5 questions retailers are asking in job interviews for seasonal hiring

...And how you should answer them.

5 questions retailers are asking in job interviews for seasonal hiring

As the holidays approach, retailers are gearing up for their busiest time by hiring seasonal staff. Many major retailers recently announced their seasonal hiring plans, which are now in full swing.

So if you’re in the market for a seasonal retail job, now is the time to start looking and preparing for job interviews.

Here are five questions you’re likely to be asked at a seasonal retail job interview.

How have you provided excellent customer service?

Any time of year, the No. 1 quality retailers want in cashiers and sales associates is great customer service skills. And these are even more important during the busy holiday shopping season. Consumers can often buy the same products elsewhere, so keeping them happy is essential to earning their business.

Another way a retail hiring manager might phrase this question is, “What was a difficult situation you had with a customer and how did you handle it?” says Andrea Butler, guest service manager at Nobbies, a Nebraska-based party goods store. Your answer should focus on how you turned a bad situation around and ended it on a positive note—even if your experience isn’t retail-specific.

Nobbies hires a lot of teenagers who may not have any work experience, Butler says. “In that case, you look for someone who can speak clearly, doesn’t hide their face when they talk and can hold a conversation.” If your customer service experience is limited, show the interviewer that you are friendly, outgoing and articulate.

You say: “As a cashier for Yummy Burgers, I once had a customer become irate because of the long wait for her order. I calmly explained that it took a bit longer because we were cooking her special order fresh. I apologized for the long wait and offered her a free dessert for her trouble. It calmed her down, and she returned to our restaurant.”  

How do you multitask?

“Tell me about how you handle trying to get multiple things done at once. How do you make sure it all gets done?” are typical interview questions, according to Bauman says can be a typical interview question. “I try to leave the question open-ended. I want to hear a story since it shows they’re actually paying attention.”

Retail stores are hectic around the holidays, and every employee will need to be able handle several tasks at once. Show with examples how you can perform well in this situation.

You say: “When I’m bombarded with homework, and I have tests to study for, and I want to make it to an event on the weekend, I write out all the things I need to accomplish, set a time to do each one, and check them off as I complete them so nothing gets forgotten.”

Do you have experience handling cash?

Anyone who’s stood in line at a busy retail store knows there can never be too many cashiers come holiday time.. Most seasonal employees are stationed on the sales floor, helping customers, Butler says, but cash-handling experience is a plus for retailers in need of cashiers. Any experience that proves you can handle basic math and be trusted with money is worth talking about in an interview.

“The ability to add in your head is a plus,” says Jason Bauman, a former Wal-Mart store manager, but when it comes down to it, don’t forget that cashiering is also about the ability to handle people and provide great customer service.  

You say: “I’ve never worked directly with money, but I handle my own finances, can solve problems quickly and can think on my toes without getting flustered.”

What’s your availability?

Your availability over the holidays has to match the employer’s needs, so the more flexible you are, the better. “Evenings and weekends are a must, don’t expect a seasonal 9-to-5 job,” Bauman says.

Store hours are longer and less consistent over the holidays—for example, on Black Friday many are now open 24 hours—so be prepared to work at odd times if that’s what they need.  

You say: “I work at my other job from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so I’m available Tuesday and Thursday afternoons as well as evenings and weekends.

What special skills do you have that can help our customers?

Some stores may be on the lookout for candidates with unique skills. For example, Nobbies’ main holiday business is selling Halloween costumes, so they’re always searching for employees with costume make-up application skills, Butler says. Good candidates for these jobs are high school and college drama students. Anyone with party planning experience is helpful, too, particularly through the graduation and wedding season in the spring.

Know your uniques skill set and seek out retailers that could use them. Then sell those skills in the interview.

You say: “My dad is a carpenter, and I grew up helping him build and learning about tools. I will be able to explain different tool brands and uses to customers here at Hardware World.”