Working at Home Depot was all the rage when I was a senior in high school. It was less than ten years ago that I first applied there.
Most of Home Depot's young aspirants start out on the registers, which is just what I did. Orientation was rather painless, mostly listening to the teacher raving about how she made hundreds of thousands of dollars with Home Depot's stock options (which were available to all employees).
With dollar signs dancing in our eyes, we headed to Cashier College. Yes, you heard me right, Cashier College! We stood at fake checkout stations, learning how to accurately scan home improvement products and to handle cash. Once we were determined to be fit for service, we graduated and were given those pristine, bright orange aprons.
On the job
There are many sorts of people donning those distinctive orange aprons. When I worked at Home Depot, cashiers were definitely made up of the younger crowd, teens who were proud that we could actually drive ourselves to work. But you definitely don't have to start as a cashier, especially if you have experience in an area of home improvement, such as painting or flooring.
Those who worked in the actual departments (and whose aprons showed definite sign of wear) were generally older and more established. We were all required to wear a collared shirt and closed-toed shoes. For the most part, my fellow employees were decent to work with, but being stuck at a register didn't really let you go out and mingle with people. Working on the "floor" was an elusive goal and most of my co-workers working as cashiers, hoped to get there one day. We had a blast as cashiers, though, quickly becoming friends. After work most Fridays we'd all meet at a local restaurant and hang out.
Soon after starting, I got a step up from being a cashier, and became a returns cashier. That's the register in the store that is all by itself, with twelve heaping carts of returned products lined up behind it. You had to be skilled to work at returns, and able to deal with ornery customers, who'd often get very upset if you don't give them their money back, regardless of whether they kept their receipt. Returns cashiers also had a fair bit of independence, without the head cashier breathing down their necks. An added benefit was the fact that all the employees from the different departments had to come pick up their department's cart of returns, so there were more chances as a returns cashier to chat and get to know people who also worked in different departments.
I got placed on the floor after about a year and a half of being a cashier. Working on the floor as a salesperson means a significant raise, in both in status and cash. If you are in good with the bosses, you can even be placed in the department of your choice. I really wanted to be put in the Garden department, but was needed more in Decor. (Decor is the blinds and wallpaper section of the Floor and Wall department.) I was taught right away how to cut shades and blinds as well as how to special order them. Little did I know that scheduling would soon put me as the sole employee in Floor and Wall department during the evening shifts! As an 18-year-old girl, and the only person manning the fort, I stood blank eyed and stammering when a contractor asked me where the tile spacers were.
But I quickly learned what spacers where, and a lot more from my fellow Floor and Wall employees. Amazingly, I never received any formal training for the products in the department. It was all learn as you go. I learned how to cut those huge rolls of carpet, to order carpet for entire houses, how to lay linoleum and I actually gave the how-to classes on applying ceramic tiling to floors. I will never forget the strange looks of disbelief I got from 40-year-old men when I started teaching those ceramic tile classes. I really came to like the department that I once knew nothing about. Days were hard though, and both the customers and I were very frustrated when I could not help them. The minute a knowledgeable co-worker came in, I would acquire the information that I didn't know, and would never forget it.
Management at Home Depot was hit and miss. There is a store manager and usually several assistant managers, and then department heads below them. The store manager was kind of like the president of the United States -- unreachable. I never imagined talking to him or her face-to-face. The assistant managers ran the store and some were competent, while others not so much Basically, to those of us working the floor, if an assistant manager knew an answer to one of your many pressing questions, like, "The person in electrical is at lunch, can you help this customer pick out the right wiring for his garage?" or "This person needs to order a washing machine and can't find anyone in appliances, can you help him?" then he or she was competent. A good assistant manager could do anything in any department, which is actually a huge undertaking and takes a lot of skill and intelligence.
Home Depot offers its employees a lot of perks and benefits. I participated in the stock option and tuition reimbursement plans. A little bit of each paycheck would go towards buying stock, into a fund managed by a financial company. I never ended up with those thousands of dollars that the orientation teacher had raved about, but when I left, I got everything back that I put in. I just considered it a little savings account. When Home Depot started out, it did so well that its stock ended up splitting and those early stock holders ended up doubling and tripling their money. While I didn't get rich on those stock options, I ended up qualifying for a semester or two of tuition reimbursement. It wasn't huge, but it was a couple thousand dollars towards my college education, which is an awesome perk for a student like me.
Overall, I loved working at the Home Depot, but for me, I wasn't a lifer; the three-and-a-half years I put in were enough. I came out of the job with many lifelong friends and I actually met my husband while working there. Plus, I gained some great home improvement skills.
Today, when I go into any Home Depot the smell hits me and many memories come to mind. One of my favorites include "rack diving" with fellow employees, which happened about twice a year. After the store closed, we would put on some ratty clothes and actually climb around in the rafters, looking for merchandise that had fallen in between the shelving. We'd have competitions to see who could find the most items, and who could get the dirtiest. It was great for team building.
So if working for a company that has a great attitude toward its employees, good benefits and a lot to teach about home improvement, sounds like your kind of place, go ahead and try out Home Depot! You might just find that bright orange suits you.
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