The retail apprenticeship interview process: store visits and on-job evaluations

The retail apprenticeship interview process: store visits and on-job evaluations
A store visit or on-job evaluation lets retail recruiters see how well suited you are to their working environments and gives you a chance to experience the role you have applied for.

Many retailers invite you to take part in a store visit or on-job evaluation (OJE) as a formal part of the interview and assessment process. These are often held after you've submitted your initial application or after a first interview.

What happens during a store visit or OJE?

Store visits and OJEs both take place in a working store or branch, aiming to assess how you would perform as an employee and work alongside other members of the team. But they're also a chance for you to see if the job would suit you.

'We want to give our candidates the chance to experience what the job is like; it's hands-on and you won't be sitting in the office all day,' says Faye Sawyer, talent acquistions at McDonald's Restaurants. 'But we also want to see how you work in a team and how you might get on in a busy, sometimes high-pressure environment. Customer experience is really important to us so we'll be looking at how you interact with our customers; we want people who aren't afraid to talk to others.'

Store visit days may involve participating in shop floor tasks such as shelf stacking or serving on tills, and taking a tour of the store or branch.

  • Former applicants report that the “Aldi experience” day involves a range of tasks including tidying shelves, listening to health and safety briefings, and answering maths questions.
  • McDonald’s Restaurants' on-job evaluations include tasks in a restaurant – would-be trainee managers supervise a kitchen shift, for example.
  • Candidates applying for roles at Next have reported tasks such as assisting customers on the shop floor and working on tills during its store visit day.

How to prepare for your store visit

Before your store visit or OJE you can start preparing by visiting your local branch of the retailer to observe how it is run – this will place you in a good position when you attend your store visit or OJE.

'Absolutely go into a local restaurant and ask questions or simply sit and observe what people are doing. The more you can do to prepare, the better,' says Faye.

Here are some things to have in mind when visiting a local branch:

  • Think about what makes the retailer distinctive, such as brand design, store layout and any catchphrases that customers remember them by. Be aware of things such as pricing and offers, and consider whether this is more of a budget or luxury retailer.
  • Take note of anything that you think the retailer is doing particularly well – such as the layout of the branch, customer service, offers, prices or the way in which staff members deal with difficult customers.
  • Similarly, take note of anything that could be improved. This will show the retailer that you have a genuine interest in the business and an eye for the retail environment, as well as that you have taken the time to do your research.
  • Observe the customers and products in store to get a feel of who the target customer is.

Also visit some of the retailer’s market rivals in the weeks before your store visit or OJE to make a comparison. Knowing the competition will show recruiters that you are commercially-savvy enough to help make their business the best.

How to impress during store visits and OJEs

Retailers know that this might be your first time doing these tasks so don’t worry about getting things wrong. Instead, impress by being enthusiastic and trying your best at each task, as this will show your willingness to participate in all areas of the retail environment.

Whatever task you are given, remain polite, friendly and helpful – these attitudes are the key to good customer service and will reassure the retailer that you can be trusted on the shop floor or tills, for example.

Show a genuine interest in the retailer by preparing relevant questions to ask your assessors. You could ask about on-the-job training opportunities or post-apprenticeship career options. This will show the employer that you are keen to learn and develop your skills.

And don’t forget to get the basics right: read any preparatory material in advance and plan what you're wearing. Dress smartly (don’t be tempted to wear jeans).

'On the day, don't give yourself any unnecessary stress,' advises Faye. 'Make sure you know where you're going, aim to get there a little bit early and know who you need to ask for when you arrive.'

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