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How to Get a Job at a Grocery Store

As a long-time grocery store manager, one question I’ve been asked, again and again, is how to get a job at a grocery store.

Most stores have an online application process, a background check, and then an interview process. It also helps to meet the hiring manager & let them know you applied and are interested. But avoid pestering them. Be prepared to be flexible, open-minded, and have a willingness to work wherever and whenever is needed.

But there’s a lot more that goes into getting hired at your local grocery store.

So in this article, we’re looking at the specific job requirements most stores will have. But we’ll also get into what to expect at an interview, what positions are most often needed, and even some mock interview questions.

So let’s dive in!

What skills do you need to work in a grocery store?

Grocery store positions don’t usually have any specific skills required to qualify.

You can apply even if you haven’t worked in a grocery store before. This is one of the reasons why the job is suitable for teenagers.

Here are the basic job requirements Whole Foods Market looked for when I was a store manager for them:

  • Must be able to lift 50 pounds
  • Will stand/walk 6-8 hours in an 8-hour shift
  • Using your hands: grasping, pushing and pulling
  • Flexible: able to bend, twist, squat and reach
  • Possible exposure to FDA approved cleaning chemicals.
  • Possible working in cold temperatures such as a freezer or refrigerated walk-in
  • Able to work in wet or dry conditions
  • Having a flexible schedule including being able to work nights, weekends, and holidays 
  • Able to use tools & equipment, such as knives, box cutters, pallet jacks or other machines
  • Possible use of ladders or step stools

Grocery store jobs may not need any set of skills, but it doesn’t mean they are simple.

You’ll be under pressure to work faster, especially during the holidays. You’ll also have to meet the expectations set by your manager.

It’s also important to be ready to work hard and put a lot of time at work once you’re hired.

Dealing with customers is also never easy. Having worked for Whole Foods Market for more than 20 years, I can tell you that while I’ve seen thousands of amazing customers, I’ve also been yelled at and even seen things thrown at employees on rare occasions.

So be prepared to stay calm, cool, and collected, even if the customers don’t.

Lastly, it’s crucial that you are a team player who can get along with all of your co-workers. That sometimes means putting aside your ego for the sake of the store (and your job).

How quickly do grocery store employees get hired?

The short answer is it depends.

But in most cases, expect it to take a couple of weeks. That being said, there have been plenty of times where I was shorthanded in my store, and the perfect person walked in and applied and was hired quickly out of necessity.

These days, most stores will likely have an online application process.

Then they will narrow down the list and perform background checks on a smaller list of candidates. Then those that pass the background check will be scheduled for interviews.

Once all interviews have been done, then the store or department manager would make their hiring decision and call you to make the job offer. Less reputable managers won’t call those candidates who didn’t get the job. So you won’t always hear back.

You should be ready to apply for many jobs at a few stores and follow up with those stores a couple of weeks later.

Depending on your city and the economy, there could be way more applicants than there are positions. This causes the stores to get numerous applications and makes it harder to get a job quickly.

You should keep in mind that just like you, many others are looking for the same opportunity.

This is why it’s a good idea to go to smaller stores and not the biggest name in town. You may have an advantage at your local small store.

And then, months or a year later with some experience under your belt, you can go apply at the big stores and stand a better chance of getting hired.

What jobs can you do at a grocery store?

Grocery store positions include stockers, cashiers, baggers, meat cutters, fish mongers, bakers, cooks and chefs, cash-handling personnel, HR, and department and store management.

Ultimately, grocery stores depend on many employees to run smoothly and efficiently.

The number of employees and the duties assigned to each usually depends on every specific store. Some may afford to hire multiple employees and give each one a particular task.

Others may not be able to have as many employees and will have one employee doing many jobs. So, it’s crucial that you don’t apply with a specific job in mind.

Be open-minded, flexible, and willing to do whatever is necessary whether or not it fits a specific job description.

As a store manager for many years at Whole Foods, I can tell you that the employees who got promoted the fastest and who got the largest pay raises were the ones I knew I could count on to get any and every job done without complaining and without requiring constant supervision.

Here are the most common grocery store positions:

1. Cashier

As a cashier, you’ll scan products that have bar codes.

You’ll also weigh things that don’t have a code, such as produce items. These items typically have a PLU number. While many produce items will have a PLU sticker showing that number, plan to memorize the most common numbers.

You’ll also have to return the exact change to the customers and answer all their questions.

You’ll be trained on how to use the register software, but you should have excellent customer service. Customers will ask you some questions so you should have a friendly and relaxed attitude as well as patience to handle them.

It can also be distracting scanning items, passing them down to the bagging area while chatting with the customer, so it pays to stay focused.

2. Bagging

This is another role that most new applicants are given.

You’ll work closely with the cashier by putting the products that have been purchased into shopping bags. You have to be good at arranging the items, so they fit correctly.

You also have to know when to double the bags if the items are heavy. Bagging the fragile items (like eggs) carefully to prevent breakage is also essential. Keeping other products apart from frozen items is also vital.

While simple, bagging is really a fine art as it needs to be done well, but also quickly. Ideally try and match the pace if the cashier so that by the time everything has been rung up and paid for, the customer’s bags are ready to go.

3. Stock clerks

This is a role in loading things from the pallets and stocking the shelves.

Busy stores may also require you to go through the store mid-day and do what’s called fronting or facing. That simply involves pulling the product forward where people have taken items from the shelf.

Always make sure to pull at least 2 forward when you do that. This helps maintain a full and clean look on the grocery shelves. Customers don’t buy as much when a store looks like it was just hit by a zombie apocalypse.

Stock clerks also help customers find products too. So do be prepared to interact and assist the shoppers. Some stores also routinely call for the stock clerks to come to the check stands to help bag groceries during busy hours also.

4. Janitorial roles

This job will require you to keep the store clean and organized. Some stores may not hire a janitor or may contract this out to another company. Small stores may just have the expectation that everyone helps with cleaning up spills and emptying trash cans when needed.

Other grocery store jobs include department manager jobs, assistant managers and receiving clerks who unload the deliveries.

I have a recent article that breaks down ALL the positions in a grocery store in a quick, but comprehensive way. So if you want to know a little bit more about each role, just click that link to read it on my site.

What do you wear to an interview at a grocery store?

It’s always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. A tie is not necessary, but don’t wear shorts or jeans or sneakers. A button-up shirt or polo shirt is better than a T-shirt, and avoid excess jewelry which can distract them from focusing on your answers.

Although you may not get the job you’re applying for, you should still create a good impression.

This means you should put more effort into your appearance and how you dress. Avoid wearing too many revealing clothes. You should also wear clothes that hide any tattoos if you have any.

Exposing such will create an unnecessary distraction, and you don’t want that.

Having said that and some of what’s below, do pay attention to how the existing employees dress. For an interview, I always think it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. But there’s no need to go WAY overboard if everyone who works there is in T-shirts and jeans.

Wearing large pieces of jewelry is also not advisable because it also draws you unwanted attention.

You should keep your appearance smart but not too casual. Grocery store managers usually want to know that you’re the type of person they would be happy to have to represent them.

If you’re a guy, avoid wearing polo shirts and instead opt for button-down shirts. You don’t have to pair it with a tie. If you’re a girl, you can wear a skirt or pants and a blouse together with a sweater.

Avoid wearing open-toe shoes. In most cases, you won’t be able to wear open-toed shoes at a grocery store for safety reasons.

Remember to bring a notepad and some breath mints. Apply minimum makeup and wear a conservative hairstyle.

Make sure you have your resume together with a list of references, even if you’ve not been asked to. While your dress code is essential, you also have to impress with your behavior.

Even if this is a first job, a resume can still focus on skills rather than previous employment.

Keep a straight posture and pay attention to the interviewer. Lastly, make sure to look them in the eye and avoid fidgeting.

What kinds of questions do grocery store managers ask in an interview?

Here are the top questions you can expect to be asked by a grocery store manager in an interview:

  • What can you tell me about yourself?
  • Why do you want to work in a grocery store?
  • What weaknesses do you have?
  • Do you have any professional experience that makes you suitable for the job?
  • Tell me about a time when you intentionally didn’t follow the rules

But below, I’ll go into greater detail on each of those.

Although prior experience isn’t always necessary, you still have to prepare for some interview questions to impress.

A good grocery store manager or owner will ask questions designed to show them how your brain works and thinks. The questions are also designed to see how you respond under pressure and if you’re easily stumped.

Here are just a few example questions:

1. What can you tell me about yourself?

This question is common in other fields as well as is usually asked at the beginning.

You should open up and feel at ease when answering it. You may be tempted to talk out your life history but don’t. Tell the interviewer about your education and interests that are related to the job you want.

You should also talk about specific characteristics that give you the job-related skills.

It’s OK to talk a little bit about yourself personally just so they get a sense of who you are but avoid going in-depth about your gaming obsession or how many TikTok followers you have.

2. Why do you want to work in a grocery store?

Try to tell the store manager the skills you have that make you the perfect fit for the job.

They are just trying to find out if you deserve the job and why. You should, therefore, try to market yourself using the experiences you have even if it wasn’t in the same field but is applicable.

Ultimately you probably just want to earn a few bucks, and that’s OK.

But the answer to this question should be deeper. Maybe you love interacting and helping people. Perhaps you live food and want to work around food and people who are passionate about food.

Show the manager why you are excited about the job!

3. What weaknesses do you have?

The store manager may be looking for a reason why they shouldn’t hire you.

You can’t say you don’t have any weaknesses because everybody does. If you say that you’ll come out as dishonest and may lose the opportunity.

Talk about one or two of your weaknesses or a mistake you made in the past. Then talk about how you’re overcoming them or the steps you took to fix the situation.

4. Do you have any professional experience that makes you suitable for the job?

You may not have any professional experience as a teenager.

But you have other achievements you can talk about even if it’s in extracurricular activities. Grocery store jobs usually require a lot of energy. They also require you to be on your feet the whole shift. Working well with a large team of people is also critical for a successful grocery career.

So, being involved in physical extracurricular activities like team sports is a great thing to mention.

5. Tell me about a time when you intentionally didn’t follow the rules

Not everyone will ask a question like this. But some savvy managers with a lot of HR experience may.

Situational questions like this are designed to let them see how your mind works. Also, because this type of question isn’t your standard “why do you want to work here”-type question, most people won’t have a prepared answer.

Again, that will show the manager how your brain works and how you react under pressure.

In this specific instance, this question is telling us about your initiative and whether you’re a self-starter. Almost everyone has broken the rules sometimes. But only some of us did it for the right reasons.

Ultimately, the manager who asks this question wants to know if you have the strength to make a judgment call that you think is best for the store even if it’s something you’re not supposed to do.

Giving a refund without a receipt when you know it will build customer loyalty could be an example. But it doesn’t have to be a work-related example.

How old do you have to be to work at a grocery store?

Generally speaking, you need to be at least 16 to work in a grocery store.

While some stores may choose to only hire 18+, the following grocery chains do hire 16-year-olds as of this writing:

  • Albertson’s
  • BI-LO
  • Brookshire’s
  • Food Lion
  • Kroger
  • Lucky Supermarket
  • Pathmark
  • PriceRite
  • Publix
  • Raley’s
  • Ralph’s
  • Safeway
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Whole Foods Market

That being said, child labor laws do vary from state to state, so check out this comprehensive state-by-stage guide for more info on your state.

Those state laws will limit how many hours you can work if you are still in high school. The restrictions have different limits for weekdays compared to weekends. If the store you are applying at serves alcohol, there may be restrictions there too.

How much do you get paid to work at a grocery store?

When I was a store manager at Whole Foods in California around the year 2000, we started everyone at $10/hour. At the time, the minimum wage was only $5.75 but that just wasn’t realistic for California.

Honestly, $10 wasn’t realistic either, but it was almost twice what many employers were paying, so we got better employees.

Of course, what you or your child can expect to make will vary greatly by state as different state’s economies will create different average wages.

That being said, the nationwide average for an entry-level grocery store employee is currently $10.47/hour.

On the high end of the average scale, some employees start out at $15.66. Then on the low end, some only make $8.14. In most cases, expect to be somewhere right at the average unless you’re in California or New York City.

But no matter what the starting wage, work hard, show up on time, avoid excessive sick calls, and you’ll quickly rise to the top and be rewarded in raises for your hard work.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we took a look at the world of grocery stores and what it takes to get hired for your first job there.

We looked at job descriptions and positions. But we also explored how the interview process goes and even what to expect in pay.

Take any opportunity you’re given then grow from it.

You have to start at the bottom before climbing to a management position. But a career in the grocery industry can be a great thing and lead to cross country adventures. It can also lead to a 6 figure salary.

I know because I started for $4.25/hour at Whole Foods and ended up making over $100,000 across 4 different states in 10 stores.

Photo credits that require attribution:

Eggs. Plenty of them. by Alex Barth is licensed under CC2.0

Jeff Campbell