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In the past few years, Amazon and Walmart have been fighting a war to win all of your disposable income. That is, at some point, in the near future, it's likely that just about everything you buy, from books and music to food and homes, will be sold to you by one of these two companies (or, perhaps, just one of them). And, lately, this war has been getting bloodier.
Two weeks ago, Amazon announced that it would be paying $13.7 billion to buy Whole Foods, giving Jeff Bezos' empire a lot of brick and mortar to go along with its powerful web presence. Also recently, the brick and mortar behemoth Walmart announced its intention to buy NYC-based apparel company Bonobos, an acquisition that came on the heels of Walmart's purchase of NYC-based online retailer Jet.com. Although the Bonobos and Jet deals added significant e-commerce reach to the Walmart superstore empire, they also added some cultural problems for the historically conservative Walmart, which is headquartered in a county so dry it was illegal to buy a six-pack there before 2012.
Last September, a few weeks after the $3.3 billion acquisition, staffers gathered in Jet’s purple-themed headquarters, with sweeping views of Manhattan, to hear the rumors confirmed: Wal-Mart doesn’t allow office drinking.
The startup’s regular Thursday evening happy hour would have to be moved out of the office to the Wicked Wolf Tavern and other local bars. Casual deskside drinking had to go.
“People were not thrilled,” says Liza Landsman, a Jet executive who in 2015 helped launch the website, which sells everything from detergent to designer purses, and is now president.
Perhaps the least thrilled person at Jet was its founder, Marc Lore, who happens to be a very serious drinker. Or, at least, a very serious drink maker. Lore is a wine enthusiast and owns his own winery in Napa Valley where he reportedly makes a killer Cabernet Sauvignon. And so, after the Jet team got wind of the end of its at-work happy hours, Lore took a few meetings with Walmart execs (perhaps allowing them to try his Cab?) and one thing (drink?) led to another thing (drink?), and Walmart decided to let the Jet team booze it up at work again.
In fact, Walmart has made similar moves at other firms it has acquired, as well as to its own e-commerce team. Which is to say the Benton, Arkansas-headquartered firm is loosening up a bit, perhaps underscoring the cultural shift it knows it needs to make if it wants to beat the Seattle-based tech giant Amazon at the online sales game.
The change is permeating the empire. Wal-Mart had wine and beer at a tailgate for its e-commerce team in San Bruno, Calif., when it hosted its annual day at a San Francisco Giants game in May. It is also allowing other startups it has acquired to host a weekly office happy hour—pending approval from a Wal-Mart executive vice president.
The employees at Madison Heights, Mich.-based Moosejaw, which Wal-Mart bought in February, never lost access to the “4 p.m. beer fridge” and keg, unlocked for one hour on Thursdays. “It helped that our beer fridge had always been run responsibly,” with a two-beer maximum, Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford said.
And so, if you work at one of the many online e-commerce sites that'll soon be swallowed by Walmart, this should all be welcome news. Sure, you'll be working day and night to help your team become the No. 1 online retailer on the planet, but you'll still be able to get up from your desk to do keg stands at least once a week.
In other workplace news involving Walmart and the future, do you remember how once upon a time you stressed out about having to write a perfect resume and then you stressed out about having to interview with a real person or several people before you were offered a job? Well, those days are coming to an end, and taking the place of resumes and human interviewers are algorithms and robot recruiters.
A radical hiring experiment is under way at the London-based maker of Dove soap and Axe deodorant. To diversify its candidate pool for early-career roles that are a fast track to management, Unilever has ditched resumes and traditional campus recruiting. Its new process relies on algorithms to sort applicants and targets young potential hires where they spend much of their time: their smartphones.
The company has made more than 450 hires across the globe this way since the fall of 2016. Its experiment provides a glimpse of a tech-fueled future of recruiting in which humans write job descriptions and make the final decisions, but software and algorithms do the rest. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Jet.com have begun using similar digital tools to hook young workers and broaden their candidate base.
How this new system works is you first apply by letting a robot access your LinkedIn info, then if the robot likes what it scrapes, you'll be asked to play some online games designed to assess your concentration under pressure and short-term memory. Then if you pass this stage (if the robot likes your answers), you'll be asked to submit a video interview. The interview will, of course, not be judged by human beings but by a robot, which will scan your facial expressions and vocabulary and take note of how quickly you answer questions. If the robot likes your video interview, then you'll be asked to finally make contact with a human being. That is, you'll be asked to dress in real clothes, travel to a real office, and interview with a real person (note: this last part of the interview process could also come to an end when virtual reality gets its act together).
Of course, the point of all this is for employers to save time and money, while also hiring better employees.
Andy McAllister, a Unilever director of supply chain, was skeptical that algorithms could successfully choose his interns. Having attended University of Maryland job fairs and other events for years, “it felt like we were taking away the personal touch,” he said.
Mr. McAllister became a convert after meeting the program finalists last fall. The caliber of students visiting the Englewood Cliffs headquarters for interviews with Unilever employees was as strong, or stronger, as the candidates he had hand-selected the prior year, he said.
If robots are better recruiters, can it be long before we (or robots) figure out that robots are better interns, too?
In any case, here's a pretty good article on the jobs most likely and least likely to be automated in the next 20 years (a preview: paralegals, loan officers, cab drivers, and cashiers are among the most likely; doctors, nurses, therapists, and social workers are among the least likely). Beyond that, according to experts, anything is possible. Even the clergy could be at risk of obsolescence thanks to the rise of robots.
They’re even helping us with our relationships with God. While the clergy only has a 0.81% probability of automation, according to data from The Future of Jobs, Susskind believes even algorithms might one day replace the ordained. As he notes, there are already apps like Confession which offer “drop-down menus for tracking sin.”
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