A buyer’s guide to Retail Store SWOTs

By Billy Maddock, Partner AdMore Buying & Merchandising Who would not want to go shopping as part of their interview process? This enjoyable and proactive aspect of interview preparation is so important. Apart from the obvious reasons of identifying the culture and familiarising yourself with the product range, conducting a SWOT analysis is the most crucial part of the store visit for retail Buyers and Merchandisers. The SWOT analysis is useful for extracting more focused and specific information about the company you are interviewing for, and the market you are entering into. Here are some things for Buyers and Merchandisers to consider when conducting a SWOT analysis:
  • Determine what the ratio is between own brand and branded products. Are the products mainly own brand or branded? Where do the own brand products lie on the shelves in comparison to the branded options?
  • How are the ranges put together? Are they design led or trend led? What are the prices of the products? How competitive are these prices?
  • How broad are the product ranges? How many SKUs are on display? What is the availability? Which options are the slow sellers and are they being promoted accordingly? How is labelling and packaging used to support the promotional activity of heavily promoted products?
  • Does the retailer offer a good/better/best product option (depending on size of the store) to ensure the customer is offered a variety of choices? How are the goods displayed? Are they going to maximise sales?
When compiling the SWOT analysis, it is also important to consider:
  • The image of the store and its footfall. This fundamentally depends on the socio-economic factors of the town/city the store is located in, as different products will be promoted and different price points will be set in accordance to the location of the store.
  • What methods are in place that encourage repeat purchases and the return of consumers to the store? For example, Tesco club card points and the Sainsbury’s Nectar card. If the company you are visiting has a loyalty scheme, try and figure out how this can directly influence consumer behaviour.
  • What is the margin in comparison to competitors? (i.e. price differences on branded products)
  • Are there in-store concessions that could affect sales/ranges? If so, where are these concessions situated within the store? What are the tactics behind this?
  • What are the USPs? How does the retailer try and differentiate themselves from their competitors? (E.G. have they got a CSR policy?)
In order to go that one step further, visit more than 1 store. You could visit a huge flagship store (the M&S Marble Arch store – 170,000 sq ft.) as well as a smaller store (in a small town centre) and try to spot the differences by referring back to the points made above. To stand out further, visit a competitor. This is useful to make comparisons between the two as well as painting a picture of what the market looks like, especially if the market is an unfamiliar one to you. For example, if you are a Furniture buyer interviewing for a stationery buying position then it’s important to look at the products in more detail. It is highly likely that there will be other candidates going for the same vacancy as you for the same retailer, and if they have visited multiple stores and show some of the information discussed above in their interview, and you haven’t, that could be the difference. Don’t take the chance! Click here to follow us on LinkedIn

How to approach a Skype interview

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By Sophie Mackenzie. Congratulations - you have been invited to an interview! But hang on, the interview is to take place via Skype (or Facetime)…so how should you approach it? This is becoming a regular phenomenon in the recruitment world, so if you managed to avoid it thus far, chances are it won’t be long before you have to go through it. As with all interviews, preparation is everything so here are a few tips to ensure that you give the best account of yourself, albeit via the wonders of modern technology! Setting up Firstly you need to be able to accept an invitation to a Skype interview in the first place so get an account set up and ready to go. Also ensure that your user name is professional. Ideally, you will be given a date and time with plenty of notice. If you are asked to conduct a Skype interview at short notice, try to make sure you allow some time to prepare. Prepare your surroundings
  • Choose the venue for your interview carefully – ideally at home, in a quiet room with a door.
  • Get the lighting right and do a test Skype call in advance to check this.
  • Think about what your interviewer will see behind you – a neutral background is ideal with minimal personal belongings in view.
  • Ensure that pets/children/flatmates are being taken care of and know not to interrupt you!
  • Turn any phones to silent.
  • Position your laptop so that the camera is at eye level – a much more flattering angle.
Appearance You could go for the ‘business up top and party below’ approach (shirt and tie from the waist up and boxer shorts from the waist down?!) However, I can envisage issues with this if you have to stand up to deal with a technical issue for instance. Err on the side of caution and dress as you would for a face to face interview. This doesn’t necessarily mean a corporate suit if this is not in keeping with the culture of the company. You should do your research in advance to get this right and if a recruitment consultant is representing you, they should be able to guide you. In short, you should be immaculately groomed, just as you would for a normal interview Do a test run
  • Test your equipment in advance (a good opportunity to Skype your Mum).
  • Ensure you have a strong Broadband connection.
  • Practice looking at the lens rather than looking at yourself in the corner of the screen!
During the interview
  • Remember to smile
  • Practice active listening (nod, “hmm” etc.) so that your interviewer knows that you are listening and that there is no delay.
  • NEVER type on the keyboard during the interview
  • Keep notes of key points or a copy of your CV to hand (just be subtle if you refer to it during the interview)
  • If there are any technical problems, address it with the interviewer and if necessary call them back – don’t try to persevere if you can’t hear them properly.
  • After the interview, you should email your thanks – just as you would for any other interview.
Ultimately, an interview is an interview, irrespective of the medium in which it is conducted and the rest of your preparation should be thorough as for any other interview situation – read some advice here. By employing some of the techniques above, you will hopefully be able to behave naturally and concentrate on getting across your skills, experience and suitability for the role. Good luck! Click here to follow us on LinkedIn  

How to talk about your strengths in an interview

How to talk about your strengths in an Interview Despite the frequency with which this question gets asked, in my experience it is still one area in which many people fall down. I wrote a blog earlier in the year about talking about your weaknesses (click here to read) and following conversations with a number of candidates I felt it would be beneficial to focus on the other side in terms of talking about your strengths, something which people often assume will be easier. So why is it so difficult to talk about yourself in a positive way? Is it because we don’t want to come across as arrogant or is it that we are worried about underselling ourselves? What is certain from my conversations with many candidates and clients is just how difficult people find these questions and how poorly many interviewers feel they are answered. So what are people getting wrong? Getting it wrong Confident versus arrogant – in reality many candidates actually find it very difficult to promote themselves. In my experience depending on the industry sector, it is actually much more likely that people will undersell themselves than oversell. This can particularly be the case in professions or company cultures where you are not required to promote yourself. Too generic – people often talk too generically i.e. “I am a great team player”, a strength that every other candidate could and will possibly talk about and which will therefore do nothing to make yourself stand out. Irrelevant – if people are unprepared they will often talk about personal strengths but ones that just may not be related to their target role or at the very least will do nothing to support their application. Talking about skills not strengths – strengths are general traits whereas skills are often the result of training and experience. Although there is some overlap, skills can be trained whereas traits need developing and therefore it is important to talk about both. No self-awareness – people’s inability to talk about themselves, their strengths, weaknesses and development needs shows a real lack of self awareness and focus on personal development. This may leave the interviewer questioning your ability to grow and develop. Top Tips What are your strengths - Some people, particularly those earlier in their career may not be aware of their strengths and may never had to really talk about them. So the first step is to sit down and think about your strengths paying particular attention to their relevance to the role you are looking to perform. These strengths could be experience-based or specific competencies /personality traits. Either way, try to focus on more than just the standard list that every other candidate will talk about such as being a great team player or having great communication skills. This is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the other applicants so think about traits that may suit the role, like persistence or tenacity for a target-driven role, for example. Ask other people for their opinion - If you struggle to think of your key strengths, you can bet that your nearest and dearest or trusted former colleagues will be able to enlighten you! Ask them for their opinion and crucially, why they have this impression of you. Focus – in most interviews you won’t necessarily have the opportunity to talk about all of your perceived strengths but you should aim to have 5 or so to talk about, focusing on those you believe are most relevant for the role you are pursuing and the company culture of the employer. Different interviewers will spend varying time on this question – so be prepared and be ready to be challenged. Leave behind your modesty – as mentioned above, people can feel uncomfortable about talking positively about themselves however it really is important in an interview situation! It demonstrates a lot about you as an individual, your self-awareness, your openness and your ability to communicate. By thorough preparation and practice, you can learn to talk about yourself in an authentic and confident manner. After all, you need to convince yourself you are the best person for the role as well as convincing the interviewer. One way to do this is to frame your answer by saying “I am often complemented by others on my strength in……” rather than it all coming from you. Matching your CV – it sounds obvious but make sure that if you have talked about your strengths on your CV that you are prepared to talk about them. I often find people will state some very generic strengths on their CV and then come across as unprepared when asked to talk about them. Back it up with examples – don’t be afraid to use examples to provide evidence of your strength in a particular area. It can also be compelling if you talk about how you have worked on a particular strength as this demonstrates your ability to develop yourself over a period of time. Base it around fact and the example is going to land much better than just talking about a trait you feel you possess. Be candid – as I have talked about before, it is important not to try and be something you are not otherwise you are unlikely to succeed in the role even if you are successful at interview. An honest and authentic approach is more compelling and will hopefully leave the employer convinced about your ability to perform the role. They don’t want to hear clichéd answers like “I work very hard” – what they really want to see is how self-aware you are and to get an understanding of the real you. Not being able to talk about your strengths generally doesn’t make you come across as humble or modest. In fact it is more likely to portray you as weak and incompetent. Given the regularity of use, this question is a really important consideration when looking at your interview performance. With preparation and thought you can improve your answers and help yourself secure the role you desire.        

How to answer interview questions on your weaknesses

Although often viewed as a bit clichéd, the interview question about your weaknesses comes up time and time again.  The question itself may be positioned in a number of ways i.e. what would your Line Manager say is your biggest weakness? What is your biggest career mistake? Tell me about a project or task where something went wrong? But all such questions are designed to try and get you to reveal something about yourself you would otherwise prefer not to.

There are many reasons why this is a popular area to explore. First and foremost it is an opportunity for the interviewer to identify some of the areas that you find more thereby reducing their risk in who they hire. Secondly it also gives the interviewer an insight into your level of self awareness. Someone oblivious to their weaknesses or areas of development will struggle with this question. Further, it also gives an insight into self development. Being able to identify an area of weakness or development and then show a path of improvement will give the interviewer confidence about your ability and potential to grow as an individual over time.

So how might this question best be answered? Taking the self deprecating approach in most situations is unlikely to win the interviewer over but there are a number of ways the answer can be positioned in ensure your deliver a strong answer to what is often a tricky question.

Be authentic – the downside of frequently asked questions is that if you give a stock answer the interviewer will have heard it all before so definitely avoid saying you are a perfectionist or that you work too hard. These types of answers will not engage the interviewer and if you do use them be prepared that experienced interviewers are unlikely to accept these answers and will push back for more.  Moreover providing an honest and open opinion of you is an attractive quality to most employers as long it is positioned correctly.

Non essential skills – another option or tactic is to look and understand some of the key attributes of the role and try and focus your weaknesses around something which will have little impact on the role you are trying to secure. That way the interviewer feels you are being open and honest about areas of development but will have minimal concern where it is something that has no impact on the role. i.e. presenting to large groups.

Turning a negative into a positive –In my personal opinion this can be seen as trying to be too clever and as a result insincere. In reality, most experienced interviewers will see straight through it and see it as a non answer – in which case be prepared to answer the question again!

Overcome the potential downside of your biggest strengthstrengths in certain personality traits are often accompanied by weaknesses i.e. people with very strong attention to detail may find it difficult to assess the bigger picture. This presents an opportunity when applying for some roles where they are looking for particular types of individuals where you can use this technique. This should only be done where you know the negative has no relevance to the role.

Be specific – this I believe is a great tactic. Rather than admitting a generic weakness try and limit the scope of the weakness by being as specific as possible i.e. talk about how you have any issue presenting to large groups (rather than presenting per se) and then talk about what steps you have taken to improve in that area. By being specific you prevent the interviewer making a sweeping assumption about a whole host of skills attached to that area which could leave them with a very negative view.

Skills you have improved – another option is to paint a picture to the interviewer how you have improved a particular skill or competency. This can be done by discussing your initial level of functioning, discuss the development steps you have taken to improve this area and then reference your current, improved level of capability with a specific example. It is worth noting this strategy may not work if the area you mention is central to the role you are being interviewed for as it may bring your overall capability into question.

Express preferences – a further way of positioning your weaknesses is to contextualise them in terms of your preferences, which allows you to do it without any negative connotations. i.e.  Given the choice between A and B, I'd prefer A. This way, you can imply "Don't make me do B as I am not very good at it" without ever expressing a negative. This technique is easy to master with a little practice.

Talk about what you do, not what you areby focusing on your behaviors rather than your personality traits you are suggesting to the interviewer that your weaknesses are only prevalent in certain circumstances rather than all of the time. This may be in in the form of particular scenarios or isolated situations where certain factors were at play. If you talk about them in the context of tendencies rather than expressing them as the type of person you are you can position them as only being apparent now and then.

Hopefully some of the suggestions above will prove useful in helping you deliver a much stronger and credible response to this frequently asked question. But ultimately it is also about being honest – honest with the interviewer and yourself. There are always inherent risks in portraying yourself as someone you are not and you will be setting yourself up for a fall even if you manage to convince people through the interview process.  Equally being too honest about every short coming you think you may have is also not a great idea as I suspect you may find it very difficult to secure another position.  No one is perfect but positioning your weaknesses in the right way is a very important aspect of interviewing and is a question that you can prepare for in advance of your interview. There is no single correct answer to these questions, critically it is about making sure you are authentic and that your answer is well matched to the job.