What Would You Do if Your Replacement Doesn't Show Up?

Woman working in clothing shop
••• Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

When you are applying for a retail or customer service job, one question you might be asked is, "What would you do if your replacement doesn't show up when it's time to go home?"

This is a critical question for customer service positions. It's important to make clear that you wouldn't just walk away if a team member doesn't arrive to replace you, leaving your post unattended.

Here are a selection of sample answers you can use to respond to questions about what you would do if your replacement doesn't show up.

You should make sure that you come across as responsible, with an understanding of the importance that there be enough coverage at all times.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Employers ask this question to gauge how willing a candidate is to “go the extra mile” and assume additional responsibilities when necessary.

Are you the type of employee who is dedicated to your company’s success? Or do you simply want to punch a timeclock and leave as soon as your shift is over?

How to Answer the Question

Ideally, you should be able to answer this question with an enthusiastic, “I would never leave our department under-staffed.”

However, there are certain circumstances that might make you question whether you could in fact work overtime at a moment’s notice. Perhaps you have young children you always pick up after work, or a regular appointment you’d hate to cancel.

If this is the case, be honest in explaining the potential obstacle—but then suggest ways in which you would try to resolve the situation without leaving the employer short-handed.

One very effective way to create an answer is to use the STAR interview response technique in which you describe a previous Situation where your replacement didn’t show, explain the Task or challenge involved, and then tell the interviewer what Action you took and the Results of your intervention.

Examples of the Best Answers

Here are some examples of how to respond to the question, “What would you do if your replacement didn’t show up?” Note how each candidate takes a proactive stance in describing how they would respond to a fairly common workplace situation.

I would call her first, and see if she was just held up in traffic, or was dealing with an emergency somewhere. Then I would call the manager to see if there was someone who could come to relieve me, and I would stay until my replacement came in.

Why It Works: This answer provides reasonable steps that a dedicated, responsible employee would take should his replacement fail to show. He demonstrates initiative in saying that he would investigate the absence before alerting his manager to a possible short-staffing situation.  

I wouldn't leave the floor understaffed. I would check with the manager first, and make every effort to make the necessary arrangements to stay until coverage was found. I might need to close the shop for fifteen minutes to pick up my kids from school if I couldn’t find a mother’s helper at the last minute, but I would come back immediately and stay until a replacement came.

Why It Works: This is an example of an honest, thoughtful response where the interviewee explains how she would try her best to resolve conflicting family and work responsibilities in her employer’s interest.  

As the manager, I would be completely responsible for coverage. If someone didn't come in, and I couldn't find a substitute, I would cover the shift myself.

Why It Works: This is the “perfect” answer: simple and straightforward, from a candidate who obviously understands good management practices.

At my last job, this happened to me more than once. We had several employees at the time who were dealing with different family issues, and would sometimes be called away, even on the way to a shift. We were often not notified, and while we tried to accommodate their issues as fairly as possible, at a certain point we needed to make sure that we had coverage, and that the rest of us weren’t getting left in the lurch. What I did was compile a list of “extra” shifts - meaning ones that I thought were likely to be vacated. I made sure that the employees who wanted to work more hours let me know their availability each week. That way, without calling out the employees who were struggling, I was able to give the extra work to those that wanted it. Luckily, I had a number of people who had flexible schedules, and the issue didn’t last for more than a few months.

Why It Works: This reply uses the STAR interview response technique to illustrate how the candidate has successfully handled a similar situation in the past.

What Not to Say

Don't jump ship. The worse reply you could make to this question would be a blunt, “I’d leave,” or “It’s management’s responsibility, not mine, to ensure that all shifts are covered.”

Be sure, in your answer, to say that you would immediately alert your supervisor to a possible under-staffing situation.

Customer Service Job Interview Tips

Know what to expect. Before you head out to your interview, It’s helpful to review common questions asked during retail and customer service interviews, so you can brainstorm some ideas and come up with specific examples of success regarding the question asked. Interviewers want concrete evidence and examples of instances when you did or achieved certain things. Thinking through a few scenarios from your past experience will help keep those events uppermost in your mind, ready to share during the interview process.

Do your research. During your interview, the hiring manager is trying to determine what kind of an employee you will be, and if you’ll be a good fit for the job. Carefully read the job posting, and find out as much about the company as possible. That way, you can tailor your answers to fit with the company culture. Doing enough research about the job and the company will make your interview go smoother for a number of reasons. You will feel much more confident going in when you know what the job entails, and how your skills match what they are looking for. 

You’ll get a good idea of how to dress for your interview as well. Also, you may have a better understanding of what their focus is, and what kinds of interview questions you may be asked.

By researching the company and getting a feel for what they stand for and the kind of people that work there, as well as what their business is, you will not only be prepared to answer interview questions, but will be able to ask intelligent, well thought out questions of your own, which will impress the hiring manager.

Remember that interviewing is a two way street, and it makes you appear confident and prepared when you can engage in a conversation rather than just answering questions.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

TAKE ONE FOR THE TEAM: Prove that you’re a team player by assuring the interviewer that you would not leave their business short-handed.

BE A CREATIVE PROBLEM-SOLVER: Explain how you would communicate with your supervisor and the steps you would take to prevent an interruption to their customer service operations.

TELL A STORY: Use the STAR interview response technique to provide a persuasive example of how you’ve successfully dealt with a similar problem in the past.