The range of jobs available in retail is broad, running from store positions serving customers on a daily basis, to management roles, and a whole range of office and field based positions, specialising in HR, buying, logistics and supply chain. Although the types of question asked at interview will vary according to the level and specific type of position you apply for, there are certain themes that will permeate the interview process for any role - specifically questions relating to customer service, team work and leadership, and the sort of continuous improvement that is crucial to the success of any retailer.
Some of the top questions you may be asked, along with ideas on how to answer them, follow here - so if you’re just preparing for a position, whether that is a seasonal role in a supermarket, a graduate role in buying, or a management level job, there’s food for thought here.
Question Number One: "How would you describe great customer service?"
In any role in retail, whether that is a front line position serving customers day in day out, or even a role which is office based and quite separated from the "sharp end", you will be asked about your understanding of customer service, and what great service might look like in your role and others. Consider how service impacts your position - whether that is serving internal customers or in a more traditional role such as a shop floor based manager. Have examples to hand of places and times that you have seen exemplary service, and demonstrate that you not only understand it, but can replicate this in your own position.
Question Number Two: "Please tell me about how you might handle a customer complaint?"
All roles come with their "difficult situations", and in retail these are likely to be involving customer complaints. The key to answering this question well is in balancing the principle "customer is king", with the often razor fine margins of retail. A great answer shows that you are able to walk this tightrope - leaving a genuine customer happy, and going above and beyond their expectations, but not allowing yourself to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals. Your ability to stand your ground and manage and diffuse conflict is especially important in shop floor management roles, where you will have the final say on disputes.
Question Number Three: "What interests you in this business in particular?"
Each retail business will be interested in your thoughts about them in particular - what do you feel are their strengths, their key market areas, the best and worst products, and areas which could be improved. Have a thorough knowledge of the business formed through visiting outlets, reviewing information on the internet which is from both ’official’ sources such as investor relations sites, and unofficial sources, such as industry insiders, bloggers and magazines.
Question Number Four: "What are your long term ambitions?"
Many people go into retail as a stop gap role, and this is one of the questions your interviewers will likely ask to assess your view of the role as a job or a longer term career. Whatever you answer, make sure it is authentic - stores have heavy seasonal changes in demand for staff and might well be happy to employ you even if you are only willing to commit for a shorter period; but if you are intrigued by the wealth of opportunity that lies within retail, then this is the time to talk through your ideas and wow the interviewer.
Question Number Five: "What would you do if you spotted a customer looking for help just as you were leaving for the day?"
One of the biggest bug-bears for customers - and therefore for managers - is shop floor staff who are unable to think of the customer first. Have a simple answer to questions such as this - whether it is to stop and help despite your shift being technically over, or simply to help the customer find a colleague who is able to give them a hand. Just demonstrate one way or another that you understand that the needs of the customer come before your tea break.
Question Number Six: "If a dress is marked up on the shelf at £20, with 20% off, what should the customer be paying?"
Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to demonstrate your basic numeracy in a retail interview if you’re going to be working with cash. This might be a screening test which is taken online as part of the application, or some interview questions which could pair your ability to problem solve with your skills in mental maths. If you’re wondering on the answer to this question - it is £16.
Question Number Seven: "How would you react if you saw a colleague doing something that didn’t seem right to you?"
Integrity is key in all retail roles, as you will be dealing with cash, with a wide range of temptation on offer for anyone inclined to line their own pockets with money or products. Although many processes are in place to limit the ability of individual staff members getting away with anything, questions such as this might be used to see your reaction and understand if you would be able to do the right thing if you see a colleague with their hand in the till.
Question Number Eight: "Tell me about a time you spotted an opportunity to improve a process - what happened and how did you influence others to your view?"
Continuous improvement is key to all retail roles, and you may be asked to show a time when you have taken the initiative to improve something in a previous role. This could be very simple, such as setting up a better filing system, implementing staff training, or writing a standard operating procedure for your colleagues to follow to get better consistency in delivering their roles. You should aim to show that you identified a problem, suggested a solution, and influenced others to the same thought process.
Question Number Nine: "What do our competitors do already that we should be doing also?"
Don’t be thrown by questions asking you to think about other retailers in the sector. All retailers have key competitors who are used for benchmarking and looked to for ideas. Have an opinion on other similar retailers, and ensure you have visited them with a critical eye just as you would your own prospective employer.
Question Number Ten: "What can I answer for you?"
The last question you are likely to be asked is whether or not you have any questions of your own. You might consider questions such as "What is the company’s management style?", "What is great about working here?", "What sorts of career paths might be open to me if I’m successful?"; all of which show your enthusiasm for the role and might get you some additional and useful information about the business at the same time.
Have you been interviewed for a retail role? What questions where you asked? Comment below!