Target Is Hiring: Harder Than Getting Into Harvard?

By Claire Gordon

Early this month, hundreds of job seekers lined up in the California sun, some as early as 6:30 a.m., in the hope of scoring an hourly position at two new Target stores. While other companies are growing cautiously, Target is continuing a rapid expansion that has hardly paused for breath in 50 years -- this time with its sights on America's urban neighborhoods.

But even an hourly job on the floor of the country's second largest retailer isn't an easy win these days, especially in a state like California, which still has double-digit unemployment. The Target store set to open in Los Angeles had already received over 4,000 applications for 250 spots, when the Los Angeles Times reported on it, so just 6.25 percent of applicants would get the job if no one else applied -- a lower acceptance rate than Harvard University.

Target's hiring process for its new stores has been designed with military precision. Applicants take an on-spot assessment test, interview with two current employees, and are then escorted to the bathroom for an on-site drug test. If all goes well, they'll get a job offer, assuming their background check comes up clean.

Shannon Rosales, the hiring manager for the upcoming San Francisco store, told SFGate that they're looking for a "can-do attitude." Jessica Stevens, a Target spokeswoman, told AOL Jobs that Target looks for "a friendly and upbeat attitude" -- typically desirable traits for a worker sometimes tasked with appeasing frazzled customers.

Applicants would also be wise to showcase their teamworking chops, she adds, and "how they would put our guests first."

"The majority will know if they have a job on the same say they apply," the L.A. store's new manager, Simone Tatro, told the L.A. Times. "We have this down to a science."

Target is a proponent of the behavioral interview, with questions focused on how you handled specific challenges in the past, like "Describe a situation where you had trouble with a co-worker," "Name a situation where you had to defend your position," or "Tell me about a situation where you made a mistake."

Target's love of personality testing actually got the company into some trouble in 1989, when three applicants for security guard positions filed a lawsuit, claiming the mandatory "psychscreen" was a violation of their constitutional right to privacy and other labor laws. The 704 true-false questions included, "I believe in the second coming of Christ..." "My sex life is satisfactory..." and "Many of my dreams are about sex matters..." Target ultimately settled for $1.3 million.

Today, applicants don't have to confess their sexual tendencies or religious beliefs to Target Corporation. They just have to apply online, go through a phone screening and an online assessment, and then another interview or two, or five -- if you're going for a management position.

You can also just wait for a new Target to open in your area, and join the hopeful herd that's lining up outside (in business casual, some past applicants advise -- the spiffily-dressed seemed to get all the interviews).

Any inkling of union involvement probably won't help your application. A judge found Target guilty of using dirty -- and illegal -- tactics to prevent its employees going union, including interrogating employees on their union activities and threatening to discipline workers who took part in organizing efforts. One former Target "team leader" told Gawker that they were trained (verbally, not in writing) to screen applications for certain union-y words, like "shop steward, steward, local, brotherhood."

Those who pass the (multiple) test(s) will find a working environment as standardized as the hiring process, according to former employee Paul Rados, including: paid 15-minute breaks and unpaid 30-minute lunch; set protocols on conflict management; and a dress code of red shirt and khaki pants.

Many employees writing on Glassdoor.com applaud Target's flexibility, benefits, 10 percent discount, and friendly co-workers. The bigbox retailer does pay its entry-level employees slightly less than its Bentonville, Ark., nemesis, according to Glassdoor and Payscale (an average of $8.26 an hour, or $17,200 a year). But once you reach managerial positions the salaries are significantly higher at Target (department managers earn an average of $48,500, compared to Walmart's $29,200).

Target has plenty of disgruntled employees, though, who complain (and sue) about unpaid overtime, write-ups for the tiniest infractions, and being forced to watch anti-union videos. Target's flexible part-time jobs are exactly what millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans want, and the kind of jobs that remain frustratingly scarce.

Of the millions of jobs in the manufacturing and construction industries that vanished in the recession, only a tiny sliver have returned. But the service industries have regained over 70% of their lost jobs. Discount retail is one of the shiny beacons in our bleak times, and Target is one of the stores shining the brightest.

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