I'm a former Walmart associate.
Not only did I work there once, but I liked the job so much that I actually returned for three more tours of duty during college.
About six months before I started, a Walmart opened near my hometown to fanfare from a number of residents and scorn from a majority of local businesses.
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When my summer job ended, I decided to apply to Walmart. The first thing you notice is the application: it's time consuming and actually difficult.
I sat at a kiosk in the store for about an hour filling out a questionnaire which mainly was intended to see how I would react in certain situations that employees would face, such as confrontations with coworkers and observing theft.
Soon after, I got a call back for an interview, which was also surprisingly grueling. I passed and was soon onboard as an associate in the automotive department, starting around $9 per hour. But before I hit the sales floor, I spent the majority of my first few days in the training room on computer terminals, learning proper store practices. They are actually useful, and if you pay attention, you learn a great deal about being on the floor.
Furthermore, you are encouraged by management to go back to the training room at any time during your employment to use the computers and learn more. They do not count as break time, and associates are paid while using them.
At Walmart, you are assigned a department to work in, but that is not the only place you will be working. As you learn in training, there is a heavy emphasis on the customer. If someone is within 10 feet, you are supposed to greet them and ask if they need help. If they are looking for something, you are then to take them to the item, not just vaguely point.
Walmart taught me exactly how to deal with customers, and in my personal life, people, that could be considered difficult to handle.
Days at Walmart are long. A full-time shift is nine hours. You get two fifteen-minute breaks and a one-hour lunch where you must clock out. The break room was always lively, clean, and stocked with good reading material. During my tenure, overtime was almost nonexistent. You were to work during your shift, but make sure you punched out on time. The company wanted to pay you, but didn't want to pay for more than you were scheduled. It made sense.
The good thing is weekend shifts go by fast since so many people are in the store. A Tuesday afternoon during June felt like it lasted for years.
[Related: Wal-Mart shaken by bribery probe]
Walmart works to make each associate feel like an owner. Each is given a scanning gun that could check stock levels. If something is out, the average employee on the floor orders goods to be in the department. This really encourages associates to know what sells in their departments, since it's up to them to make sure the hottest sellers are in stock.
The company also wanted us to know what was going on from a broader perspective. Every evening I would go to a meeting with the store manager, who would tell us the stock price, how much we had sold that day, and if there were other expectations before we left for the night.
The best thing that I learned at Walmart was that hard work was recognized and rewarded. I worked hard and came back during a break from college to be promoted to work in the photo lab (more responsibility, higher rate of pay). I also saw many full-time employees that I worked with move up to become department managers, assistant store managers, and even move on to the corporate office.
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However, I also saw the opposite end of the spectrum. Some fellow associates seemed content to do the bare minimum and didn't go anywhere in the company because of it. In fact, they are still at the same level.
In my opinion, these are also the employees that you hear speaking negatively of Walmart's employment practices. They want something for nothing from the company and they aren't getting it.
Overall, I spent about two years at Walmart. It was a great experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.
About the author: Travis Okulski is a former Walmart Associate who now covers transportation for Business Insider.
I'm a former Walmart associate.
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