Interview Q&A - Part 6: Retail Interview

This is the sixth in a series of articles in which I will provide questions that are typical of job interviews, along with answers of the kind that veterans should provide. Between each question and its answer, I will make a comment or two.

BACKGROUND

Helen, the veteran hiring specialist for a regional chain of sporting-goods stores, is interviewing Paul for the position of store manager. He is currently the manager of an ice cream shop. Helen has read Paul’s resume and understands that he has the necessary qualifications.

The interview began with basic questions like those in parts 1 and 2 of this series. Part 1 appeared in our March-April 2015 issue. Part 2 appeared in our May-June 2015 issue.

THE INTERVIEW

Helen: What do you think are the most important duties of a store manager?

Helen is interested in what Paul mentions first.

Paul: Basically, satisfy the customers and make a good profit. On the satisfaction side, keep the associates who interact with customers motivated. I would make sure that they engage with the customers in a helpful and cordial manner. And I would ask them to give me customer feedback on our product offerings and our prices. On the profit side, I would make sure the associates go beyond helping the customers and work to close sales – again, in a cordial way.

Helen: How do you lead people?

Helen is looking for a good blend of camaraderie and authority.

Paul: In civilian life, I always lead the same way I did in the Army – beside my people, yet above them. In this case, I would work alongside the sales associates for a significant amount of time every day. I would work with customers just as the associates do. I would correct problems immediately – but not openly unless absolutely necessary. In my current job, when there is a problem, I take the employee off the sales floor. We go to the back office and discuss the problem – so the other associates don’t know what’s going on.

Helen: How would you handle dissatisfied customers?

Helen wants to make sure that Paul would not be too conciliatory.

Paul: If a customer complains about defective product, I would ask to see the product. ln my experience – based on when I worked in the general merchandise store mentioned in my resume – most customers don’t lie about misusing a product. So, if the product has not obviously been abused, I would replace it. If I have some doubt, and the product is expensive, I might offer to sell the customer another copy of the product for what store paid for it.

If a customer complains about an employee, I get a full explanation from the customer. But I do not comment in any way that might imply that I agree with the customer. If there is anything I can do to make the situation good from a business perspective, I do it. An example of that would be to find a product the customer wants or explain how a product works.

Helen: How would you deal with an insubordinate employee?

The word around town is that this store has had insubordination problems with local athletes who have worked there.

Paul: In a military manner. Your store can’t put up with even a little insubordination. It can spread like wildfire among the associates. And, of course, some customers who overhear stuff might get the idea that anything goes, including petty theft. So, one warning – and a pretty stern one. As far as finding replacements is concerned, I would be on the lookout for signs of disrespect – toward me or others – during the hiring process.

Helen: How would you make sure that customers have a satisfactory experience in the store?

Helen wants Paul to tell her something beyond “by providing good service.”

Paul: I have long thought that, in retail, just as in the military, communication is everything. So I would always gather information from the customers and dispense information to them. I would also train the sales associates to do the same. One example would be to ask good customers specific questions about the store. When you are looking for a particular product, it is easy to find? Do we have enough product variety? Do our associates have good product knowledge? On the dispensing side, it might be something as simple as helping a customer pick out a baseball glove for a child. Taking into account the size of the hand, the age of the child, how much use the glove will get, and so on. I would also tell customers about seasonal shipments that will be coming in. All the new golf equipment, for instance.

Helen: How would you increase sales volume?

Helen wants to hear that Paul has thought a great deal about the job.

Paul: I think a store like this must live or die on product variety and product knowledge – and customer loyalty. I want it to become a rite of passage for parents to come in here to buy their kids’ first baseball glove or soccer ball or golf clubs. It’s no secret that you can buy a lot of the stuff that is sold here in a general merchandise store and online. And, yes, you can get it for a little less in some places. But are you buying the most suitable product? That is where our product knowledge would come in.

Helen: What would you do if three out of the six sales associates on a shift called off sick?

Helen is testing Paul’s resourcefulness.

Paul: I would always have a team of part-timers I could draw on. In the Army, I learned the value of always having somebody in the command chain who can step up in an emergency. When I hired a new person, either full-time or part-time, I would make it clear that I might have to ask that person to come in or work different hours or longer hours on very short notice.

I would also try to make an arrangement with the managers of the other stores closest to this one. We have an arrangement at the ice cream shop. There is a candy store in same next block and a bakery in the next block. We have used one another’s people in emergencies.

Helen: What if you had to be absent unexpectedly?

Paul needs to assure Helen that he would not leave the store in jeopardy.

Paul: Again, my Army experience comes into play. In the store, I would always have a person on my shift who was the equivalent of an executive officer. That person would not have the title of assistant manager, because she would not ordinarily run a shift. And when I was absent, she might not necessarily step in for me. For example, I might have the evening assistant manager take my place, and the other person take his place. And to make sure we had thorough coverage, I would always have three or four people on track to become assistants.

Helen: Suppose you were the interviewer. What would you look for in an applicant for sales associate?

Paul needs to remember the insubordination and volume questions.

Paul: I would go again to product knowledge. I think it would be a lot better for the store to hire people who know the products – or are very interested in learning, than to lean toward individuals with local or regional athletic reputations. I would say knowledgeable, eager, coachable people.

Helen: How did you handle a very tough problem as a manager?

Helen is interested creativity and persistence.

Paul: A couple years ago, someone drove a car through the big window in the front of the ice cream shop. We had to close the entire front of the store, but the back – where we make the ice cream – was perfectly OK. We still had power, so we could make product. In my Army days, I learned how to think under pressure. I knew in this case we would be okay, because we had our basic resources. I thought and thought, and finally came up with something.

The woman who ran the candy store let me set up a picnic table out in front. I put up a sign on the table, “Drive-Through Ice Cream Specials,” and we took some menus out there. A couple of us took the orders at the table, and then we texted them to the shop. The customers thought it was great, and they were very patient and understanding.

Helen: What would you do to motivate a new sales associate?

Helen is interested in how involved Paul would be.

Paul: Help the person get a bunch of sales right away. Assuming that the person had learned the basics of processing a sale and knew the layout of the store, I would have him or her wait on the first customer who came in the door. I would engage in the conversation only as much as necessary to keep the sale on track. After the sale was made, I would coach the associate.

I would keep doing this, giving the new associate one opportunity after another, for the first week. Then, I would continue the coaching, ask the associate how he or she is doing every day, and so on.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN.

For practice:

  1. Read the first question below and my comment.
  2. If you have a recording device, record an answer immediately – playing the role of Paul. Do not think long before answering, because you would not want to do that during an actual interview.
  3. Go through all of the questions in this manner.
  4. Listen to yourself.
  5. Type out an improved answer to each question. Take plenty of time with this step. Do some research on the Internet if necessary.
  6. Repeat Step 5 until you are satisfied with your answers.

If you do not have access to a recording device, type out your first answers as rapidly as you can, then go to Step 5.

Besides managing the store, how would you contribute to our corporation as a whole?

Helen wants to know that Paul would be the corporation’s “eyes and ears” in his area, keeping upper management informed of customer opinion, buying trends, etc.

We discussed a couple emergency situations. Would you be available 24-7-365?

The company wants a manager who would come through in emergencies – but who also values work-life balance.

How do you measure employee performance?

Helen is looking for some math – but not all math.

How did you handle your last termination of an employee?

Helen is checking to see whether Paul used generally accepted practices to ensure a fair and legal separation.

How do you think our stores can continue to compete effectively against mail-order houses and Internet businesses?

Helen is interested in whether Paul has much interest in business strategy. She is evaluating him as an eventual upper-management candidate.

By Mike Rollins on Tuesday January 12, 2016

This article appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of Search & Employ Magazine