Every employer, no matter what their industry or business model, wants to find the best possible employees. Retail employers are no different.
However, if you’re following generic advice that could have been addressed to a manager in any industry, you might be missing out on hiring people who’d really excel in retail sales positions.
Given the unfortunate tendency towards high turnover rates in retail, odds are that you’ll have to go looking for those ideal workers more often than your non-retail counterparts — unless you know what to look for right off the bat.
Retail Superstars: Who’s Likely to Shine at Sales?
The best retail employees tend to share a few common characteristics and traits. Understanding what those traits are is crucial to identifying the best candidates.
First and foremost, don’t focus on experience. Focus instead on the person’s abilities, personality, and aptitude for the job. You can always train the right candidates. After all, great retail employees are made, not born.
What are those abilities and personality traits? For starters, look for strong people skills. Candidates who are engaged with others, both professionally and personally, are great natural fits for retail work.
Additionally, look for a desire to learn and natural curiosity. Retail usually involves quite a bit of on-the-job learning. Stock rotates and changes, deals come and go frequently, and customers always have unique individual needs. You want employees who can grasp new things relatively quickly.
By the same token, your ideal candidates have a proven history of being able to commit to long-term projects. They’re self-motivated.
Other soft skills that would be a bonus include:
- A generally happy and pleasant, outgoing nature
- Presentable appearance
- Empathetic listening skills
Finally, think carefully about the specific physical requirements of the position. Will the successful candidates be required to lift boxes of a certain weight? Carry the boxes for a certain distance? Stay on their feet for a specific time frame? Be clear on the details before you head into an interview.
Where to Look
One woefully underutilized resource for finding great new workers? Your current employees. Ask your staff for thoughtful recommendations and referrals of friends and acquaintances who they think would be a good fit for your store culture.
As retail management expert Barry Maher explains: “As someone who’s consulted on hundreds of hires, my favorite tip for finding great employees is simply to motivate your current employees to do it for you. A bonus of some kind or a cash award for every prospect recommended who is then hired and lasts a significant amount of time, say a year or six months, often works great. Your current employees know what it takes to do the job. They have a vested interest in bringing in people who will make the workload lighter, not heavier.”
Know where your audience of prospective employees is likeliest to be found. One place to look is your nearest competitor. That may sound strange, but it’s actually a pretty smart strategy. If a specific worker there is doing a great job, there’s nothing that says you can’t approach them and see if you can entice them to work for you.
Finally, make sure your company has a strong social media presence and use a strategic approach to incorporate social media into your search strategy.
Identifying Your Best Candidates in the Interview
Now that you know where to look for ideal candidates, and what sorts of qualities make for the best retail workers, it’s time to consider the final stage in the selection and hiring process: the interview.
Retail interviews present a great opportunity to observe your candidates for yourself. Anyone can say they’re a people person, but if the candidate can’t actually carry on a conversation, or doesn’t listen well to the questions posed, that’s a much better indicator of future performance.
Instead of simply holing up in a cramped office, or escaping to the food court, try making at least part of your interview mobile. Take a walk with an applicant during the interview on the sales floor. Note how the candidate interacts with others, including both other workers and your customers.
Aim to have a conversation, not an “interview” with your prospects. Observe how they respond to you — whether they can carry on the conversation, give full responses, seem sincere and authentic, make eye contact, etc.
A good way to make this easier is to create an interview team. Simply add one or two workers to the team so that one of you can observe the candidate while the other interacts.
If you’re able to create an interview team, another great exercise is to try role-playing different scenarios with them. Have the other workers pose as customers with common questions or problems, and see how well the candidate performs.
If you try the role-playing exercise, don’t get too hung up on knowledge of product. That will come in time. Instead, evaluate the candidates on their communication skills and demeanor.
A Few Last Tips
- Never hire on the spot. Force yourself to wait at least 24 hours, so that you’ll have plenty of time to check references and make a thoughtful decision.
- Sell applicants on why your company is a great place to work. Give them a reason why they should want to work for you. A fun, productive work culture that respects all employees, pays competitive wages, allows for advancement and reward, and is pleasant and supportive will always be a coveted workplace.
- One last note: While it’s definitely a trend these days to hire more part-time employees as opposed to fewer full-time ones, this is short-sighted thinking. You might think you’re gaining flexibility, but you may be sacrificing loyalty and focus. Many part-timers will need to work more jobs just to make ends meet, which could undercut your perceived flexibility gains.