Retail Week: The Weirdest Interview Questions in Retail… And How To Answer Them


Interviewers have been getting increasingly creative with the types of questions they use to screen hopeful job applicants, as if interviews weren’t already a nerve wracking experience!

If you’re one of the 45% of people looking for a new job this year, chances are you’ll want to be prepared for more than a simple tell-all of your greatest weaknesses. Finding a job in retail is a great option for students and graduates hoping to start their career in this egg-citing sector! Retail jobs will give you valuable professional experience in customer service, sales, time management, and visual merchandising, and you can often find part-time positions that will work around your academic schedule. Even entry level positions can offer incredible opportunities for growth within a company,which is why you’ll want to put your best foot forward in the application process.

That being said, here are a list of the most bizarre questions you’ll be asked in a retail interview and how to answer them!

What do you think the responsibilities are for this role?

Although this might seem like a trick question, the key is to incorporate both the customers and the organization’s interests. What is it that;

  1. Customers expect of you, and;
  2. The organization expects of you?

This is more likely to be asked in an interview for a sales role, in which case sales and customer experience are pretty universal priorities.

Safe answer: To provide memorable customer service while driving sales and meeting quotas.

Would you prefer to work in a quiet and slow store or a busy, fast-flow store?

This is also not a trick question, but it does test for adaptability. Of course, you don’t want to be interviewing for the Eaton Centre H&M and claim that you’d prefer to work in a slow-paced environment, but at the same time don’t be nervous to play the advantages of both sides!

Safe answer: Although I’m able to provide memorable customer service in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment, I also thrive in low pressure environments where I can catch up on organizational work and foster closer relationships with my customers.

What is your end goal after finishing school?

Oftentimes, applicants will think that this question can weaken their chances of being hired if the answer involves anything outside the line: “Working right in this position, of course!” In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Companies want to hire talented and ambitious individuals, so talking about your life goals can really benefit you. Besides, many retail organizations love to hire from within and want to employees that are open to growth within the company.

Safe Answer: I’d love to start working in a position related to my degree and get to know the business from the ground up, but I am also interested to hear that your company has many exciting advancement opportunities on the corporate side!

Would you rather do an assigned task on time but not very well, or do a good job but be late?

This is a tough one, so it’s best to keep your answer as neutral as possible. This is a perfect opportunity to display that you have good judgement and can quickly adapt to changing circumstances on the sales floor.

Safe answer: It really depends on the situation! I’m a huge believer in quality over quantity but if there was need of my immediate attention and fast action, I’d have to think quickly and use my best judgement in order to minimize the potential inconvenience to the team and my customers. I’m great at prioritizing tasks, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Can you think of a time you went above and beyond for a customer?

If you can’t think of an example to put here, you probably shouldn’t be applying for a retail position. In this field, customer relations are so important. You need to display your ability to connect with them, and ensure that you are a memorable part of customers’ in-store experience.

Safe answer: Think of a time you went outside of your job description to help a customer. Whether it was recommending an item to them that you knew fit their style, finding them a perfect vacation dress in record time, or connecting with them on a person level, any special interaction can be used as a great example!

Can you think of a time you turned a negative situation into a positive?

This question judges whether you have a proven ability to think on your feet and make the best out of a difficult circumstance, which is something you’ll routinely have to do on the sales floor. These types of questions have no right or wrong answers, but you do have to have a couple of examples to draw from. This question is designed to see how you deal with stressful and unusual situations – the only condition is that you can actually think of an example.

Safe Answer: A good way to sell your people skills is to simply point out when you were faced with an issue that involves you dealing with an upset customer, and how you were responsible for them leaving the store with the situation reversed.

Tell me about a time you disappointed someone at a previous company.

This is definitely a trick question. The trick is to come out of this question on a positive note, which can easily be done by masking your answer with a commitment to self-improvement. The truth is, voicing a situation where you disappointed someone will never help you in a retail interview; when applicants are looking for short-term employment, employers are more likely to try and minimize risk to their store by avoiding to hire people that openly talk about their bad judgement.

Safe answer: I don’t know about disappointing anyone else because I am definitely my own toughest critic! I’m hard on myself when it comes to my performance and am always looking to improve. If I don’t hit a sales target, I always think of what I could have done differently.

Who has been your worst manager?

If you haven’t already realized, this is the oldest trick question in the book. If you’ve been going off about the terrible management at your previous job in other interviews, that might be why you haven’t been getting a call back. Avoiding any situation where you might talk poorly about a previous employer is straightforward, but you also have to go beyond that! Talk about what kind of management style works best for you instead of what management style doesn’t: – this is a simple way to answer a negative question positively.

Safe Answer: I have great relationships with all my previous managers! I’ve noticed that some management styles work better for me than others. For example, I loved when my managers in the past have been quick and to the point with any opportunities for improvement. I like to learn on-the-go and work best that way.

Sell me this X?

If you ever hope to make a career of sales, you’ll be sure to hear this question at least once throughout your job search. Although it’s simple, it’s one of the most effective ways to measure your aptitude of gaging the benefits that a product will have to a customer and being able to translate it effectively. This can only be done by practice. Even if it feels silly, try it out with objects around your house! For example, if someone uses the classic example of a pen, avoid selling it by it’s physical benefits – but rather with an emotional appeal.

Safe answer: What if I told you, you could get your work done 2x as fast with this pens new super glide technology? The way it writes on the page – just hold it. Doesn’t that feel amazing? – a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get it!

Although you can never really know what to expect out of a retail interview, showing up prepared with these hardball questions is a good start! The interviewer can throw anything your way – and your job is to show yourself in the best light. You can effectively do this by crafting answers that display an eagerness to solve customer concerns and please the management – both incredibly important in working a retail job. Good luck!

About the author

Sarah Bartnicka is a recent graduate of the University of Ottawa's communications program. When she’s not creating content, you can find her using the free Starbucks wifi to scroll through Instagram. The most exciting part of her day is deciding what to have for dinner. Tweet her your recommendations @sarrera!