Why Is It So Hard To Get An $8 An Hour Job At Walmart?

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walmart hiring jobs"This is a good day the Lord has made," Meka Allen told Black Voices News last week. "I'm rejoicing and leaping for joy."

Allen had just landed a cashier job at the new Walmart Neighborhood Market in San Bernardino, Calif. An $8.42-an-hour Walmart job may not seem like cause to praise the heavens. For corporate America's critics, Walmart is the Death Star: It's viciously anti-union; receives an endless stream of discrimination suits; and employs 1 percent of America, paying its sales associates, on average, a poverty-level wage.

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Most recently, Walmart investigators discovered that the retail machine had bribed officials all over Mexico to obtain the necessary permits to grow into the country's largest private-sector employer. Walmart then shut down the investigation, The New York Times found, and no one involved was disciplined.

But for Allen, who hasn't had a steady job for three years, a Walmart job was -- finally -- a job. "People like to bash Walmart, but I think there's a lesson here on who really cares for the working class in this country," Desteenie Simmons, who also won a cashier position, told Black Voices News. "A lot of big businesses make elaborate promises about creating jobs, but in reality they are steadily shipping jobs overseas, keeping wages low and boosting their own profits."

No one can deny that Walmart has created a lot of American jobs (click here for a mesmerizing FlowingData animation of Walmart's growth across the U.S.), and the largest retail chain in the world weathered the recession well, recently announcing plans to roll out smaller-format stores. A 2009 study found, however, that if you add in all the mom-and-pop shops that Walmart kills in the process, the whole thing ends up as a wash.

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But for many Americans, Walmart can't grow fast enough. In January 2008, 7,500 people applied for 350 to 400 available jobs at a new Walmart in DeKalb County, Ga., reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Last August, a new Walmart in Springfield, Penn. received 1,000 applications in just two weeks -- for 300 positions. Walmart Executive Vice President Rosalind Brewer told CNNMoney last October that each new Walmart store hires, on average, 450 workers, and since the recession, 5,000 to 6,000 applicants have been vying for one of those jobs. That means just 7.5 to 9 percent of hopefuls will get hired.

By these numbers, Walmart today is more competitive than the Ivy League.

Most of those applicants are unemployed 30-somethings, Brewer told CNNMoney. But the stores are seeing more and more highly skilled job-hunters, from lawyers to real estate execs.

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Walmart often holds job fairs when a new store is opening, but applicants can also always apply online. If the personnel office likes what it sees, it will call an applicant to schedule interviews, usually within a few days or a week. Contenders for sales associate positions can expect two interviews, according to past applicants on Glassdoor.com: one with an hourly manager (usually a department manager) and another with a salaried manager (usually an assistant manager). Those seeking a higher-level position will likely have a third.

The questions are straightforward, according to past applicants, who describe their interviewers as reading off a sheet. They're of the behavioral variety, with lots of "describe's" and "tell me"s, like "Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond expectations to offer excellent customer service," or "Describe a situation where you and a co-worker didn't get along."

Often the questions will be broken down into three parts, for example: "Name a time you worked on a team and encountered a problem. How did you resolve the problem? What was the problem? What was the final outcome?" And if you please the interviewers, you'll most likely receive a provisional offer, pending you come out clean on a drug test.

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If you score a sales associate job, expect an average hourly wage of $8.87-an-hour. That adds up to only $18,400 over a year, just above the poverty level for a family of three, and 14 percent below the average pay of a retail worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But it's above the minimum wage, and a general policy of internal hiring means associates have a decent chance of rising up to salaried jobs (assistant managers earn an average of $43,747 a year).

That's what happened to Susie Potter, who started out as a cashier at Walmart as an after school gig, and seven years later was an assistant store manager. "I guess, in some ways, I'm grateful for the experience I gained at Walmart," she writes on AOL Jobs, "but I probably would have been a lot happier and a lot richer if I'd gained it elsewhere."

Of course, many jobless Americans today just want the opportunity to gain it somewhere. "Some people claim they don't treat their employees fairly -- that's just not true," former Walmart employee Mavis Wesley told Black Voice News. "Those paychecks however small helped me get an education. In the process, I learned valuable lessons in finances, retail management, merchandising and customer service."

"Oh," she adds, "and the associates and managers are like family."

Looking for a job at Walmart? Start your search here.


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