The Retail Management Advisors, Inc. logo


How to hire a good employee is a topic that seems to plague both independent retailers and their giant chain counterparts. Actually, no one wants a “good” employee—we all want great employees, but finding that shining star is a difficult, expensive and time-consuming task. Over and above the loss of time spent writing and placing an ad and the interviewing process, there are funds spent on integrity testing (recommended), time spent checking references and time spent training a new employee. Hiring the right employee is an investment in the company and its future. Of course, hiring the wrong employee costs even more; all the time and money spent on the wrong employee is an expense to the company and the whole process must be repeated.

Statistics report that nearly half of all new hires do not work out and clearly, hiring the wrong employee is never a good thing. To avoid hiring the wrong person, some proprietors opt to do more themselves, spending long hours trying to keep up bookkeeping and other paperwork as well as being the lead sales’ performer and having little time left to spend with family and friends. But, there comes a point when that is no longer feasible. A good owner knows his or her time is best spent growing the business or dealing with the $300-an-hour jobs that only an owner can do. But, when an owner tries to do too much, how much of the time is spent on the $10-$15-an-hour jobs? One has to wonder if all of the important jobs are getting done or is the owner a fire-fighter rushing from one immediate task to the next but never accomplishing much? What is really important? Maybe the business would grow more if customers’ needs had more attention. Perhaps help preparing financial statements and bookkeeping would help most (  Consider employment options carefully.

Many new hires fail to live up to expectations. 11% of those failures are due to lacking necessary skills but 89% of failures are due to problems with attitudes. To put it bluntly, some people lack motivation and refuse to be trained. Generally, when interviewing, look for candidates with good attitudes. Having a particular skill set may appear to be the most important, and it is important, but skills can be taught, personalities cannot.

Keep in mind that some skills are necessary for performing any retail job. As every person in retail will interact with customers from time to time, prospective employees need to generally get along with other people. You want a potential employee to have a “can-do” attitude and a willingness to learn. Avoid extremes in personality. Look for someone who shows up on-time, is well-groomed and makes eye contact. Don’t borrow trouble; if a person can’t put down their phone during the interview, it could be worse if he or she is hired.

Questions to ask during the interview may include:
Why did you leave your last job?
What do you want to be doing in ten years?
Why do you work?
What makes you want to get up in the mornings?
Also include pointed questions that relate to knowledge and skills that you want an employee to have to some degree immediately. Rather than asking a potential employee if they can do _____________, ask specific questions about the skill.  How would you do ___________?

These questions tell you much about ambitions and knowledge. Steer clear of those applicants who blame someone or something else for everything bad that has happened. Also, ask what faults the applicant has and how they are working to overcome those faults.  Sometimes faults are as important as weaknesses.

One writer recommended always asking for at least 1 personal reference. Questions to ask the personal reference(s) are:
How long have you known _____________?
Is he / she reliable? Can you count on _____________ if you needed to?
Is there anything you think I should know?
Also, check social media and the web as much as your state allows.  So much information is readily available on the web and it may be what helps you choose one applicant over another.

If you are interviewing “another” employee rather than your “first” employee, you may consider including at least one other employee in the interview process. That way, you would have two opinions as you prepare to offer the position to someone.

This IS a time to listen to your gut. If anything tells you this is not the right person, keep looking. Do not settle. But, if you do hire a disappointing employee, let them go. Don’t keep then on hoping to “fix” them. You have too much to do to try to fix an employee.

We recommend psychological and/or honesty testing ( Yes, the testing costs extra. I will remind you of something Warren Buffett said. “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.” If your state allows background and credit checks, invest in those also.

When your new employee starts, be there to welcome them and introduce them. Give them a company policy manual on their first day on the job and have them sign a statement that they have received the policy manual. Keep the signed statement in their personnel file.  Provide them a good written job description of their job and sufficient, patient training for each duty. Remember, you want to create an environment that encourages employee growth and independence, not one causing fear or distrust. Give them constructive feedback. Do not ignore little problems or annoyances. Let your employees know what you expect of them. We recommend that there be a trial period or grace period where either party can break ties for any reason (again, if your state allows). Again, let me stress, do not spend time trying to fix an employee who isn’t willing to learn.

Performance Reviews
Once the employee is trained and working, use semi-annual performance reviews or you may be inclined to the less formal chat before or after work to review achievements or areas to work on.  Do not forget important verbal praise. If an employee handles a difficult situation graciously, be sure to praise their efforts.

In Conclusion
A content, knowledgeable staff is your best asset and can give you and the store an invaluable advantage. People are quick to point out how much it will cost to pay an employee, but instead, determine how much more money your store can make with great assistance.

Finally, never stop recruiting. Ever. Keep looking for that next employee. It may be a customer, your barista, or a chance meeting at a market or trade show. At least get contact information.  Just because it doesn’t work out to interview them now, it may later on.