The 5 types of retail staff to avoid hiring

For a retail manager, a great sales assistant is worth their weight in gold.

Unfortunately, they’re also exceedingly rare.

In a perfect world, you’d always be able to separate the wheat from the chaff during the interview process, leaving you with a solid, reliable, productive team of sales employees. The reality, however, is that we don’t live in a perfect world, and the interview process is rarely comprehensive or involved enough to give you a true indication of what kind of worker the candidate really is.

Today, I want to look at the 5 types of retail employees you’re better off avoiding, and give you some easy ways to spot them during the interview process.

The Chronically Late

As I’ve already mentioned, the world is an imperfect place – which means trains don’t always run time. Bikes get flat tyres. Keys get locked in cars. Things go awry, and sometimes we’re unavoidably late.

However, every now and then, you’ll encounter someone who seems to have more bad luck than is humanly possible. They’ll turn up late to almost every shift, each time armed with a more absurd excuse than the last.

You’ll try to combat this problem by them on later (maybe they’re just not a morning person!), but you’ll soon find out that it doesn’t matter what time they’re meant to start – they’ll still find a way to be late.

Why it’s a problem:
In retail, being on time matters. Stores have set opening hours, and a team member turning up late can mean your store isn’t unable to open on time, or that the employees who do turn up on time are put under unnecessary pressure.

How to spot them during the interview:
As someone who wouldn’t dream of turning up late to something as important as a job interview, it never ceases to amaze me how often it happens. When I’m interviewing someone, I tend to take the following approach:

“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, don’t bother showing up.”

If a candidate turns up late – and doesn’t have the decency to call ahead – to their interview, there’s a fairly good chance that this is going to be a pattern of behaviour for them if you do hire. You’re better off preferencing candidates who are able to turn up on time.

The Party Animal

When you combine weekend trading hours, and a workforce that’s often overrepresented by students and young people, you’re sometimes asking for trouble.

While hopefully most of your employees will be smart enough (or respectful enough) to not have a big night out before a day at work, there will always be the exception.

This person, who we’ll call The Party Animal, will turn up for a weekend shift hungover and dishevelled, most likely with an energy drink in hand. They’ll usually manage to turn up on time and get through the entire shift, but that should be extent of your expectations. The Party Animal’s main achievement on a weekend is to be present. Anything else you can get out them is gravy.

Why it’s a problem:
For most retailers, weekend trade is the busiest time of the week. Making sure your store is a well-oiled machine is crucial to maximising sales. A team member who is too busy nursing a hangover to contribute in any meaningful way is, realistically, probably going to cost you more money than they make you.

How to spot them during the interview:
There are three ways to spot a Party Animal during an interview. The first is that they turn up to the interview hungover – which, surprisingly, happens more than you’d think.

The second is to ask them what their hobbies are. If they only mention activities that involve going out (‘hanging out with my friends, going to gigs, going clubbing, going to festivals’), that can be a warning sign, as it indicates that partying is a top priority for them. The third is to check their social media to see if all of their photos and statuses are focused on alcohol, drugs and partying.

The Customer Averse

I often find that larger retailers – such as department stores or big box retailers – harbour more examples of what not to do, simply because of the sheer volume of employees they possess. One of the key things I notice in these types of stores is the number of employees who are entirely focused on merchandise, and not at all focused on customers.

However, it’s one thing for employees to be so focused on merchandising that they don’t notice customers, and another for them to actively avoid customer interaction.

Occasionally, as a store manager, you’ll come across an employee so determined to not engage with customers that they’ll volunteer to do almost anything else. On the upside, your store will probably be spotless whenever they’re working.

Why it’s a problem:
There’s a wealth of evidence to suggest that engaging and communicating with customers is integral part of providing excellent customer service. If customers feel ignored, they may be inclined to walk out, and head to a competitor with better service.

How to spot them during the interview:
To get a sense of whether the candidate you’re interviewing is comfortable dealing with customers, it’s a good idea to incorporate a bit of role-playing into the interview. It doesn’t need to be complex (for example, you could ask the candidate to show you how they’d overcome a customer’s objections), it just needs to be an opportunity to see how your candidate would potentially approach and deal with customers.

It’s also worth asking what they like most about working in retail – if the word ‘customer’ doesn’t appear at all, it’s not a great sign.

The Zero Initiative

Until human cloning is perfected, a store manager simply can’t be everywhere at once. The best you can do is equip all of your employees with the skills, knowledge and drive to make the right decisions without you having to micromanage their every move.

Unfortunately, there exists a particular subset of employee that requires constant supervision. They are the ones who will not think to jump behind a register even if there’s a line of customers a mile-long, or will step over something on the floor rather than pick it up. They possess zero initiative – which means you’ll need to make they’re consistently given a clear list of tasks to perform during each shift.

Why it’s a problem:
Retail stores can be hectic, unpredictable environments to work in – which, of course, is part of their charm! However, when you’re busy dealing a dozen things at once, the last thing you want to do is make sure a team member who lacks initiative knows that they shouldn’t just be standing there.

How to spot them during the interview:
The best way to test whether a candidate is able to take initiative at work is to see how much initiative they’ve taken in preparing for the interview. Ask them questions about your company, the role, competitors, your product line. If they’ve taken the initiative to do the research, the chances are good that they’ll also be the kind of worker who can take initiative day to day.

The Chatty Cathy

Working in a retail store can often be a great way to make new friends. There’s something unique about working in a customer service scenario that leads to bonding.

The majority of the time, this is beneficial to the way a retail store runs. Genuine camaraderie in the workplace encourages teamwork, respect and a positive energy. However, like most good things, too much can be a bad thing, and when two or more members of your team are too engrossed in conversation to serve, you have a problem on your hands.

That said, there is an even more problematic variant of this type of team member – the one who’s not just chatty, but also engages in wildly inappropriate conversations on the storefloor.

Why it’s a problem:
If your employees are too busy talking amongst themselves to assist customers, they’re not performing their primary task – which is, of course, to provide customer service. That means you’re effectively paying your team to socialise, which is definitely not ideal.

How to spot them during the interview:
Knowing how to communicate in a way that’s appropriate and professional requires common sense, tact and a decent filter. If, during the interview, a candidate says anything that could be considered inappropriate, offensive or too personal, that’s a pretty good indicator that their filter doesn’t work all too well, and they may be a liability on the shop floor.

As I said at the start of this, any retail manager knows that a good team of sales assistants is worth their weight in gold. While a strong manager is sometimes able to turn around some of the most hopeless cases with the right support and training, it saves time, money and stress for everyone if you can avoid most of those cases altogether.

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