listed above, you’ll be one step closer to working for your favourite retail store!
Have you experienced any tough interviews? If so, what questions did they ask you, and how did you answer them? Let us know in the comments section below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 11 October 2014.