Listen to the podcast episode featuring this information here.
If you’ve been thinking about getting a retail job this holiday season, now is the time to start applying! October is when stores look to hire for the upcoming, busy holiday season. This ensures enough time to vet applicants and train them in advance of Black Friday — retail’s busiest shopping day of the year.
Step 1: Identify where you want to work
Start by choosing the store you’d be most excited to work at. This may seem obvious, but for one reason or another (pay, proximity, etc.), not everyone begins here.
By declaring the brand you most identify with, that passion will best translate in an interview and help you secure the job. Hiring managers put high emphasis on an applicant’s enthusiasm for the brand because their employees are their ambassadors. Passionate workers are more likely to stick around and be dependable (avoiding the costs associated with turnover). Additionally, they’re the ones who will speak highly of the brand even when away from work.
“If you don’t have a passion for the brand, you may end up miserable during the best time of the year!” said Kari Latzel, a manager of an Orlando-based Old Navy.
Your knowledge of that store’s brand and product will radiate naturally and communicate easily in an interview. In the case of a clothing retailer, you probably own their clothes which means you don’t have to spend money on a new work wardrobe. Which brings up another benefit: an employee discount!
Pick three to five stores that you’d be most excited to work at, and proceed to step 2.
Step 2: Fill Out an Application
You are now on the clock because the hiring process moves quick — you don’t want to be left out. First, you need to identify how stores accept applications. For some, it’s online but for others it may be a paper application.
It’s good to have previous work history and work addresses already written down because you’re going to be referencing them a lot.
For those online apps, I recommend downloading an add-on for Firefox and Chrome browsers called “Lazarus.” This extension saves form information in the situation your internet browser crashes, your computer freeze or the power unexpectedly goes out. Take it from me when I say Lazarus saves you from a lot of headaches!
Some stores still do things the old-fashioned way with paper applications, so it’s to the store you go. Your best bet is to go on a weekday at the non-peak hours of 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dress presentable in business casual at the very least.
Approach a sales associate and ask for an application, but resist the urge to fill it out at the store or even just outside it. Instead, I recommend taking it home. This ensures you take your time writing your answers in a clean and controlled environment with internet access.
Since you’ll be writing it in pen, you’ll want to minimize mistakes because penmanship counts! Taking it to the food court means ketchup or something else might get on your application and completing it on a mall bench provides no secure, flat surface.
Return your application at one of the times prescribed above and ask for the hiring manager or manager-on-duty. If you’re lucky, he or she will conduct an impromptu interview. This is the ideal scenario because you’ll have jumped to the front of the line. A good impression here ensures your application makes it to the callback pile and the manager already views you as a possible hire.
If this doesn’t happen for you, don’t worry. It’s not a common occurrence to get an interview on the spot, but it does happen.
If you’ve discovered the company employs both an online and paper application, do both. You’ll never know which process the store prefers and it could differ location to location.
Step 3 – Follow Up
Give it three days before calling the store for an update on your application. Stick to calling on a weekday at the non-peak times mentioned earlier in this article. When you call, ask for the hiring manager or the manager-on-duty. Use the following script:
YOU: Hello! May I speak to the hiring manager or the manager-on-duty?
[HIRING MANAGER PICKS UP]
YOU: Hello. My name is [INSERT YOUR FULL NAME] and I submitted a job application on [INSERT DAY/DATE]. I’m curious to know when I might hear something.
[WRITE DOWN THE RESPONSE]
YOU: I appreciate the insight and your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Depending on what you learn during that phone conversation, you could follow it up with up by going to the store (a week after submitting the application is a good time) and asking for the hiring manager or manager-on-duty. Introduce yourself with a firm handshake and looking in the manager’s eyes and say that you completed an application on [INSERT DAY/DATE] and wanted an update on the hiring process.
You might get a a detailed response, for instance, that applications will be reviewed in a few days and if they’re interested, they’ll call you. Or you might get that impromptu interview I spoke about earlier. If it’s the latter, again, it’s a great opportunity to stand out.
Hopefully, you’ve finally been called and told to come in for an interview.
Step 4 – The Interview
If you haven’t guessed by now, you’re dressing business casual at the very least to this interview; apply your own judgement based on the employer you’re trying to work for as to how “dressy” to get.
Plan on getting there at least 20 minutes before your interview time. You don’t want to run into traffic or some other unexpected problem. If anything, you must be on time.
Also keep in mind that, depending on the store’s location in the mall, it can be a lengthy walk from the parking lot to the store. Unless you’ve timed yourself, you don’t know how long that walk is and it’s probably longer than you think.
Entering the store five to 10 minutes before your interview is a wise move. It doesn’t hurt to bring your Social Security card and a voided check with you in case they hire you on the spot and you can get some important paperwork out of the way, including your direct deposit.
Your interview starts from the time you park to the time you leave. You have to consider that the hiring manager or a store employee could see you from the moment you park to the time you leave. Don’t make the mistake of having an inappropriate cell phone conversation while walking to the store or not holding the door open for someone. Make a good impression as if someone is always watching.
Upon meeting your interviewer, eye contact and a firm handshake will start you on the right foot. Keep in mind that the hiring manager isn’t a teacher grading your test. Your goal is communicate thoughtful and honest answers, but the main thing is to communicate your passion for the brand.
“Anyone can be taught procedures, you can’t teach an outgoing personality,” said our Old Navy manager friend Kari.
Be professional and enthusiastic and you’ll come out of it with flying colors.
It’s also good to come to the interview with a few questions. Here are some examples:
- What is the toughest part of the job?
- What do you expect from your employees?
- What do you like most about working here?
It’s best to follow up the manager’s answers with a personal story that relates. For instance, the toughest part of the job could be dealing with irate customers. But you respond that you’ve diffused a fight at school once and no one got hurt. This communicates that you’ve listened to the manager’s answer and you’re capable of meeting the challenge.
If the hiring manager ends the interview before saying what’s to follow, be sure to ask the following question:
- What is the next step in the hiring process?
This says that you’re very interested in the position and you’re not afraid to make your intention known. Managers will admire and respect that. You have to realize that just because you’re there for an interview, it doesn’t mean you’re serious about the job. This is especially true for retail. Most applicants won’t ask this question, so don’t be like them because they’re not getting hired.
You want a job, remember? Make sure they know that!
From here, you can determine if you’ll need to call to follow up or it’s simply out of your hands at this point. If you’ve followed the directions up to the point, you have a great chance at working for an employer you like. I, myself, have worked several retail jobs and each one of them were at places I wanted to be at.
And you might be there longer than you think.
“Seasonal doesn’t always have to be temporary,” Kari said. “If you get into a job that you love, put your all into it. Management will ALWAYS make room for stellar associates, even when it comes time to let seasonals go.”
Case in point: our source started as seasonal in 1996 and is running her own store today and loves it. You just never know!
Have a question? Leave a comment below!