Tips for Hiring Top Retail Talent – Stage 2 –A Guide to Interviewing and Assessing Candidates

In the previous post we shared tips for Hiring Top Retail Talent – Stage 1 – Talent Recruitment.  But, we all know, that finding candidates isn’t enough, when then need to interview them and assess their fit with the role and our business.

So, when it comes to candidate assessment and interviewing, how can we give ourselves the best chance of identifying the best retail associates for us?

Here are a few considerations for you when interviewing. We suggest that you do four guiding principles that may or may not come naturally to you:

  1. Don’t trust your gut.
  2. Be creative with the process
  3. Involve others in the process
  4. Don’t rush it

Don’t Trust Your Gut

When it comes to interviewing and comparing candidates, your instinct isn’t necessarily your friend.  Often times our instinct leads us to those who we like most, those who are most like us, rather than those with the profile or skills that the role requires.

When interviewing, try and be as objective as possible. Decide on a standard process and use it for every candidate you interview so that you minimise the variation in your approach and the differences you observe are those in the candidates themselves.

A candidate is going to tell you everything you want to hear about their abilities, successes and how they’ll bring that with them to work with you. It’s your job to balance that our and find something not to like about them.  Relying solely on “gut feel” and instincts can lead you astray, so ask them a question that’s designed to add objectivity to their rosey responses.  “I’m sure you can agree no one is perfect. Can you describe a time when you didn’t provide great customer service and how you handled it?”

The great potential employees can pinpoint such a time and tell you what they’d have done differently or how it was resolved. The poor employees will just tell you it has never happened.

Be prepared. Write out a question list before hand. Go through their application or resume and highlight areas you’d like to learn more about. Write specific questions you have in the margins.

If you talk too much or lead the conversation, you won’t get the most and/or best from candidates so don’t forget to ask the question and then be quiet, giving them time to respond:

  1. Ask behavioural questions
    a. “Tell me about a time when you dealt with an angry customer.”
  2. Ask open-ended, past tense questions, not closed ended ones.
    a. NOT “How do you deal with needy customers?
    b. BUT: “Tell me about a time when you’ve dealt with a needy customer.
    c. NOT: “Would you say you’re comfortable with conflict?”
    d. BUT:  “How do you feel after experiencing conflict?”
  3. Don’t ask theoretical questions, speak in specifics instead
    a. NOT: “How do you typically handle demanding customers?”
    b. BUT: “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a rude or obnoxious customer.”
  4. Don’t ask leading questions or provide leading information
    a. NOT: “Did you do that because it was the most efficient thing?”
    b. BUT:  “Why did you do that?”

Be Creative With The Process

Have some fun with the process.

Don’t confine the interview to an office sitting on opposite sides of a desk.

Take the candidate on a tour of the store from the selling floor to the stockroom to the breakrooms.  Show them around the place while there are customers and staff interacting, so that they can get a real feel for what working there might be like.

You can tell a lot about a person as they walk around the store with you. How do they relate to customers and staff? Are they disinterested? Do they engage with people? Do they smile or look at their feet? Are they polite? Do they make interesting observations? Do they ask you questions?

One store, that’s renowned for its vibrant culture, invites the narrowed down group of applicants to a group interview that is conducted as a store tour.

Then, their own staff observes this group throughout the tour, watching their interactions. Then staff provide feedback and it’s this feedback that determines who is invited back for structured one-on-one interviews.

Involve Others

Invite other staff members to say hello and participate in the interview process.  You’ll want someone who works and plays well with others so see if there may be a fit.

You may even want some of your employees to join you to ask or answer some questions of the candidate.  Other staff might be the right people to demonstrate a certain process. The candidate’s immediate manager could also offer additional insight into the candidate and the question process and be a good person to compare notes with after the interview.

You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, it’s ultimately better if you don’t.

Don’t Rush It

The goal here is find an employee who will be with your for a long time, so don’t rush the process. Invest the time that’s required and it will most likely pay off in the long run.

Trust the process. Go through the steps we’ve outlined and you should find at least one or two viable candidates.

You may find someone with whom you just click. You like them and their attitude. They tick all the boxes and you just want to say, “The job’s yours” and be done with the process.

Do not hire them on the spot! Tell them you’ll be back in touch just as soon as you’ve made a decision. Then as hard as it is, say goodbye and let them leave. Check their references. If everything checks out, and you’ve met the other candidates, or at least most of them, and you still feel the same way after sleeping on it, then call them and offer them the job. This provides some reflection time for you both and you don’t come across as too eager. You maintain control and the candidate will respect the opportunity a bit more if it didn’t appear too easy for them to realise.

Hopefully, this gives you some food for thought for when you’re next faced with hiring new staff.  It’s an important part of your operations and a decision that can pay dividends for years to come.  Staff members are the first line of interaction in your stores and these interactions often are one of the only reflections of the brand that customers experience. Make it a good one by hiring smart and giving the recruitment, interviewing and assessment of new candidates the time, skill and energy it deserves.