New York City Apple Store Interview Process
Allow me to walk you through my Apple interview process.. but first let me start off by saying: Apple looked like a really cool place to work. A company that expounds the greatness of its culture, the pretty decent benefits and perks offered, and a not-too-shabby hourly wage: Those were the reasons that first attracted me to the Apple careers site. But I soon found that although Apple dangles these tantalizing carrots in the faces of its prospective employees, the company does not practice what it preaches.
I didn’t sign a nondisclosure, so suck it Apple :P. This tell-all may make Apple fanboys bash this exposé as a flame. This article, however, presents the reality – and I hope it will be an informative one for those going for the job – of my Apple interview experience. I’m going to tell you everything I said and did, that got me all the way through to the final third interview at Apple Corporate. I’ll try to give some tips based on my experiences. Hopefully, this insight will help some of you to actually snag the job. And besides the “suck it, Apple” comment above, I promise to be objective in my narrative. So here goes.
So I decided to try my luck with Apple. As a 22 year-old college junior with a very strong resume (including both corporate and retail experience), I figured I was qualified to work Apple retail. So I hit the Apple jobs site, created a profile, wrote up a cover letter, and submitted my resume and references. Part of the application is a multiple choice survey featuring such gems as:
Why do you want to work at Apple? (check-able responses included ‘I like helping people,’ ‘I love Apple products,’ ‘I just want a job,’ etc). I answered ‘I like helping people’ and made it clear in my cover letter that I have limited Apple gear experience, but strong interpersonal skills.
The survey totaled roughly five questions, and answers targeted key words meant to filter out undesired applicants. Apple presents a very strong customer relations/service demeanor. The answers you select for this survey pretty much tell Apple if you’re a fit for the company. So place an emphasis on your people skills. I checked that I would be interested in all of the Retail positions. This did not work against me. All in all, I spent an hour and a half on the application process and was pretty satisfied with the job I’d done.
About four days later, I received an email from Apple Retail, telling me there would be a 2 day hiring event at the end of the week. The email asked me to RSVP my top three choices for a date and time. It stated that I’d get confirmation the same day. I politely RSVP-d with my preferences. In reality, my heart was pounding. I’d done my research on the hiring process through our good friend Google (I’m sure those of you reading this have done the same). I’d read that it may take months to get any feedback or response from anyone event remotely connected to Apple. Not wanting to mess this up, I sent two confirmation emails, one as a reply, and one as a separate subject. I made sure to note I had flexibility, being a student on summer break.
Around noon the next day I received an automated email with my date and time. An hour later I received a second email from a person at Apple Retail. It gave me a second date and time, saying the slot I’d been accepted to earlier was filled. I replied by posting the first automated response to verify if it was still applicable. I wouldn’t mind the time change, but I didn’t want to be lost in the shuffle. (A nightmare scenario being me signed up for 2 events and having it held against me that I missed one.) The same person replied back to apologize. Apple Retail had made a mistake with the second email. The first email was the right time. I was too excited to have been invited to a hiring event to raise an eyebrow at the miscommunication. Maybe I should have taken more note of that. Either way, I was ecstatic and counted the days to the event that week.
The Hiring Event
I was signed up for a noon event. It took place at a hotel. I arrived 15 minutes early, as per the instructions in the email. Around me, a small group of fellow applicants stood around looking lost. Through an open doorway, I saw Apple employees holding a small meeting.
In the front of the entryway, two Apple girls sat at what I figured was the sign-in station. I introduced myself and was told sign-in would begin at noon.
My strategy was to smile at all times and make eye contact with any employee who passed. I had read online to “ABS – Always Be Smiling” at the event. Good advice! The Apple employees were in a constant state of joy. It was a funny juxtaposition to the very nervous applicants who glanced about and clenched their hands.
Finally, the girls checked us in and gave us Apple nametags. Some applicants were pushing to get in the door, which to me seemed a big no-no. I waited patiently to let the zealots in and noted they were all pushing to grab seats in the back of the room. I knew from reading online that Apple was looking for people who would stand out. Sitting in the back of the room is definitively counter-intuitive to this. More advice: Don’t sit in the back.
I wanted to make an impression right away, as the Apple employees were eyeballing us.
“No brave souls for the front?” I asked, and confidently sat down there. My behavior elicited laughs from the other applicants and the employees alike. I felt I’d hit a good stride and was happy. The next thing I did was make friends with the people who sat next to me.
The Apple employees introduced themselves. **Important: Acknowledge the Apple employees. Repeat “Good afternoon” or whatever greeting they use. Nobody said anything at first and the leader grew annoyed. He repeated himself until we answered and then gave us a satisfied “Thank you. Finally.”
On each seat in the room lay a clipboard, single sheet of paper, and pen. The front of this sheet explained availability and positions. Full time – five days a week, 8 hours per shift. Part time – 4 days a week, 8 hours per shift, weekend availability required.
On the back of the sheet was a 20 question “quiz” which tested Apple product knowledge. My heart skipped a beat. I’m an Apple newb. Luckily, I’d made friends with people who ended up being product wizards, and we worked on it together. So, next piece of advice: Make friends!
I made sure to remember the most WTF question of the quiz: What features of Snow Leopard are beneficial for persons with disabilities?
Another question I remember was: What does multi-touch technology mean to you?
There were other questions, some on Apple TV, the Time Capsule, and just the software features and hardware in general. There were a number of questions on the OS features.
19 questions were fill-in-the-blanks. The 20th was multiple choice. The multiple choice question asked, “which application doesn’t belong in iLife?” They gave us 25 minutes for the entire quiz.
Next, we introduced ourselves. I advise you to go first, if nobody else wants to. Set the pace. Say something that makes people laugh. That’s what I did.
Following the introductions, we watched a video about Apple and were quizzed on it. The video consisted of footage of employees from around the world cheering, mixed in with fast facts like: how many people use their tutoring services, how many stores they’ve opened, etc. I made sure to speak often. I raised my hand 75% of the time. I believe this is key if you want to move forward. Some advice on the hiring event? Try to remember the video. Contribute to the coversation, but do so positively.
For the last segment of the event, we were split into groups of four. They chose our groups randomly, with 4 members in each. We were given an imaginary client with a pretend occupation, hobbies, and reasons for coming into the store. The point of the exercise was to work together to make a presentation pitching products to this client. I had a pretty strong group, and was able to contribute my organization skills to get the group together. I made sure everyone had a speaking part to contribute, and did a four-part outline: Intro, Hardware, Software, Services. We all spoke clearly and knowledgably about our part.
An executive observed each group and gave feedback. Our exec seemed pretty happy with all of us, commenting on how he liked our team cohesiveness.
I believe it’s important to give everyone in your group the opportunity to shine. This way, whether they do so or not is up to them, and you won’t look like a pushy know-it-all.
After everyone presented, the executives asked us what differed from this exercise in comparison to actually being in the store, which I thought was a pretty obvious question. I made sure to pitch an answer (“the environment”). A behavioral tip I can give you: listen respectfully and look interested when everyone speaks. Some applicants failed to do this.
A quick Q&A followed the event. Try to have a question or two ready, so you keep looking interested even at the end. The end of the Q&A marked the end of the event. I made sure to say goodbye to all the employees and remember their names. As I left, a couple of the executives actually stopped to shake my hand and say I did a great job. I was pretty confident that I’d be invited back for a second interview.
The best tip I can give you regarding the hiring event is to KEEP YOUR NERVES AT THE DOOR. Apple wants exuberant, cheerful, kind-natured people with a smart head on their shoulders. And I’m sorry, but there are such things as dumb questions at events like these. Someone asked about discounts. It’s not smart to ask about discounts if you don’t even have the job. It gives the impression you don’t really care about the Apple brand and what it stands for, which won’t get you invited back for the second round.
The Call Back
I’ll make this section brief. Two days later I received a call from the retail division of corporate inviting me in for a second interview with a store manager the following morning. I think I said “thank you!” about 3 or 4 times. I worked the usual telephone manners: “I’m looking forward to it, thank you again and have a nice rest of your day.” I was definitely excited and nervous for the next day to come.
I’m not going to get into where the corporate office was, or what it looked like. It was definitely a nice place, but that’s not what this blog is about. I’m hoping it will become a good reference tool, not a gossip site.
I was still riding the high of doing well at the hiring event. From it I felt I could grasp what type of people Apple was looking for.
I met with the store’s Operational Manager, a genuinely cool guy. He had my sheet from the hiring event and went through the availability and what working at the store was like. He told me (and this is roughly paraphrased, but true to the content):
Though it’s a long shift, it does go by fast because there is always something to do. Cashier is the hardest position, because it requires the most client interaction and tons of training. Cashiers actually end up telling the Specialists what to do. Specialists do the bulk of the grunt work on the floor and there are sales quotas. The back of house maintains the stock room to very precise conditions and can tell you where everything is; if the product isn’t available, they can tell you when it will be. Family Room Specialist is a new position, and people skills are key. Creative is all about teaching and reaching out. Genius is the highest paid but has the most in-depth technical training, and there’s a lot of it.
He also discussed the different shifts and the people on his particular shifts, and how they were a unique, talented, high energy group. He said most of Apple’s hired applicants ended up being students, artists, writers, actors. It just worked out that way. Apple looked more for the personality. He stressed technical knowledge isn’t as important because that can be taught. But Apple won’t waste its time teaching people skills.
Anyway, we vibed well. He even told me about his roommates. He asked me what I was currently doing with my life, why I wanted to work at Apple, and what makes a great customer service experience, in my opinion. I said a great customer service experience is when the client leaves satisfied and knowing you actually cared. At the end of the very casual half hour interview, he told me he thought I would do well as a cashier. He recommended me for the third interview, which would take place the next day in front of a panel. This was the first time I remember feeling nervous. I guess it showed, because he was nice enough to give me some pointers: “Be yourself, smile and make eye contact with all of them and you’ll be fine. I can definitely see you with us.”
The Second Call
I was surprised to get a second call later that same day from Apple Retail. It was from the same person I’d been speaking to throughout the process. She wanted to know if we could push up the interview. I of course obliged. She seemed extremely relieved and thanked me for my flexibility. I let her know it wasn’t a problem, thanked her, and wished her a good day. So now I had a morning interview instead of an afternoon one. I had read that the panel interview was the most difficult. I vowed to get a good night’s sleep and make sure I was ready to go.
I headed back to corporate for the third interview. Immediately, I felt a different vibe in the office. It seemed much more hectic. Think: quietly bustling. When I sat down to await my interview, there were other people already waiting. I hadn’t encountered this before. It worked to rattle my nerves just a teeny bit more.
I waited a half hour to be seen. I’ll let you know right now that this interview was not fun. Don’t expect it to be. I believe now that the third interview is contrived to be difficult on purpose. I believe that Apple is testing for reactions to unpleasant situations, as we all know that not every day in retail is a good one. But since they purposely made it difficult, it’s only fair for me now to be as detailed as possible.
A short, mousey-looking brunette (sorry brunettes, you’re not all short or mousey-looking, but this one was) introduced herself and walked me into a glass-encased conference room. Inside the conference room sat two other male executives.
Does anyone watch the Office? One looked like Andy from the Office. Andy calls himself “Nard Dog” on the show, so this guy I will nickname Nard Dog. The other executive was an uber-tanned “papi” type, white haired, with a white dress shirt unbuttoned so I could see all his chest hair. So, I’ll call him Papi.
So here are the three personality types with which I was confronted.
Nard Dog – never laughed; eyeballed me hardcore, complete with head tilting; grilled me on my answers; asked all the hard questions, and generally came off as very abrasive.
Papi – just stared; confused me with his chest hair vibe; he was in the middle – not very mean but not very encouraging; asked me more personal questions
Mouse – the buffer (how stereotypical); she exhibited very little personality; didn’t asked me many questions; she had a perpetually encouraging smile and nodded so much I wondered how much her chiropractor charged.
I came prepared with five copies of my resume and handed them out. I waited a few tense minutes as they didn’t say anything and looked them over.
Nard Dog: Is that a Mead folder you’re carrying?
Nard Dog: Wow, I was just thinking about designing a carry case for the Ipad that looked like a trapper keeper.
He went on to describe it, and I got the feeling he was trying to get some feedback from me on it. Now, I’m not a designer. Nowhere on my resume does it say design experience. I am not artistically talented. So I shot off some ideas about how you could insert pockets on the inside to carry things like pens.
My first mistake, I believe. Apple doesn’t want to hear that people still use writing instruments.
Nard Dog: “So let’s start with the obvious. Why Apple?”
This is like the fourth time I’ve answered this question. I stared at him point blank and I said, “The people. I want to be part of a cool culture that values its employees. I feel I can contribute positively. I want to be around people who share my interest in other people. I am, after all, a sociology major, so I enjoy seeing what makes others tick. “
Nard Dog raised an eyebrow : “You say the people. So what about the people. Staples has people. Why not apply for a job at Staples?”
Like I said, abrasive. I was taken aback by his attitude. I elaborated further on my question by saying Staples’s customer service never made me feel like they care about people. Apple cares.
Then Papi took over. He asked what I was doing now, and he asked me questions off my resume. “I see you were a sales coordinator. Tell me about a time you helped your team achieve their goals” Then he asked, “What was your favorite boss and your least favorite boss and why”
I don’t think they liked my answers to these two questions. I don’t know why. Just my gut. I said that my favorite boss was this young COO I worked for, easy to talk to but a brilliantly businessman. I said the worst boss I had was in a retail position. This boss didn’t know how to manage people properly and there were a lot of mishaps in the store (e.g., in a multi-person staffed store I had my wallet and phone stolen from behind the counter while I was outside accepting deliveries). I don’t think they liked the part about not managing people properly. Guess it wasn’t their ideal answer.
Now, I was an HR manager for a while. I both hired and fired. I know the little end interview cues. So I knew I didn’t get the job when after a half hour, Mouse uses this line: “Okay well, we will be getting back to people early next week.” Then she stood up. So I stood up and gracefully shook hands with everyone in the room. I made eye contact and thanked them each individually. Then I thanked them collectively for their time. Mouse showed me to the door.
Now, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I can’t help it, I’m a Pisces. As we were walking out, I told her, “I’m not sure I did too well on this one. I think I talked too much.”
Mouse: No!! Don’t be silly. We want to hear from you. You’re supposed to talk, this is an interview.
Me: But I think I over-spoke.
Mouse: *smiles again, shakes head*
I thanked her again and shook her hand. As I walked away, I remember shaking my own head. My gut was telling me the job wasn’t mine. I have to tell you, I was genuinely hurt. After 3 interviews of hearing how great Apple’s culture is, and how cool the people were, I felt like the kid who didn’t get picked for the sports team!
The Apple Store Rejection Letter
I’m pretty sure that if they wanted me for the job, they would have told me right there at the end of the third interview. I didn’t hear anything in the beginning of the week. My gut had been right. In the middle of the week I received an automated email. Pasted below is the actual text of the email. It was kind of harsh.
Thank you for your interest in opportunities with Apple Retail. As you can imagine we received a large number of qualified applicants for this role. At this time we have chosen to move forward with other candidates that meet the needs of today. I want to personally thank you for your interest and for investing the time to speak with us about this opportunity.
Thank you again for your time and interest in Apple. We wish you the best in your future endeavors.
Apple Retail Staffing
I think this is the point wherein I’m supposed to rant. I’ll keep it short.
I believe the third interview was too subjective. I performed strongly throughout the process, and I even more strongly believe that I lost the job because of a few answers that these random executives didn’t like. The work and time I put into this ended up to be a waste. And for all the dedication I showed, I received a generic, automated, kind of mean email. I would have at least appreciated an email from a person, I mean, I went on 3 interviews. Remember that carrot I spoke of in the beginning which Apple dangles? Well, when I say they didn’t practice what they preach, I mean that in my specific situation, they did not acknowledge the time I put into this process. Apple Care? Hah. More like Apple Didn’t Care. So maybe you can say I’m bitter over the lost time. I won’t complain about the money I lost commuting, but there’s obviously that too. I mean, I went on 3 interviews! For a cashier position. And I still don’t understand why I didn’t get the job. So, my point being: the third interview was way too subjective. Too behavioral. I felt afterwards like a lab rat in a failed experiment.
I’m over it though. I made lemons out of lemonade, I embraced the cloud’s silver lining: I used the experience to write a blog, after all.
What pointers can I give you for the third interview? Breathe. Don’t rush. Don’t let nervous excitement take over. Stop and think. I wish I could give more, but the nature of the third interview left me at a dearth. I thought I did well. They didn’t.
I truly hope that reading about my experience helps you feel more prepared for what you’re about to get into, and that in turn, this confidence helps you to snag that job! That being said, Good luck!!