Over the years, I have interviewed for my share of employment positions. In some of those interviews, I did well, and in some I fell short. For the most part, I am well-prepared, and have a good idea what the interviewer is interested in hearing. Unfortunately, it’s tough to prepare for every question or every scenario.
The Supermarket Interview
Like many other students near college graduation, I participated in the mock interview sessions sponsored by career services. It was weird watching myself on video during a formal interview, but the exercise was important.
The big day came when I interviewed for an entry-level manager position for a major grocer in San Antonio. I did my research on the company, and felt about as comfortable as I could. I was allotted 15 minutes, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t say anything silly. I understand this is probably not the best mindset, but I was only 22-years-old, and I had little experience in formal meetings.
I entered the interview room, and quickly noticed that two people were representing the grocery store, Sandy and Martin. Sandy mentioned that Martin was merely there to observe as part of his training effort, and that she would conduct the interview. Regardless, having two people in the room changed the dynamics, and I had only prepared for one person conducting the job interview.
Sandy: Hi, Jimmie! How are you doing?
Me: I’m doing well. Glad to have this opportunity.
Sandy: Do you know the position we are looking to fill?
Me: Yes. This is the entry-level management position.
Sandy: That’s correct. This is a position in which you will learn all facets of the store. You will work in the meat market, as a cashier, and even the flower shop. Our managers need to know how the entire operation works. It’s important that they have hands-on experience with all jobs, including stocking the shelves.
Me: I do understand this part of the job, and I’m sure that I can do it. I’m a fast-learner, and I’m eager to accept challenges.
Sandy: Let me give you a scenario, and you tell me how you will handle it: Loretta, a long-time customer of the store – more than 10 years – is ready to check-out when she notices that she left her purse at home. You know that she is a loyal customer, and you have even helped her with her groceries in the past. She would like to take the groceries home, and return later in the day to handle payment. What do you think?
Me: [I think about this for a few LONG seconds, and I think it’s best to stick with policy.] This is a tough question, and I think we need to err on the side of policy. We can’t give her preferential treatment. She can leave the groceries at the store, and we can hold them until she returns with payment.
This was not the right answer, and I could tell by Sandy’s expression. She wanted to hear that I would make an exception to policy for a loyal customer. As a business owner for many years now, this does make sense. Policy is important, but building relationships is even more critical.
While I was disqualified for this position, I never forgot this lesson. The goal is to think of the value customers will provide over their lifetimes, and this means ignoring policies and procedures from time-to-time.