How To Interview And Discover Amazing Retail Employees [Hiring]

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I made a dessert for some friends the other night. When one of my guests took a bite, her face soured; she said it tasted bitter.

I took a scoop and realized there was a rotten spot on the orange I used that I hadn’t noticed; I had ruined her dessert.

Like most chefs and retailers, you want guests to view your offerings positively.

You spend much time and money getting them to the front door, but that’s where it all ends.

Once a customer steps into your store, your salespeople become the face of your business.

Whatever impression customers are left with after interacting with your salespeople is the only impression that matters.

And you never want that impression to be bitter...

If you aren’t picky about who you put on your sales floor, you can ruin the entire experience for your customers.

This is one of the many reasons why hiring the right salesperson is critical to your success.

The Right Fit

A lifetime of experience and a boatload of charisma doesn’t mean anything if your salespeople don’t fit your particular store culture. Every person is unique. Every store is unique. Finding the right person for the right store requires more than a resume. The interview process is your chance to learn about the potential employee as a person, not just an application.

A Wasted Opportunity

Too many employers perform interviews on an ad-hoc basis, making them up as they go along. This is your first, best chance to weed out problem hires before they begin. If you’re not using a standard interview process - and you should be - there’s a good chance you’re missing some important questions. Those questions make all the difference between hiring success and failure.

What You Have to Know

You can ask thousands of questions; some will give you valuable information. However, there are some questions that you must ask each applicant. These are the make-or-break questions that will let you decide if the applicant has the potential to be amazing and succeed in your store.

These five questions are crucial during an interview if you want amazing retail employees, not just warm bodies.

  1. Getting to Know You. The content of this question isn’t all that important but should be relevant to something you see on their clothing, smartphone, or car. It is the second part of the sale, something I call opening a Window of Contact. The point is to put the applicant at ease and start seeing how they interact with people. Interviews are stressful for everyone. Spend a few minutes discovering what you have in common, which lowers everyone’s stress level. If there's no back-and-forth interaction with you, there probably won't be any back-and-forth with customers.

  2. Describe your toughest successful sale. Adversity is a part of the sales business. Customers can be difficult at the best of times, and it’s up to your sales staff to persevere and make the sale. Hearing them describe how they’ve overcome a difficult situation will give you insight into their process and how they’ll likely interact with your customers. Remember, past behavior determines future success. If they can’t give you one, this applicant probably won't be able to sell your premium merchandise.

  3. Describe a sure sale that you lost and why you lost it. It happens to everyone in retail. You have a guaranteed sale standing in front of you when, suddenly, everything falls apart. You're looking for someone who knows how to close a sale. What you’re looking for is an awareness of mistakes the salesperson made and how they’ve learned from the experience. You don’t care they lost it - unless it was habitual - you want to understand their process. Again, we’ve all been there, so be willing to share your brief story after they give theirs.

  4. I’m buying X, now sell me Y. Ask them to pick an item in their previous store, and tell the applicant that you’ve decided to buy it. It can be anything - a purse, a jacket, a watch… anything you can think of from that store. Now, ask them to recommend and sell you a complementary item found in that store. Up-selling is the lifeblood of retail sales; find out now if they know how to do it.

  5. Give me five reasons I should hire you. Let’s be honest. They want the job to make money. That’s not the answer you want to hear. Instead, you want them to spend a few minutes trying to sell themselves. That’s when you’ll truly get to see their skills as a salesperson. If they can't sell you in five reasons on a person they should know a lot about, they sure can't sell an item they may not know much about that has a luxury price tag.

In Sum

Amazing employees are out there to help you grow your sales, but it takes going beyond the cliche, "Can you sell me this pen?" or What hours can you work?

Of course, this brief list doesn’t cover every question you should ask during an interview.

However, if you don’t get excellent answers to these five critical questions, you’re really taking a shot in the dark if you move forward and hire the applicant. And you never find amazing employees that way.

I've added a whole new course to my online retail sales training called Hiring Smarter - learn more about it. 

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