How to Source and Interview Retail Sales Associates
By: Joanne Cleaver
Retail sales associates are face-to-face with customers, translating the retail brand’s marketing to a customer impression. A great sales associate makes customers feel welcome and glad they have come in to the store or called to place an order. It can be a demanding job, but good a retail sales associate is energized by helping customers achieve their own goals.
After all, a customer comes in looking for something. A good retail sales associate helps the customer find what she wants and hands her a bit of happiness with the merchandise. Thus retail sales associates must provide great customer service and demonstrate your company’s workplace ethics and mission with customers.
These tips on how to source and interview retail sales associates with the skills you need to help your retail business succeed.
Key Skills for Retail Sales Associates:
Retail sales associates positions have few prerequisites as many retail salesperson jobs are entry-level. Accomplished sales associates typically prove their prowess by their track records, not by accumulating certifications.
- Enthusiasm for the product and the company brand
- Ability to engage customers
- Awareness of their own motivators; what keeps them stoked?
- Willingness to be coached and to change
- Fluent English
- Fluency in Spanish or other languages commonly spoken in your market
- Clean, neat appearance and friendly manner
- Aptitude for keeping up with ever-changing point-of-sale technology
There’s a reason why stores post signs on their own doors that they are hiring: current customers who know and like the retailer—as well as its point of view and products—are prime candidates because they are already understand your company brand.
How to Source Retail Sales Associates:
- Undergrads who are majoring in retail
- Clubs and groups at local high schools and universities
- Networks for stage-of life candidates who want part-time work (retirees, parents of young children)
- Candidates willing to work particular shifts, such as weekends
To find the best, store managers invite all applicants to group interviews conducted as store tours. Staff observations and interactions determine who is invited back for structured one-on-one interviews. While the Container Store uses behavioral interview techniques, "we are very conversational, because that reflects the customer experience, which is unpredictable," says Knapp.
What to Cover in Retail Sales Associate Interviews:
- What attracts the candidate to the company brand
- Experiences—good and bad—that the candidate has had in the store and with the brand
- How the candidate handles conflict with co-workers
- How the candidate has handled disappointed customers
- How the candidate manages conflicting priorities, such as when the phone rings just as a customer approaches
Pick up clues as soon as the candidate walks in the door, says Deborah Fowler, director of the retail management program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
Retail has lots of downtime and involves a lot of housekeeping as well as routine customer interaction. Does this candidate intuitively hold the door open for a customer? Straighten something on a shelf? You are looking for someone who is attuned to such details.
Recruit to Retain your Retail Sales Associates:
Potential retail sales associate career advancement may include:
- Shift supervisor
- Retail store manager
- Category manager
- Sales coach or trainer
Related jobs include:
- Marketing assistant or coordinator
- Visual merchandiser
- Buyer or assistant buyer
Sometimes jaded Millennials can be a hard sell…for potential employers, says retail hiring consultant Bob Phibbs, whose company is The Retail Doctor. He recommends thinking of yourself as a casting director and telling the candidate, “We are looking for the best. We’ll invest in you, and you’ll work with people like you. How great is that?!”
How to Retain Retail Sales Associates:
- Commissions, bonuses and other performance incentives
- Specialty training and expertise
“Let them know that they’ll get new job skills, whether they are with you for three months or three years,” says Phibbs. "Make sure they know that they will be gaining skills that they will need to be successful in any job.”