Hiring Retail Sales Associates and Managers? Here’s How to Get It Exactly Right

A while back, Jim Roddy, the Reseller and ISV Business Advisor at Vantiv, ran an expert webinar titled, Don’t Trust Your Gut: 9 Time–Tested Hiring Rules for Retailers. The event was a hit — Jim gave an inspiring and highly-actionable workshop to help retailers improve their hiring processes.

It was such a great webinar that we thought we’d create a post highlighting some of our favorite hiring insights, especially when it comes recruiting retail sales associates and managers. If you’re currently in the market for new employees, here are some pointers to help you attract and recruit the best candidates for the job.

Beef up your career website

“Make your website people-focused,” Jim said. “Your website has to serve customers, but it also needs to inform and entice prospective candidates.”

As an example, he showed Build-A-Bear’s career site and highlighted the elements that made it attractive to potential hires. These include:

Homepage loudly promotes the company’s achievements – Notice how Build-A-Bear prominently displays its workplace awards on its homepage. Having those accolades highly visible really gets people’s attention and entices them to apply.

Don’t make people jump through hoops – Jim’s second website tip? Make it easy for people to find open positions and get in touch with you. “There should be zero ambiguity about what positions are open and how candidates can communicate with you,” he said.

In Build-A-Bear’s case, career “op-bear-tunities” can be easily found on the sidebar. Users just need to select the role they’re interested in and specify their location, then the site will quickly display the open positions that meet that criteria.

Here’s another great example, this time from Vend. (Not to toot our own horns, but we love our careers page.) Vend’s careers page displays what positions we have open, and we organize those roles by office location to help potential applicants quickly find the positions they’re interested in.

And if someone has questions, they can start a live chat with “Pepper,” a chatbot that’s trained to answer the most common queries.

Feature photos of smiling employees – In the same way that a proud parent shows off pictures of their kids in their wallet (or these days, their phones), Jim said that retailers should also show off their employees.

“If you’re proud of your employees, you show them off,” he added. Jim also recommended that retailers hire a professional photographer to take photos of your staff. But at the same time, try to take some casual shots to showcase the day-to-day life at your company.

This not only makes it more enticing for potential candidates, says Jim, but it also makes your existing employees happy.

Check out the Build-A-Bear screenshot above and notice how the company showcases photos of its staff at work. See if you can do the same thing on your website

Get rid of jargons – “Be clear. Eliminate jargons and industry-specific acronyms the could confuse potential candidates,” continued Jim. To be sure, he said that you should ask friends to go through the content of your site and have them identify elements that are unclear.

Tell people why they should work for you – It doesn’t hurt to actually spell out all the reasons why people should work for you. Do you have a great company culture? Do you pay above industry average? Tell people about those things.

Going back to Build-A-Bear, Jim showed us a page where the company specifies all the reasons why people should join the team.

Keep your website up-to-date – This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of companies that have outdated information on their careers website (e.g. displaying positions that are no longer available).

To avoid this, Jim recommended assigning a “PDR” — a person directly responsible — for reviewing pages regularly to check their accuracy. “Don’t throw this task up like a jump ball,” Jim warned. “Make sure someone is responsible for this.”

Be very detailed with your job description and requirements

So you’ve created an excellent careers page that’s super enticing — great job. Now it’s time to make sure that you’re attracting the right people. According to Jim, to do this, you need to be very specific with your job descriptions.

He recommended that you meet the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) standards when it comes to job descriptions. For a retail sales clerk, for instance, the SHRM’s job listing has several sections, including:

  • Classification (i.e. exempt vs nonexempt)
  • Salary Grade/Level/Family/Rage
  • Reports to

The actual job description is even more detailed, and includes the following sections:

  • Summary/Objective
  • Essential Functions
  • Competencies
  • Supervisory Responsibility
  • Work Environment
  • Physical Demands
  • Position Type and Expected Hours of Work
  • Travel
  • Required and Preferred Education and Experience
  • Additional Eligibility Qualifications
  • Work Authorization/Security Clearance

Below is an excerpt from the SHRM’s job description for retail sales clerk. Also be sure to visit the sample listing more for info.

  • Stock shelves, counters or tables with merchandise.
  • Set up advertising displays or arrange merchandise on counters or tables to promote sales.
  • Stamp, mark or tag prices on merchandise.
  • Obtain merchandise requested by customer or receive merchandise selected by customer.
  • Answer customer questions concerning location, price and use of merchandise.
  • Total price and tax on merchandise purchased by customer to determine bill.
  • Accept payment and make change. Wrap or bag merchandise for customers.
  • Remove and record amount of cash in register at end of shift.
  • Calculate sales discount to determine price.
  • Keep record of sales, prepare inventory of stock and order merchandise.
  • Keep the showroom clean and orderly.

As you can see, the SHRM has some very specific information in its listing. Jim advised that retailers aim for that level of detail when crafting their job descriptions. Yes, it will take a while to finish it, but you’ll save a lot of time in the long run because you’ll end up attracting more of the right people.

Ask behavior-focused questions

If you take the steps above, you’ll be well on your way to attracting candidates who are a great fit for your company — at least on paper. Now let’s discuss some interview best practices to ensure that you’re able to drill down on each candidate’s behavior and determine if they truly are right for your business.

It all comes down to asking the right questions, said Jim. Avoid generic and weak questions like “What is your worst flaw?” and instead ask behavior-focused questions. According to him, behavior-focused questions are based on the belief that “past behavior is the best predictor of future conduct.”

“During your interviews, you have to try to uncover patterns of recurring behavior,” said Jim. Here’s how you can do it:

a. Ask open-ended, past tense questions.

DON’T SAY: “How do you deal with customers?”

DO SAY: “Give me an example of how you’ve dealt with a customer. What exactly did you say to that person?”

b. Don’t use theoretical questions

DON’T SAY: “How do you typically handle tough customers?”

DO SAY: “Give me an example of when you worked with a cranky customer who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

c. Don’t ask leading question (i.e., don’t fill in the information for them)

DON’T SAY: “Did you do that to make your co-workers happy?”

DO SAY:  “Why did you do that?” 

d. Don’t provide leading information

DON’T SAY: “We’re looking for someone who is hands-on and wants to roll up her sleeves when the truck needs to be unloaded.”

DO SAY:  “What tasks do you enjoy the most? What tasks do you enjoy the least?” 

e. Don’t ask closed-ended questions

DON’T SAY: “Would you say you’re comfortable having hard conversations with employees?”

DO SAY:  “How do you feel after having a hard conversation?”

Jim also provided a list of great questions you should consider asking. Check them out below:

  • What do you find most fulfilling in your current position? What do you find most frustrating?
  • What’s the most difficult thing about your current job and how do you handle it?
  • What were the work hours like at your most recent job? How did you like those hours?
  • How much overtime have you worked recently?
  • Give me an example of a valuable criticism you’ve received. How did you react to it?
  • Can you give me an example of you exceeding your supervisor’s expectations? Why did you do it?
  • Describe an unpleasant work situation and how you dealt with it.
  • Tell me about a time you dealt with an angry or frustrated customer. 

Challenge your candidates (kindly)

Jim warned against conducting interviews that are too friendly. “You need to occasionally challenge the candidate and see how they react to the pressure,” he said.

To do that, he said that interviewers can share criticisms that they’ve picked up throughout the hiring process (e.g. “Hey I don’t think you have enough experience” or “I noticed you don’t make good eye contact”). From there, you can observe how the candidate responds.

Of course, it’s important that you still be kind when challenging your candidates. “You don’t want to be accusatory or condescending, and you don’t want the conversation to be emotionally charged. This needs to be a conversation, not an interrogation.”

As an example, Jim said you could ask the candidate early in the interview about how they feel about criticism. Now, most people will say that they’re open to criticism, so later in the interview, you’ll want to challenge that by constructively criticizing the candidate and seeing how they take it.

Why do this? Well, challenges come with the territory of any job, so you want to gain an insight into how the candidate will respond.

As Jim put it, “at some point, a customer will challenge them, a co-worker will challenge them, or just life, in general, will challenge them. You want to test in the interview process how they will respond to that. Do they lash out? Or do they react constructively?”

Further reading

Hopefully, this post empowers you to improve your hiring process so you can find the best sales associate (or manager, or supervisor, or any other role you need to fill). And if you’re looking for ways to engage and motivate your staff, you may want to check out Vend’s Staffing Guide.

This free resource is chock-full of advice and insights that can help you empower your staff and increase your store’s productivity. Specifically, you’ll learn about:

  • Hiring and training retail employees
  • Using a mix of learning tools to improve staff knowledge
  • Inspiring team members to be top performers

Get it free here

Your turn

Do you have any hiring tips or best practices for retailers? Share them in the comments


About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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