One thing most Americans still have in common? Walmart.
Consumer research group NPD estimates that roughly 95 percent of Americans spend money at Walmart, either in-store or online, every year. Today, Walmart employs 2.2 million people around the world. In the U.S., Walmart employs more than 1.5 million associates across over 5,000 stores and clubs nationwide.
"Some of our stores really function as a cornerstone for the community," Becky Schmitt, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Walmart-owned Sam's Club, tells CNBC Make It.
If you've ever relied on a local Walmart store for a job, groceries or a pharmacy, then you know that Schmitt is not exaggerating. While the retailer's size is undeniable, critics have raised concerns about how Walmart pays and treats its employees including accusations that the company punishes workers for taking sick days.
But this year, the company has made significant policy changes to address concerns such as these. In January, Walmart announced that it would be raising starting wages for hourly employees from $9 an hour to $11 an hour, and that it would be expanding its family leave policy so that all full-time hourly workers receive 10 weeks of paid maternity leave and six weeks of paid parental leave.
According to Walmart, 75 percent of store management teams joined Walmart as hourly associates. Today, they earn between $50,000 and $170,000 a year.
In May, the company announced that it would offer subsidized higher education for all of its U.S. employees, including full-time, part-time and salaried Walmart and Sam's Club workers. Workers involved in the initiative can pay $1 a day to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in business or supply chain management.
CNBC Make It spoke with Schmitt and Amy Goldfinger, Senior Vice President of Talent Acquisition for Walmart Inc., to learn what it takes to land a job at the company.
Walmart is a massive company with a wide range of opportunities. The organization has giant technology and finance departments as well as millions of retail associate positions.
The first step to landing a job at Walmart is finding the role that is right for you. Once you've browsed the company's careers page and set your sights on an opening, the next step is submitting an application, either online or in person.
"Our career site is greatly improved over the last few years… We do provide that experience online," says Schmitt. "But we also love our shoppers to actually come in and apply."
The importance of applying in-person is particularly strong for people interested in working in one of Walmart's stores, but the sentiment applies to other positions as well.
"We definitely focus on a face-to-face experience, even if the first [interview] is over the phone," says Schmitt. "For people who are considering a relocation, we love to bring them to that location because we really want to make sure that it's a decision that works for whatever family or ecosystem they're bringing along with them."
Workers interested in a job at Walmart should prepare for an in-person interview process. Consider asking a friend or family member to hold a mock interview for you, and practice providing clear and confident answers to common interview questions.
Applicants should definitely take the time to walk through one of the retailer's stores.
"I think if someone's going to consider working at Walmart, no matter what the role is, it's really important to walk through our doors," says Schmitt. She says that applicants should pay close attention to what kinds of work associates are doing and what kinds of products are on display.
She also says that it's especially important for applicants to observe how Walmart treats its wide range of customers. "Whether you're coming in and playing with a black Am-Ex or you're paying with government assistance, you get a high level of respect and assistance in our environment," says Schmitt.
A walk-through can help applicants connect with customers, understand the role that Walmart plays in people's lives and grasp the responsibility the retailer has in communities.
"One common thread in all of our jobs is that people come to Walmart because they're excited to make a difference in people's lives and it feels very close to the customer," says Goldfinger. "It doesn't matter if you're in accounting or you're in a store, you feel very connected and responsible."
Every company wants to know that applicants have done their research prior to an interview, but according to Schmitt, it is especially important for workers to do their homework before they interview for a job at Walmart.
"One of the things about Walmart is it's a very well-recognized brand and everybody has an opinion, right? And so sometimes people are influenced by what they've heard from someone else," she says. "Just take five minutes and you go out to our site and read about our efforts in sustainability, our commitment to female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses, our Made in America campaign — the list goes on and on — so that you are armed with the facts."
Being able to talk about the campaigns and initiatives that the company has prioritized is a simple and effective way that you can demonstrate that you are invested in making a contribution to Walmart.
Walmart isn't a unique place to work just because of its size.
"It's also the nature of our business," says Goldfinger. "Because we are such a broad portfolio of businesses and the advantage of our scale and the broad portfolio allows people to take on so many career paths."
She continues, "You can come into our organization in an operational role and move into a merchandising role. You can start in our stores and actually become CEO, which has happened for many of our leaders here"
Walmart's fifth CEO Doug McMillon first joined the company in high school as an associate at one of Walmart's distribution centers. The reason that people like McMillon are able to grow at Walmart is because of what Goldfinger describes as "chutes and ladders."
"You can move laterally, you can grow your career laterally, but you can also develop up," she says.
This freedom and mobility means that in order to excel at a place like Walmart, workers should always be curious, eager for opportunities to learn new skills and hungry for new experiences. The ability to adapt with each new "chute" and "ladder" is a key part of excelling at Walmart, and at any retail company today.
"Retail is changing so dramatically and we're changing based on what our customer wants and needs," says Goldfinger. "I think people who are owners and operators do really well here. They feel very accountable for delivering at any level, in any role."
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