What it's REALLY like to work at Whole Foods Market

Leah McFaddenCouresy of Leah McFaddenLeah McFadden in a Whole Foods Market in Los Altos, California.

Whole Foods is known for being a great place to work.

The healthy grocery store chain has earned a spot on Fortune magazine’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for 18 consecutive years.

It’s one of just 12 companies to make the list every year since its inception in 1998, and was named the top job creator of those companies, with a 784% increase in the number of employees since the list began.

Founded by John Mackey, Rene Lawson Hardy, Craig Weller, and Mark Skiles, the first Whole Foods store opened in Austin, Texas, in 1980, with just 19 employees.

Today, there are more than 400 Whole Foods markets and 88,000 “team members.”

We recently spoke with one of them — Leah McFadden, 29, who began her career at Whole Foods as a cashier in the Los Altos, California, store in November 2008 — to learn what it’s really like to work at Whole Foods.

Here’s what she said:

Current title? Specialty Team Leader

Previous titles/roles you held at Whole Foods? Cashier, Demo Specialist, Front End Supervisor, Cheese Specialist, Specialty Associate Team Leader, and Regional Perishables Buyer

When were you hired? November 13, 2008

Can you briefly explain the hiring process? Getting into the company, the hiring process is pretty simple: You get a prescreening call, followed by an interview with your potential Team Leader (manager) and one of the store managers. If hired, a background check is run and once that clears, you’re invited in for orientation. After orientation, you get to start working on your new team. During this time, you’ll work with the team and then after about a month go through a voting process. In order to officially be a part of the team, you need to have a positive 2/3 vote out of a quorum of 3/4 of the team. Once this happens, you’re officially a team member.

In regards to the hiring process for other positions higher up than team member, you’ll go through a panel interview where 3 ore more people will interview you.

What’s the best part of your job? The best part of my job is developing my team members and helping them on the path of success. Whether that is with Whole Foods or not, I like knowing that I’ve instilled a good work ethic and passion about our products in my team members. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them start to move up the ranks and get more and more excited about Whole Foods and our products.

What’s the worst part of your job? I think the most challenging part of my job is realising that not everyone sees their job at Whole Foods as a career. I might have a really great team member who I want to see grow with the company, but they have other aspirations. While I totally respect what they would like to do with their future, I selfishly want them for my team.

What’s the most surprising thing about working for Whole Foods? I think the most surprising thing about Whole Foods is that while it is a larger company, every store has some level of autonomy. Every store works with their local community by carrying local products and holding 5% days (where 5% of the sales for the day will be donated to a local group). Each store has its own individual buyers as well, so there will be a slightly different product mix at every Whole Foods Market location.

So, what is it really like working for Whole Foods? I absolutely love working for Whole Foods Market. It is a really fun place to work and a place where you can grow quickly if that’s what you put your mind to. Look at me, I started in 2008 as a cashier and in less than three years I was running my own department. My leadership group is very strong and inspiring. It is because of them that I’ve been so successful. Whole Foods also paid for me to be able to follow my passion and train to be a Certified Cheese Professional. In 2012, I became one of the first CCP’s in the world. I’m very proud of this accomplishment.

As for working with customers every day, there is never a dull moment. That’s what makes the job so fun! You never know who is going to walk up to your counter. I like to try and make people’s shopping experience fun and educational and brighten their day overall.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve experienced on the job? I think seeing the impact I have on my team members is one of the coolest things about my job. One example is this last holiday season, I wrote cards for each one of them. When one woman on my team read her card, she started to cry because she felt so appreciated. I had written how much I appreciate her hard work and how she takes such pride in her work. She was crying because she didn’t really think anyone noticed. That made me feel really great and made me cry, as well.

The next coolest thing was the trip to Tuscany I took with Whole Foods to learn about wine. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

Leah McFaddenCouresy of Leah McFaddenMcFadden at work.

How many people work in your store? About 315.

How many people are on your team? Currently (not including myself) there are 16 people on my team and I manage all of them.

What’s the average pay for an employee working in a Whole Foods market? In Fiscal Year 2014, the average hourly wage for a full-time team member was $US19.16.

What are your benefits like? I pay $US15 per paycheck for healthcare benefits and get $US1,800 from the company for a Personal Wellness Account; we get a 25% company discount; we have Gainsharing program; paid time off; stock option leadership grants; and more.

Do you have formal annual reviews? What are those like? We have what are called “Job Dialogues” which happen on a yearly basis. It’s basically a performance review with your leadership. They talk about your performance, passion, and development. I look forward to mine every year because it usually means a raise!

Where do you see yourself in five years? I would love to be an Associate Coordinator in Specialty at Whole Foods and help develop other Team Leaders in the region.

Anything else readers might want to know about working at Whole Foods? It’s a diverse, fun, exciting company to work. I literally learn something new every day. I highly recommend working for Whole Foods Market if you’re a foodie, passionate about quality, and want to love what you do.

McFadden took the Certified Cheese Professional exam through the American Cheese Society, and upon passing, became one of the first two CCPs in the Northern California region of Whole Foods Market. In April of 2013, she became the Regional Perishables Buyer and was in charge purchasing mainly cheese and other perishable products for the region. After receiving her CCP certification she started a cheese blog called Shootin’ the Bries, which she uses to help educate her team member and customers.

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