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Interview Tips for Moving from Retail to an Office Job

Updated on December 22, 2017
PegCole17 profile image

Peg worked in retail as a store clerk, cashier, waitress, bank teller, and hair salon owner before moving into office administration.

The Office Worker

Working in an office is different than retail, hospitality or construction work.
Working in an office is different than retail, hospitality or construction work. | Source

Your resume is flawless, your skills are a perfect match for the position and you're ready to make a change in employment. What else is there to do? When that long-awaited call comes inviting you to interview for an office job, you'll want to be prepared to make a good impression on the hiring manager.

As placement director for a Dallas Business School, it was my responsibility to help graduate students find jobs. We worked with employers who were hiring and set up real interviews for qualified candidates. The school also held career fairs on campus where prospective employers would come out to interview graduates.

Students ranged in age from eighteen to seventy years old; men and women who wanted to move out of the retail or hospitality industries into the corporate world. Many had never held an office job or interviewed for a professional position. Some things that kept candidates from being hired were pointed out by real employers that interviewed students for jobs at their companies.

What is the proper etiquette for shaking hands? Do women stand up? How long should it last?
What is the proper etiquette for shaking hands? Do women stand up? How long should it last? | Source

The Handshake

When meeting a hiring manager for the first time, a proper handshake is routine. It sets the tone for a candidate and solidifies that first impression in an instant. If you ever shook the hand of someone with a weak handshake, you'll know exactly the impression this leaves on the other party. If you're not sure what kind of a handshake you have, test it out on a few friends and coworkers and ask for their honest reactions.

Failing to have an acceptable handshake can weaken your chances at a job offer, although it's not a complete deal breaker. You may be able to recover from this if you don't continue down this path.

What kind of handshake do you have?

See results

The Hiring Manager

The hiring manager's time is valuable. Be prepared with your answers, delivering them succinctly and effectively.
The hiring manager's time is valuable. Be prepared with your answers, delivering them succinctly and effectively.

Body Language

When it comes to reading body language, the approach to take is to observe the style of the interviewer and try to mirror their preferences both in posture and eye contact. Making eye contact can be a tricky area.

If they are the type of interviewer who looks directly into an applicant's eyes and waits for some sort of response, like a nod or even a one word answer from you, adapt your responsiveness to match their needs. If they constantly look out the window or stare at a location over your shoulder they probably don't want you to lock eyes with them.

Mirroring takes many forms. Sometimes it involves rephrasing an important point and stating it back to the interviewer to let them know you got it. It's also useful to watch for body language like crossed crossed arms. Tread lightly when this happens. If they lean toward you, they are likely interested in what you're saying. If you lean slightly toward them, it indicates that you are listening. If they stand up, your allocated time is probably over and it's time to go.

Job Interview Tips

The Right Clothes

Brian Tracy, in his audio series, Master Strategies for Higher Achievement, tells listeners that "casualness leads to casualties." Even if a potential employer's dress code is business casual this is usually not the right attire for an interview.

If a business suit seems too stuffy don't be fooled into wearing sweat pants, halter tops or faded jeans to an interview. It's better to err on the side of dressing too professionally rather than dressing too casually. Remember, this is an interview not a date. Revealing clothes like see-through tops, visible bra straps or visible boxer shorts may have the opposite effect you're trying to achieve.

Know that cleanliness is noticed by the astute hiring person. Baby food stains or safety pins on an outfit can diminish your chances of getting the job. Take my word for this from actual feedback a hiring manager after one of my students interviewed at their company. The student was not offered the job because of their stained clothing.

How do you know what clothes to choose? Search Google for hints on dressing for success. There are many resources to guide you on this subject. Don't let your first impression at a company be your last one.

When you ask a friend for their opinion of your selected interview outfit, they may unwittingly lead you astray rather than give you a brutally honest answer. Try to arrange a dress rehearsal and practice the interview process with someone who holds a professional job, like the church pastor or a friend who works at an office or a bank. These people will know from experience and can help guide you in the right direction.

Don't be afraid to ask for guidance, but remember, choose your advisor carefully.

Board of Directors Mondo, Medborgarhuset, Medborgarplatsen, Stockholm, Sweden
Board of Directors Mondo, Medborgarhuset, Medborgarplatsen, Stockholm, Sweden | Source


If you carry on a conversation while you wait in the reception area of a prospective employer, remember, you are being watched from the moment you arrive.

  • Arrive on time, not early, not late.
  • Arrive alone. Don't bring your children, parents, boyfriends or pets.
  • Have your ride wait for you in the car to avoid drawing attention to your lack of a car.
  • Turn off your cell phone or set your phone to mute in the reception area.
  • Don't bring food or drink to the interview reception area.
  • Avoid the use of foul language and slang.

People look for reasons not to hire you when multiple applicants apply for a job.

Job Applicants

Wanted: Quality Placements, Eric A. Hegg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wanted: Quality Placements, Eric A. Hegg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Walls Have Eyes

While you're waiting to be called into the hiring manager's office your every move is under scrutiny. Remember, never disrespect the receptionist. Do not grab their pen from their hand or use their phone without permission. Their job includes answering the phone and interfering with this by tying up their line is not acceptable.

As you are filling out the application, if you complain about the repetitiveness of the blasted form, keep in mind, your attitude is being noted. Even your handwriting on the application is a telltale indicator of your attention to detail and your patience and your ability to follow the rules. Be smart.

Private Eyes - Daryl Hall and John Oates

The Reception Area

The reception area is where applicants sometimes lose points. Be careful what you say and do. You are being watched.
The reception area is where applicants sometimes lose points. Be careful what you say and do. You are being watched.

Choosing Between Two Equally Qualified Applicants

What happens if two candidates are nearly equal in their skill set, appearance, attitude and experience? One Vice President told me, "The way I made my decision between two applicants is simple. I hire the one who asks me for the job." No amount of hinting about how you would love to work for the company will do. Clearly and succinctly ask for the job.

When the interview is wrapping up and they ask you, "Do you have any questions?" you might ask when a decision will be made. Ask if there is anything else you can do to prove you're the best choice for the position. Offer to provide a sample of your work on a trial basis of a few hours if they would consider you for the job at the end of the apprentice period. Ask if there are any areas of your experience where clarification of details will help lead to a decision to hire you. Tread the line carefully between confidence in your abilities and arrogance.

Finally, promptly follow up the interview with a thank you letter whether by email or snail mail. Writing that letter could literally change your life.

© 2012 Peg Cole


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    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Absolutely, LL. No gum chewing at an interview is a really important tip. Plus the posture is key to present the right degree of confidence. Wild gesturing is also quite distracting and the interviewer tends to watch a person's hands to look for signs of nervousness and nail biting, etc..

      Thank you for adding some insightful knowledge to this hub and for your visit today. Also thanks for the votes and the share.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      You've provided great tips and food for thought about how to conduct yourself in a job interview. Something I have had to be mindful of in the past is my own body language. Posture is important as is what you do with your hands. I trained myself to keep them safely in my lap for the most part, unless gesturing while speaking. And no chewing gum.

      Great hub; voted up and Shared.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Eyes. Volunteering to help unemployed individuals is a great way to share your knowledge and expertise from real world experience. Sometimes it may seem like common sense but until you know it, it's not very common. We sometimes forget what "first times" feel like once we've done it a few times. Thank you for your volunteer work in this area and for your thoughtful comments about this hub.

    • EyesStraightAhead profile image

      Shell Vera 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      This is excellent information. I volunteer and help unemployed individuals find positions that fulfill their goals and passions. I enjoy providing them with interview tips, but your hub has summarized it even better than I relay. I know where I can lead my next mentee!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      All the best, Jaswinder64, in your job search. Remember that it is a two way street as to where you will spend your days, your choice as well.

    • jaswinder64 profile image


      6 years ago from Toronto, Canada.

      Very helpful and informative article for those, who are looking for a job.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thank you for passing this along to your sons, Dbro. I'm sure they will already be well educated in the basics of interviewing and put their newly acquired legal knowledge to good use. Congratulations on your son's accomplishments in completing law school. Nice to see you here.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I'm sending this hub to my two sons about to graduate from law school. These tips are good for anyone seeking a job. A lot of if sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised what people don't think about - especially when they're nervous! Thanks for all this great advice!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks for stopping by to read and comment! Nice to meet you here.

    • idigwebsites profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      This was a very helpful and informative hub...Thanks for posting!!!

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Debbie,

      Thanks for your great comment and for posting this on Facebook too. From personal experience I've probably made most of these errors and learned the hard way what not to do. I'm hopeful this information will help others avoid the No pile. When there are too many candidates, hiring agents are looking for a reason to eliminate a few.

      Nice to see you here and again, thanks for your input.


    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      what a wonderful hub.. it is so useful and awesome. You sound like you really know what you are doing.. I will post on Facebook.. for those that need to do great resumes etc.



    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks..Frank. Wow, blush. You really know how to make someone feel great. We had a Job Board on the wall in my zone at the school, along with a bulb chart on placement percentages. Some of the students truly did not want to take a job so it made things challenging to say the least. Thanks again for your great comment and for stopping by today. May God Bless you too.


    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      Peg.. this hub should be on every Job Board up and useful.. every point you make is clear and understandable it is a must read hub for everyone who wants that first foot in the door.. bless you Frank

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Bretsuki

      What you've said is absolutely true. The interview is a two way street. Your first impression of the company will definitely be affected by this hiring manager who may or may not be in the picture after you get the job. You do have to consider whether the company meets your standards and whether you really want to spend your days there.

      Dead fish handshakes are as bad as the vice grip types that leave your bones aching - receiving either of these handshakes sets a certain tone and ends it as well when the meeting is over.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks Eddy. I'll bet you already knew most of this stuff. But thanks for the vote and the bookmark and for stopping in today.


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hello PegCole17, thanks for some great tips.

      One question though. A lot is mentioned of candidates having a good handshake. Am I the only person who has had interviewers with terrible handshakes.

      It often unnerves me and I often wonder about the peerson interviewing if their handshake is like a dead fish, Do I reallyt want to work for a company that employs this person?

      The interview is after all a two way process. You are interviewing a prospective employer as much as they are interviewing a possible employee.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      A great and so useful hub;which I vote up and bookmark.

      Take Care And Enjoy your weekend.


    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Maria,

      I understand what you mean by outrageous job applicants. And you're absolutely right about the tattoos. One of the graduates had a "controversial" tattoo on her hand. When she went for interviews it was difficult to conceal and eliminated her from some opportunities. Others had facial piercings that can be offensive in the straight world of bankers and business executives.

      The eye contact thing is definitely tricky. Some people put a lot of stock into making meaningful eye contact. Others, like you said, for cultural reasons don't like it.

      Thanks for your input about the patient's reactions in the medical world. When we were trying to get home health services for my elderly auntie, she was uncomfortable with the eyebrow piercings on one of the workers and didn't want her back although her work was quite acceptable.

      Yes, it does sound prissy and petty but it can be a reason to get eliminated from potential jobs.

      Thanks for your insightful comments.

      Love back to you my sista,


    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      6 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Hi Sista,

      This is a well-written and much-needed piece in today's job market especially. Your experience is most evident!

      In my years as a manager, I saw some job candidates that were outrageous. In a professional capacity, the tattoos need to be covered and the piercings (I won't detail, too traumatic...) need to be removed. Even earrings should be simple posts, not dangling... sounds prissy but a patient does not want all that 'stuff' hanging over them by the bedside.

      I am a bit cautious with the eye contact business. Some cultures find direct eye contact offensive and disrespectful. There obviously has to be some balance in an interview. However, I am not quick to assume the worst in these cases.

      Voted UP & UAI... have a good night and enjoy that gorgeous weather. Love, Maria

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Mck, You and I both know the receptionist can make or break the deal with their reconnaissance. Too many candidates have blown their chances with carelessness in this domain as well as in their choice of clothes. Thanks for stopping in to comment. It's always good to hear from you.

    • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello easylearningweb and thank you for asking this question. I appreciate your positive comments and your input.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      6 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Very informative hub. I did some hiring in my time. I can't tell you the people who did not make it by the reception desk because they did not follow simple rules such as dressing right for an interview. This will be helpful to all who read it and absorb what you have to tell them.

    • easylearningweb profile image

      Amelia Griggs 

      6 years ago

      Awesome answer and great tips...thanks, PegCole17. Well said, and I totally favorites are a firm handshake and asking for the job. Assertiveness and positive confidence works!

      Thanks. :-)


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