Apple's well-lit, glass-covered stores have become a familiar sight across the world, and whether you're seeking out tech help or just want to play with the gadgets, the staff are usually friendly and capable. But what's it like to be on their side, working for the tech giant?
I reached out to readers to hear their stories of what it was like working at an Apple store and the response was actually quite uniform: most people had a positive experience! (As interesting as it would be to share some horror stories, I didn't receive any.) Like any retail job, there are highs and lows, and one reader -- I'll call him RJ -- detailed his experience from start to finish. Of course, with so many stores in different cities, his story doesn't necessarily reflect the same experience that everyone has had with the job. But in short: It's about what you'd expect from a part-time job in retail.
RJ started working at an Apple store in Portland, beginning back in 2008:
I worked at the mall store for about three years before the remodeled flagship store went up on 5th Avenue. We were one of the busiest stores on the West Coast, and also one of the smallest. Being located within walking distance of public transit that connected to the PDX airport, we'd get inundated with foreign tourists looking to buy the maximum amount of iPhones available before their flight back. And being located in a city that's known as a haven (despite the rain) for the homeless and the crust-punk rail riders we affectionately referred to as "train kids," we had to deal with a ton of shit.
All-in-all, the day to day work for RJ was pleasant:
Usually we were treated well, and for the most part it was a great place to work. It must've been the time that I started working there, but 90% of my best friends in Portland have all come from relationships either directly or very closely related to my time at Apple. In the beginning (2008), the store was like a big family. Their approach to retail was crazy (wait, I'M NOT SUPPOSED to pressure the customer into buying stuff?) and made for a stress-free working environment, even during insane days like iPhone launches. Our managers were super approachable and friendly, and I can remember more than a few times that we'd end up, after a late night getting the store ready, at a local club.
Over time there were some changes in company, and during the recession they began pushing for more AppleCare sales, with full-time work being hard to get:
There were still signs that things were a little screwed up, though. 75% of the employees were labelled "part-time," even if they were working up to 35+ hours a week. As time started to go on, the managers started to make more noise about "metrics," specifically the addition of AppleCare to each purchase. If you sold AppleCare on 60% of the devices you sold, you were doing good. Then it was 65%. Then 70%. I didn't mind, because AppleCare had actually saved my arse more than once, and using the retail skills they'd taught me, I was able to convey this in a way that made AppleCare seem like a pretty attractive option.
In fact, I became one of the best specialists in the store, numbers wise, and was consistently working 40+ hours a week. At this point, I'd been told I was on the track for full-time, since the recession had hit hard, and I loved working for Apple. After a year of the lack of benefits being afforded to me because of my part-time status, I brought up my promotion with management. They sat me down and told me that it looked unlikely that I'd be able to get to full-time within the next three months unless I switched to a more tech-related Genius path, but that doing so would basically guarantee I'd be full-time within 90-120 days.
It was at this point that the iPhone Genius/Family Room specialist was being introduced, since iPhones were quickly becoming the most popular item Apple sold. So I switched to being an iPhone tech 80% of the time, and a regular specialist when they needed me. I learned how to diagnose and fix most iPhone problems, which is still serving me well in my career today.
After basically designing and implementing the workflow for the here-to-fore non-existent position of iPhone Genius, and receiving over 95% approval rating during the next three month period, I went back to management about when I could expect to be transitioned into full-time. [They responded with something like] "Oh, well, it looks like we can't hire on any more full-timers until next quarter, but once that arrives, we'll be able to extend an offer! Just hold on a little while longer!"
Understandably, I was a little pissed. I'd been working 50+ hours and kicking arse while doing it, and they were jerking me around a bit.
Although RJ wasn't offered a full-time position, he did have the opportunity to travel to Cupertino, California to help develop their strategy:
I spent a month in Cupertino helping to test and implement new tools and strategies for the nascent Family Room Specialist and POS systems, and it was amazing. Being in the middle of Cupertino every day really made me respect the fact that I was working for one of the coolest companies around. The cafeteria food was amazing, the fact that In-N-Out was close by was also amazing, and being able to take a bus into San Francisco to explore a city I'd never visited before were all perks that I didn't think I'd ever [have].
I found out that most of my co-workers in this testing pod were managers, or at the very least assistant managers, at large flagship stores across the world. Getting sent to Cupertino was a plum assignment, but I was still getting paid part-time salary while doing a full-time job.
Finally upon returning to the retail store, RJ still wasn't offered full-time work, which ultimately led to his departure from the company:
When I got back to Portland, my hours were cut to 30 hours a week maximum, on orders from headquarters to cut costs. We hired on more part-timers, and as one of the more respected specialists, I had the job to train these kids.
After training over 20 new employees, I once again approached management, nearly a year after my first request for full-time employment. I was sat down and told that there was no way I'd be able to get promoted to full-time for at least another six months, and even then, it might not be possible.
I stayed another three months and saw an increase in the types of "high-pressure" sales tactics being used to sell things like AppleCare (which is a pretty good deal), MobileMe (which sucked super hard), One-on-One (which, in a tiny store like the basement Portland store, wasn't exactly a great deal) or ProCare (which, unless you're a creative professional in the video, music, or photography field, was basically useless).
I left with a bad taste in my mouth, but I've parlayed my experience at Apple into a stint at NASA and a few start-ups that I had no business being hired for, other than the shiny "Apple" on my resume.
Career Spotlight is an interview series on Lifehacker that focuses on regular people and the jobs you might not hear much about -- from doctors to plumbers to aerospace engineers and everything in between.