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20+ Sales Associate Interview Questions (& Sample Answers)

Covers 90% of interview questions for sales associates, with answers and tips to nail the interview.
20+ Sales Associate Interview Questions (& Sample Answers)
Contents
20+ Sales Associate Interview Questions (& Sample Answers)

To interview well as a sales associate, you need to cover 3 key steps: understand the company and the role really well, anticipate the most common sales associate interview questions, and then make your answers condensed, thoughtful, and confident.

Companies are careful when hiring for this role — after all, you’ll work closely with customers, and have the power to influence their buying decisions.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How to answer sales associate interview questions to convince hiring managers you’ve got what it takes to succeed.
  • 23 common behavioral, situational, and role-based questions (with sample answers).
  • More tips on how to succeed in the interview.

No time to read the whole thing? Here are some quick pointers:

  • Remember — sales associate roles are very diverse, and your duties can differ greatly across various companies.
  • To be better prepared for interview questions, close-read the job description and, if possible, visit the store to get first-hand experience as a customer.
  • Do extra digging on Reddit and LinkedIn to see what current and former employees say.
  • Expect to get a mix of general interview questions like “tell me about yourself” or “why do you want to work here” and behavioral interview questions (“tell me about a time when…”).
  • In your answers, refer to real-life experiences from your past jobs, and make sure you highlight your relevant skills like customer-first attitude, problem-solving, or active listening.
  • At the end of the sales associate interview, ask 3–4 impactful questions to get more information about the company and the exact requirements.

Big Interview: the best interview preparation tool

Don’t waste days compiling overused interview techniques. Get original answers to every single question you could expect.

Some of the most common sales associate interview questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you interested in this sales associate position?
  • Why do you want to work in sales?
  • How do you keep updated about the products you sell?
  • What motivates you in your sales career?
  • Can you describe a time when you went the extra mile for the customer?
  • Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult customer? How did you handle the situation?
  • Describe a situation when you persuaded a skeptical customer to purchase a product?
  • Can you describe a specific sales process you’ve used successfully in a previous position?
  • Describe an occasion where you had to be adaptable in a sales scenario.
  • Tell me about the last time you turned an unhappy customer into a satisfied one
  • How would you handle customer objections to a product’s price?
  • If a customer is undecided between two products, how would you help them make a choice?
  • How would you cope with a period of low sales?
  • Imagine a customer is upset because a product they wanted is out of stock. What would you do?
  • How would you cross-sell or up-sell to a customer who is buying a particular product from our store?
  • If a customer has a complaint about our store or product, how would you handle it?

Don’t stop here! This list of 30+ sales interview questions may also come in handy.

Understanding the Role of the Sales Associate

Sales associate’s main task is to sell products to customers, simple. But you know better than anyone, there’s some nuance to the role. You might need to handle payments, help customers find their way around the store, upsell, manage inventory, handle the restocking… (not to mention all the unexpected in between).

*Note: This article focuses on the retail setting and covers the preparation and interview questions for a retail sales associate. The typical duties and responsibilities can vary across organizations, and there can also be an overlap between the roles of a sales associate, retail associate, and sales assistant. If you’re unsure what exactly the job entails, go back to the job ad and re-read the “responsibilities” section, talk to former or current employees, or do a quick online search (Reddit is a good place to start).

To succeed as a sales associate, you need:

  • Extensive product knowledge
  • Industry knowledge
  • Merchandising skills
  • Diverse soft skills and qualities like great communication, customer service, and persuasion skills.
  • To be highly observant and know how to multitask.

Sorry if I’m stating the obvious. But there’s a reason I’m reminding you of all that:

As you formulate your answers, make sure to highlight these very skills as you cover your experience and typical duties.

Common Sales Associate Interview Questions

When applying for a sales associate role, you’ll come across some common interview questions that assess your sales and customer service skills.

Basic interview questions for sales associates

In summary:

  • The interview starts with general questions like “tell me about yourself” or “why do you want to work in sales.”
  • They serve as a warm-up and provide talking points for the follow-ups.

Here are the most common ones.

Tell me about yourself

AKA the icebreaker question. The goal is simple — to help the interviewer get to know you better.

Here’s a sample answer you can use:

I’ve been in retail for over eight years, starting as a cashier right after high school and then earning a promotion to a sales associate at VeroModa. Over the years, I’ve honed my customer service skills, learned how to handle transactions, and had an opportunity to work in various fashion retail settings. I also had a chance to create different loyalty programs in my current role, and as a result, the company saw a 30% increase in returning business. Working directly with customers is my favorite part of the job since I enjoy helping people find the best items for their needs. Thanks to that approach, I managed to increase the store’s average transaction value by 15% and was often the go-to person for upselling.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Make your pitch brief and powerful. Focus on the aspects of your work history that are most relevant to the sales associate role, such as your day-to-day tasks and achievements.
  • Show your versatility. Retail is a dynamic field, so being versatile is a big plus. If you’ve worked in different retail settings or juggled multiple roles, like operating a cash register or inventory management, say it.
  • Note your customer service abilities. Use specific examples and numbers to quantify your results and show what you bring to the table.

Why are you interested in this sales associate position?

Interviewers ask this question to check how well you understand the role you applied for and determine if you’re the right fit for the company.

Sample answer to use as guidance:

I’m drawn to this sales associate position for several reasons. First, COS has a reputation for valuing both innovation in terms of materials and customer experience. I thought your recent initiative to integrate a virtual fitting room into the shopping experience was brilliant. Another thing that caught my eye was your insistence on teamwork, as I believe that collective efforts lead to the best results. Finally, your commitment to employee professional development aligns with my eagerness to grow and develop. Since I’m a big fan of your products, I’m sure I can contribute to your success by applying my sales skills and first-hand experience as a user. 

Tips on how to answer:

  • Do your research. Go online (their website, social media, LinkedIn) and learn all you possibly can about the company and the role. Also, expect specific questions about their products, so do your homework.
  • Show that you’re excited. Tell them why you think it’s a good opportunity for you and how it aligns with your career goals. Make them understand you want this job not just a job.
  • Refer to the company culture. Any company values or initiatives that strike a chord with you? Bring them up! Show them you’re in for more than just a paycheck.

Why do you want to work in sales?

The key here is to be authentic and specific. Touch upon what you genuinely love about sales and subtly hint at the qualities that make you a strong sales associate candidate.

Here’s how you can approach your answer:

I’ve always been a people person, and sales just seemed like the perfect career for me. I get to talk to different people every day, figure out what they need, and help them find it. There’s something really satisfying about helping a customer discover the exact product they were looking for and seeing the smile on their face. Plus, I’ve always been pretty goal-oriented, so the challenge of hitting targets and pushing myself to do better each month really keeps me going. If we add an excellent progressional career path and lots of growth opportunities, then it’s obvious why it’s my dream job. All in all, sales is just the perfect mix of what I’m naturally good at and what I enjoy doing.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Don’t fake it. You’ll be a lot more convincing if you’re genuine and authentic. Whether it’s the interpersonal aspect, the challenge, or the problem-solving that makes you tick, talk about that.
  • Mention sales-specific challenges. Maybe you love hitting targets. Maybe closing gives you a thrill. Whatever motivates you, bring it up in your answer.
  • Touch on your commitment to customer service and problem-solving. A customer-centric approach is crucial to succeed in sales. Mention that you value the core human aspect of the sales process and align your personal strengths with the key requirements of the role. You can mention a time you helped a customer and felt good about it.

How do you keep updated about the products you sell?

With this question, the interviewer wants to check how you stay on top of things and how you improve your sales performance.

Here’s a sample answer to use as inspiration:

I use multiple sources of information like industry newsletters, consumer magazines, forums, YouTube, websites, blogs, or podcasts. I also attend training programs, conferences, trade shows, and seminars related to my industry and products. For example, since I currently work at DigitalNation, I never miss Apple Keynote Events, CNET Highlights, and product reviews by Smartwatch Ticks or The 5 Best. I also talk to colleagues and industry leaders regularly. Customer feedback is another way to gain deeper insights into the products I sell. Additionally, I spend time on the floor, working hands-on with the products, which helps me understand the customer’s perspective. This combined approach keeps me well-informed and ready to answer customer questions with confidence and accuracy.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Emphasize continuous learning. Mention any formal training sessions or courses provided by the employer.
  • Show you’re proactive. Talk about your own efforts to stay informed. Mention things like subscribing to industry publications, attending webinars, workshops, or engaging with online communities.
  • Bring up your hands-on experience. Explain how you get to know the product, either through using it yourself or by doing research on how customers can use it.
  • Show you’re passionate. Show genuine interest in the products, and show how staying updated is something you enjoy, not merely a job requirement.

What motivates you in your sales career?

Another question that asks you to talk about the reasons why you’re in sales and the motivating force that keeps you going when things are not ideal.

Here’s what you can say:

Many things — people, the fact that I’m helping, and my team. For roles like this one, not meeting goals and KPIs can be demotivating. When that happens, I try to focus on the other aspects of the job I like, like the customer interactions and team spirit. After all, sales for me has always been about assisting people, solving their dilemmas, guiding them, and going the extra mile to make their day.

Also, being a part of a close-knit and collaborative team is another significant motivator for me. When things go south, we support each other. There’s a lot of camaraderie and willingness to help.

I’m also pretty resilient and persistent by nature, so I rarely get discouraged. Instead, I view tough times as the chance to learn, improve, and find creative solutions to improve my metrics.”

Tips on how to answer:

  • Focus on helping customers. As a sales associate, you’ll provide guidance and act as a consultant. Some buying decisions are legit difficult (ever tried to pick a color for your walls or bathroom tiles?), and your input, product knowledge, and experience matters.
  • Mention your team. Hiring managers know most sales people are driven by the financial benefits. Focusing on being a team player will win you brownie points.

💡Pro tip: You will hear some other, standard interview questions. Here’s a quick list to use as a starting point — Common Interview Questions (Tips + Sample Answers).

Behavioral interview questions for sales associates

In summary:

  • Behavioral questions ask you to talk about real-life sales scenarios from the past.
  • They usually start with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Can you describe a situation when…”
  • The best way to answer is to use the STAR formula. STAR stands for Situation-Task-Action-Result.
  • In your answers, talk about what needed to be done (Situation and Task), what you did (Action), and what the outcome was (Result).

Behavioral questions are about how you navigated real-life sales scenarios. To answer well, you’ll need to refer to relevant examples from your professional past.

For sales roles, being able to talk about these experiences is almost as important as knowing your past KPIs by heart. Be ready to discuss your past behavior — the interviewers treat it as evidence to predict your future actions.

The best way to approach behavioral questions is to use the STAR formula (Situation-Task-Action-Result) in your answers. Here’s a quick explainer video, but we’ll break this method down in detail later in this article.

Can you describe a time when you went the extra mile for a customer?

With this question, the interviewer wants to sift through applicants and identify those with above-average skills and commitment.

You could approach the answer like this:

There was a situation when a customer was looking for a discontinued lipstick product line. Understanding their disappointment, I started by offering alternative products with similar qualities. However, I could tell that the customer was not just looking for a replacement but was attached to the original product. It was “their color”. So I took the initiative to check our inventory and contacted other stores. It turned out that a store in a different city had a few items left. I arranged for an inter-store transfer and had the lipsticks shipped to the customer’s home address. She was extremely grateful for the effort. She remained one of our most loyal customers, and this particular effort resulted in an additional $600 in sales over the following two months. This experience reinforced my belief that going above and beyond not only brings joy to customers but is also deeply satisfying for me personally.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Set the scene. Start by briefly describing the situation and the customer’s needs to provide context for your actions.
  • Explain what steps you took. Describe how exactly you went beyond the usual level of service. Be specific about what you did and why you did it.
  • Discuss the outcome. How did the customer react? What was the impact on customer loyalty or sales?
  • Make it measurable. If possible, quantify the impact of your actions. For example, mention any positive feedback, reviews, subsequent purchases by the same customer, or recognition you received from your employer. Numbers will give extra credibility to your answer.

Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult customer. How did you handle the situation?

You haven’t worked in sales unless you came across difficult or angry customers. Although very unpleasant, these instances are a great chance to showcase your conflict-resolution and problem-solving skills.

Here’s how you can do it in your answer:

During my time at The Electronic Emporium, I once assisted a customer who was unhappy with the quality of the cordless vacuum cleaner they’d purchased. The issue was that the battery started to drain very quickly. The customer was extremely frustrated, as it was their third visit to the store for the same issue. I listened calmly to their concerns, validating their feelings without interrupting them. That seemed to ease their frustration slightly. After reviewing their previous transactions and realizing they were a frequent shopper, I noticed they hadn’t been informed about our extended warranty plan. I explained the benefits of the plan and, as a gesture of goodwill, offered to retroactively apply the warranty to their purchase. This would resolve the immediate issue by replacing the battery at no extra cost. To cement this positive experience, I arranged for a direct line of communication with our quality assurance team to provide feedback, and gave them a 10% off voucher for the next purchase. The customer was happy with how the issue was resolved. They continued to shop with us and later signed up for our loyalty program.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Stay positive. Despite this being a negative experience, you should always conclude with the resolution and lessons you learned in the process.
  • Show empathy. Show you could put yourself in the customer’s shoes and how a deep understanding of their needs guided your response.
  • Highlight communication skills. As you narrate your story, reflect on how you communicated with the customer throughout the situation. Show you’re conscious of your ability to manage and de-escalate the conflict.
  • End on a high note. Finish your story by sharing how your intervention prevented negative consequences and, in fact, helped with customer satisfaction.

Describe a situation where you persuaded a skeptical customer to purchase a product

Persuading a skeptical and indecisive customer is a crucial skill for a sales associate.

Here’s how you can answer to showcase your persuasion skills:

At my previous position at a boutique that specialized in sustainable fashion, I encountered a customer who was skeptical about the higher price points of our products compared to fast-fashion alternatives. They loved the style, but were unsure about the value of investing in eco-friendly clothing. This was a common objection for first-time buyers, so I started by acknowledging their concerns about cost, validating that it’s an important factor for many shoppers. After that, I shifted the conversation to the value of sustainability in fashion. I explained how our garments were made from high-quality, sustainable materials, that they last longer and have a lower environmental impact. I highlighted the craftsmanship that goes into each piece and how it supports ethical labor practices. To address the price concern directly, I walked them through a few pieces from our collection, discussing the versatility of each item and how it could be styled in multiple ways for various occasions, effectively reducing the cost per wear. Plus, I also shared stories of existing customers who found that our pieces remained staples in their wardrobes season after season, contrary to the throw-away nature of fast fashion. Finally, I offered to sign them up for our loyalty program, which included a discount on their first purchase, and informed them about our return policy, which gave them the confidence to try out our brand risk-free. I’m happy to say they made their first purchase of a staple piece. A few months later, they returned and mentioned how many compliments they had received and how they valued the durability and versatility of the piece. They are now a regular customer.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Show product expertise. 
  • Show you can handle customer objections. Explain how you addressed customer doubts (warranty, tech support, or return policies).
  • Don’t be hypothetical. Use real-life customer situations to show you’re not making things up.
  • Go for empathy and active listening skills. Being a sales associate is all about connecting with your customers, and you can’t do that without being attentive and patient around their needs.
  • Focus on your influence. Explain the techniques you used to persuade the customer and why they were effective. This way, the interviewer will the sale was closed thanks to your efforts rather than a stroke of luck.

Can you describe a specific sales process you’ve used successfully in a previous position?

Having a well-thought-out and documented sales process means you know what you’re doing. It also shows you know exactly how to repeat a successful sale.

You can say something like:

While working at Outdoor Gear Ltd., I structured a sales process that involved several key stages: customer research, needs assessment, presentation, handling objections, closing, and follow-up. For instance, when selling high-end camping equipment, I would first determine who our target audience was, and they included outdoor enthusiasts and frequent campers. Then, I would analyze previous sales to better understand our ideal customers. This allows me to engage customers by asking targeted, open-ended questions to learn more about their specific needs and establish a personal connection. During the presentation stage, I would highlight product features that align with their expressed needs. For sleeping bags, this would be durability, reviews, or insulation type. For tents, I would highlight lightweight materials for easier transport. I would also identify and address common objections, such as price, by demonstrating long-term value and cost-effectiveness. When it came to closing, I would discuss the next camping trip they could take with their new equipment to help them put things into perspective. Finally, I always make sure there’s a follow-up strategy… checking in after the purchase to ask about their experience and to provide additional tips. This would often lead to repeat business and referrals. This process not only helped me exceed my sales targets by 15% but also increased customer satisfaction scores for the entire department.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Outline the process. Be clear about the steps in your sales process and explain why you think it was successful, illustrating each phase with examples.
  • Show you can handle objections. Show your potential employer that you can deal with pushbacks.
  • Talk about results. The interviewer is interested in results and bottom-line impact. Highlight your outcomes and mention if you exceeded any targets, gained more customers, or hit high customer loyalty.
  • Be as specific as possible. Detail a particular sales process you’ve used rather than discussing general sales strategies.

Describe an occasion where you had to be adaptable in a sales scenario

Sales is rarely a smooth ride — hiccups in supply chains, changing market conditions, seasonality and different customer preferences are just some of the challenges you’ll face.

That’s why employers want to find a sales associate who can always land on their feed.

Here’s a sample answer you can use when asked about your ability to adapt:

Last summer, at The Tech Hub, we encountered a significant shortage of a high-demand gaming console. Pre-orders had exceeded our supply, and further shipments were delayed because of the Russia-Ukraine war. As customers became increasingly frustrated, I knew I needed to address their concerns proactively and maintain our store’s reputation for customer service. I coordinated with the management team to transparently communicate the situation to our customers, explaining the cause of the delay and the steps we were taking. To make up for this, I suggested offering customers complimentary sign-ups for premium membership, which included an extended warranty and discounts on future purchases. Moreover, I helped set up a system to notify customers via text message the moment the console was back in stock. For those willing to wait, I also offered a reservation list, moving them to the top of the list once the shipments arrived. This system exceeded everyone’s expectations. During this period, I also cross-sold related products, like gaming accessories and titles compatible with the console, to keep the sales momentum going. I’m proud to say we managed to retain over 90% of our pre-order customers. Additionally, the cross-selling strategy increased accessory sales by 25% during the shortage period.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Set the scene. Don’t play down the situation (the worse, the better). Show the interviewer you can handle more than minor bottlenecks. Present yourself as an asset who can change the course of unfavorable circumstances when stakes are high.
  • Emphasize your knowledge. Show how truly knowing the entire product range allowed you to pitch alternatives with confidence.
  • Hint at innovation and proactivity. Employers look for resourceful people who won’t wait in the background while somebody else solves the issue. You’ll stand out from other candidates if you show you can think on your feet.

Tell me about the last time you turned an unhappy customer into a satisfied one

This is another question where you need to show you can turn things around with your exceptional customer service and problem-solving skills.

You could say something like:

Last month at Lindex, there was a customer who was visibly upset because the dress she wanted wasn’t available in her size. She needed to look her best at a friend’s wedding, and her despair was obvious. I approached her with empathy, apologizing for the inconvenience and assuring her that we would work together to explore all possible solutions. After checking our stock and confirming we definitely didn’t have her size, I reached out to other stores in our chain. Unfortunately, they were out of stock as well. Seeing how disappointed she was, I suggested several similar dresses we had available. I explained the unique features of each alternative and how they may be a better choice than the dress she originally wanted. Since I was aware of how badly she needed the dress, I also offered a special express alteration service we provided, free of charge, to ensure a perfect fit for her event. She was hesitant at first, but after trying on a few of the other dresses and seeing the potential after alterations, everything changed. She ended up picking a dress and left the store happy. The next time she visited the store, she made sure to find me and express her gratitude, stating she received numerous compliments on her dress. 

Tips on how to answer:

  • Show initiative. Highlight your quick thinking and readiness to help.
  • List the exact steps you took. Explain everything you tried to resolve the situation. Maybe you replaced the item, contacted a supervisor, or offered a discount. Just make it clear you did your best and explain how the customer reacted all along.
  • Stress the importance of customer satisfaction. Show you take it seriously and illustrate the lengths you’re willing to go to please the customer.
  • Close with the positive outcome. End your story by showing how both the customer and your employer ultimately benefited from your efforts.

Situational sales associate interview questions

In summary:

  • Situational questions are about imagining hypothetical scenarios and talking about how you would act.
  • They usually start with “How would you…” or “What would you do if…”
  • Weave key sales skills like customer-first attitude, problem-solving, persistence, and product knowledge in your answer.

Situational interview questions are similar to behavioral, the only difference being that you’re not talking about past experiences, but hypothetical sales scenarios. You can still use real-life examples from the past, just give them a different spin when telling the story.

How would you handle customer objections to a product’s price?

As a sales associate, you’ll be handling customer objections on a daily basis. With this question, the interviewer wants to double-down on how good you are.

Here’s a sample answer:

In my experience, price objections often stem from customers not fully understanding the value of the product. My approach is to listen to their concerns, validate their feelings, and then guide them back to the benefits and value the product offers. I faced this recently, when a customer objected to the price of a high-end blender. I didn’t contradict their opinion. Instead, I agreed with them, understanding their budget constraints. After that, I discussed their needs, asking what functionalities they expected in a blender. Once I understood their requirements, such as durability, power, and multi-functionality features, I showcased how this blender met all their needs. I explained the long-term value, including its long-lasting build, warranty, and various functions that filled their requirements. Since the customer still wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of investing that much money, I let them know about different payment plans and informed them about upcoming promotions. A 6-month payment plan did the trick, and I closed the sale.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Remember that the customer is always right. That’s exactly what the interviewer wants to hear, so make sure you show you always treat customers with respect and empathize with them.
  • Detail the approach you would take to communicate the value. Only a sales associate with thorough product knowledge can communicate the value and convince customers to see things their way.
  • Show persistence. Show that it takes long before you wave the white flag and let the customer get away without making a purchase.

If a customer is undecided between two products, how would you help them make a choice?

To answer this properly, it’s crucial to convey you’re a helpful advisor, consultant, and assistant rather than just a salesperson.

Here’s what you can say in your answer:

In a previous role, I was assisting a customer who was torn between a high-end espresso machine and a more budget-friendly option. First, I asked them about their coffee habits, such as how often they entertain guests and their preference for coffee varieties. It turned out they were pretty passionate about coffee culture and often had people over. I explained that while the budget option was compact and user-friendly, the high-end machine offered a wider range of coffee styles and had a built-in grinder for fresh espresso. Then, I related these features to their love of entertaining, suggesting that the high-end machine could be a conversation piece at their events. I also mentioned our 30-day return policy, emphasizing that they could test the machine at home. They chose the high-end model and later returned to thank me, saying it had been a hit with their guests. This experience solidified my belief in carefully aligning product features with customer needs and offering peace of mind with supportive policies.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Show you understand customer needs and preferences. Start by saying how you would engage the customer with questions to understand their needs and preferences.
  • Present yourself as an educator. Show you’re a great sales associate who knows the products they sell. Also, show you can explain the features and benefits in a way that’s relevant to the customer’s situation.
  • Show you can take off the purchase pressure. Talk about how you eased the decision-making process by informing the customer about different policies like returns and warranties.

How would you cope with a period of low sales?

With this question, the interviewer is checking how you stay motivated when things aren’t going great. The key is to show you’re resilient and resourceful.

Here’s a sample answer:

In retail, there are seasonal drops in sales that are expected.. For instance, at H&M, we would regularly experience low spells in January, post-Christmas. But regardless of circumstances, my approach would be roughly the same — I would work with my store manager to analyze the reasons, and I’d put extra effort in to boost average transaction value through up-selling. I would also focus on my customer service skills to retain loyal customers and encourage repeat business. I would also encourage collaboration with our marketing and social media teams to come up with local events to bring more clients in.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Don’t panic. Show that you’re aware periods like that happen in any business and industry, and that they can be attributed to seasonality or external factors.
  • Show you can analyze, plan, and adapt. For example, mention how you worked with your manager to come up with a strategy or campaigns to increase sales.
  • Give a real-life example. If you experienced a spell of low sales in your career, include the example, and make sure you mention exact steps you took to overcome the challenge.

Imagine a customer is upset because a product they wanted is out of stock. What would you do?

Another hypothetical scenario where you’re asked to show how you resolve customer issues.

Here’s what you can answer:

I would start by apologizing for the product being out of stock. I’d make sure my tone is friendly and understanding. After all, we’ve all been in their shoes and we know the frustration. Then I would make it clear my role is to assist them. This is where deep product knowledge comes in handy, because my next step would be to offer some alternatives.

Again, going the extra mile is important in situations like these, so I would take the time to check if and when the product will be back in stock, and check which, if any, stores still had it available. I would also ask the customer if they’d like to place a special order for the item. And I would definitely show them how to use the “notify me” feature on our company website to be alerted as soon as the product is back in stock.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Show your people skills. Compassion, active listening, and empathy are key here. Acknowledge the customer’s frustration and show you genuinely care.
  • Focus on providing exemplary customer service. Show how you would maintain the highest level of customer service during the interaction, and what extra steps you’d take to make the customer’s experience better.

How would you cross-sell or up-sell to a customer who is buying a particular product from our store?

You’re expected to be on the lookout for opportunities to sell additional products or services that complement the customer’s purchase. The key here is to show your sales acumen, customer engagement skills, and how you always keep the store’s profitability in mind when selling.

At InterSport, there would be many opportunities for both up-selling and cross-selling. For instance, if a customer is looking for a new pair of Salomon hiking shoes, I could offer hiking poles or a bandana to match the brand and design of the shoes. At the same time, I could offer other, more expensive alternatives like Salewa or LaSportiva depending on the customer’s needs. It’s crucial to know the products inside out, and know how they perform in which terrain. I would need to learn about where and how the customer is looking to use them, the terrain, and the level of waterproofing required. Of course, I would try to give them some social proof as evidence that the more expensive alternative is better. For instance, the information that LaSportiva Spire GTX was voted best hiking shoe in 2023, especially for rough and demanding terrains.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Focus on knowing your products. Show you understand that extensive product knowledge is key for you to recommend relevant items in an attempt to cross- or up-sell.
  • Show you understand customer needs. Mention what questions you’d ask to learn what the customer wants from the product.

If a customer has a complaint about our store or product, how would you handle it?

As a retail sales associate, you’ll handle unhappy customers on a daily basis.

You could approach the answer like this:

Everywhere I’ve worked, including Target, customer satisfaction has been the top priority, even when dealing with complaints. If I faced an unhappy customer, I would approach it like this – at first, I would just listen actively and let them share the issue and dissatisfaction in full. I would remain professional, calm, and composed, and offer a sincere apology about the inconvenience they’ve experienced. Next, I would ask clarifying questions to better understand the details of their complaint. So for example, if it’s a product issue, I’d explain our return or exchange policy and guide them through the process. Or, if the issue is more complex and can’t be resolved immediately, I would follow the complaint policy and escalate it to the manager if required. I always try to solve these problems myself, but I make sure they are getting the best service and fastest response possible. 

Tips on how to answer:

  • Mention active listening. When speaking to a displeased customer, you need to let them express their concerns and dissatisfaction.
  • Show you can stay calm. Angry customers can be loud and obnoxious, and you need to know better than taking it personally. It’s crucial to show the interviewers that you can overcome these unpleasant aspects of dealing with complaints.
  • Show your problem-solving mindset. You need to be solutions-oriented and have a plan on how to help the customer get what they want.
  • Know your procedures. Another important thing is knowing how and when to escalate to supervisors, so make sure you include it in your answer.

Role-specific interview questions for sales associates

In summary:

  • There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to role-specific questions, because they differ based on the company and the actual role requirements.
  • To answer well, match your answers to the company culture and use the job description as a guideline.
  • This is where you want to make your job-specific skills shine.

These sales associate interview questions are the hardest to predict, as they largely depend on the actual role and the company. The questions below are a solid starting point.

How would you engage with a customer who just walked into the store?

You’ll often be the first person a customer sees when they walk in, and first impressions matter. The interviewer wants to know if you can represent the company the right way.

An idea for your answer:

As a sales associate at Norli, I would greet the customer warmly as soon as they enter the store. I would make sure to smile and establish eye contact immediately to establish I’m approachable. After a few seconds, I would do a quick assessment of their body language and how they move around the store. Have they been here before? Do they look like they know what they’re looking for? Are they only browsing or seem to be looking for something specific? And I would tailor my approach based on that. I would make a proactive offer to help them find a specific book or genre. If they decline, I would tell them to just come up in case they have any questions or need assistance then move to the side to give them space.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Provide tailored answers that fit the company culture. In the example above, Norli is a large bookstore chain in Norway, and their philosophy is “let the person browse in peace and don’t hover.” To know how to answer this question, (ideally) visit the store as a customer and observe. This will help you give the “right” answer.

How knowledgeable are you about our products?

Interviewers ask this question to check if you’re serious about the opportunity. The amount of effort you invest into company research in the pre-interview stages is typically a good indicator of how interested you are.

To answer properly, you need to show your product knowledge, passion for the brand, as well as your commitment to providing an outstanding customer experience.

Here’s a sample answer:

Hermes is one of my favorite luxury brands and I’m already familiar with the brand’s history, values, and product range. Three years ago, I was a student intern in your Milan Boutique, where I attended product training sessions. In the meantime, I kept reading extensively about the brand and followed you on socials to stay informed. I’m well-informed about the iconic products like the Birkin and Kelly bags, small leather goods, as well as your silk scarves. I understand the attention to detail and the quality that goes into every Hermes piece, and I can confidently discuss the unique selling points of these products with customers.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Do the research. It doesn’t have to be a luxury brand you’re interviewing for. The rules are the same. The more you know about the products, the better. Bonus brownie points if you’re already a customer and have a favorite product.
  • Don’t get too enthusiastic. Especially because this question is likely to pop up early in the interview. Even if you truly love the company and would *die* to work there, don’t think your extensive product knowledge and enthusiasm is enough. Try to explain the exact skills and experience you bring to the table.

How would you manage inventory tasks and customer inquiries simultaneously?

The classic multitasking question that also checks for proper prioritization.

Here’s a sample answer:

I already have a lot of experience in juggling things, especially after 3 years at Target. As a member of the Sales Floor team there, I had to deliver an outstanding customer experience, act as a brand ambassador, as well as stock shelves, tidy up displays, and work the register sometimes. My approach is always customer-centric, which means leaving everything immediately in order to attend to customers. So I’d say I would focus on immediate customer needs first, then allocate dedicated time for inventory management during slower periods.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Show you can multitask. Being a sales associate entails several key responsibilities, and showing you’re ready to embrace the multi-tasking nature of the role will stay with the interviewers.
  • But also prioritize. Remember that the key aspect of the role is assisting customers and acting as a consultant.

How would you handle a peak traffic time like holiday sales at the store?

This question is about how you handle stress and if your sales game drops a few levels when working under pressure. The point is to show preparedness and unwavering customer service skills.

Here’s how you can answer:

Peak traffic times are busy and exciting everywhere, and I’m sure TJ Maxx is no different. I would approach the peak period like this. Number one, I would make sure I’m well-prepared in terms of the store layout and promotions. Next, I would come in a bit earlier than usual to ease the stress. I’d prioritize tasks like restocking shelves, and helping my cash desk managers with transactions. I would take extra care that my customer service remains exceptional and try to offer assistance to everyone who needs it. Another thing – I would also be flexible with my schedule and accommodate extra store hours if needed. Finally, in my experience, all Black Friday sales and holiday sales finish successfully because the entire team is willing to go the extra mile, so I would definitely stress teamwork as the necessary ingredient here. That’s the only way you can handle the increased workload efficiently. 

Tips on how to answer:

  • Show you have a plan. Increased foot traffic in peak holiday season can be stressful, and you need to have a strategy.
  • Be flexible. Peak periods often require sales staff to clock in extra hours. Being the one who’ll mention it, address it, and show willingness to work longer will show the interviewers you’re serious and ready to handle difficult things.

Describe your approach in explaining complex product information to a potential customer.

Interviewers like this question because it tests layers of the sales associate role that go beyond product knowledge. Can you simplify technical details? Can you communicate clearly? Can you describe the benefits even when they’re not visible to the naked eye?

Here’s a sample answer:

This is something I had to do on a daily basis while at Newegg. For instance, when purchasing disks, many potential customers would focus on the lower prices of HDDs and dismiss SSDs altogether. My task as a sales advisor was to make the technical details as clear and relatable as possible, and make them consider investing into SSDs. So the first thing I would do is assess their knowledge by asking what they know about computer storage. If they’re totally new to SSDs, I might start with an analogy, and compare the SSD to a flash drive or a cell phone’s memory. I would then focus on the benefits – faster access to data, quicker boot times, faster loading, improved performance, durability, reliability, and energy efficiency. 

Tips on how to answer:

  • Show you can simplify. Some customers require the explain-it-like-I’m-five approach and that’s where your strengths come in. The interviewers are looking to see if you can explain complex notions in layman’s terms by using analogies and metaphors.
  • Focus on the benefits. Even if potential buyers struggle to grasp what’s “under the hood”, you can win them over by highlighting product benefits and focusing on the differentiators when comparing it to competitor products.

How would you handle the cash register or return/exchange transactions?

Depending on the company, you may be asked to manage payments and handle the register, so the interviewer wants to know if you’ve ever done it, and if not, how you would approach it.

You could say:

In my last sales role, I was occasionally responsible for the cash register, so here’s how I would approach it at Zara. I would first need to get fully familiar with Zara’s particular cash register, exchange, and return procedures. When handling the register, I would always double-check the amount and items, regardless of payment type, to avoid any errors. I would also inform the customer about the return and exchange conditions and make sure I’m friendly so that the customer has an overall positive experience. When handling cash, I would be extra diligent and careful to provide accurate change. When processing returns or exchanges, I would always carefully check the items for damage and verify that they meet our store’s conditions for return. Of course, I would be friendly, smile, and finish the transaction by wishing the customer a good rest of the day.

Tips on how to answer:

  • Mention attention to detail. It’s easy to make mistakes when handling the register, so make sure you show you’re responsible, careful, and attentive when dealing with transactions.
  • Never not mention customer experience. Keep in mind that customer service is always your top priority, so don’t forget to mention you’d be friendly, polite, and professional.

How to Answer Sales Associate Interview Questions

Here are some extra tips to improve your chances of getting a callback.

In summary:

  • Remember that each answer should highlight your skills.
  • Be as specific as possible when it comes to your technical know-how (money handling, software literacy, deep industry and sales strategy knowledge)
  • Whenever possible, provide examples of what you did well in your previous sales jobs.

Use the STAR formula for behavioral questions

The STAR method is a tested framework for answering behavioral interview questions (roughly 50% of your sales associate interview will be behavioral).

How to recognize behavioral questions? They normally start with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Describe a situation when…”

Let’s take this example: Can you describe a time when you went the extra mile for a customer?

These questions are difficult to answer because they require you to:

  • Think back (and our memory tends to malfunction when we’re under pressure).
  • Tell a story (and most people aren’t natural-born storytellers).
    Mention specific results (who keeps tracks of those?)

This is where the STAR formula makes a real difference.

STAR is the acronym for Situation-Task-Action-Result and here’s what it means in practice:

  • Situation: Start your answer by thinking back to a situation from the past, and use as much detail as possible to set the scene. Why was the situation difficult? What did the customer want? What exactly was the issue? 
  • Task: Next, say what your role was in that situation and what was expected of you.
  • Action: The key moment in your answer is to list the specific actions and steps you took to resolve the issue.
  • Result: Finish by noting some quantifiable results of your effort.

Let’s go back to our example and see how this candidate used the STAR formula to give a great answer:

There was a situation when a customer was looking for a discontinued lipstick product line. (Situation)

Understanding their disappointment, I started by offering alternative products with similar qualities. However, I could tell that the customer was not just looking for a replacement but was attached to the original product. It was “their color”. (Task)

So I took the initiative to check our inventory and contacted other stores. It turned out that a store in a different city had a few items left. I arranged for an inter-store transfer and had the lipsticks shipped to the customer’s home address. (Action)

She was extremely grateful for the effort. She remained one of our most loyal customers, and this particular effort resulted in an additional $600 in sales over the following two months. This experience reinforced my belief that going above and beyond not only brings joy to the customers but is also deeply satisfying for me personally. (Result)

💡 Pro tip: It’s extremely difficult to remember situations that happened months or years ago. Ideally, write down these examples as they happen. It may sound strange, but over time, you’ll build a database of situations, accomplishments, and key moments of your career. If you don’t have it, and your interview is just days away, talk to your former colleagues. It’s very common for them to remember your best moments better than you.

Always display sales-oriented qualities

Make sure to show your sales-specific soft skills and qualities like enthusiasm, empathy, resilience, solution, and willingness to solve problems rather than sidestep them.

Don’t use vague, vanilla statements like “I’m very enthusiastic about this opportunity.” Be straightforward about why you like the company, what things excite you about the brand, and how this opportunity fits perfectly in your career path.

Let’s say you’re interviewing for a sales associate role at a flagship Adidas store. You can show your enthusiasm by saying:

Adidas has always been my favorite sports brand, and joining the company would be a dream come true. You rarely get to see a brand whose values and mission statement are manifested, and for Adidas it’s true — best service and customer service, all done in a sustainable way. I’d like to work with customers to sell iconic and limited models like the Samba, Tubular, or Iniki, and contribute to your rich footwear legacy. At this point in my career, I would really like to work at a company that walks the walk in terms of sustainability and environmental impact.

Practice for your interview

Practicing for the interview will give confidence and preparation that will set you apart. There is no right way to practice — you can do it on your own, through roleplay, book a few sessions with an interview coach, or you can use an interview simulator like Big Interview.

You can choose the industry and exact role you’re interviewing for (for the Sales Associate role, go to Industry > Sales Profession > Sales) and practice answering a set of questions on camera.

After completing each question, you get AI feedback on your delivery. The AI analyzes the content of your answer and 12 non-verbal cues, including filler words and body language).

Ask questions at the end of the interview

Don’t you dare walk away without asking 3–4 questions at the end of the interview.

  • You’ll impress the employer. Curiosity translates as caring enough to do your research, and you’ll sell yourself even more with thoughtful questions.
  • Job interviews should feel like conversations. You’re not the only one being evaluated and tested for compatibility. You’re also assessing what the organization is like and if it’s a good fit for you.
  • You’ll look confident and able to assert yourself in the right way. Being passive at the end of the interview may signal you don’t care enough.

Here are my top 5 questions to ask:

  • What gets you most excited about the company’s future?
  • Who would not be a good fit for this role?
  • What goals would you set for me for the next 12 months?
  • What does your best sales rep do differently?
  • What does the Sales team do to upskill?

💡 Pro tip: Ask one question about the company culture, one about growth possibilities, and one about the role.

Summary of the Main Points

As an overview, here’s what you need to know about interviewing for a sales associate position:

  • The conversation will focus on your previous success and experience in sales, your sales floor experience, and key results you achieved.
  • Most interview questions will be sales-specific and behavioral. You’ll need to recount a story of how you behaved in a particular sales scenario from the past. Alternatively, you may get situational questions, where you need to imagine a situation and explain how you would act.
  • Expect some general interview questions like “tell me about yourself” and “why do you want to work here,” especially at the beginning of the interview.
  • To succeed, you need to research the company, industry, and the position, customize your answers to match the position, and practice before the interview.
  • At the end of the interview, ask 3–4 questions to reaffirm your interest in the position and leave a better impression.

Practicing for your next sales interview? There are 3 ways we can help:

FAQ

How do I answer interview questions if I have little or no experience as a sales associate?

Focus on transferrable skills and willingness to learn new things. Mention any relevant volunteer work, educational projects, or personal experiences where you demonstrated communication, problem-solving, or customer service abilities. Be honest about your experience level, but make it clear you want to learn and develop the necessary skills. Adaptability, eagerness to take on challenges, and your fresh perspective that can contribute to the team should be your main selling points.

What are the most difficult interview questions a sales associate should expect?

Here are some of the most difficult sales associate interview questions you can expect:

  • Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult customer. How did you handle the situation?
  • How would you cope with a period of low sales?
  • If a customer had a complaint about our store or product, how would you handle it?
  • How would you approach selling an unpopular or outdated product?

What questions should I ask at the end of my sales associate interview?

At the end of the interview, you’ll get the chance to ask a few questions. Use it to dig deeper into the different aspects of this role and show you’re genuinely interested. Here are some questions you can ask.

  • What does a typical day look like for a sales associate at this company?
  • How do you measure success for a sales associate?
  • Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?
  • What are the most significant challenges that your sales team faces right now?
  • How is your best sales associate different?

What should I wear to my sales associate interview?

Your outfit needs to match the company culture and help you position yourself as a serious professional. To do this the right way, research the company’s dress code by visiting one of their stores before the interview. If you’re not sure about the level of formality, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. Keep it neat. Clothes should be clean, well-ironed, and not too flashy. Neutral colors like black, navy, gray, or beige are your go-tos. Focus on fit and pick something comfortable. Remember, the goal is to appear polished and professional, as you’ll often be the first face a customer sees when they enter the store.

How to research the company before my interview for a sales associate role?

There are several ways to do this. If they have a store nearby, go there, pose as a customer and see what you can learn about their sales process — how they approach customers, what products you like best, or what the dress code is. You can visit the company website and browse the “About” and “Company” pages to learn about their history, values, and company culture. Another thing you can try is their social media pages or Reddit — there are entire threads dedicated to helping new sales associates get by.

How do I prepare for a sales associate interview?

To prepare for a sales associate interview, you need to research the company (products, services, company culture, core team members) and the requirements of the role. Next, you should anticipate some of the questions you’ll be asked and take the time to prepare your answers, focusing on stories and key accomplishments from the past. Finally, think of 3–4 questions to ask at the end of the interview.

Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.
Edited By:
Michael Tomaszewski
Michael Tomaszewski
Fact Checked By:
Briana Dilworth
Briana Dilworth

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