In the Hot Seat: 9 Retailers Reveal Their Top Job Interview Questions

Employing the right people means everything to Bryan Moeller. 

The manager of Edina, Minn.–based R.F. Moeller Jeweler—one of the 65-year-old family-owned company’s three retail locations in the Twin Cities area—Moeller knows employees influence his brand’s public standing. Friendly, knowledgeable, and capable team members can heighten the store’s credibility, while unfocused or abrupt employees can threaten sales and relationships.

That reality spurs Moeller’s emphasis on interviewing, which allows him to carefully examine a potential hire’s personality, acumen, and character. It’s a time-consuming process, he admits, but vital to the shop’s success.

“Hiring is not something we can afford to get wrong,” Moeller says.  

Given how crucial a skilled, cohesive team is to a jewelry store’s success, JCK asked veteran retailers around the country the one key question they pose to every prospective employee. Varied and intriguing, their responses spotlight the importance of trust, collaboration, and initiative to a retailer’s performance and livelihood.


When I run a background check and credit check, what am I going to find?

“If we’re interested in a particular person, I contact my investigator and have them run a report on the person, but I’d much prefer to hear the truth come from the candidate’s mouth. In this business, we have to determine in short order if someone is going to be upfront and honest. This question gets to the root of that quickly and begins laying the foundation for a relationship grounded in trust. I want employees who are honest and forthright and who might not be embarrassed by some things in their background. If they are truthful about things that are unpleasant, I believe they’re more likely to be a better employee.”

—Larry Burland, co-owner, Burland Jewelry Center, Phoenix


Why do you want to work in a family business?

“It’s an important question because we are a family business, and family businesses generally run differently than corporate enterprises. It’s more intimate and our employees are often answering to more than one person. Asking this question opens up the discussion to what it’s like to be part of a family business—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We want the candidate to understand this because they will be expected to deal with other employees and customers just as we would and to represent our family in a positive manner.”

—Rhett Outten, co-owner, Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, S.C.


What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

“We all want people devoted to their jobs, but it’s easy to get burned out. I want to know what they do to relieve stress. This question also helps me understand what they might be involved in—church, sports, or school, for example—that could be beneficial from a networking standpoint.”

—Bryan Moeller, manager, R.F. Moeller Jeweler, Edina, Minn.


What would you do on a slow day?

“The prospect’s reply speaks to his or her initiative and creativity. This is important because as a business owner, I need to keep costs down, but as a neighbor, I care deeply about my employees and giving them hours to work so long as they are doing something to promote the business or help it in some way.”

—Asaad Malak, owner, Malak Jewelers, Charlotte, N.C.


Are you willing to do everything it takes to help this business? 

“We are team players here and expect everyone to help out, so this question helps us gauge how open the candidate is to accepting multiple job responsibilities. Any employee we hire needs to be able to help in a variety of ways, whether that’s selling jewelry, marketing, [using] social media, engaging with customers, or even vacuuming the floors. We look to our employees to be jack-of-all-trades types. This promotes a collaborative work environment and furthers our business with improved communication, better execution, and the ability to learn new, more effective ways of doing things from one another.”

—Josh Freedman, vice president, Freedman Jewelers, Boston 


When I call your prior employer, what will he or she say are your strongest trait and your weakest trait? 

“We ask this question because the candidates are typically brutally honest with their response. We often find that they want to tell us their strengths and weaknesses instead of relying on their past employer to tell us. We get insight into how the candidates view themselves and also how honest they will be.”

—Dean Cole, co-owner, D. Cole Jewelers, Portland, Maine


What is your biggest weakness? 

“Most people become uncomfortable and struggle to come up with an answer that doesn’t make them look too bad, but asking this question also allows me to figure out what happens when they feel vulnerable. The best answer is the most honest one. In most cases, we can work on that weakness and, hopefully, the strengths they do possess will outweigh the weakness. The worst thing they can say is that they don’t really have any weaknesses. If they say that, then they’re not for our business. We all have a weakness, including me.”

—Marty Schwartz, co-owner, Schwartz Jewelers, Cincinnati 


Among past managers, whom did you particularly respect or work most effectively with and why? Which manager was a struggle to work effectively with, and how did you address that?

“This interview question provides deeper insight into what they view as important managerial attributes. Their answers tell me which behaviors they believe are important for a manager to exhibit, such as hardworking, trustworthy, or shares timely feedback. This provides me with the ability to see how they would align with our current management team. 

“The second part of this interview question allows me to see how they handle speaking about a past manager that they did not work effectively with. Do they accept any level of ownership for their part in the dynamic? How did they work to bring solutions to the relationship? This tells me about their approach to conflict in the workplace, demonstrates their ability to solve workplace issues, and provides insight into their capacity or desire to help remedy less-than-desirable situations. 

“How they react and respond to these questions gives me some insight into their potential contribution to our company culture.”

—Jenna Bates, human resources generalist, Josephs Jewelers, West Des Moines, Iowa


What is the biggest asset you bring to us?

“Admittedly, this question is one piece of a bigger puzzle. When we interview, we want to discover a person’s ability to adjust and juggle multiple things at once. So while we’ll start with a question like, ‘What’s the biggest asset you bring to our business?’ we will immediately follow up with a -completely unrelated question like ‘What did you do this past weekend?’ or even ‘What’s your favorite movie?’ Then, we’ll switch back to the candidate’s involvement with us. We pay close attention to the smoothness of their transitions between varied ideas because we need and expect our employees to adapt on the fly. So far it has worked well. We have great employees who can think and react on the spot and gracefully move between different tasks in the store, from doing the books to CAD design to selling a 2-carat diamond.”

—Shawn R. Mikkelson, founder and CEO, Forge Jewelry Works, Provo, Utah



Five ways to get the right people onto your team.

Do trial runs: To assess professional skills and overall fit, Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, S.C., has bench jeweler prospects work test jobs over multiple Saturdays.

 Leverage fans: Bryan Moeller of R.F. Moeller Jeweler in Edina, Minn., considers loyal customers as potential hires because they understand the shop’s character and possess a demonstrated affinity for the store.

 Always interview: Savvy operators interview regularly—not only when a need arises—and constantly seek top talent.

 Ask for personal referrals: Larry Burland of Phoenix’s Burland Jewelry Center solicits personal referrals from trusted allies, adhering to the age-old adage that “we are the company we keep.” 

 Keep your eyes open: When experiencing superior service at a restaurant, boutique, or other high-touch venue, some retailers share their business cards and invite impressive employees to reach out if they’re ever pursuing new opportunities. —DPS


Hand: Anna Berkut/Alamy; golf club, woman juggling: Getty Images

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