Man on couch speaking with a woman in office
Graphic that shows three different types of interview questions you should be asking.

Use these questions to identify a candidate’s technical knowledge and abilities

Use these questions to determine how a candidate handled situations in the past

Use these questions to assess a candidate’s personal traits and cognitive skills

Why this matters

Store associates help shape the customer experience, which often starts from the moment a customer enters the store. A good greeting can make the customer feel valued, alert them to any promotions they might be interested in, and ensure they feel comfortable asking for assistance if they need it—increasing the likelihood of a sale.

What to listen for

  • A strong answer will mention providing a warm welcome and encouraging the customer to let the associate know if they need assistance
  • References to current sales and promotions
  • Signs that the candidate knows how to provide information in a clear, concise manner

Why this matters

This question allows you to see candidates’ sales skills in action, while also giving you a sense of how well they know your products and brand. Even if they’re not a customer themselves, they will ideally have taken the time to research your store before the interview, allowing them to make a compelling case for one of your products.

What to listen for

  • Specific details about one product you sell
  • A confident and engaging description of the product and its benefits
  • Evidence that the candidate understands key attributes of your brand

Why this matters

In any retail environment, theft is a possibility that store associates have to be ready for. The best store associates play an active role in preventing and reporting theft, but they also need to exercise good judgment when they suspect it. While no company wants to lose stock, you also don’t want your employees to put themselves or other people in the store in harm’s way.

What to listen for

  • References to strategies like quietly alerting the manager or the store’s security guards
  • An awareness that approaching the suspected shoplifter directly could be dangerous
  • A thoughtful answer may also highlight the fact that misunderstandings are possible

Why this matters

The occasional dissatisfied or demanding customer is par for the course in any retail environment. To preserve your brand’s reputation, your next store associate must be equipped to handle these customers with delicacy and professionalism. If they’ve proven themselves adept at handling conflict in the past, they may find it easier to navigate these situations on the job.

What to listen for

  • Signs that the candidate knows how to deescalate a heated situation, e.g. by speaking in a calming, empathetic tone of voice
  • Evidence of problem-solving skills
  • Ideally, the candidate’s answer will show that they managed to win the person over

Why this matters

While store associates don’t exclusively work behind the cash register, they will sometimes be required to ring up customers’ purchases, which may require them to give change. Giving a customer the wrong change could leave them upset or angry, so you need to know that your new store associate will seek to minimize mistakes and act courteously if they happen.

What to listen for

  • Signs that the candidate is comfortable handling money and giving change
  • Mentions of apologizing to the person involved and quickly rectifying the mistake
  • Ideally, the candidate will have caught the mistake themself before the other person left the vicinity

Why this matters

Working in any retail environment means working as part of a team. If the store gets busy or a coworker needs a little extra help, a great store associate will go the extra mile to support their team without needing to be asked. This may include training a new coworker, helping to unload an unexpected delivery, or taking over the register to allow a sick coworker to go home early.

What to listen for

  • A strong commitment to teamwork
  • Evidence that the candidate often steps up to help others without being asked
  •  A willingness to complete tasks beyond their typical job requirements

Why this matters

This question can give you a sense of a candidate’s passion, as well as their understanding of the fundamental soft skills needed to provide great customer service, like keen listening skills. If they seem genuinely invested in creating an exceptional experience for all customers and know what’s required to deliver good service, they’ll likely thrive in the role.

What to listen for

  • A passion for customer service or interacting with the public
  • Examples of what great customer service looks like and why it’s important to the business
  • Top answers may draw on the candidate’s own experiences receiving or delivering excellent customer service

Why this matters

Store associates play a key role in helping customers find what they need, whether that means pointing them to the right aisle, answering their questions, or making appropriate recommendations. This requires good verbal communication skills, backed by a willingness to listen to the customer and understand their unique needs.

What to listen for

  • Signs that the candidate knows when to offer assistance and when to allow customers space to browse
  • An emphasis on listening attentively to the customer’s needs
  • Evidence of strong communication skills and a friendly, approachable demeanor

Why this matters

Over time, your next store associate will gain a nuanced understanding of the products you sell. But they can’t know everything, so they may encounter the occasional customer query that they don’t know how to answer. In these situations, quick problem-solving skills and a willingness to go above and beyond will allow them to provide excellent customer service that builds brand loyalty.

What to listen for

  • Signs that the candidate is invested in supporting customers
  • Mentions of tactics like consulting with another team member or checking on the computer in the back office
  • A great answer will emphasize being honest with the customer and thanking them for their patience

Read our additional hiring guides.