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5 of the toughest retail interview questions—and how to answer them

Be ready for curveballs when you’re interviewing for a retail position.

5 of the toughest retail interview questions—and how to answer them

Remember that time a customer tried to return an opened product worth hundreds of dollars without a receipt—even though the store’s policy against it was posted right at the counter—and wouldn’t accept no as an answer?

Total nightmare.

You’ll collect a lot of stories working retail, and they are the experiences you can draw on when faced with tough questions in your next retail job interview. Retail hirers want to see how you perform when you’re challenged, so be prepared for curveball questions.

These are a few common ones to expect, and the right answers to give in response. You can be sure to expect a few of these if you're interviewing for jobs at the top 100 retailers in America.

“What do you do if a sale falls through?”

Retail associates need to be able to bounce back if a sale doesn’t go how they expected, says Lisa Ritchie, vice president of human resources at Match Marketing Group in Mississauga, Ontario.

Ritchie recommends taking the STAR approach—answer with a Situation, the Task you needed to complete, the Action you took and the Result. It doesn’t matter if this hasn’t happened to you yet—you need to have an answer for when it does.

What you should say: “I was working with a customer who couldn’t decide which shirt she should get with a skirt she wanted to buy. She became overwhelmed with the choices and ultimately decided to put everything back, including the skirt. I noted that the shirt she was currently wearing actually matched with the skirt very well. She checked and agreed, and bought two.”

“How would you respond if you caught a co-worker stealing from the company?”

This seems pretty straightforward, says Kevin Kanta, senior account manager with McLean, Virginia-based Service Power. But it’s a trick question. Kanta says people tend to answer by going on and on about taking charge of the situation, from confronting the employee to calling the police.

But those aren’t the right answers.

The hiring manager wants to hear that you are going to bring it to your supervisor’s attention or call an HR hotline to report it, Kanta says. Companies want a situation like this one to go through the proper channels.

What you should say: “I would report it to my boss or to our store’s loss prevention manager.”

“Can you give an example of how you increased sales for your store?”

Depending on the position you’re applying for, this sales question may come in different forms, says Devin Pappas, who works as a store manager and visual merchandiser for Clearwater, Florida-based Patchington.

If you’re interviewing for a sales manager position, you may be asked about how your teams performed or about your motivation techniques. If it’s a customer-facing position, the interviewer will want to know how you approach sales. And chances are, they’ll want more than one example. No matter what form the question takes, your answer should include hard numbers.

What you should say: “I overhauled our window display schedule to update it weekly instead of twice a month, resulting in 15% more foot traffic and a corresponding 7% rise in sales over three months.”

“How would you pitch our store, and convince people to buy from us?”

This question, Pappas says, is a way for the interviewer to find out if you’ve done your homework. Stay away from generalities, such as, “Your brand is the best.” Use the knowledge you have about the company’s brand, target audience and recent performance to put together a pitch.

What you should say: “Brand X’s clothes provide the best combination of value and style for today’s up-and-coming career woman. No other brand offers such an affordable modern look.”

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Candidates can go on about their strengths, but when it comes to weaknesses, some think it’s best to say they don’t have any or can’t think of any, Kanta says. Don’t—that answer is a red flag.

The hiring manager wants to know you can accept feedback and develop your own skills. Give one or two strengths with examples to go with them. Then list one or two weaknesses, and describe how you’re working on them.

What you should say: “I’ve been told I speak too quickly when talking about products, so I’ve been practicing my sales pitch and recording it to hear how I sound. I’ve been focusing on slowing down when talking with customers as well.”

Check out all the retail jobs on Monster.

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