The interview questions to expect for a retail apprenticeship or job
Quick links for this article
The questions you will be asked in a retail interview will vary between retailers; however, it is likely that you will be asked a combination of questions about your skills, experience and interest in the sector. ‘We not only assess the candidates’ suitability, but also their potential, motivation and if they can put the customer at the heart of all decisions,’ says David Yates, the early careers resource manager at Tesco.
Examples of questions you might be asked include:
‘Why do you want to work in retail?’
How to prepare for this question: Think about what appeals to you about the retail industry. It may be that you enjoy helping customers and working in a customer-facing role or that you have a real passion for sales. Perhaps there is an issue or challenge facing the retail industry that interests you – such as ethical fashion. Be able to talk confidently about two or three reasons, calling on your knowledge of the retail industry.
‘Why do you want to work for us?’
How to prepare for this question: This question is retailer-specific – your interviewers want to know exactly why you have chosen to apply to their organisation. A good answer to this question will show an in-depth knowledge of the retailer. It will also show how the apprenticeship matches with your career ambitions and interests and how the retailer’s values are like your own – use the retailer’s website to research these details. The John Lewis Partnership, for example, emphasises the fact that it is a partnership and promotes the idea of being part of a team. To show how you would fit into, and enjoy working in, this type of environment you might talk about your role in a group fundraising project or sports team.
‘Tell us about a time when you…’
How to prepare for these questions: These questions ask for examples of times when you used specific skills, such as teamwork, customer service, problem-solving or leadership – your job is to give your interviewer a good example of when you have shown them. Don’t worry if you don’t have a retail-specific example. If you were asked ‘tell me when you’ve led a team to achieve an objective’, you might talk about when you held a senior position in your school council, captained a sports team or taken charge during a difficult Duke of Edinburgh expedition – all of these are great examples of leadership. A good way to answer these questions is to use the STAR technique, which is explained in the tips section below.
‘What would you do if…?’
How to prepare for these questions: These scenario questions aim to see how you would handle everyday problem-solving tasks in a retail environment and to test your customer service judgement. The question ‘If a customer wanted the item on the mannequin but it was sold out, what would you do?’ was reportedly asked at a Primark interview. Retailers want to know that you can provide excellent customer service by following and politely explaining the company policy on the issue – for example, you may be able to find the item on the mannequin online and place an order for the customer.
‘What changes would you make to your local store?’
How to prepare for this question: ‘Questions that require candidates to think on their feet are very revealing,’ says David. ‘A question we like to ask includes “If you could change anything about your local Tesco store, what would it be and why?”’. Questions like this aim to assess your eye for the retail environment. Think about the retailer’s values and keep the customer in mind – what might the retailer change to increase customer satisfaction and sales?
‘How are we different from our competitors?’
How to prepare for this question: You might also be asked ‘Who are our competitors?’ and ‘What do we do better/worse than them?’. Be careful to talk about online retailers as well as high-street shops. To answer these types of questions, you need to have done some research into the retailer and some of its main competitors in advance, reading about them online and in the news and visiting their stores if you can.
‘Sell me this product.’
How to prepare for this question: Some candidates have reported having to persuade their interviewer to sign up for a loyalty card during a Matalan interview, while some John Lewis Partnership interviewees have been asked to sell a product from the store. These tasks assess a mixture of sales and customer service skills – ask questions to find out what the customer wants and explain how the product will meet their needs.
You might come across different types of interviews for a retail apprenticeship or entry-level job. These include:
- Telephone (or Skype) interviews – these are often used as a first interview.
- Video interviews – these may be as straightforward as a normal FaceTime or Skype conversation, but they may also involve you recording answers to questions that pop up on screen throughout.
- Face-to-face interviews – these are usually the final stage of the interview process and sometimes happen at an assessment centre.
- 'If you've got a telephone interview, make sure you're prepared,' says Faye Sawyer, talent acquisitions at McDonald's Restaurants. 'Dedicate the time needed for the call, find a quiet place and have your notes to hand. Treat it as you would a face-to-face interview because it's just as important.'
- A recruiter might call you up randomly but, if it's not a suitable time, be honest. 'If a recruiter calls and asks if it's convenient to talk, it's okay to ask to rearrange,' says Faye. 'It can be easy to feel like you should always say yes but you could end up doing yourself a disservice if you aren't in a quiet place or don't have your CV or notes in front of you.'
- Have some questions ready to ask your interviewer. 'Asking questions is a good thing as it shows that you're interested but make sure that your questions are relevant and you're not just asking them for the sake of it,' says Faye. 'You could ask about career progression or training rather than the holiday allowance or what free food you get.'
- Describing the Tesco interview structure, David says: ‘This will be a 30-minute, competency-based interview for which candidates can use the STAR technique.’ In a competency-based interview candidates need to give examples of times that they have displayed the skills or competencies required by the retail role. The STAR technique can help you structure your answers to these questions by breaking them down into: the situation in which you displayed the competency, the goal of the task, the action (or actions) that you took and the end result.
- Hannah Skinner, an early careers recruiter at Tesco, recommends staying calm if faced with a difficult question: ‘It’s OK if you can’t answer all of the questions. Keep calm, don’t panic, admit that you are struggling and we’ll revisit it later on,’ she says. Taking a sip of water or a deep breath will also help to give you some extra time to think.
- Dress smartly regardless of the type of interview – a scruffy outfit will look unprofessional and suggest that you haven’t made the effort. Even though the retailer can’t see you, some candidates find that dressing up for a telephone interview helps them feel more focused.
- Do some research beforehand. Faye says: 'It's always really impressive when candidates have done their research and know about the company but it's important to check that the information you've found is up to date and factually correct!'