Interview Your Way Into Retail Management

When you're trying to make the leap from frontline retail sales into management, what are the keys to landing a choice position? A resume detailing a wealth of related experience in the field? Outstanding references? A relative in charge of hiring? All these factors are important, but without a successful interview, they might all go to waste.

Richard Fenton, cofounder of retail improvement firm FentonWaltz and a retail industry executive, consultant and speaker with more than 25 years' experience, explains how to convince an interviewer you're ready for management:

Show Off Your Management -- Not Selling -- Skills

Fenton has seen dozens of retail management job candidates flame out during the interview process. The most common mistake: Failing to understand the actual role of a manager.

"A manager is someone who ‘gets results through others,'" Fenton says. "So don't focus on your selling skills if it's a management position. Rather, spend the majority of your time explaining how you coach and motivate others to sell and serve customers. If you do that, the job will probably be yours.

Fenton acknowledges that candidates trying to break into management face a classic catch-22: Most organizations want people with experience, but you can't get it until someone gives you a chance. He advises management wannabes to play up past experiences that demonstrate they have the chops to handle the added responsibility: "If you have never held a management position before, talk about the times in previous jobs where management functions have been delegated to you, such as teaching a skill to a fellow associate, closing the register, running inventory, etc. -- and how successful you were."

You should also be prepared to answer behavior-oriented questions. "Interviewers want to know more than what positions you've held and how long you were employed," Fenton says. "They want to know specifically what you did in those jobs, the results you achieved and how you achieved them."

Research the Company, Down to Store Merchandise

Preparation is critical to impressing a prospective employer. It's one thing to say you're a go-getter but quite another to demonstrate diligence by doing some preparatory detective-style legwork. This, Fenton says, is the best strategy for getting noticed in a herd of applicants.

"First, research the company to know how many stores they have, where the company is headquartered, what their mission statement is, etc.," Fenton says. "Next, shop one of the company's stores to get familiar with the merchandise they sell and level of service they provide."

Ask Good Questions

Another productive way to prepare is to determine what you'd like to know about the company and your prospective duties. As Fenton points out, toward the end of the interview you're likely to be asked if you have any questions. Your silence may telegraph a lack of serious interest in the position -- potentially eliminating you from contention.

Here are some good questions to ask your interviewer:

* What do you believe are the two or three things I should do that will help me succeed in this position?

* If the interviewer would also be your supervisor: What is it like to work with you? What do you think I should know about you as a supervisor?

* What are some current goals and objectives for the organization?

* What are the opportunities for advancement available in this position?

* What are some of the current challenges I would face in this position?

* What are the two or three key goals and objectives you're working on that I can help you achieve?

Look the Part

Fenton reminds all interview subjects to wear proper attire: "The importance of the image you project during the interview should never be discounted, even if the company is a bit on the casual side. You want your image to suggest that you're a good fit with their company culture, and if anything, you should err a tad on the dressy side. This is your one shot to show your stuff. Make sure it's your best stuff!

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