Finding Top Retail Talent.

Finding top talent can be difficult, and if you work in retail, some will say it is virtually impossible. I was shopping today at JCrew today. Shopping always gives me inspiration and I like to thank the associates for working on a holiday (Memorial Day). As I walked into the store, I could hear the happy team assisting customers, creating outfits, smiling, checking on them in the fitting rooms, taking returns without complaining.

This was the Easton Town Center location and I was so glad the manager was there so I could compliment her on the superb talent that she has assembled. It doesn’t matter if I shop the weekdays or weekends, daytime or evening. The talent is friendly, aspirational, customer-focused, and great at selling! That is a tall order. Often you find one of those attributes but to find all four, remarkable.

The manager thanked me for the feedback and let me know she had stepped down and was going to be a part-time manager so that she could spend more time with her children (she has 4). This new part-time role meant she would no longer be doing the hiring.

jcrew add with lots of different people

Be Flexible.

Let’s unpack that statement. First, when someone has proven their skill at selecting talent, let them keep doing it, regardless of the number of hours they work. Just because someone becomes a part-time manager doesn’t mean they lost the ability to select talent.

The retail rules of yesterday will not get us where we need to go. We must be flexible with our leaders and the seasons of life they are going through. My big question is, what specifically is this manager doing to attract talent?

How to Identify Talent.

I believe that talent attracts talent. This manager is polished, consistent and leads by example. She is the kind of manager that I often tell my daughter, “I would work for her”. She is always in a good mood and always looks so “jcrew”.

So let’s address some key components to hiring talent.

  • Hire people who are friendly, look you in the eye and would be great to work with.
    • If you like them, so will customers.
  • Don’t limit yourself to only hiring people with retail sales experience.
    • The right attitude is a bigger benefit than tons of retail experience. You can teach them retail. Believe me, over the course of my career, I have trained thousands of managers how to run great stores. I often made the mistake of being impressed with retail experience at a competitor and turned a blind eye to their unfavorable attitude. You can’t train attitude.
  • Don’t lower your brand standards.
    • If you need polished, professional associates, then hire only people who fit that standard. No one wants to have the conversation with a new hire about their need to wear deodorant or brush their hair for work.
  • Talk to your team and ask them who you should hire.
    • Associates want to work with their friends. They know your expectations and won’t recommend someone who won’t meet them.

Get Ready for the Interview.

So we addressed how to identify talent but that is only part of the equation of hiring top talent. We also need to be able to ask good questions and probe for more information.

Your company may have a hiring toolkit with key questions that make sense for your particular brand. If so, I highly recommend using those and taking notes. Let the candidate know at the start of the interview that you are taking notes simply so you don’t forget any details.

The hiring tools your employer has provided were designed to help the hiring manager select the best possible talent, create a positive experience, regardless if you hire the candidate or not and eliminate turnover from hiring the wrong person. Use it!

If your company doesn’t have a hiring tool kit, you will need to spend time preparing for the interview. Preparation is the best way to come across professional and look like you really care about creating a positive experience. Remember, regardless of the outcome of the interview, you still want them to be a customer.

How to Probe.

Running through your questions is the easy part. The hard part is what if they respond in a way that sets off flairs in your mind and you aren’t sure how to respond. Don’t ignore the flairs.

The easiest way to respond is to say “Tell me more about that, what did you end up doing/saying”. Lead is statements like “tell me more” are a great way to probe while not showing that you are concerned about something they said.

If the candidate talks about “what they would do”, stop them and ask them for a specific example that highlights what they DID do. That is what matters most. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Let them Ask You Questions.

As important as it is to get your questions answered, you also need to give the candidate time to get their questions answered. I leave 10 minutes at the end for the candidates questions. No question is dumb and it is important to answer honestly. Make sure to tell them next steps. Whether you intend to hire them or not, it is vital to circle back with them so they aren’t waiting and wondering. This can leave a bad taste about the brand and lose a customer for life.

Follow Up.

It is a good idea for potential candidates to meet with another member of the management team if you aren’t 100% sure. The old adage, slow to hire, quick to fire, is true. If you take too long to respond to a potential candidate, you might lose them to your competition. The interview process is your opportunity to show the type of leader you are.

In Your Corner.

At Running Great Stores, we want to help you be successful in your retail career. If you have questions, email me at

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