How Walmart Builds Employment Brand at Scale

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Think your company has plenty of staff? Try 2.4 million employees worldwide. Walmart is one of the best known retail brands in the world, learn how this impacts its employment brand and how clarity of message helps candidates to self-select in or out.

I’ve had a chat with Michael Smith who heads up employment brand for Walmart, have a listen to the podcast episode below or keep reading for a transcript. And be sure to subscribe to The Employer Branding Podcast.

Tell us about Walmart and what you do there, please?

Walmart is actually the Fortune 1 company. It’s the largest company in the world as far as revenue. We’re in 27 different countries. We have 69 different brands, and even that changes from day to day. But we are a retailer at our core. We sell everything from grocery to all types of consumer packaged products. So we do a lot of different business. Here in the U.S. we also sell fuel, we do car tune-ups, we do a little bit of everything.

I manage the recruitment marketing. I’m on the team called the associate experience team. And so I support our 2.4 million associates worldwide and help our recruiters attract the right talent and connect the right people to the right job.

What’s the culture like on the inside of Walmart?

Walmart was built on some core values. We believe in respect for the individual. We believe in acting with integrity, striving for excellence, and we have these core values that we really try to embody in all that we do. I would say that the result is an organization that feels very much like a family. We believe in succeeding as a team. We’re a very large company obviously, but we place a lot of focus on community involvement, on charitable giving. We do a lot when it comes to women’s empowerment and sustainability, social responsibility, responsible sourcing.

So I think that inside of Walmart, and it’s somewhat a little bit more difficult to see from the outside, because the press doesn’t like to talk about that stuff as much, but there is a real heart for doing good as well, and I think that helps fuel what we do. There’s a purpose behind what we do beyond just the bottom line, which makes it a great place to work and a great place to build a team and build a family.

What are your top employer brand challenges?

One thing that we talk about here is that we joke about what our former SVP said, “The only people we don’t recruit are neurosurgeons and astronauts.” If you think about the breadth of work that we do, we have jewel inspectors, we have about 70 pilots, we’ve got a meteorologist, we have all sorts of these niche jobs that when you think about what does it take to power the world’s largest company, it makes sense.

But most people associate Walmart with a retail store, the Asda that they walked into. So they aren’t thinking about what it takes on the back end to make sure that you have the right product on the shelves and all the different players that go into that. So, I would say just the scope. We have so many people to hire. And how do you be relevant to everyone without becoming irrelevant to everyone? But, also, I think from a reputation standpoint, depending on your last experience, you may have a very strong positive opinion. You may have a less positive opinion. So we haven’t been good traditionally about telling our story, which means that people don’t really understand the company and the culture. And so that’s something we have to overcome as well.

Talk us through your employer brand strategy.

I would say the employer brand strategy is ever evolving because our employer brand is really owned in the minds of the people. What you think of our company is our brand, and the best that I can do is create resources to help you understand better and bringing your perception up to the reality. So I’d say that the brand is an ongoing, ever-changing, ever-evolving thing. But at the core of our strategy is defining the value proposition, how, you know, we’re not for everybody, but we offer the opportunity of a long fulfilling career for the right fit.

So understanding who we are as a core company, making sure that our values are clear, making sure that our culture is clear. We just launched our new careers website, on March 21st. And so they’re going to see a little bit of our efforts to help improve the quality of the image that you’re going to see but also have a better understanding of what we have to offer both from a job perspective but also from a culture perspective.

Do you have a step-by-step guide to employer branding?

To give you a high-level overview of where to begin and what I would recommend, I think I mentioned the value proposition first. I think you really have to understand who you are as a company because you want to be authentic in everything you do.

Just selling everyone on “this is a great company” is a mistake, because not everybody is going to be a good fit, and you don’t want to bring people in just to have a revolving door and have them leave within a few months. So understanding your company is really important. Understanding your enterprise goals and then translating them into recruiting goals. You mentioned in a conversation earlier about you have to understand the talent plan to be able to execute. So you really have to understand the company challenges, understand your recruiting challenges and your recruiting game plan so that you can align and create KPIs and goals that are tied to those specific challenges.

Once you have your challenges defined and what you’re going to get from an objective standpoint, that’s when you plan to measure that. And if you’re going to do anything, you have to have a fixed goal, this is what we’re going to try to achieve, and this is the time frame in which you’re going to achieve it. And you have to have the measurement capability, whatever technology, or measurements, or surveys, or whatever in place to be able to track that in time.

And once you have those goals established and know how you’re going to measure them, making sure that you assemble the right team is absolutely critical. And really thinking through the greater stakeholder group, there are many, many people in an organization like the size of Walmart that have the opportunity to help or hinder, and really there’s only one brand. It’s not a consumer brand, an employment brand, and all these other brands yes you segment, but they’re all tied together. So making sure that you in our casework with marketing, and corporate affairs, and internal communications, and all those things that have the opportunity to influence or amplify the brand or aligning the work are formed early on and become bought in so that they can contribute valuable insight along the way.

From there, starting to do some of that research to build upon what you know already about your company. So asking candidates, “What is it that you’re looking for? What is it that we’re missing? How did your interview experience go?” Asking existing employees, “Okay, you were onboarded. What worked, what didn’t?” And start honing in on those specific areas that you need to address.

And, you know, from there, you start thinking about your target demographic, okay? You’ve got a baseline of knowledge. You have an understanding of what it is that you need to accomplish, how you’re going to measure it. Who are the people that you’re going to go after? With Walmart, again, the demographic was dozens of different personas. I talk about the website, because that was our most recent brand initiative. For that, we couldn’t be all things to all people. We needed to narrow that down. So we basically grouped six personas that were based on user needs.

So there are many different personas, but all of them have similar needs when it comes to accessing a website, for example. And once we understood what those needs were, we could think about the touch points and the candidate journey. So thinking about the process of what a candidate does. They’re in the world, they see an advertisement, or they encounter a recruiter, and maybe they’re led to go visit the website. Once they’re there, they start to read, they start to bond, they start to understand the company and the culture and say, “Hey, you know, I actually like this. Maybe there is something for me.” Then they dig deeper.

They start to learn about the role and how a day in the life might look like and then maybe the area. If they’re going to relocate, “Can I live in this place?” And they start to invest. And maybe they speak with a recruiter, maybe they actually take a flight and come to visit. And from there, they’ve got to waive that opportunity amongst their other opportunities, and finally, hopefully, if it’s a good fit, they’ll sign on with the company and go into the onboarding process. So understanding each of those phases and the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of those user groups as they move through them helps us understand what information we want to present and when. What are some of the pitfalls to avoid?

It is great to follow a plan first of all. It’s great to understand what your goals and KPIs are from the beginning and then to communicate those early on. I think getting buy-in at an executive level and making sure that you have the right players at the table will save a lot of heartaches, multiple revisions going forward. And it’s one of those things that it takes time, but it’s worth the effort. The other thing that we did when it came to collecting our list of stakeholders is we called out in a document who would probably have the most at risk, who would have the most concerns, and who could potentially be detractors, and what did they need to know to have the information that would help them be comfortable, and not only feel better but feel engaged and enthusiastic about this change process.

It’s really important to understand who your detractors might be, because if you’re doing the right work and it’s for the right reasons, then you can bring them on board, but it may take a little extra time to help see things from their perspective and help them understand the long-term benefits of the work that you’re doing.

How do you go about measuring results?

I would say in general we use the standard recruiting metrics. And I encourage people just to google ERE recruiting metrics because they have published a PDF that includes all of the key metrics that someone would want to measure and along with an explanation, and that’s pretty good. So that one is the core standards. But I would say when it comes to web traffic, for example, we measure absolutely everything. We have tracking pegs on video stats, video finishes, the full funnel throughputs, so which pages they follow, click on, what search terms they use as, etc.

And we do that because we want a historic record of this data. At the same time, I try to only call out 3 KPIs per major project. And the reason we do that is to make sure that we’re honed in on where we can make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time without getting bogged down in all of the other stuff that really could be a distraction and probably is good, but it isn’t great. So, you know, key statistics for media would be cost per application, cost per hire, and full-funnel throughput. So what does the funnel look like as they’re moving from media to website, to application, to hire?

Where is the drop-off, and is the drop-off something that we want, because they’re intelligently opting out of the application? Or are we losing people because we’re not presenting the right information? So looking at those 3 statistics, I can start to see where I’m getting the most value for my media. When it comes to the web, I’m looking at things like pages per session, the session duration, bounce rates, and that will tell you just in the first week in the launch of our new website our pages per session are up 40%, our average session duration is up 19%, and our bounce rate or people immediately leaving the website is down 30%.

So we’ve already done a great job at catching people and helping guide them through the thought process to where they’re learning more about our company before either applying or opting out.

The Glassdoor rating for Walmart is 3.2 out of five stars. Any comments on that?

As a large company, again, you’re going to have the proponents and detractors, and that’s not an excuse. We still have work to do. I think as a company we will always be working on improving. I think that companies like that, and, you know, there’s always that caveat we say that people who are upset will tend to go online and complain. People who are happy just say nothing, but at the same time, it really is those detractors that are the people who are not happy and did not have a great experience. And that’s a great wealth of information to help us understand not only where are some of the areas we’re doing well but where are we really struggling and how do we need to continue to improve as a company. So we definitely have some work to do there.

What other companies inspire you in terms of employment brand?

Zappos I think does a really great job. Accenture has done a good job in building out tools to help users understand what they’re getting into before an interview or some self-help kind of things. There are some key competitors to Walmart. They do a really good job that I probably won’t call out. But really those people who are putting the candidate first, Airbnb has a great visualization of different areas of the world where you can go to apply. They created these really cool graphics for each of the major cities where they’re operating. Really simple tools that help people get where they need to go very quickly.

What’s the next big thing in this space in general, and in particular at Walmart?

I’d say that recruitment marketing is every day going to move closer and closer to consumer marketing. You know, the last great experience that someone had is their baseline for the experience that they want going forward. And it carries over into different sectors. So if you are shopping on a website, and you can very easily find the product that you’re looking for in the category that you want it, and you can filter down, and then you also get recommendations for other types of products that people like you look for, that’s going to be the expectation for jobs. I search this term, but you’re going to supply to me a lot of different things related to my profile.

And then learning about it, as an individual, right? So the more I do searches and conduct research, you’re learning about me, so now you can serve me a more relevant product and help me get through the process faster. I should be able to apply quickly just like I can buy a product and have it shifted to my house based on data that I’ve inserted before. So that’s where we’re going to go with recruiting, and really the technology we’re pretty behind. So the point is that we’re moving towards a much more consumer-friendly, in this case, a candidate-friendly technology. We’re behind, but we really need to catch up, because the expectation from a candidate is they’re going to have a great experience. They’re going to be able to find the information when and where they need it on whatever device they need. And in a global war for talent where you have a limited amount of individuals who are truly those high performers, it’s much easier to move, it’s much easier to work remotely, and we’ve got to get better with the tools to help people connect to the right jobs quickly.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelSmithD and don’t forget to subscribe to The Employer Branding Podcast.


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