BrainTrust Query: Dramatically Improve Your Interviewing Process

Discussion
Jul 28, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of Dynamic Experiences Group.

The other day, I noticed that a manager was interviewing a job applicant on a bench in front of her store in a local mall. Since I’m never one to miss the chance to watch and learn, I decided to hang out and see what I could take away from the interview.

I can sum up the entire interview in one word. Boring! The interviewer was boring. The applicant was boring. I think they were boring each other. At the end of the interview, the only thing the manager learned was what was already on the application, and all the applicant said was the same stock answers everyone says in an interview, including the all important, "I’m a people person." My day was complete.

Interviewing and candidate selection is just too important to not do extremely well. A great hire can have an almost immediate positive impact on the store, and a bad hire can lead to 60, 90, or more days of pure hell.

Here are ways to dramatically improve the interviewing and hiring process:


  1. Spend part of the interview working together on the floor. Instead of asking the applicant to tell you about her customer service and selling skills, have her show you with real customers. Sure, she won’t have a lot of product knowledge. Sure, she’ll be nervous. But I’ll tell you what — you’ll quickly separate the winners from the fakers. At the very least, do some selling scenario role-playing with a candidate.
  2. Have him observe the staff and share his insights with you. You’ll be surprised how many people who say they’re good at sales and service can’t define it even when they see it.
  3. Require the applicant to interview you. You can learn a lot about a person by the questions he/she asks. Is he interested in the challenges and opportunities, or how the lunch breaks work? Is she interested in hearing why you’re a great company to work for, or is she already thinking about vacations?
  4. Have the applicant spend time with non-management team members. If he/she is good, we want to do everything we can to get our offer accepted. One of the best ways to do that is to have the candidate bond with one or two of your best non-management employees. It’s one thing for you to say how wonderful your store/company is, but it’s another when that message comes from a potential colleague.

Discussion Questions: Of the interview techniques mentioned in the article, which will likely provide the most value on average to the interview process? Do you have any unconventional interview techniques that you would add?

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15 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Dramatically Improve Your Interviewing Process"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

The best way to predict future success is hear of past examples. A well thought out interviewing program can dramatically alter your sales. Unfortunately, most compliance/HR officers have pretty much taken the “fun” person out of the store as too hard to manage and we have boring leading boring. Retail is ready for a retool and it won’t come from technology but from the energy we invest in people at all levels.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Unconventional perhaps, but probably more normal than most might think. I have some clients that video applicants while they are filling out their applications. They have to pass the visual test first. If they have a current position at a competitor, I’ve sometimes gone to visit them undercover to observe and talk with them. If they are passionate about their work and appear to be giving 100%, that’s a plus. Often applicants will be more forthcoming with personal attitudes when they don’t know they are being interviewed. Have them caught off-guard after they fill out an application by just having someone ask them for directions or help. Perhaps drop a dollar and see if they pick it up and give it back. These are little things help you tell you more about a person than some canned interview process.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
9 years 9 months ago

All four suggestions are really strong. If I had to select the best, it would be the first. I agree having an interviewee walk the floor with you can really help understand: 1) how they deal with people and 2) if they will really like working at your store. A close second is having the interviewee meet with non management employees so they can hear firsthand what it is like to work at the store. Also, an interviewee may be willing to open up more to someone they would be working with side by side. It also involves current employees which makes them feel part of the process.

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

In our store, the most important thing we look for is a personality because you can’t teach that. Pleasant people are my trademark, and many of them do very well. I have one hard rule … if you are rude to anyone, you cannot work for me because customers have their own problems, and when they walk into my store, they need to be treated as guests. Other than that, we can teach them the skills needed to perform the various tasks inside the store. This may sound simplistic, but it is #1 for me.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

All of the suggestions from Doug Fleener are excellent. Working with the candidate on the floor, asking him or her for observations and insights, requiring the applicant to interview YOU; all are quite revealing, and who knows, YOU might learn something from the applicant, as well, even if you don’t hire this person.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
9 years 9 months ago

I recommend that my independent retail clients look for two things beyond the particular skills they’ll need to do the job; passion and engagement. Look for the same passion that you have for the store, product lines and customers, and that animates the business. And if they are able to engage you in a relaxed and authentic way, they’ll be able to do the same with customers. I’ve always found that the combination of skill set, passion and engagement leads to a very high success rate when hiring people.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

One of my favorite interview challenges was to put the applicant in a position to sell something to me. In this case, I was a druggist and the applicant had to convince me to take counter space to sell his ball point pens. Those incapable simply stared at me with this puzzling “Are you crazy?” look. The successful ones took the sample pen and made a valid case for me to buy the product. Was either 100% fool proof? No. But I got to see them working and thinking on their feet.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 9 months ago
One of my favorite quotes is: “The most important decision a manager makes every day is who they allow in the door to take care of their customers.” I think that sums up the importance of the hiring decision. Every one of the ideas presented in this article will help a manager make a better hiring decision. Don’t use just one of them; use all of them. As far as other ideas, there are dozens of them in my book, “Hire Tough Manage Easy,” all focused on the hiring of front line employees. Just one for example is to look at everything you do in the hiring process as a test. So here is a great test: When you find an applicant you really like, give her $15.00-$20.00 and tell her you would like her to come back later that day or the next and buy something. Have her then come back for another interview and give you a shopping report. Some will never call and keep your money — cheap way to find out… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Great points. Too many companies are too conservative in their interviewing. Stretch out and change! Demand more, challenge more and find better candidates!

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 9 months ago

One of the best interview practices I ever observed was essentially a non-interview interview. One of our store managers at Raley’s Supermarkets in Sacramento recruited exclusively from friends and relatives who were referred and vouched for by current employees. He offered a bonus if their referrals were hired and retained for a period of time, and paid special attention to applicants recommended by his best employees. An interesting dynamic then occurred: The referring employee actually became the sponsor and mentor of their referred employee, observing them and giving them tips. This elevated the performance and morale of both of them.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

While I’m not familiar with Doug’s eavesdropping skills, it’s possible that the manager learned a great deal more than it appears…or maybe not.

Hiring — whether on the hirer’s end or the hiree’s — is the modern equivalent of alchemy: everyone has their own ideas. Many are inconsistent; most are probably wrong; some are worse than useless. And the goal of many HQ’s is to counter these pitfalls by specifying the most unimaginative, neutral and — yes — boring questions and techniques imaginable. (I can’t imagine an HR Dept specifying a mall bench as an interview location, so this manager might be either very creative or exactly illustrative of the problem.) And facing the reality that you’ve likely got a 20-something (making $10/hr) interviewing a teenager (who will be making $8/hr), hoping for much more seems like too much.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Thanks everyone for your input.

I met a retailer whose favorite saying was, “I can teach an employee everything except a personality. That’s what I hire.” Must work since she had been in business almost 40 years!

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
9 years 9 months ago

I like the idea of interviewing while working the floor together and looking to assess the applicant’s customer service skills and business orientation. The person doing the interviewing is always key. That person should know what to look for and how to discover quickly who has the skills necessary for their associates.

I do have some misgiving’s about some of the unconventional ideas mentioned. If a person might be videoed while filling out an application, I think there should be a sign or some information letting the applicant know that. It also could look like potential discrimination.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 9 months ago
The ideas Doug shared are all good and are easily embedded in a strong talent acquisition strategy. The real conversation here should be around the creation of that strategy. Without a comprehensive strategic approach to talent acquisition, any one touchpoint can only be marginally effective. Keys to an effective talent acquisition strategy include, but are not limited to:1. A clear understanding of what talents are necessary for success – not just generally, but in your unique culture. This is accomplished by a careful study of the best staff – not just the top sellers, but those who readily create real and human relationships with your top clients.2. Determining what is needed to “fit” into your unique culture, including the specific individuals on the team the new staff will be joining.3. Developing a structured interview which asks questions that enable the candidate to articulate their strengths in the talents you are looking for (or not)4. Training interviewers how to use the structured interview plus “fit” questions. Here is where the suggestion to spend time on the… Read more »
John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
9 years 9 months ago

I like having the candidate walk the floor and provide insight. I believe interviews come down to the little things. How aware are they of what is happening around them? Also, I really like to see how they follow up. A small thank you note means a lot to me.

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