How to excel at retail, for anxious depressive introverts
August 6, 2019 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I have not worked with actual people, or had a boss, or done a physically taxing job for ages. How do I impress the shop manager and team on my trial day tomorrow and secure this retail job?

I am theoretically a freelance translator, but during an extended period of depression and avoidance I lost all my business. Coming out of this phase, for immediate income, structure, being round people etc. I interviewed for a job as general floor staff at a chain organic groceries shop in my Northern European (non-UK) city. The job will encompass shelf-stacking, the coffee and bakery stand, the cheese and meat counters, and a bit on the till. My trial day is tomorrow. I am plenty enthusiastic, but I know I can be socially awkward, a bit scatterbrained, and easily flustered. How do I best impress the manager and staff as the kind of employee they want, without coming over either as a flake or an arrogant middle-class (English sense) idiot, and snag this useful job?
posted by runincircles to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I worked at a grocery store when I was in school, and these were my takeaways (that I still often use in my non-grocery store job!):
1) If someone asks you where something is, say, "Let me take you there!" Never point.
2) If you are close enough to make eye contact with a customer, rock that eye contact, flash a friendly smile, and give a greeting. "Good afternoon", "Hey! Can I help you find anything?" etc.
3) When running the till, always greet with a smile, ask how their day is going, did they find everything okay?
4) People who like to cook, in my experience, often like to talk about whatever they'll be making. Asking what they plan to do with a particularly interesting ingredient, or if they're planning on making something interesting/fun with produce/spice/etc. is a good way to feign interest and telegraph extroversion.

Have fun!
posted by honeybee413 at 1:25 PM on August 6, 2019 [14 favorites]

Show up early.

Ask questions.

Take notes (as much as you can).
posted by kevinbelt at 1:36 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

The absolute best thing you can do is smile! Look eager and excited to be there, even if you're not.
posted by Amy93 at 1:43 PM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

Small talk. You gotta do it, even if (like me) sometimes you can't stand it. Think of a couple of go-to conversations (weather, sports event, pop culture) that are uncontroversial and can be quickly navigated with anyone you need to talk to. It's helpful to think of small talk not as useful as an actual conversation but as a baseline way to establish yourself as a friendly presence to another person.

Fake it. It's going to not be 100% fun but try to have fun. At least, act like you're having fun. When I worked retail and customer service, we would all talk about putting our game faces or smiles or going into retail mode. It works, and we would all razz each other about our "customer service voice" after hours.

When people ask you stuff that you don't know (or don't know how to do), use phrases like "let's find out" instead of "no". This works with customers, coworkers, and managers. It's magic.
posted by sleeping bear at 1:49 PM on August 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

As things get busy, don’t forget to stop and take a deep breath.
Concentrate on what you are doing but be present for each of your customers with a new smile and new human connection.
You might be the only person they talk to that day.
posted by calgirl at 1:54 PM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

For tomorrow: get yourself a coffee or strong tea before you start, and once you start to flag get another. Caffeine will help get you through.

Give yourself permission for a bathroom break to reset your mental space even if you don't need a physical one. Just go in and wash your face or a moment of forced chill time. First days are a lot.

When I worked on the floor I found it very handy to always have a small pocket notebook- mostly it was so I could make checklists to ensure no random task was missed, especially towards the end of the shift. You will need to get in the habit of stopping and saying- "let me get that down" and checking it regularly. It can be very handy for setting priorities - especially if there are multiple managers with competing tasks.
posted by zenon at 2:14 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you're not a natural smiler, keep in mind that just raisng your eyebrows somewhat can kind of "open up" your face and make you look attentive and friendly. My resting face is not a smiley one, and I use this when I just can't keep smiling.
posted by jessamyn at 2:25 PM on August 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

I'm also socially awkward, introverted & easily flustered. I found it helpful in retail to have my "working persona" which is like bleep the register girl does this stuff:
- Smiles and says "I can help who's next" (the more things you can repeat the better)
- Doesn't joke with customers (she laughs at their jokes but doesn't try to be a comedian bc she's a register girl now)
- Focuses on what she's looking at right now
- Writes things down if there's more than one thing
- When someone shows her something new she does it in front of them so they can correct anything and to help remember how to do it
- Remembers that these jobs aren't looking for bleep the very smart girl to suggest changes & improvements, they just want bleep the register girl to do the things the same as everyone else
- remembers that when customers are being mean or giving you a hard time it's because they're having a hard time and the best thing is to give them what they want, accept their abuse up to a certain point, and hand them to a manager if you can't give them what they want or their abuse crosses the line.
posted by bleep at 3:22 PM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

One that we train our service employees to do is guide the interaction, so people know what to expect. In a retail environment I imagine that might include:

-greeting/asking if they found everything ok
-making idle small talk as mentioned above re: weather/how’s your day/etc
-oh I can take your basket/you can leave your basket there
-announcing the total
-maybe helping guide payment, eg slide your card when the machine lights up!
-closing the interaction, aka do you need help with your bags, have a great rest of your day!

And, if this helps at all, studies done in libraries show that patrons rate an interaction successful if they felt the librarian was friendly. Not accurate, or efficient, but friendly and interested! I can only imagine many people feel the same way about retail. You’ll do great!
posted by stellaluna at 5:19 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

I work at REI, an outdoor retailer in the US where customers expect knowledgeable and engaged sales staff. I am also a sarcastic introvert.

* Acknowledge people when they are within ten feet (2.5m) or ten seconds (not just passing through your area) of you. A greeting can be eye contact and a small nod, or the whole spiel.

* When someone asks a question I can't answer, I never bullshit them. If a co-worker might know the answer I involve them and stay to listen to the answer.

* Our customers range from lifelong high-mile through-hikers (/climbers/paddlers/runners/whatever) to complete pikers who have terrible ideas sbout the outdoors. Experience will teach you to stay humble, because you usually can't tell by looking which customer is which.

Aim to be pleasant and helpful and the rest will fall into place.
posted by workerant at 7:35 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've worked a lot of retail, and really, cheerful enthusiasm combined with a decent work ethic gets you 90% of the way to excellent employee. Greet customers who come near you with a smile, nod, or verbal greeting so they feel comfortable asking for help if they need it. Do your best at whatever task you're given. Take notes, especially for the tills. That's really all you need to worry about, I'm sure you'll do great.

(I am also socially awkward, scatter-brained and get flustered, and I definitely have a "work" personality that is far more upbeat and enthusiastic than my real personality. Fake it till you make it and all that jazz)
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:09 AM on August 7, 2019

The ugly realities of capitalism are forcing you into this. I wonder about how you'll fare down the road if you stay there for any length of time.

Giving you permission in advance to look for other work while you're "faking it till you make it," which is the only way we introverts can do a job like that.

If you don't find that it drains you, then by all means, keep the job. But it may not be sustainable, and that's OK.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:31 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Strongly nthing that "retail persona." You are, to a great extent, playing a role. You are calm and reasonable and in charge of pleasantly guiding these people through their transaction.

It can be helpful to have character from a TV show or movie in mind as a sort of patronus. The nice thing about adopting an actor's portrayal (rather than a character from a book) is that it comes with a voice and mannerisms that you can lean on to imitate, if you're in danger of taking something personally. None of this is personal.
posted by desuetude at 9:03 AM on August 7, 2019

Thanks for all the answers, I marked as "best" those that were most relevant to my precise situation (Berlin, where smiling and being cheery on the US level would get you arrested) but all will be really helpful for posterity. And I got the job!
posted by runincircles at 8:53 AM on August 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

That's great news!
posted by zenon at 2:52 PM on August 14, 2019

posted by runincircles at 3:49 PM on August 16, 2019

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