How to Answer Questions in a Retail/Customer Service Job Interview

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You’re a college grad and you couldn’t find work in your field. But you need a job. So you’ve decided to accept a sales job at a retail establishment. Maybe you can move up from sales clerk to assistant manager  and ultimately manager, which would look good on your resume.

The good news is, you’re qualified to do the job; the bad news, the competition will be fierce—with even some MBAs applying. You’ll need an edge to get the job. One way to do that is to be totally prepared for the interview.  And that means knowing what to say when you’re asked the following:

Why are you attracted to this store? 

Before answering this question, you should have looked them up online, pored over their catalog and be intimately familiar with the company, its products and corporate selling philosophy. Then you can answer with the following: “I know this store and I’m very familiar with the company, the brands you carry and the types of shoppers you serve.”  It doesn’t hurt to be wearing something that they sell during the interview.

Share your most recent success story at work.

Here you can go into things you did that helped boost sales. Like setting up a new inventory system; creating new displays and signage that resulted in increased sales; or how you sold an expensive item to a doubting customer. 


Who was your best boss and why? 

This can be a tricky one, so tread carefully. Don’t provide answers like: “He let me take time off for my big ski trip; or she gave me this huge raise.” Keep it focused on the company’s agenda with these suggested answers: “He set a very positive example for every employee; or she brought out the strengths in everyone who worked for her.” You can also cite some very specific thing you learned about handling customers, setting up displays, or doing inventory.


How would you define good customer service? 

Many who answer this question have a tendency to ramble or segue into other topics. Stay focused with these answers: “Knowing a store’s inventory and directing customers to exactly what they’re looking for; maintaining a helpful, positive and friendly attitude even if the customer is irritable or negative. ”


Your shift replacement is late or fails to show. What would you do?

This happens often, especially in entry-level retail jobs. The goal here is to convince your interviewer that you would, under no circumstances, leave the sales floor uncovered.  Good answers here would be: “I would try to find someone to relieve me and notify my manager about the “fill-in.” If a replacement was not available, I would take the extra shift.” (Hey, it’s retail, you’ll have to suck it up.)

How long will you stay with us if we hire you?

Another tricky question. Avoid answers like: “Until I find a better job or one that pays more; or I need this to pay for school; or it’s just for the summer.”  If you’re still in college or you recently graduated, you can certainly let them know that. Try to imply that you’ll stay for some time. They don’t want to spend time and money training you only to see you leave in three months. 

How would you handle a customer if a credit card machine or scanner won’t work?

Store policies vary on this. Acceptable answers would be: “I’d hold the purchase for 1 to 2 days and tell the customer I'll call when the problem is solved; offer to hold the purchase and help the customer with any additional shopping; or suggest they pay by cash or check. ”


Is fast, friendly service more important than a good product?

Another trick question. The correct answer: “Both are equally important. Both will keep the customer coming back.” 


It’s a tough job market, even for sales and clerical positions. Answering interview questions the right way can give you a leg up—over other college grads who now have the same idea—getting a job, any job. 



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