Hiring Advice For Apple Stores

As much as Apple’s retail stores are interesting, perhaps more fascinating is the process that results in a certain type of employee being recruited, hired and trained. One of the most frequently-asked questions is how to prepare for and “ace” the personal interview. With no personal experience, but relying on information from those who have been through the process, here is my perspective.

First and foremost, Apple is looking for a “type,” not a person with vast experience and knowledge. If you are a team player and can fit into Apple’s work ethic and philosophy, the company will teach you anything you need to know to meet their job performance goals. You do not need retailing or computer repair experience, or formal Photoshop (for example) training classes to apply and be hired.

In fact, Apple’s own Web site states, “You don’t necessarily have to be an Apple expert. The best way to understand our company and our customers is to use our products. And if you have passion for what we do and why we do it, even better. But if you have an attention to detail, a collaborative spirit and a readiness to learn, don’t worry—we’ll help you make the switch once you arrive.”

Second, there are no barriers of race, sex, age or appearance. Apple’s retail employees represent the full range of humanity. Piercings, tattoos and dyed hair aren’t a problem (although, blue hair is apparently a no-no). On the other hand, there are some dress regulations, including no logos on hats.

And lastly, the competition for jobs is intense! Sr. v-p Retail Ron Johnson has said it’s tougher to be hired than being accepted by Stanford University–literally. During one talk he said Apple hired 978 store employees during 2002 from an applicant pool of 16,438, or less than a 6% chance of being hired (Stanford accepted 12.6 % for 2005). Put another way, only 1 in 17 applicants is hired. Once they accept they job, the employee stay, Johnson also noted. He hasn’t mentioned a specific figure, but said employee turn-over is among the lowest in the retail industry.

Before you begin the process of applying, you should become familiar with the various job positions, including the job descriptions and the retail background information on Apple’s employment Web page. In a nutshell, each store has from 30 to over 250 employees filling these key positions—check the Apple Web site for the position descriptions.

There are several other job positions at selected retail stores, including Theater Manager, Phone Operator and various technical positions.

Besides the manager positions, most jobs are available for both full-time and part-time employment. Apple also hires seasonal employees during the year, usually in waves for back-to-school in the spring, and for the Christmas holiday season starting with Thanksgiving.

Shift configurations, days-off and other staffing details are much like most other retailers—it’s a process of matching available employees to the store hours and level of customer activity. Over the years I’ve gained some insights into the shifts and staffing process and have written about it here.

As for pay, in June 2004 the ThinkSecret Web site published a story that outlined some pay and staffing information, including the pay of non-management personnel.

Here’s a run-down of product discount benefits for permanent employees (full-time and part-time) as of late 2005:

  • an on-going 10% discount on anything in the store
  • a once-per-year 25% discount on a complete system
  • three discounts for friends and family per year of 15% off a complete system
  • deals on product models Apple is discontinuing prior to new product introductions, and overstocked items before the end of each quarter
  • occasional employee discounts or rebates on third-part products
  • a quarterly bonus if the store achieves its sales quota, $500 for part-time and $1,000 for full-time employees

I understand that full-time and part-time employees are eligible for Apple’s 401k and stock purchase programs. However, only full-time employees receive FlexBenefits package that include health insurance options.

Like other employees in retail, Apple staffers are encouraged through incentives and performance reviews to sell, sell, sell. One aspect of the sales requirements is pressure (for lack of a better word) to meet certain attachment rates. That is, sell one computer, and also sell one related product according to the following:

  • 60% of CPU sales to include AppleCare
  • 30% of CPU sales to include .Mac
  • 25% of CPU sales to include ProCare
  • 10% of iPod sales to include iPod AppleCare

To be clear, these “attachments” are common in retailing, including electronics giants Comp-USA and Best Buy. Apple store employees who don’t meet the requirements are evaluated below others who do, and for sure promotions from part-time to full-time are affected by a failure to meet attachment rates, and probably other promotions as well. If you can work full-time, take it, since moving to full-time is difficult to do unless you have great sales numbers.

Lastly, you should know that Apple performs a background check on applicants after the final stage of interviewing. The check includes submitting references and other information on your application (signature block), and authorized by a document that you sign (and which describes your rights). Your references may not be contacted, but it’s clear that Apple does check credit histories and some type of criminal history check. California law allows private companies with their own security force to access the state’s criminal history computer system, so background checks will include any history of arrests and criminal convictions if they are made (not all positions are screened for criminal histories).

Apple has several pages for recruiting employees for its retail stores, grouped by country: United States, UK, Canada and Japan. In late August 2007 they also posted a new Euro store jobs Web page that combines the current UK and Italy store job positions, presumably with space for Germany and other countries in the near future.

OK, now that you have an idea of what the job entails, let’s continue…

Start the application process at one of Apple’s “Jobs” Web pages (see bottom of this page) if you want to work in a new retail store. The page allows you to s

  • ecurely create and post your resumé on-line for Apple’s reference in connection with any listed job opening, and to search the currently open job positions by country, location, part-time vs. full-time, and division.

Apple contracts with third-party recruiters to reach out and find potential applicants, but many (if not most) first appear through the on-line resumé process. The recruiter contact user groups or associations to obtain names and e-mail addresses, which they use to send a first-contact message, asking the person to respond or call if they’re interested. The recruiter performs only the most basic screening to make sure that you’re 18 years-old or older, are interested, etc. They will quickly turn you over to the manager or assistant manager of the store to which you’ve applied, or in the case of a group interview, an interview coordinator.

Sr. V-P Retail Ron Johnson said Apple received 16,438 applications for retail store positions in 2003. For the San Francisco store alone, they received 1,352 applications, and hired 70 employees. He said the chain of stores has, “by far the lowest turn-over in the history of retail,” later revealed to be 20%. In general, Apple receives 200 applications for each open store position.

The on-line job listings are updated nightly at about 3 a.m. If you enter an e-mail address at the bottom of the search results page, Apple will mail you the new and updated listings each weekday. You can also use this link to display a listing of all currently open retail job listings. Note that some listings are for specific jobs and specific stores, while other listings are for “future potentially available positions” at certain stores.

If you are applying at an existing store, you can still apply on-line. However, it would be appropriate–and probably better–to take your resumé directly to the store, and give it to the assistant manager or manager, the latter whom has direct responsibility for hiring at the stores. You might also call the manager to express your interest, and to arrange for an in-person interview. After this contact, the hiring process is pretty much the same for all applicants.

There are some reports that no all store managers will accept in-person resumés or applications, but it’s worth a try. Either way, any paperwork you turn in personally should be very neatly and very accurately filled out. If you can, fill out Apple’s personnel forms with a typewriter or by using Acrobat or Illustrator.

Note that it appears you must apply to specific stores for specific positions. You cannot simply say, “I’ll work at any store,” or “I’ll work any position at The Grove.” My information is that you must make specific application for the store and position.

Next, you’ll have some type of initial telephone or e-mail contact with the manager or assistant manager of the store where you’ve applied. In some cases, you might be contacted by a general manager, which is someone who handles two or more stores within the same region. This contact is usually not much more than arranging an appointment for the personal interview, although as conversations go, it might also include some back-and-forth about your experience, etc. Again, if you’re hiring for a future store, you may be talking to the future manager, other store managers or personnel department people.

You should realize that it could be up to three months after you fill out your on-line application that you hear from anyone regarding an interview. It seems that Apple fills new store positions from the top down, so this delay is more common if you’re signing on for a Mac Specialist position.

The manager of the store is the hiring agent. Although he/she may consult with others in the store, or up the chain of Apple’s Human Resources department, it’s the manager who gives the “yes-no” for hiring.

Next, you’ll have some type of interview– either a personal interview with the manager, assistant manager or other supervisor from the store, or a group interview with 5-15 other applicants.

And these two interview steps could occur with little advance notice, and very quickly–one right after the other. Some applicants have said they received an e-mail on Monday, called the recruiter that day for the telephone interview, and were scheduled for a face-to-face interview for the next morning.

The personal interviews are usually very informal (as hiring interviews go), with some held at the mall (chairs in the main hall), and others at a nearby Starbucks or hotel meeting room. There have been some reports of group interviews: from two to 10 candidates meet with the assistant managers of a future store, and possibly the manager of a nearby store. The candidates are questioned individually in round-robin fashion.

There does not appear to be any standard set of questions for this interview. Instead, there is back-and-forth about your qualifications, Macintosh and retail history (if any), and general attitude. They may ask you about “selling” versus “helping,” and how you might sell a store visitor .Mac or AppleCare service. There doesn’t seem to be any intense focus on previous retail or sales history for applicants at this point, but rather the person’s knowledge of Apple and its products.

If you’re being hired as a Creative, you’ll probably be asked to present a portfolio of your work. It could be a project in any media, including something printed, on DVD or via a laptop presentation.

The interviewer’s questions usually last shorter than the interviewee’s questions. One person said he was interviewed for 10 minutes, and then asked questions and chatted about Apple for 30 minutes.

The manager or other Apple rep provides you with information about being an Apple employee, hours, days, retail benefits, etc., and you are able to ask questions about employment.

The interviewer may, however, ask some slightly off-beat questions, more to judge your ability to think quickly than your technical knowledge. You might be asked how you’d switch a PC user to a Macintosh, with the added condition that the person is a football player, or funeral home director, or school teacher, etc.

More than anything, this personal interview attempts to judge your suitability to the team, not your technical or sales skills. If Apple hires you, they will train you in both topics, according to their needs. At this point the manager is looking for an Apple advocate or enthusiast who can fit into the store experience that Apple has created within their stores. If they find that spark, they can teach you how to repair a Macintosh, or sell a computer. It’s almost impossible to do the reverse.

So it’s all about yourself during the interview, and in a Zen way–who are you, really? What type of person are you? It’s not so much what you know, but who you are. The interviewer will no doubt ask if you’re fluent is OS X and other operating system versions, what applications you’ve used, and how you rate yourself from 1 to 10 (least familiar to most familiar). It’s good to let the interviewer know your particular interests and skills in using a computer– are you a gamer, a designer, a songwriter, Web designer, photographer, etc. Your everyday skills are as important as any formal or job training.

Standard policies applies for your personal interview: have your paperwork ready (completed Apple job application, authorization for background check, resumé, etc.), show up on time at the right place, look sharp in “business casual” attire, offer a strong handshake, look everyone in the eye and repeat their name. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to take very brief notes on specific information the manager gives you, but don’t look like you transcribing the interview or let the note-taking break your connection.

It helps to have a very complete resumé that includes your past work education and work history, but also noting your past Macintosh and Apple exposure: your first Macintosh model, what you did with MacWrite and MacDraw, Woz was a next-door neighbor, your software application expertise, etc. I know one person created a CD of their resumé, along with sample projects using Word, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc., all intended to show their background and experience. The CD might be overkill, but the information is valuable to the interviewers.

Like any job interview, research your potential employer. It’s good to know that Apple has 135 retail stores, including store in Japan, Canada and England. It’s good to know what merchandise they carry, that employees don’t work on commission, the stores are profitable and other specific, tangible tidbits. Not only will the knowledge prevent you from asking a question that has an obvious answer, it may prompt you to ask an intelligent question of the interviewers.

Speaking of which, have one or two questions to ask the interviewers–but not related to benefits or pay, which would make you appear too focused on money. It’s okay to ask about the part-time vs. full-time hours, or if there are every opportunities to work unscheduled, etc. Just don’t make it sound like, “If I get hired, how soon do I get two weeks vacation?”

At the end of all this, you’ll probably have a wait until the manager makes up his/her mind. Depending upon the construction progress of a new store, or the hiring paperwork for an existing store, it could take one week to a month before you’re formally hired. If you receive the nod, you’ll typically receive three weeks of training and then go to work. If you’re working in a new store, you’ll have about a week in the new store before it opens.

Because Apple is attempting to create a store experience for visitors, it’s not as simple as finding those employees who will show up each day and put in their 8 hours. The manager is attempting to match the store location with an employee team. That is, a store may be near a university or downtown or in the heart of film production country. The assembled employee team must have the background and experience to match a particular store’s target audience. So you might be a shoo-in for one store, and yet be “unsuitable” for another store, based on your background or software expertise.

Your software expertise also figures in the operation of the theaters in many of Apple stores. Virtually every store depends upon all the employees to demonstrate applications, rather than have a dedicated demo person. So your fluency in several applications allows the manager more flexibility in scheduling and staging presentations in the theater.

Some have reported that they were not hired for one store, but the manager offered to send the applicant’s resumé to nearby stores for consideration. It’s a good idea to ask about openings at other stores, but only once you’re turned down at one store.

At some point, you’ll be required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) which effectively prohibits you from disclosing company-related information for five years under penalty of civil action.

On a more positive note, you’ll also receive a supply of “Tell the World” note cards to announce your new employment to friends and family.

As for training, I understand it consists of some role-playing, Web-based product info, and classes in retail philosophy, basic sales techniques and customer relations. The Web training is via two Apple Web sites specifically designed for explaining products. The same Web sites are used by Apple’s resellers to gain product familiarity.

Originally, there was no hands-on product training for store staff–they had to pick up knowledge of applications from the store’s computers as time would permit. Unless store employees happened to own a copy of Photoshop or Flash, their only access to software products is on the store’s computers. This situation changed some time in mid-2004, when Apple began assigning trainees a Powerbook G4 loaded with Apple’s software, and allowed them to take the computer home, giving them 24-hour access to learn the applications.

You should realize that scheduling at the stores is tricky: if you’re a part-time employee, you’ll be scheduled different hours almost every week–and you won’t know what you’re working until just the week before. You’ll have to be flexible to work the required hours you’re scheduled.

For more details about the stores and other information about employees, check our page on Apple’s retail stores.

  • An ex-employee of the Summit Sierra (Reno, Nev.) store has posted a description of his hiring and training, with more promised.
  • Read a blogger’s recollections of a group and individual interview…that included a bowl of fruit!
  • Read how individual hiring experiences vary, through this person’s account of the application process that went awry.
  • Training for the Genius position is pretty rigorous, as detailed in this account.
  • One applicant decided to take on the recruiter who had turned him down, through a series of e-mails that asked why he had not been selected. Read the exchange.
  • Another applicant provides a story about Apple’s “circus” question.
  • A “Fast Company” correspondent went undercover as a retail worker at several stores, and has posted his/her experience becoming an Apple employee.
  • In March 2008 the Sydney (Australia)-based company FutureStep e-mail recruiting notices to those who had previously expressed interest in a job at the George Street or Melbourne stores. The e-mail included an Excel spreadsheet page to fill out. Read the e-mail here, and download the small Excel page here.
  • In 2009 a former Genius wrote of his/her experiences.
  • A “Key Compentencies” evaluation for the position of Family Room Specialist. Besides specifics, it provides insights into the personnel methods of evaluation (pdf).
  • Job offer made to an candidate in July 2008 (pdf).
  • Interview tips posted on Apple’s retail Web page in 2005.
  • One applicant’s experience points to a lack of full interviews.
  • A Cult of Mac writer went through the entire interviewing process in March 2011.
  • The Gawker Web site solicited stories from employees, and came up with a strange collection.