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View Full Version : My first retail job interview - help! (long, I'm a babbler)


AntaresJB
03-13-2003, 03:38 PM
Okay, here's the back story. -- kinda long, so you can skip to the In a nutshell at the end if you don't care.

This summer I'm moving to Rochester, NY. My best friend from college lives there, and I'm moving in with her and paying rent to her mother. I need a job, obviously. So over the first half of spring break, I went up to Rochester with my friend to do a little job hunting at the mall near her house. I knew exactly where I really wanted to work, but figured I'd apply at several stores for safety's sake. Most of the various places that I was getting applications from for back up were either downright rude or just very unhelpful, but, at the place that I really wanted to work -- Hot Topic (http://hottopic.com/), the manager I spoke with was extremely helpful, friendly, and seemingly very enthusiastic about me applying.

I explained my situation: I live in Pennsylvania, I'm moving to Rochester for the summer, I'll be available from early/mid-May until late August, but I'm strongly considering moving up there on a more permanent basis after I graduate next spring, so there's a possibility I could come back and continue working at that time. She said that although seasonal summer help usually starts in June, they were actually looking for some people to start in May, so that would be great, and the August ending date would also be really convenient. She gave me the application, told me to fill it out and if I brought it back tomorrow after 2, she'd be there and we could talk about interviews and such. I did so, and after that evening I took an automated phone interview, basically ascertaining my attitudes about the work and the atmosphere and the policies, and then called and talked to the manager again. She said that since I was going back home the next day, I should call her a few days ahead of time the next time I would be in town to set up a regular interview. She was so incredibly nice and enthusiastic about it and I felt really good about it.

I'm going to Rochester next weekend, the 21st-23rd, and I just called to set up my interview. Now, I'm 19 years old and have held two jobs in my life, one at home, and one at school. At home I've worked at a restaurant near my house basically every summer and on breaks since I graduated from high school. The interview process there was really lax and easy because my older sister worked there for almost three years, and had only recently quit, so the manager knew me and the interview was mostly just her telling me what work clothes I had to buy and how the scheduling worked. My job at school is a work-study job at the library, the interview was brief and not exactly overwhelming - as far as I know one of the main reasons they hired me to begin with was that I could work Tuesday and Thursday mornings and they needed someone to fill those times. (I am now in my 6th semester in that job, I'm very good at it, my supervisor loves me and I'm very happy with it.) So... I've never really had a serious real-world job interview and I'm not sure how to handle it.

So I need tips, advice, anything. For anyone who might not know, Hot Topic is a retail store specializing in clothing, accesories, and other stuff with kind of a hardcore musical edge - punk, emo, indie, metal, and the styles that go with it. Sometimes they're criticized for mass-marketing these supposed "alternative" styles, but I don't really care, I like the music, I like the style, I like the atmosphere. But I have no idea how to prepare for whatever kind of interview I might get. So can you help me out?

In a nutshell: I've got a job interview at Hot Topic (http://hottopic.com). I really really really want to work there. How can I prepare and what advice can you give me? I strongly appreciate any help.

XJETGIRLX
03-13-2003, 03:56 PM
I kind of skipped to the in a nutshell part, so if I missed something I apologize. If you have any more questions I'd be glad to answer.

As a former retail worker / asst. manager / store manager, the best non-store-specific tips I can give you are these:

*Familiarize yourself with the store's products and it's target audience. I used to work at Gadzooks! which is similar but not quite the same type of place as Hot Topic. Knowing the 'scene' of your clientele and projecting a certain image are a part of the job.

*Be enthusiastic and confident. I don't know how many interviews I've done where I sat someone in my office and spent 20 minutes trying to get them to do anything other than stare at the floor and mumble responses!

*It's okay to be nervous. Actually, I find that when someone admits that they're nervous it lets me know that they want the job, and it helps to break the ice a little.

*Be prepared to give examples of situations you've been in where you were able to resolve a conflict. I think this was the most important thing for me as a manager, as customer conflicts seem to be where most employees either make it or break it.

*Be prepared to try and 'sell' something to the interviewer. One of my favorite questions to ask interviewees was to hand them a stapler and have them try to sell it to me. It shows me how comfortable a person will be with talking to customers, and how product-oriented they are. It's important to emphasize that the job is not just being there to ring people up, but also to try and sell the merchandise.

*Dress appropriately. Since this store specializes in 'alternative' clothes you don't want to be too formal, but don't be too informal either. You want to show them that you can appeal to the clientele, but that you can also be professional. I wouldn't wear any fishnet tights or spike collars, but I think combat boots and a nice pair of slacks with a clean blouse would do. I don't think a chain wallet would be a no-no either.

*Make a list of things that may be considered weaknesses or disadvantages. Are you shy? Do you have difficulty speaking to strangers? Are you bad at math? Do you have a limited schedule? Do you have reliable transportation? Have you ever been fired from another job? Be prepared to give explanations and ways that you would be able to remedy the situation as they will come up in the interview.

*If you don't have any prior retail experience, you can always talk about volunteer work, civic duties, school-related, or any other experience where you've been entrusted with responsibility.

At this level of employment, there are really only a few things that are a must for new hires: Level of responsibility, reliability of transportation/availability, eagerness and willingness to learn.

I hope all goes well for you. Good luck!

Doomtrain
03-13-2003, 08:22 PM
Having worked retail, and having had a good relationship with the HR person...

1. Show up on time. You would not believe the number of interviewees who can't make it on time. And you will not get hired if you're late unless you are a god of some kind.

2. Be able to answer the question, "So why should I hire you?". Note: "I dunno" is a bad, bad answer to give.

3. Also be able to explain why you want to work there. "I dunno", again, is a bad answer to give.

4. The "sell this to me" drill. I'd practice using common household items if yer BSing isn't as good as it should be.

5. Bathe, smell nice, dress nice. "Nice" defined by the place you're interviewing at, of course.

6. Honestly, just getting the interview is half the battle.

Good luck!

AntaresJB
03-13-2003, 08:32 PM
Thanks for the list, XJETGIRLX, I may just have to print that out and study it.

As far as knowing the store's products and target audience - I've been shopping at the place pretty much since the one in my mall at home opened, almost 4 years ago. I get alot of my favorite clothes there or on their website, and I'm sure I'd get more if I wasn't so poor. I feel really comfortable with the place and with the kind of people who generally shop there.

I'm definitely enthusiastic about the job - I would love to work there. And I'm pretty good at acting confident even if I'm not really as sure of myself as I appear. I shouldn't have any staring-at-floor-and-mumbling problems, I think, as I felt really comfortable with the manager that I've dealt with so far, and she'll be interviewing me, and I tend to talk alot when I'm comfortable with people.

I'll still be insanely freaking nervous, though. I'll probably end up fidgeting alot.

I've had plenty of customer conflicts in my other jobs, having old ladies scream in my face about how their fish dinner took twenty minutes and why wasn't it done yet and there's too much salt on their fries and they want their money back, as well as college professors getting all up on my case because the materials they want to put on reserve won't be available right this second.. I should be okay.

I'm also thinking I've had enough experience with people trying to upsell things to me that I can pull that off.. I'll practice, though. Sales pitch the contents of my dorm room to my friends. :D

Appropriate interview outfit is worrying me. Right now the plan is black pinstriped pants and a black wrap-around top with safety pins on it, big black boots and hot pink plaid bondage straps on the pants. Kinda professional but punky enough for the situation, I think.

My schedule is completely clear because all I'm going to be doing this summer is working -- anything else can go around the schedule. I have my own car and am going to be living five minutes from the mall, so that's no problem. My other jobs, although they haven't been in retail, have involved tons of experience with customers/patrons, and a fair bit of responsibility. And I am definitely extremely eager and very willing to learn.

So your advice has given me a warm fuzzy feeling that I'm on the right track. Yay!

On preview... Thanks, GMRyujin. I was planning on showing up a bit early, but I'm wondering, how early is TOO early? It's a 2pm Sunday interview, if that makes any difference.. And I shall now definitely spend time coming up with good reasons why they should hire me and why I want to work there.

Anyone else? I'm interested in as much help, advice, suggestions, as possible, I really want this job. C'mon, would YOU hire me?

Morelin
03-13-2003, 08:41 PM
Originally posted by GMRyujin
Having worked retail, and having had a good relationship with the HR person...
<snip>
Good luck!

Our HR manager also said she hired people who didn't stare at her chest. (NOTE: may not apply to females)

Doomtrain
03-13-2003, 10:08 PM
Originally posted by AntaresJB
I was planning on showing up a bit early, but I'm wondering, how early is TOO early? It's a 2pm Sunday interview, if that makes any difference.. And I shall now definitely spend time coming up with good reasons why they should hire me and why I want to work there.


I would say arrive in the store about five minutes early. Since it's Hot Topic, I'll assume it's in a mall, so you could hang around if you got there *too* early.

As for arriving at the mall, just imagine traffic being at its worst in centuries and plan accordingly. Also allow yourself time to walk to the store and maybe freshen up a bit, too.

As a word of advice, have good explanations for any gaps, irregularities, whatever in your resume/work history/school history/life history. Employers like to think that you've spent every day working like a happy little bee.

XJETGIRLX
03-13-2003, 10:30 PM
As for showing up early, always a good thing. Late is bad. But a word of caution:

Unlike other job interviews, if you show up too early there won't be a convenient place within the store for you to wait on the manager, and it's kind of a hassle when someone shows up 15 mins early for an interview I'm not ready to give yet. I've had situations where the interviewee would hang out around the counter while I waited on people and kind of get in the way of what we were trying to do. So I would say that 5 mins early is a good rule. Earlier and you might get in the way, later and you look irresponsible.

As far as gaps in your work history it may not be a big deal, but what someone hiring for retail is going to look at is length of employment. I'd much rather hire someone who's either never had a job before or hasn't had to work for a semester over someone with a series of 3 or 5 month stints. I want to know that you're not going to bail on me when you get yelled at by a customer for the first time.

As for the outfit, I'd ditch the bondage straps and stick to the pinstripes and boots. Does the top have straps or is it a halter style? I'd stick with something a little less revealing. There may even be somewhat of a loose dress code (for safety standards reasons) and you should try to dress as conservatively as you think is possible and still project the right image. You can always wow them with your style when you get the job ;) When I interviewed for Gadzooks I chose to wear my hair down to cover my shaved head. The manager later told me that it was okay to wear it up, but I think he appreciated that I was willing to display a certain level of professionalism about it.

Keep us posted! Let me know how it goes!

AntaresJB
03-13-2003, 10:54 PM
Okay, so I should get there early and then hang out in another store or something until about five minutes before... gotcha, can do.

I don't really have any gaps in my work history. I mentioned in the big babbly intro (which I don't blame you for not reading) that I've had exactly two jobs since I started working a little bit before I graduated from high school. When I'm home, I work at my home job (restaurant), when I'm at school, I work at my school job (library). I worked at the restaurant at home for three summers as well as winter breaks and such, and I'm in my sixth semester at the library. My supervisors at both places have thought very highly of me and the restaurant manager is really sad to see me leave and made me promise to visit whenever I'm home. I really should have quit the restaurant job a while ago, but I couldn't drive at that time and it was the only place close enough to walk to. I went straight from high school into college and have been working through all of it, so I think I'm okay in that department.

As far as the clothing, the shirt is something similar to this one (http://torrid.com/store/product.asp?LS=0&ITEM=526133), but it's not satin, it ties down at the waist in the back, it had a little collar on it and non-open, 3/4 length sleeves. It's not really revealing at all as long as I have the safety pins to keep the neckline closed. And I was planning on the bondage straps just to add a little bit of color to an otherwise excessively (for me) goth-y ensemble... I'll consider that, though.

I will definitely let you guys know how it goes. It's not for a week yet, so keep the hints and advice coming, please, I highly appreciate it!

Green Bean
03-13-2003, 11:36 PM
I used to hire for a retail store.

Jetgirl's advice is right on. I have some things to add/elaborate on.

1. Remember that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. You may want the job badly, but remember that retail stores are always desperate for good help. You're trying to sell yourself, but they will also be trying to sell you the job.

Come prepared with questions--ask anything you're interested in, except about the employee discount. But some things to ask are: How scheduling works. How many hours constitutes "full time?" What are the benefits for full-timers? Will you be considered a regular employee or a seasonal temp? What are the duties of the job? Does the sales staff also do the stocking? What is the dress code? How late do workers stay after closing, and how early do they come in before opening? How many stores in the chain? Bring a pad and pen.

The point is, they want to know that you are making an informed decision about wanting the job--not just wanting to work there because the clothes are groovy.

2. Retailers are always looking for people with retail sales experience. You don't have that, but you can easily show how your other experience is related. As a waitress, you sold food, helped customers, and solved conflicts. I'm sure you got some relevant experience in the library, too. And have you ever run a cash register? If so, mention it. It's much easier to train someone who's had some experience.

3. Be prepared for the standard interview questions, like strengths and weaknesses, and hypothetical situations. A quick online search should yeild some lists of common questions. You don't have to prepare detailed answers, but think about how you might approach these questions.

Ultimately, when I was confronted with a choice between similarly qualified applicants, I would choose the one with the more outgoing personality. I wanted people who would go out there and talk to the customers.

It sounds like you're in a good position. As I said, retailers are desperate for good workers.

I know it's easier said than done, but try not to be nervous. The manager won't be "judging" you as much as she will be trying to figure out if you and the job are a match. If you don't get the job, it may be because of factors that don't have anything to do with you--like a cutback in payroll hours. Or it may be because the manager doesn't think that you're a match for the job. I passed over many lovely applicants because they were not a good match for one reason or another.

Good luck.

Doomtrain
03-13-2003, 11:40 PM
I'm a guy. All this talk of clothes just makes me go "Huh?" I'll leave the clothing advice to people who know how to dress themselves.

If you have time, I'd run to a bookstore (or check the Net) for some of those "100 Questions You Could Get Asked in an Interview" type books. I wouldn't overly rehearse your answers, but it helps to know the kinds of questions you might get asked. And it'd probably lower your anxiety level.

I would work on the answer to "What are your strengths?" and "What are your weaknesses?" Because every interview I've ever been on has those two. Also be prepared to tell stories about times you've helped customers, your worst customer and how you handled it, your best customers and why you liked them. Also what you did/didn't like about your past jobs.

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