The summer before coming to college I was dead set on inflating my bank account through some easy part-time work. After applying to every retailer in the area that I could stand 20 hours a week at, I noticed a hiring sign at our local Whole Foods Market. It was my calling. As a veteran vegetarian and lover of unique foods, the 20% off discount alone was motivation enough to get this job.

There was just a minor problem. The only positions available were in the bakery and the meat department. As a vegetarian, the meat was a no-go, but I also had no experience in baking. So, I went in for an interview, sent thank you cards, called back, and did everything that my dad taught me about how to get a job. Sure enough, I was hired as a part-time team member in the bakery department. I had no idea what was in store for me.

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Photo courtesy of wholefoodsmarket.com

I ended up working for the rest of the summer and transferring to another store by my university. I was moved to the Whole Body department which sells bath products and supplements.

I want to be clear. Yes, I did quit my job at Whole Foods, but the reason is probably not what you would expect. I don’t have a scandal for you, and there is no big secret about what the company does behind doors. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In the short 5 months I spent with the company, I learned so many lessons about business, people and values. Here are just a few:

Values

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Photo courtesy of amybucherphd.com

Before even receiving my chef coat, I spent 3 fulls days learning the core values and company-wide policies. If you take a close look around any Whole Foods store, you can see their core values on the walls and throughout each department. They inspire the goals and standards that team members shoot for every day.

Integrity

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Photo by Erin Thomas

So yes. A lot of companies use core values to drive their mission. However, whole foods makes it a part of every team members’ day. We eat, breathe and live by them. The high quality standards benefit farmers, communities, the environment and customers alike. It gives meaning to the work especially when that work is spending 6 hours of a shift just making granola.

Customers Come First

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Photo by Erin Thomas

Every team member no matter what department, has to work with customers. Although this is basically a universal rule, you can imagine the kind of regulars we get at Whole Foods. Customers often have little patience and/or are looking for something specific. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fabulous customers, but the bad eggs have taught me so much about how to deal kindly with even the most difficult people.

Attention to Detail

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Photo by Erin Thomas

With such high standards comes very high expectations from team members especially in such an aesthetic-focused department like the bakery. I am no artist, and learning how to decorate cakes and tarts was probably the most difficult task of my job. However, this skill translated into a deep sense of accomplishment when my creativity in decor enriched the customer experience.

It might be “whole paycheck,” but we have what you need

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Most of my time was spent behind the bakery counter, but whenever I would come out onto the floor, I would not make it back to the bakery without answering at least 3 questions from customers. By tracking down certain products, I was able to see all of the crazy stuff Whole Foods carries. Tart cherry juice, cranberry softened goat cheese, Tofurky and raw milk are just a few. It can get pricey, but you can’t deny that the inventory is impressive.

Whole Foods makes a difference

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Most people don’t know how involved Whole Foods is in philanthropy. Through their Whole Planet Foundation, Whole Kids Foundation and Whole Cities Foundation, Whole Foods Market works to alleviate poverty around the world, provide healthier school lunches for children, and bring an end to food deserts throughout the country. Every purchase contributes, and it gave me even more meaning as an employee.

Teamwork

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Photo courtesy of wholefoodsmarket.com

This was one piece that I was not expecting when I started working. New team members have to be voted on by the rest of the department. The entire store (around 200 team members) gather for a team meeting every quarter. There are numerous programs available to encourage bonding and team member support throughout the store. It ultimately creates a warm, welcoming environment where it is okay to make mistakes and learn.

In the end, this camaraderie is why I had to quit. When I transferred to the new store and tried to work the same amount of hours plus classes, I found myself failing to find my niche in the new store because I simply was not able to spend enough time working. If I had unlimited time and a schedule that allowed for 40-hour work weeks, I would love to continue working at Whole Foods. The 20% off discount, fun work atmosphere and constant challenge to learn new things are all difficult things to turn down.

Whole Foods Market is a place to work full-time in order to get everything out of it. Hours are not super flexible, and it is too easy to miss out on the benefits with fewer hours anyway. I am so grateful for my experience working for such an amazing company, and in the end, I earned so much more than that “whole paycheck”.