How To Prepare For A Graduate Retail Job Interview

Sometimes it can feel like getting a job takes longer than a movie marathon involving Avengers: Endgame, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Titanic. You spend your entire time at uni trying to clock up vital employability points, manage to pull a stellar CV out of the bag –…
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

Sometimes it can feel like getting a job takes longer than a movie marathon involving Avengers: Endgame, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Titanic. You spend your entire time at uni trying to clock up vital employability points, manage to pull a stellar CV out of the bag – and then still there’s the question of an interview.

But, the good news is that just like putting together a cover letter and CV, acing an interview for a graduate retail job isn’t a skill you have to be born with. Just like every other part of the application, getting the interview right is all about taking the time to prepare.

The other bit of good news? We’ve made a pretty comprehensive list of everything you should be doing beforehand. You can thank us in cookies later.

Preparing For A Retail Interview

Read Back Through Everything That’s Happened So Far

You wouldn’t start the Harry Potter series at book five, so there’s no reason you should jump into the interview without at least having a recap of everything you’ve done so far.

Print out your CV, cover letter, any other parts of the application and the job description and go through with a highlighter and a pen. Note down all the examples you’ve used, the key things the job is looking for, and if there are any areas you haven’t quite addressed.

No one will be expecting you to tick off every single element of the job description in one cover letter, but they could ask you for examples for things you haven’t covered, so it’s worth writing down some things you could chat about for all the main areas they’ve got listed.

Equally, be prepared for them to ask you to give more detail about the stuff you have listed –  if it relates to an old project or previous job, take some time to refresh yourself with the details.

Head Onto Their Website Or Check Out A Store

Even if your potential new job couldn’t be further from the shop floor, it’s important to remember that the whole point of retail is selling stuff to people. If you’re interviewing for a company that has physical stores, swing by. 

Think about how they’re trying to curate the experience. Stuff like what the branding is like, how the shop is laid out, and if and when the attendants come over will all help to give you an insight into the type of customer they’re trying to attract and the company’s personality.

At the very least, you should always have a nose around their website. Internet sales now make up more than 20 percent of purchases in the retail industry, and it’s a trend that’s only set to continue. As a result, you’ll want to know how their presence translates to online. 

Look at their homepage, how they divide products up, and how they’re trying to engage with customers. For example, how are they talking to customers on social media? Do they run a newsletter or have a blog? What tone of voice do they use? Take five minutes to try out the actual process of buying something, even if you don’t go through with it.

You may come out of the process with some constructive criticism or questions –  it’s not just about telling them everything they do is great. The point is to really understand their offering and what they’re trying to achieve, and how you can help them do that.

Take A Look At The Industry News

We’ve mentioned this before, but there’s nothing retail bosses love more than people who are in the know about the sector. In the days before your interview, it’s worth taking a detailed look at both the company you’re interviewing for, and the sector as a whole.

Run a Google News search on the company and see what comes up – lookout for statements by CEOs or other senior staff about what’s next for them or the industry, annual results, or any big product launches within the last year or so.

More niche publications that serve specific parts of the retail industry are also a great place to gen up on the sector as a whole. Take a look at websites like RetailWire, The Retail Gazette, and Retail Week to get a sense of the current talking points, or try to find sector-specific publications like The Grocer.

Don’t just dive in for a day either –  try to take a more general look over the course of a week or two, or however long you get before the interview actually happens. While it’s important to read the news on the day, you wouldn’t be able to predict a football season after just one match, so do try to take a broader view.

Actually Plan Your Day Out In Advance

Okay, so you’ve reached the point in the piece where we’re going to point out the obvious. Sure, you may feel like you’ve got all of this stuff down, but having a recap never hurt anyone. On a practical level, plan your route in advance and make allowances for delays. 

No one likes turning up to the party early, but we can promise you it’s better than turning up late. Search out a nearby coffee shop in advance and that way you can arrive early and get a chance to recap and gather yourself before things kick off.

Equally, if there are points you want to make sure you talk about in your interview, there really isn’t anything to stop you writing a few bullet points in your notebook. Taking a notebook is also just generally a good idea. It means you’re able to jot down notes while you’re being asked questions or remind yourself of questions you’d like to ask later on. 

Plus, it’s also an exceptionally good excuse to buy a new professional notebook. We especially love this bright orange one with a tiger on it. Any excuse for new stationary, to be honest.

Think About What Questions You’ll Ask 

Pretty much any retail interview you go to will end with a chance to ask questions. While it’s not an out and out failure if your mind goes blank, having a few up your sleeve will make you seem engaged and enthusiastic about the process. And, if you’ve got a notebook to hand, you can jot down anything extra that comes to mind during the chat.

If you’re struggling to think of any ideas, some starting points could be:

  • Asking about the next steps in the process –  when should you expect to hear back and could there be other stages?
  • Getting their viewpoints on some of the big trends in the sector – for example, what do they think the impact of COVID-19 could be in the long term?
  • Using it as a chance to launch an idea you’ve had –  if you’ve noticed they don’t have a TikTok account and you think they should, ask them if it’s on the horizon, and explain why you think it should be.
  • Investigate the opportunities for progression –  try to find a natural way of showing you’re keen to stick with them, by asking how you can work your way up.
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback on you – ask if there is anything they think you should work on or areas you need to improve.

What To Do After A Retail Interview

Finally, remember that even after all this, the process isn’t actually over yet. While the internet is extremely divided as to whether thank you notes are necessary, there’s generally nothing to lose from sending a polite “nice to meet you” email and a LinkedIn request.

And, remember, even if you don’t get this gig you’ve still gained from the experience. Yes, sure, it sounds like one of those mantras you tell yourselves to feel better, but it really is worth taking a few minutes to reflect on what you thought went right or wrong after you’ve had time to process everything. 

I, for one, have a very geeky spreadsheet that tracks how I feel my applications went, along with what I wrote in the CV and cover letter, so I can try and work out how to improve next time. After time, it also helps save time as you can rework similar question ideas or examples. 

If you’ve made it to interview you should always be asking the company for feedback too – while it can be a bit of a potluck as to the level of feedback you get (if at all) you could end up with some insight that proves invaluable in your next job interview.

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