Hiring sales associates, at first glance, shouldn’t be a big problem for the retail sector. Because of the nature of the job – primarily entry-level positions – the lack of candidates generally doesn’t give recruiters sleepless nights. As reported by Career Plug, in 2021, there were 60 applicants per job opening.

Thus, finding at least one suitable candidate would seem more than feasible.

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And yet, the retail industry turnover rates are on the top of the list – with just about 60%, according to the National Retail Federation (US). To put it in perspective, the average turnover across all US industries hovers around 19%.

So, why is it that recruiters choose, at least seemingly, the best candidate, and yet the sector is plagued with hires that turn out to be unsatisfactory?

Putting aside the employees that choose to walk away of their own accord, the reason could be pretty simple – what recruiters deem a good match may not be so.

Why Is Hiring Sales Associates Important for the Business?

A sales associate is the point of contact between customers and a company. By being in direct contact with your clientele, they have the power to help you thrive and improve sales. In other words, they’re the face of your business.

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In a nutshell, they play an essential role in shaping the customer experience daily. Hiring sales associates who can deliver on their duties excellently can make or break your business.

Who Can Be a Good Sales Associate?

Like any other retail employee, a successful sales associate should have a solid set of hard and soft skills. If you’d like to read in detail about soft skills desired in retail, feel free to check out one of our previous blog posts. As a quick reminder, such skills include:

  • customer-focused mindset
  • team player personality
  • good stress management ability
  • multitasking & prioritising
  • decision-making & taking initiative

Paying close attention to soft skills is beneficial on many levels. For starters, it broadens your talent pool, as soft skills are highly transferable. Moreover, there’s a clear indication from HR professionals that they are, in fact, one of the ultimate reasons why hires fail – as admitted by 89% of the surveyed.

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But soft skills, even if visibly crucial, aren’t the only guarantee of a candidate’s success. Sales associates also need to possess technical skills specific to the industry. Let’s look at what these skills include.

  • Product knowledge – having a vast, detailed knowledge of the products you offer to build a trustworthy relationship with customers.
  • Merchandise display – knowing how to display goods to attract customers and drive profits effectively.
  • Salesman talk – being able to actively sell goods by walking customers through the stages of the sale in a knowledgeable, non-aggressive fashion.
  • POS (Point of Sale) systems – understanding how to use hardware and software devices such as cash registers, scanning devices, credit card machines, etc.
  • Industry expertise – being knowledgeable about the specifics of your industry. Selling baked goods, clothes, and mobile devices is all retail, but you won’t conduct business the same way.

Are you worried about finding a candidate who displays the whole range of these skills? Well, the good thing is that even someone without prior retail experience can be a great fit. As long as they have the competencies to learn the technical skills, that is.

That being said, testing for soft skills and personality fit may be a more efficient option in the long run. After all, more people have the right competencies to learn fast than those with both sets of skills.

Which Assessment is Best for Hiring Sales Associates?

Did you know that 30% of the UK retail leaders struggle to find the right candidates? Many retailers globally share the same problem.

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Although eliminating that problem is a complex process, the pain can be alleviated by changing your recruitment style. Or, to be more accurate, equip the recruitment process with tools that identify candidates with the right profile.

The following section will walk you through three options you have.

1. Personality Tests – a person to work with?

Personality tests gained popularity in the recruitment field. However, Sherrie Haynie, Director of US Professional Services for Myers-Briggs Company, clearly states that they shouldn’t be used as the sole ground on which you decide whom to hire. 

That being said, they can tell us about a candidate’s affinity for a certain job. Whether a sales associate, a programmer, or a chef – their duties will differ and require specific behaviours.

Using a personality test can be an addition to your recruitment practices if you want to get an insight into a candidate’s personality traits and what drives their actions. Such a test can provide important information about one’s values, work preferences, and learning styles – factors essential to determining a cultural fit, for example.

But also, they’ll tell you more about how quickly someone will adapt to new tasks and handle the work environment.

A downside of personality tests is that they’re not easy to prepare. Nor to evaluate. Thus, they’re suitable when the market is good, and you can afford to take time with the hiring process.

Otherwise, opting for other solutions may be a more suitable choice.

2. Situational Judgment Test (SJT) – test candidate’s reactions to work-related scenarios accurately

SJT is one of these options. The test measures candidates’ responses to work-related scenarios they’ll most likely face on the job. Not every person will know how to behave when a disgruntled customer comes asking for a refund. Yet, it’s a competency a successful sales associate needs to have.

By asking your candidates to solve an SJT, you’ll be able to sieve through a talent pool and decide which responses align with the expectations of your branch and the business itself. To learn more about how such tests work, dive into a more detailed description of the whole process here.

To briefly highlight the benefits of SJTs:

  1. They are customised to your company specifically, focusing on your goals, expectations, and challenges
  2. You assess them automatically – saving time and allowing you to go through 350+ applications quicker
  3. You’ll uncover a candidate’s motivation, decision-making, and many other soft skills

Does it sound like something your recruitment could use? Let us take you through the whole process and highlight how your business can benefit from SJTs when hiring sales associates.

3. Structured Interviews – but you’re asking the right questions!

Not ready to commit to software doing everything for you or don’t have time to prepare suitable personality tests? Here’s an option for you.

Just like resumes don’t predict a candidate’s future performance, interviews also won’t help. That is if the questions you ask are irrelevant. But you can structure your interviews and prepare behavioural questions to tease out specific answers based on prior experience.

For example, you could ask candidates the following:

  1. Have you ever had a situation where a customer was dissatisfied with a product and demanded a refund? What did you do?
  2. Tell me about a time you solved a problem at work. What was it? What did you do?
  3. Describe a time you provided excellent customer service.

Of course, behavioural questions are great when a candidate has had a chance to experience the situations you’re asking for. When talking to those without prior experience, you lose the point.

There are many unique talents you could overlook if you put too much weight on experience. People may have the competencies to solve work-related issues and act in a way a good sales associate should but never had a chance to do so.

Perhaps you can be the one to give them that chance?

Final Thoughts

Hiring sales associates, or should I say – the right ones, is critical to your business’ success. As seen by the industry turnover rates, however, the task is far from easy.

Can you improve the recruitment process to identify candidates with the desired profile? Well, the options are there. Choose the one that can satisfy your organisation’s needs and capabilities best.

The bottom line is – one can acquire hard skills with hard work, dedication, and the right mindset. Soft skills, on the other hand, are needed to make the learning process possible and efficient.

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