ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
October 1, 2012

Question: How can I be sure what a prospective employee has to offer? We recently hired a young man who worked at a store similar to ours in another state, and they gave him a good reference. But I think he overstated his knowledge of the books we carry, as I have overheard him making statements to customers that are incorrect and restocking books in the weirdest places on the shelves. Is there any way I could have avoided this?

Answer: Sometimes prospective employees embellish their knowledge and capabilities because they need a job, and other times they wholeheartedly believe they have the knowledge and skills they tout and simply may have honest misconceptions about the job. In any event, you can avoid this scenario by asking more questions in an interview—don’t be afraid to test their knowledge.

One tool we use in my store is an author list of approximately 50 authors they need to know to offer quality service to customers. This list includes the oldies-but-goodies of our genre, as well as current authors. When a potential employee applies, we ask them to give a brief description of each author and their books on the list, and then use this as a training tool at their 90-day review to see what knowledge they have gained. Another effective training tool is to print out a synopsis of new books you order and post it on the break table. Most employees are pleased to learn about new offerings.

If you do hire someone who doesn’t have the right knowledge or isn’t willing to learn enough to be proficient in selling the books you carry, be grateful for the 90-day trial period and let them go.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to