Michelle Le has worked for UNIQLO for four years and is currently a university recruiter. Known for its simple, high-quality, everyday clothing designed with life’s needs in mind, UNIQLO is a global clothing apparel brand originally founded in Japan. The company oversees the entire clothes-making process through its SPA business model and has over 2,400 stores in 27 markets worldwide.
As part of Forage’s ongoing “Hiring Diaries” series, we interviewed Le to gain insight into the UNIQLO recruitment process for students and entry-level applicants. In this interview, she discusses:
- What values are important to UNIQLO that entry-level or internship applicants should be aware of?
- What do you look for on a resume?
- What do you look for in a job interview?
- What can entry-level or internship applicants do in this competitive market to set themselves apart?
- What kind of questions should these candidates ask in the interview process?
- What types of interview questions should candidates prepare for?
- What advice would you give to students and entry-level applicants who have already applied or want to apply for roles with UNIQLO?
- Do you have any tips for soon-to-be college grads on navigating the start of their career?
- How is UNIQLO different from other companies in the same space?
- What is it like to work for UNIQLO?
What values are important to UNIQLO that entry-level or internship applicants should be aware of?
More than anything, we look for passion. Retail is not the most glamorous [industry], and you truly have to have a love for the retail business. With that being said, we look for interns who:
- Are curious, inspired, and motivated by a mission (for example, do you have a dream of being director of merchandising?)
- Are willing to be hands-on and adaptable to the in-store environment: Retail is not always stable. You could always have an influx of customers during the holidays or maybe a shipment doesn’t come. Being adaptable to the game plan of the day is really important.
- Have the ability and confidence to lead a team
What do you look for on a resume?
The programs that we offer are intended to develop future global business leaders in our company. Therefore, on a resume, I look for leadership positions in student organizations, class projects, and part-time or full-time jobs. I also look for customer service experience, whether in food and beverage, former retail, or hospitality roles.
UNIQLO is a really customer-centric retail business. If you have customer experience in any of those backgrounds, it’s transferable. I always tell students that customer service is something you can acquire in so many industries. It’s a transferable skill that you shouldn’t undermine. Whether it’s food and beverage, former retail, hospitality, or anything where you’re working with a client or a customer, that will translate to UNIQLO because we focus on the in-store customer experience.
On resumes, I look for if they have worked at a local boutique or if they worked at another global retailer because those are really good experiences that I can hone in on and ask how their experience was at the local level or a larger level like H&M.
In terms of school involvement, I always look for leadership positions, whether in the fashion or retail-related field or something entirely different. What matters most is showing the impact you made in that position. For example, tell me how many people you trained and led, how you delegated to others or how much money you fundraised. Little details like that help me see deeper into your leadership position. For example, one student was president of the Vietnamese Student Association and said he did a give-back event for one of the charities in Vietnam. And he raised X amount of money with X amount of team members. Even though that experience is not directly retail, it still shows leadership and teamwork.
Whenever I see school projects on a resume, it allows me to see what type of coursework the student has taken [that’s] relevant to the position. One example I encountered was a student in a marketing sales class who had to create a pitch for a designated business for the semester. The premise was a local mom-and-pop retail store that needed better marketing towards Gen Z. The student told me about how their team came up with different social media initiatives and how at the time, the company only had a website and an Instagram. They expanded on that to include TikTok and better targeted Instagram ads and revamp their website. If the student can speak very thoroughly about the class project, the opportunity, the solutions, and the final results, that’s an example of the thought process I look for.
There are so many opportunities that students really doubt as transferable. From my year-and-a-half of recruiting, I’ve been able to see different ways students can transfer their skills in certain roles into being a “unicorn candidate.” One example is being a resident adviser or a camp counselor. A lot of people underestimate those positions, but in both, you’re dealing with a large number of students or kids, and you have to work on communication. You have to motivate others and act as a mentor and, at the same time, you’re planning for different events. A lot of those experiences are transferable, and I’m able to pull stories from those experiences.
The same thing goes for those who have held leadership positions in Greek organizations. These organizations and roles include planning and alignment for a large group of people, so I like to see student experiences like that.
What do you look for in a job interview?
Confidence and knowledge are key! Besides our products, what else do you know about UNIQLO and its operations? Motivation and inspiration are powerful, too. How does the candidate picture themselves in a future role at UNIQLO? What’s the “why” behind the application?
I love when I meet fans of the brand, but I also want them to really think deeply about what’s the “why”: Did you apply only because you like the brand or did you apply because you resonate with the fact that we give back to society through XYZ organization? Or do you resonate with the fact that the growth is up-and-coming? Do you want to be a part of the growing Latin America market that may be coming up soon? Deeper knowledge of the brand and its goals shows you’re passionate about the role you’re applying for.
What can entry-level or internship applicants do in this competitive market to set themselves apart?
Get involved in fashion-related projects or organizations! This will allow you to learn and work with the industry in another way aside from internships or [part-time] jobs. Work, organize, or lead a fashion show. Work on a fashion case study with a business — the opportunities are endless! It’s definitely becoming more common to host fashion shows. UNIQLO just sponsored one in Virginia, at Marymount University, Kemp State University, and one at Binghamton. We sent them raffle items for their silent raffle. Try to get involved in those.
In January, we had the National Retail Federation career fair. Thousands of students across the nation came to this one career fair. We had lines at our table consistently for hours, and we only had four recruiters that day. I still remember this one student who came up to me, and I said, “Hey, thanks so much for waiting.” She responded, “I don’t mind waiting. I love this brand. The reason why I’m waiting is that I saw that you had this XYZ position open.” She gave such a great elevator pitch and said, “I’m ready to interview with you right now.” So really, confidence is key. And just being able to say, “I think I’m a good candidate for you.”
What kind of questions should these candidates ask in the interview process?
Ask about the day-to-day routine of the role you’re applying for; a job description can only tell you so much. Ask about growth opportunities and how it is measured within the company.
Each company’s vision of growth may vary, so find one that you align with. Make sure that you’re driven and that you are focused on the end goal, and you know what you want for yourself.
Being able to connect with your trainer and have them support you and help your growth is important, too, so ask about that. The great thing about UNIQLO is that you have a lot of support around you, but also a lot of people who are aware of what you want in the future. We check up on our trainees even after the program is over to provide support or hear if they have a change in their career plan, so that we can place them in roles that will help them intentionally grow.
What types of interview questions should candidates prepare for?
As simple as it may sound, be prepared to tell the recruiter an elevator pitch about you. I’ve had students stick to information on their resumes, and I’ve had students tell me fun facts and stories about themselves. Whatever your approach is, be confident because no one knows you better than yourself. Be prepared to elaborate on how the role will help you grow. What are your personal growth plans and goals?
Whenever I tell candidates to tell me about themselves, I have a couple of rules of thumb. The first one is to try to keep your response under two minutes because after two minutes, it’s going to be too long. For UNIQLO, it’s better to talk about your professional experiences, especially leadership experiences, and give a big-picture overview of how that is relevant. But I have had students who go the non-traditional route. I had one student in an interview, and during his introduction, he said, “I actually have a presentation I prepared for you. I did a marketing analysis on UNIQLO’s customer base; do you mind if I have a couple of seconds to show you the presentation?” The student ended up presenting the analysis to me. It was so detailed, and I wished I had more time to go over it with him. I gave him some feedback on how to make it better, and he brought it with him to the next interview having reflected that feedback. That student is going to start with us in July. Really any way that you want to stand out, you can; there are so many out-of-the-box ideas.
The last piece of advice I have when it comes to interview questions is if a recruiter says, ‘‘tell me about a time when you XYZ’ed,” be specific. Obviously, you can leave out names to leave it confidential, but be specific in terms of what the opportunity or problem at hand was, your solution, the end result, and your learnings. The best answers are really direct and not beating around the bush.
What advice would you give to students and entry-level applicants who have already applied or want to apply for roles with UNIQLO?
Do your research about UNIQLO. Learn about us beyond our products. Learn about our mission, vision, sustainability, future growth plans, etc.
What’s an aspect of UNIQLO that you resonate with? Find that connection and network with our team. The aspect I really aligned with when I applied was UNIQLO’s vision for the growth of its people and its business. And the reason why I really enjoyed that was because it helped me realize that UNIQLO is a company that focuses on its people at its core, and that’s the only way that a company will grow is when it focuses on its people. I found that to be really apparent in the interview process as I met other members in the team, and they told me their stories about how they’ve grown. I met people that were former management trainees that grew to be top management, and that was really inspiring for me. Whenever you meet with an interviewer, ask them deeper questions besides “what do you like about the company?” Ask them questions about how they have grown in the company or what is the biggest challenge they’ve had since they have been there.
Do you have any tips for soon-to-be college grads on navigating the start of their career?
As cliche as it sounds, keep your options open because you truly never know where it could take you. I majored in marketing and ended up in management because I aligned with UNIQLO’s mission to grow its business and its people.
I always tell students that “yes, you majored in one subject, but sometimes your major is really universal, or it’s helpful in ways that you don’t see until you’re in the role.” For example, yes, I majored in marketing, ended up in management, and now I’m in recruiting. I’m still doing marketing in a sense; l’m doing in-person marketing and being a brand ambassador, and that still relates to my major.
To my point, even though you major in something, you want to come into something you’re passionate about. Does the job description and the day-to-day sound like something you would enjoy in your first year after graduation? For example, a recruiter for a separate competing company pitched to me, “We’ll give you a company car, but that’s your office. You have a high sales territory, and you’re an hourly team member. You’re eligible for overtime, but your typical work week’s going to look anywhere from 45 to 50 hours because of your territory.” And that was not going to help me. Definitely find out a lot about the day-to-day of the job, so that way you can see if you picture yourself in the role.
How is UNIQLO different from other companies in the same space?
Our competitors are fast fashion, whereas UNIQLO designs thoughtful clothing made to last in quality and in style for years to come. It was founded in Japan in 1949 and [expanded] to the U.S. in 2005. UNIQLO thrived (and continues to thrive) on its growth by providing high-quality casual wear at remarkably affordable prices for men, women, and kids. We operate as a Specialty Private Apparel (SPA) manufacturer retailer, controlling the entire process from product planning, production, distribution and marketing.
College fairs sometimes advertise that these big-name brands look the best on a resume, but there are lots of great opportunities out there that aren’t just big names. For retail, whenever a company says that they’re a small retailer, that means they control the full product life cycle. They get to have a say in what type of fabric they use, what factories, who’s working for these factories, etc. We decide how we sell the product and market it in our stores. We can be transparent about how our products are being made because we oversee all of the production. That’s what really differentiates us from other retailers. We also spend up to a year in advance planning for the next season. They’re already working on products for spring 2024. We plan way ahead for what products we want to offer, which helps us work on the design and the quality. We see what this season’s feedback is so that way we can change it next season.
What is it like to work for UNIQLO?
There is teamwork and support no matter what team you are on. Whether you are in store operations or in headquarters, if you have a question or suggestion, there is a resource out there for you. Our company thrives on feedback in order to grow. We listen to feedback submitted by our customers and our team members. That’s the only way we will continue to grow – we have to adapt to the evolving times and needs of our customers.
You tend to learn that companies are very hierarchy-based, and that sometimes it’s hard for you to have a connection with top management. How I knew that UNIQLO wasn’t like that was the fact that in my final interview, even as an entry-level management trainee, I met with the CEO. I love that involvement because it showed me that the company overall is very involved in the interview process and even when I joined the company, I still found that to be the same. We had direct sessions with our top management members during orientation whenever they would visit the stores, and they would set aside time to touch base with us. It’s honestly so cool to be on a first-name basis with your CEO. The CEO that hired me transferred back over to China, but I remember when I transferred to the HR team, I emailed him and I said, “Hey, I hope you remember me. I transferred over to HR, and now I’m a recruiter for the position that I [started] in, and I want to thank you so much for spending time with me as well as putting in good words for me about my performance.”
He emailed me back and said, “yeah, of course, I remember you. You were one of the best trainees, during my time as CEO, and I’m so happy that you took on this position, and I can’t wait to see you.” Taking it a step further, I went to Tokyo a couple of weeks ago for our global convention, and I got to reconnect with him in person after four years … and we got to catch up, and he got to see how I was doing. He introduced me to HR members from China so that we could learn from each other. And that’s what UNIQLO is all about, if you have a question or a suggestion, there is going to be a resource for you, even if it’s overseas. You’re going to have the opportunity to learn from every country.
Michelle Le, MBA, leads UNIQLO USA’s university relations and is responsible for the company’s internal and external early talent hiring. Michelle joined UNIQLO shortly after completing her Bachelor of Marketing at the University of Southern Mississippi. She joined UNIQLO through the entry-level management trainee program called “UNIQLO Manager Candidate” and was able to open up the second Florida storefront after her program. Then, after spending a few years in store operations management, Michelle transitioned to recruiting the company’s future leaders to the exact program she came from. Fun fact about Michelle: She started her MBA program during COVID and recently finished her degree at her alma mater. In the future, Michelle aspires to be a university professor and invest in students just as her professors did with her.
This interview was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
Image credit: Courtesy of Michelle Le