11 things you don’t know (but should) about working in a warehouse

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If you’re considering a warehouse job, you might already have a sense of what your day-to-day work will be like. But there’s a lot you probably don’t know—like what hiring managers look for in applicants and the best way to get promoted. We talked to warehouse hiring managers to find out what you really need to know about opportunities in the field.

Read on to find out what Koren Coulter, corporate recruiter at Mallory Safety & Supply, and Danielle Quale, HR manager at Pacific Coast Fruit Co., had to say.

1. Warehouse associate is a vitally important job.

Every year, billions of items are shipped worldwide. Items that have been stored, sorted, and packed by warehouse associates. Without warehouse associates and the other roles that make warehouse operations smoothly, none of that would be possible.

“I think some people see a warehouse associate job as ‘bottom of the barrel’ because it’s entry level, but it is one of the most important positions within our industry,” said Coulter. “Without our warehouse associates we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

2. Soft skills are often the most important factor in getting hired.

Everyone will tell you that experience working in a warehouse is the most important factor in landing another position in a warehouse. And, while this is often true, recruiters are also looking for a very specific mix of soft skills to hire and promote. Things like:

• Independence

• Reliability

• Dedication

• Motivation

“Warehouse associate is our most entry level role, so we’re looking more for softs skills,” said Coulter. “You can’t teach someone a sense of urgency, to be dedicated, to show up to work on time. You can teach them how to operate a forklift.”

Takeaway: being able to show you’re responsible, will show up to work, and understand the particular challenges of working in a warehouse can make up for lack of experience when you’re applying for a job.

3. Warehouses prefer to promote from within the company.

Some companies tend to hire externally for supervisor roles, but warehouses promote from within whenever they can. “Promoting from within for supervisor roles like foreman makes way more sense,” said Quale. “We would prefer someone who has been working for a year in our own warehouse as a receiver, understands what we do, and promote them rather than bring someone in from the outside.”

“For people who work here longer than 2 years our turnover is low,” said Coulter. “We look for people who want to stay here and move up within the company.”

4. Getting promoted doesn’t have to take years.

“We have a guy, Jason, who started out as a temp worker on a project,”  said Coulter. “He did great, so we hired him on as a warehouse associate. Then he was quickly promoted to delivery driver, then to front counter rep. After a ton of success, we promoted him to customer service and inside sales within the company. Now he is one of our most-relied upon employees at one of our largest customers in Portland. His next goal: outside sales. There are a lot of different opportunities. A lot of different hats for the right person to wear and take ownership of their role.”

Hiring managers want people who will stick around and get to know the company. So if you demonstrate the skills and desire to advance, most companies will help you do so as soon as you’re ready.  

5. Warehouse associate is a stepping stone to many different roles.

Warehouse associate can be a catch-all job title (see #10 below) with duties that can include everything from packing orders to moving pallets. But, if you stick with the company, there are also lots of different paths for advancement.

“Some of our entry level roles—order selector and repacker—I like to think of those as really good stepping stones to learn what we do here and what our product is,” said Quale. “You see everything we carry and distribute. And then you can move on to a role in QA or inventory control or a supervisory or foreman role. Because you have to understand our business before you can move in to those roles.”

6. You need to be independent and self-motivated to succeed.

Being a warehouse associate often means learning different skills—using an RFID scanner, operating a forklift—and meeting measurable goals—like how much product you’ve picked or boxes packed in a shift. It’s a natural fit for people who are self-motivated.

“Picking product, using RF scanner, driving a forklift—people forget that you’ve got to be independent to do all this,” said Koulter. “You won’t have a micromanager or cheerleader all day. No one has time to follow 23 employees around and tell them you’re doing a great job or a bad job.”

7. Conditions vary a lot by company and industry.

Not all warehouses are the same. If you work in food distribution, you might be packing boxes in a warehouse that’s cold all year round. Or if you work in a loading bay outside, temperatures might climb in the summer.

“With everyone I interview, I make sure to walk them into the warehouse for a tour,” said Quale. “We are a produce distribution company, so our warehouse is chilled. For some people that’s a plus, for some it might be a deterrent. Either way I want to make sure they understand the conditions ahead of time. Some people don’t understand how physically demanding the job is.”

Takeaway: if a hiring manager doesn’t offer a tour, make sure to request one. This will demonstrate that you’re really interested in the job and allow you to make sure the conditions are a good fit for you.

8. There are benefits to working at smaller, family-owned companies.

While the mega-companies can often offer higher hourly wages, there are other benefits to consider when choosing a job.

“I moved here from one of the big companies,” said Quale. “For me, the biggest difference comes down to how much they truly care about each and every one of the 500 people who work here.  And there’s also a huge amount of flexibility compared to bigger companies. Here they’re more understanding and open to family and people’s needs. That was a huge selling point for me personally. Because those big companies can find someone else to fill the position in a day.”

We offer Monday to Friday schedules, job flexibility, paid time off, a team environment—there are a lot of benefits that people don’t necessarily consider when they just see the hourly wage,” said Coulter.

9. The same title can mean many different things.

Warehouse associate. Packer. Picker. This jack-of-all-trades job can have a huge range of duties depending on a company’s needs. At some companies, you might be packing boxes. At another you might be operating a forklift.  

Because each company defines this role a little differently, make sure you ask what your job duties will be in your interview (especially anything that isn’t listed in the job description).

10. Experience is important, but not for the reasons you think.

Everyone prefers an employee with some experience, so they can walk right in and get to work, right? Yes, but that’s not the only reason.

Hiring and training an employee is a big investment of time and resources for a company. So if someone quits after only a few weeks, the company is back to square one. This means that hiring managers often prefer people with previous warehouse experience because they “know what they’re getting into.”

“It’s not just that they know what they’re doing,” said Quale. “We prefer to hire people with backgrounds of 6 months to one year, mostly so they’re not surprised by the work. People that we bring on for interviews, I make it a point to make sure they have warehouse experience or walk them through the warehouse so they’re not surprised by the conditions or what’s expected of them.”

11. Hiring managers notice the little details.

Hiring managers look for very specific things when they review your application. Same goes for your interview. And some things—like not filling out your profile—are deal breakers.

“If they haven’t finished the entire application, I don’t even take a second look at them,” said Quale. “I get tons of applications daily. So I weed people out pretty quickly based on super basic criteria.”

Takeaway: if you want the job, take the time to fill out your profile (and avoid making these basic mistakes). And tips for the interview?

“Please oh please show up to an interview prepared with questions about the company,” said Coulter. “Spell check your resume. Do not wear a shirt that has the F-word on it.”

Ready to apply? See available warehouse jobs in your area.