Customers can easily make their buying choices in the grocery store. When they shop for more expensive items, however, such as jewelry, sporting goods, furniture, or clothing, they prefer to have someone to assist them with their choices. Someone to suggest them the most fitting product, explain the features of this or that jacket, give expert opinion, and eventually make their shopping a more pleasant experience. You will be responsible for this as a Sales Associate.

Greeting the customers, keeping your eye on them, asking whether they need help, answering questions, and helping them make informed buying decisions, you will play a crucial role in a retail store. In an interview you will have to demonstrate excellent customer service skills, decent sales skills, and your willingness to try your best for both the customer and your employer. Let’s have a look at the questions you will face.


Why do you want to work as a retail sales associate?

Do not describe your choice as something you made because you had to, perhaps because you could not get a better job with your education, or with your lack of experience. Ensure them that you love to talk to people, to give advice. You are interested in their field of retail (jewelry, books, sporting goods, cars, anything). It is your hobby, your passion, so why not turning it into your income stream?

What’s more, you believe to be good around people. They enjoy conversations with you, it flows naturally, and you enjoy it as well. Everything considered, job of a sales associate seems like a perfect match, at least at this stage of your professional career and life.

* May also interest you: Retail job interview – Tell me about yourself.


Why do you want to work in our retail store? Many other places hire sales associates?

You should focus on two things in your answer–and salary is not one of them. First one is their product segment. Say that it is close to your heart. Perhaps you are also a regular shopper at their place, or at least know a lot about the products they sell to the customers. And since you have the knowledge of the field and enjoy working with products they sell there, you consider it a wise choice to apply with them.

Second thing is the USP of the store–something that makes it special in your eyes. It can be a powerful brand (think Nike, Apple, as good examples of powerful brands), or excellent reputation of the place (they have great reviews online), or the shift patterns, the working culture (you learned about it from the reviews of former employees), it can be anything. Once you are done with your answer, they should have an impression of being your first choice, at least among retail stores… You can also check 7 sample answers to this question.

How do you imagine your work in this store as a sales associate?

The most important thing is to show proactive approach to work. Ensure them that you do not plan to wait quietly in your corner, looking at your smartphone, hiding in front of the customers.

On the contrary, you will walk around the sales floor, keep your eyes open. You will greet the customer, make eye contact, ask people if they need your help or advice. Basically you will make the first step, and try your best to be on the eyes of the customers. If they need you, they should find it easy to approach you.

It is also good to mention some secondary duties. Say that when there aren’t any customers in the store, you may swipe the floor, restock the shelves, and basically try to keep the store tidy and clean. Not many candidates mention these duties in an interview, so it can definitely help you stand out.


Describe your definition of an outstanding customer service.

You can go with direct or indirect definition of an excellent service. Let’s start with an indirect one, because that will probably be something new for you. You can define the service with goals you want to achieve as their retail sales associate: returning customers, people recommending the store to their peers, five star online reviews, and so on.

As long as you achieve these goals, you know that you treat your customers well, that you excel in your work… Direct definition is much more obvious. You want to be attentive to the needs and reactions of your customers, approach everyone with friendly smile and respect, try your best to address their request in a shortest possible time (because nobody likes waiting). To sum it up, you’ll do your best so the customer feels important in the store. That’s your definition of an excellent service.


Imagine that I am a customer looking at this item (a piece of clothes or jewelry, tennis racket, simply some item they sell in their store). Approach me and talk to me.

This simple role play a great way to test your customer service skills. Remember that they observe also your non-verbal communication during the role play–whether you smile, keep an eye contact with “the customer”, etc.

Another thing they test is your real knowledge of their field of retail. For example if the item is a tennis racket, you should check whether it is the right grip size, you can mention a few famous players who play with the brand (e.g. Federer, if the brand is Wilson), ask the customer whether they play on a recreational level only, or have some ambition as a tennis player (maybe the racket is too basic for them in the second case), and so on.

The third thing they observe is whether you understand the basics of professional selling. Try to ask your “customer” questions, such as what they are looking for in a perfect tennis racket, and then match them with the specifications of the product, eventually closing the deal.

To impress the interviewers even further, you can try to up-sell them in the role play. They are buying a racket so perhaps they also need balls, headband, or even new tennis sneakers (if you happen to sell them in the store). Show the hiring managers that you will try to maximize the value of each purchase.


How do you feel about doing 12 hours long shifts? What about working on Sunday?

People are hungry for shopping every day in the week. Most retail stores are open on Sundays, and you should show some flexibility with your schedule. Ensure them that you read the job description carefully, are aware of the opening hours, and count with the need to work on Sundays.

You can take your answer even one step further, showing some collegiality. Nobody likes to work on Sunday, but you understand that once you do your shifts during the weekend, it means that your colleagues can stay at home, and enjoy time with their families of friends. Next week they will pay you back the favor, and then the cycle repeats. Fair enough in your view.

Of course the situation changes if you apply for a part time retail sales associate job. In such a case you should clearly explain your availability (certainly you cannot work when you are at school, or outside the city), and specify which days and hours you are available to deliver an excellent customer service in their store…


Other questions you may face in your sales associate job interview

  • Do you have any experience with operating cash register?
  • A customer enters the store and complains that you gave them wrong change ten minutes ago. How will you react?
  • Imagine that a store is full of people, and you and your colleague are running from customer to customer, trying your best. But for some reason you do not notice one man, who tries to get your attention. Eventually he cannot stand it any longer and starts loudly complaining about a terrible customer service. What will you do in this situation?
  • It’s morning, 9am, the store is opening and already a queue of people stands outside. But your colleague, the other sales associate, did not arrive to work, and you see that you’d struggle to handle the workload on your own. How will you react?
  • An older respectful lady buys an expensive perfume. Just as they leave the store with their purchase, they slip on the freshly swiped floor of the shopping mall, drop their bag, and the bottle of perfume breaks. What will you do, if anything?
  • Tell us about your most successful sales experience, and the least successful one.
  • Do you like to set goals for yourself in work. What goals will you set for yourself in this store?
  • How would you describe an ideal colleague?
  • What are your salary expectations?

* You can also download the full list of questions in a one page long PDF, print it, and practice your interview answers anytime later–with a friend, or even in front of a mirror:

retail sales associate interview questions, PDF

Conclusion, next steps

Interview for a job of a sales associate belongs to interviews with average difficulty. You typically won’t compete with many people for the job (unless it is a well-paid one, or you apply with one of the prestigious retail brands selling expensive merchandise), which makes your situation easier.

On the other hand, they will typically ask you some tricky situational and behavioral questions, trying to understand how you may react in various situations that happen in a retail store (unsatisfied customer, heavy workload, broken merchandise, colleague not arriving to work, etc).

Think about the questions from my list for a while, and try to prepare a short answer to each one. You should also spend some time researching about your future employer, the merchandise they sell, especially if you aren’t that familiar with the product segment. They may often do a role play with you, asking you to “sell” them something in an interview. It’s much easier to do that when you know something about the goods…

This is not an easy interview, but if you prepare well, you will succeed. I wish you good luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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