Staples belongs to the biggest office retailers in the world, serving both individuals and businesses. They run more than 1,000 stores and 40 warehouses/fulfillment centers in US and Canada combined, and employ over 65,000 people. Needless to say, in the era when most of us spend half of our life in an air-conditioned office, glued to the screen of our laptop, working on some reports and data analyses not even knowing why, the future looks bright for companies like Staples–because many office rats needs many office supplies…

If you are going to interview for a job in one of their stores, or warehouses, you have to prepare for a combination of basic and situational interview questions. They will start asking about your motivation,  job choice and experience, just to later proceed to more tricky questions related to interactions with customers, and some problems that may possibly occur in your new job. And while the entry requirements aren’t high, many people are without a job nowadays, some will compete with you for the job at Staples, and you should not underestimate your preparations. Let’s have a look at the questions you will face.


Why do you want to work for Staples? Why not some other retail company?

They try to find out whether you won’t quit after the first hard week, or when a better offer rings your inbox. Because, frankly speaking, the job with Staples is not much different than any other retail job. You’ll start earning a minimum wage (or marginally better, depending on your position in the store), and you’ll spend most of your days working on repetitive retail tasks, and with interactions with the customers. The duties are slightly different in B2B division and in the warehouses, but the principle remains the same. So, how to deal with the question?

You actually have a couple of options. First one is referring to a recommendation from a friend. Someone you know and respect has the same job with one of the other Staples’ stores. They praised the atmosphere in the workplace, attitude of the managers, clean working environment, and other things. Listening to them, you came to a conclusion that Staples would be better than McDonald’s. At least for someone like you. And hence you decided to give it a shot.

Second option is talking about your “honest” interest in office stationery, printers, office furniture, cheap and expensive pens, and whatever. You just like this type of merchandise more than you like clothes, or groceries for example. And since it is always easier to sell something we know and enjoy using, you opted for Staples. One way or another, the hiring managers should get an impression that you aren’t there by a chance, know what you are doing, and Staples is your first choice when it comes to a job.


Can you tell us more about your previous working experience?

Either you have experience or you don’t. You can get a job with Staples in both cases. If you have experience, try to focus on relevant duties–customer service, selling, cash desk experience, stocking shelves, interactions with the customers, etc. Try to talk with enthusiasm about your former role, and ensure them that it helped you get ready for the job you try to get with Staples. And, one more crucial thing, have an explanation ready when they ask you why you aren’t working at that place any loner. Because they will typically ask you…

No need to hang your head if you lack experience. You can either tell them that you have plenty of experience, from the other side of the cash counter. You’ve shopped in places like Staples, Costco, Office Depot and similar many times over. And you’ve seen the service provided, and believe to know what’s expected from an excellent sales associate.

Another option is referring to your ability to learn quickly, and motivation to work hard. This is an entry level job after all, and with your attitude, you will learn how to handle your duties in no time… One way or another, you should sound confident, and display some self-belief in your ability to do well, on the position you are trying to get with Staples.

Sell me this pen (or other item they have in their office).

Many job seekers are afraid of facing such a role play in an interview. But you shouldn’t be, once you realize a few things. First of all, they do not expect to hear a flawless sales speech from you. You’ll get some training later on, and it takes time to get a grasp of the job.

What they expect to see, however, is some courage, and basic understanding for the successful sales process in retail (or in B2B, depending on the job you try to get with Staples). And that means asking questions.

You should ask them what they are looking for in a perfect pen, and then connect their needs with the features of the actual product you try to sell them. And most importantly, you should never refuse the role play. If you refuse it, they won’t hire you. By the way, if you find this question extremely difficult, you can check a longer analysis with sample answers here: Sell me this pen interview question.


Have you ever worked commission before? How do you feel about this compensation model?

Some employees in Staples work on a commission basis. And though the practice is more common in B2B sales division of Staples, it is not completely unheard of in B2C as well. One way or another, if they ask about commission work, it means they expect you to work on commission, at least partially.

So logically you should be optimistic about the model. Say them that best salesmen earn more when working on commission, and since you aspire to become one of their best sales associates, you embrace the compensation model based primarily on sales commission. Of course, you’ll get some base salary, a minimum wage, because you have to live from something. But you dream of bigger things, better salary, and selling a lot and earning a lot on sales commissions is an ideal way to achieve your goals.


Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer.

Difficult customer can mean a lot of things. Someone who asks you endless questions, and they eventually won’t purchase anything. Or someone who complains about the level of customer service, prices of the products, or about anything else, including your haircut. A customer who wasn’t gifted with intelligence and struggles to understand even very basic instructions is another case. And, last but not least, some customers may be interested in more than the product, if you know what I mean…

You can pick any of these cases for your answer. Ensure the interviewers that you tried your best to stay courteous, didn’t start any arguments with the customers, and did what you could to make them leave the store with a smile on their face. Of course, it did not always work out. Some customer are angry for no reason, and some decide to vent their negative emotions in the store. And if someone wants to buy an item for $5 but the retail price is $20, you won’t satisfy them with a 10% discount…

And that’s all right, because your effort counts, and we cannot make every customer happy. Ensure the hiring managers at Staples that you want to try your best with every customer. If it doesn’t work, however, you will simply get over it, and focus on delivering a great service to the next customer.


Other questions you may face in your interview with Staples

  • How do you feel about making a cold call? What about striking a conversation with a stranger?
  • Have you every worked for Staples before, of for or any of our subdivisions?
  • Can you tell me about a time that you had to change your approach in order to accomplish a goal?
  • Tell me about a time when you felt overwhelmed with work.
  • How would you define an outstanding customer service?
  • What is your availability? Can you work on weekends?
  • How long do you want to have this job? Can you imagine continuing your professional career with Staples?
  • We are interviewing several other applicants today. What can you offer us that someone else cannot?


Conclusion, next steps

Interviews for common retail and sales roles with Staples belong to interviews with average difficulty. Most questions will be easy and straightforward, but you will almost always face at least two scenario-based questions (“what would you do if”, “tell me about a time when”), and you’ll often face a role play, such as “sell me this pen”.

If you are new to the world of interviewing, you should definitely spend some time preparing for these questions, perhaps even practicing the answers with a friend, because your answers to this questions can mark the difference between you and the second best candidate. And that’s another thing I want to point out–the competition.

Economic expansion is long gone and forgotten. Millions of people are unemployed in the US, and each vacancy attracts a decent number of applications. You may sometimes compete for a simple retail job with dozens of other candidates–something unheard of in the time of a booming economy. As you can imagine, it makes your situation more difficult, and further emphasizes an importance of preparing well for your interview with Staples. I hope you will succeed, and wish you best of luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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