Three Interview Killers

Here are the three things that will never earn you a job if you say them to me:

  • Retail management is no different than management
  • I’d be good at this job because I know what needs to change
  • I wouldn’t change a thing

Let me unpack this a little and let’s see if you agree.

Retail Management is No Different Than Management

External candidates with no store experience often tell me that they could do the job because “retail management is not that different from any other kind of management.”  As you may have guessed, I disagree.

For example, some of the skills required to manage store communications are the same as managing communications elsewhere: writing and editing, communications design, management.  But people without retail store experience lack the ability to quickly assess the operational soundness of the material.  There are too many easy mistakes to make – such as approving an aspirational story recognizing an employee for working off the clock.  There are also the opportunity costs to the company of your inability to describe the impact of store communications on SPH and, ultimately, sales.

Can this be learned? Sure. In over 25 years of experience, I have almost never seen it happen. So, if you are throwing your hat into the ring, you’d better acknowledge that this is a different animal and you’d better have a plan for how you will get up to speed, fast.

I Know What Needs to Change

I often heard this from store employees who wanted to move into the corporate office. But knowing what needs to change is only half the story.  We all know what needs to change – the question is, how are you going to change it?  Let me be clear, the question I need answered is not strategic – what does the result of the change look like — but tactical: what approaches and techniques will you use to implement the change?

I’ve been impressed when chatting with peers at other retailers, that we share a lot of the same challenges. For example, B&N store employees could go to any other store communications department and say “I know what needs to change” because the answers pretty much apply everywhere, to different degrees.

When asked how the candidate would make the change, the answer often starts with, “I’d tell…” What they fail to appreciate is that change requires investments (time, resources, mind-space) and behavioral changes by partners in other departments — busy people who have their own priorities and to whom effective change management, communications, or operations are a nice to have. So starting by “telling” is not going to get results.

I Wouldn’t Change a Thing

This is the kiss of death for an internal employee who wants to move up within a department.  To be honest, the last time I heard it was in the 90’s (mainly because after that I was managing people I had hired: I knew them and they knew I wouldn’t accept someone who accepted the status quo). The manager of another department had just left and my VP I asked me to interview candidates for the replacement. When I interviewed the internal candidate for the manager’s job, I was appalled when she told me that she wouldn’t change a thing.  First of all, it showed a blindness to the department’s poor reputation amongst store managers; and second of all, who doesn’t have a wish list of things they would do differently if only they were in charge?

No matter how well-run the department is and how engaged they are with the stores and the home office partners they support, there’s always room to be more efficient, to make things better, to innovate and disrupt processes for better results. A failure to see this is a lack of leadership.

So those are my three interview-killers. What are yours?

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