How to Hire for the Retail Industry

A Guide to Hiring Great Employees for Your Retail Business

The lovely world of retail. All of us are consumers in some fashion, and we should always feel like everything is smooth sailing from a shopper’s perspective. But behind the groceries, bright lights, jewelry, clothes and mannequins you will find hard working individuals who work for minimum wage in most cases. If your business is going to be a successful retail establishment, you need to make sure you hire some great people to show off the amazing products you have and provide your customers with a world renowned shopping experience. As with any company, your number one biggest asset is your employees. How do you find those retail stars, you ask? Follow these steps and you’ll have a retail workforce unmatched by any competitor. 

Resume and Application

I know this probably goes against everything you have ever learned in recruiting but typos and grammatical errors don’t necessarily mean “not qualified” right off the bat. What I mean by that is, for most retail positions you shouldn’t be expecting them to be able to write a blog or an essay EVER, so why does it matter if they misspelled a word on their application?! Don’t get me wrong, I am a stickler for typos. Remember the job that you are hiring for and what characteristics or skills are important to that job. Ask qualifying questions in the applications that apply to the job or your company. This can reduce your workload by flagging applicants who answer the question with keywords you like.

We have questions on our applications for food service positions that ask things about the candidates experience with handling meat or what organic means to them. Also, try to get as much information in the application process as possible, like: scheduling restraints (these aren’t 9-5 jobs), other schedule commitments, can they works weekends, what they know about your company or products, what other departments or locations they are interested in working in, etc. etc. the list goes on and on.


Make it easy for people to apply. Applicants don’t want to get the run around to be able to apply for a job earning $8-12 dollars an hour. This includes making it easy for an applicant to reach a real live person by email or phone – even better in-person. A once a month open call or job fair is a great way to shake a hand or two. People like to interact with people, there’s no getting around that. At the company I work for, we only converted to an online application system 3 years ago. The grocery world also tends to be behind the times in most technical aspects. But the point is that’s probably unheard of in many other industries.

For the HR department we were screening every paper application manually and in the last 3 years we have received over 10,000 applicants via the website for a company that only employs 500 people. Most recently while opening a new store in Pleasanton, CA we had 1,000 candidates apply for about 80 job openings. We touch every single one of those candidates by reviewing their application and looking for something that sets them apart, and it’s not necessarily job experience. This is why it’s also necessary to have a good applicant tracking system in place to make your work easier too.

Customer Service

This is something that comes easy or it doesn’t. When my company did a market study with our current customers a few years back, we were trying to find out the kind of customer service they wanted to receive. All the feedback kept pointing to one main thing – a genuine feeling that the employee was trying to help them. Whether that meant just saying, “Hi, can I help you with something?” Or just a friendly smile of recognition as the customer walks by, as long as it felt genuine and not fake. Now I’m sure that this may not be the case for every retail environment but I think I speak for the majority when I say I don’t want a fake and bubbly person trying to help me when they have no idea what they are talking about.

Going back to the previous topic, you should look for applicants that can provide examples of people skills on their application. When I call someone to do a phone interview, I can normally tell within the first 5 minutes if someone on the other line in personable or not. The people who love to interact with your customers, are the people you want working for you.

Product Knowledge & Passion

Look for people who are passionate for what your company does or what your company sells. Again, this will show your customers that the employees who work for your company are genuine and knowledgeable. If your employees integrate their passion about your products into their lifestyle, selling your products is simple – like feeding candy to a baby.

In my industry we like to find people who are totally into the organic food lifestyle. That may also correlate to being healthy or passion for nutrition, farming or sustainability. Just the plain fact that they are into food can be enough for us – who doesn’t love food!? When employees are naturally interested in the products or services that you company offers, it makes it simple for them to educate the customers.

Desire to grow with your company

As with any business (or most), you want to try to keep employees working for your company. I think we have seen many companies become extremely successful and profitable from promoting from within. It’s great having people continue to grow with a growing company, especially since you have already invested in them and they are already invested (and passionate) about what the company does. This has tons of added benefits: It keeps turnover low, creates a positive culture of recognition, and the great people who are already working for you can continue to drive the great company culture. Although there is often a high turnover in retail (which is somewhat unavoidable to a certain extent), you CAN find people who start working for your company in an entry level position that stay and eventually grow into your company directors. Give employees the tools to make this possible and make it feel like it’s realistic.

Retail HR

Are you in retail HR? What do you look for when hiring in this industry? 

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Sabra Reyes

Sabra Reyes is one of those rare Human Resources professionals who knew HR was the career of choice in college. She received a BS in Business with a concentration in Human Resources Management from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. After 10 years of HR generalist work, she has found her niche as a Human Resources Director for an independent natural and organic grocery company with more than a handful of stores in the Bay Area region of California. You can find her on Linkedin.

Reader Interactions


  1. Mary Wright says

    What a terrific topic! I love “bespoke” advice. My legal clients really appreciate advice specific to the industry, not just the jurisdiction.

    • Sabra Reyes says

      Hi Mary, Thank you for the compliment! I will continue to share the HR retail perspective, so stay tuned.

  2. Victorio Milian says

    As a HR professional in the retail space, I applaud Ms. Reyes blog post. Oftentimes when I read other HR/Recruiting blogs discuss finding talent, I have to adjust my filter to match the reality that I, and those in this industry, face. Many retailers don’t have an ATS, many rely on walk-ins and referrals for candidates, and many HR professionals and hiring managers are doing double duty, performing recruitment duties in addition to their primary ones.

    Succeeding in this environment, both as a candidate and as a HR pro, requires a unique perspective, and Ms. Reyes captures it well.

    • Sabra Reyes says

      Hi Victorio, Thank you for your compliment! Hopefully, you can continue to read my posts without a filter.

  3. Nikita says

    I totally agree with your point of Customer Service. In fact, I think the evolving business models in retail like brick and click, etc is making it even more challenging for Retail HR in this area.


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