‘Why retail?’: the application form and interview questions that can catch candidates out

12 Jun 2023, 10:48

Advice for how to tackle the tricky retail application form and interview questions: ‘why retail?’, ‘why this job?’ and ‘why this retailer?’.

Application form: answering 'Why retail?' in applications and interviews

Employers want candidates who have a genuine interest in and understanding of the sector.

‘Why retail?’ , ‘why this job?’ and ‘why this retailer?’ are questions that you will almost definitely be asked either on an application form or during an interview for a retail graduate job. You will also be expected to address them in your covering letter, if you are required to write one. Read on to find out why retailers ask these questions, how you can prepare and what makes a good answer.

Important: When interviewers ask questions like these they are looking for a personal and genuine response. People can tell when you’re passionate about something and when you’re not, so don’t say something just because you think it sounds impressive.

How to answer the retail application form and interview question ‘why retail?’

Why retail recruiters ask this question

Retail recruiters ask ‘why retail?’ or ‘why do you want to work in retail?’ because they want to know that you are committed to a career in retail above any other sector, particularly if you are applying for a job that isn’t unique to retail, such as an IT or finance job. It is also a test of your commercial awareness; employers want candidates who have a genuine interest in and understanding of the sector.

Tips for giving a good answer

The reasons you give for wanting to work in retail don’t have to be hugely complex, but they do have to be specific and you must be prepared to expand on them. It’s no good being unable to follow up your answer if the interviewer asks for more detail (which they almost certainly will). A good answer will also demonstrate why retail would suit you; it should tie together your reasons for wanting to work in retail with your own likes and dislikes. For example, you may want to work in retail because you like working to targets and retail is a notoriously target-driven and competitive sector.

How to prepare

The more you know about retail, the easier it will be to identify why it appeals to you. Stay on top of relevant news stories through news and retail-specific publications or websites. Keep track of how the sector, and different retailers within it, are performing so that you feel confident discussing it. You can also read retailers’ corporate websites (not their online shops) as many post information about what's happening in the sector as well as more specifically about themselves. During your research, make notes on any trends or developments such as the growth of online sales or increasing popularity of discount retailers. This will help you build a bank of information so you can expand on your reasons for wanting to work in retail.

‘Why do you want this job as a buyer/merchandiser/fashion designer etc?’

Why employers ask this

Retail recruiters ask why you want to work in the job you’ve applied for (eg visual merchandiser/product technologist/retail ecommerce) to make sure you know what it involves and to find out why you think you would be well suited to it.

How to answer this question well

A good answer will demonstrate your understanding of the job you have applied for by drawing on key aspects that you find appealing about it, such as the level of responsibility or amount of customer interaction it involves. Your answer should also explain why you think you are suited to the job by linking your reasons for choosing it to any relevant experience or skills that you have.

Preparing for this question

Make sure you are familiar with the job description, in particular the key responsibilities and skills that it sets out. You won’t be able to explain why you are suited to the role if you don’t know what it requires. You can also look on retailers’ corporate websites to see if they provide any further information about it, or read our relevant ‘areas of work’ article. The more you know about the job, the easier it will be to give specific reasons for why you want it and why you would be a good match.

Areas of work: logistics | merchandising | visual merchandising | retail management | retail ecommerce, IT and technology | buying | fashion design | finance | product technology and food technology

‘Why do you want to be a fashion designer/buyer/food technologist at Tesco/Sainsbury’s/John Lewis etc?’

Why do retail application forms and interviews feature this question?

The reason that retail recruiters ask the question ‘why this retailer?’ is to find out why you have applied to them for this role rather than to any other company. For example, ‘why do you want to work in ecommerce at Marks & Spencer?’. Jobs vary between retailers, even if the job title stays the same, so recruiters want to know what it is about their company that made you want to apply; for instance, why you picked Aldi over Sainsbury’s, or vice versa.

How to give a good answer

The answer to this question should focus on your reasons for applying to that particular retailer. It should be specific to the company and show your genuine desire to work there. For example, what is it about Tesco’s approach to buying that made you want to apply for a buying role there rather than with a different retailer?

How to research for this question

Your main source of information on the retailer you’ve applied to is its corporate website. Explore it thoroughly and note down anything that you find particularly interesting, such as any of the retailer’s values or policies that you admire. targetjobs' employer profiles will also provide you with information on specific employers and how graduates found working for them.

You should keep track of the retailer’s performance and any recent successes or difficulties it has experienced, particularly if they have had an impact on the role in which you would be working. You can do this by reading the news. Most importantly, you need to have a good understanding of what differentiates the retailer you’ve applied to from its competitors. What does it do differently and why does it stand out as somewhere you want to work? If you are asked this question during an interview, be prepared to expand on your answer.

Summary: where to look

  • retailer’s websites – particularly their corporate website
  • the job description and the careers section of the retailer’s website
  • news articles on retail in general and the employer in particular
  • trade publications
  • targetjobs' employer profiles
  • targetjobs’ areas of work

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