Oh how I always wished there was the one magic question to ask in an interview that would give us the hidden insights we really need before hiring. Three days in with a new hire and we suddenly discover that they have to go in for surgery next month and are unable to work for 3 weeks (a fact they somehow failed to tell us) or they’ve suddenly decided that they’re going to take obo lessons on Thursdays and that’s the one day you needed their availability the most! Whether you’re hiring high school/college aged staff or looking for the more “mature” staff, the frustrations can often be the same.
Hiring can be one of the most challenging things we do in our stores. This is the person who’s going to be the face of your business to your customer. They have to be enthusiastic, able to speak well, think on their feet and love the merchandise as much as you do. A lot to ask. Yes, But when you find a great person, it can make your life so much easier, your business so much better and your customers so much happier. I know that every time there’s been an unpleasant surprise with a staff hire, it has sparked one more “got to ask” question on the next interview. If only we could look into their minds, their souls….and their closets.
So after hundreds and hundreds (and maybe thousands) of interviews over the years, I’ve discovered a few questions that really helped me with culling out those problems that like to pop up and I wanted to share them with you in hopes that you can dodge some of these same bullets.
The first thing I learned to do was make the job posting as explicit as possible. “If you’re enthusiastic and always smiling and love giving great customer service we’d love to talk to you about being part of our team. We’re looking for permanent full or part time (no seasonal applicants please) staff who are able to work a flexible schedule that must include weekends and sometimes holidays. Retail experience not necessary, however, your willingness to learn is. Email your resume and we’ll call for a phone interview” if they couldn’t follow those directions, that was a good sign that they might not be the person you want to hire.
I also learned that by asking for a resume first and having a phone interview before meeting in person was valuable and saved a lot of time. I came up with my list of non-negotiables (no matter how desperate I was for staff) for hiring that I knew I could trust. My big no-no’s were job hopping and bad grammar or spelling on their resume. Then when I did the phone interview, if they weren’t able to carry on a conversation that was a sign they wouldn’t be able to talk to my customers.
If they passed muster on my non-negotiables I invited them for an interview.
MY VERY FAVORITE QUESTION
My favorite question when they did come in for an interview is the one I ask at the very beginning of the interview. “So, tell me about yourself. What do you like to do in your spare time? What do you enjoy most?” (ok that’s 3 questions but I count it as one!). Then I stop talking, lean back in my chair and wait for their answer. And I don’t talk for at least a 1-2 minutes except if they need a little nudge.
This question gives you a wealth of information because most of the time they share the information that’s illegal for us to ask. “Well, I have three kids and in my spare time I take care of my elderly grandmother”. They’re obviously very dependable as a person but that might make their reliability as an employee an issue. Compassion for staff family matters is important but you are running a business.
It also gives you insight into how they will talk to your customers. Do they look you in the eye when they speak? Are they animated? Do they smile? Are their comments negative based or do they seem to have an upbeat personality. Do they have the confidence to speak well without the uh’s, and’s and oh’s that can punctuate a lot of conversations? Can they carry on a conversation? That’s so important in retail where you must be able to engage with the customer and make a connection.
ALWAYS TRUST YOUR GUT
The one lesson that I have learned throughout 23 years of hiring (and firing) is to trust my gut. I usually can tell in the first minute or so of an interview if this is someone I want to hire. Thankfully my gut has done me well over the years but of course, it isn’t 100% accurate. I do find when it’s not accurate tho, it’s because I was hiring out of desperation. You know that feeling right? It’s kind of like when we’re dating and you think you can change that one little irritating habit he has? I don’t know about you, but that’s never worked for me either! Desperation hiring is never the answer.
One thing that really worked well was to have a Trial Shift. I invited the applicant to come in for a 4 hour Trial Shift which would be paid, whether or not they were offered the job. This gives you–and them–an opportunity to see if they’re a good fit. Have someone, preferably you, assigned to be with them for the whole shift. Encourage them to talk with customers, give them specific tasks to do, and importantly—two things they can do if you get pulled away from them. This gives you a change to see how they are in action with other staff members, your customers and the tasks you give them.
At this point you can usually tell if this is someone you want to add to your staff. If it’s not, write them a check (for casual labor) and thank them for their time. This is an inexpensive price to pay to know now they’re not a great fit. Right?
Now on to the training!!