A Mile in Their Boots: How Sherri Eiler Connects Veterans with Jobs at Walmart

By E. Blake Jackson
May 20, 2015

The day Sherri Eiler walked into a recruitment office, she knew exactly what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go.

“I wanted to go to Japan,” said Eiler, a nine-year associate who today helps lead Walmart’s Veterans Welcome Home Commitment, a program to recruit and place veterans. “I thought, ‘I love travel. I want to go overseas. Embassies are overseas. Marines guard embassies. I’ll join the Marines.’”

And she did just that. For three years, Eiler served in the Marine Corps, first in communications then briefly, following an on-the-job injury, in administration as a battalion runner. She received an honorable discharge, but her dreams of guarding embassies in faraway places were left unfulfilled. For a time, she felt lost.

“I very distinctly remember my frustration and lack of patience when I was first transitioning out of the military,” Eiler said. “It was a hard time with tough lessons to learn, but eventually my stars aligned.”

Her coursework in human resource development at the University of Arkansas piqued her interest in Walmart. The company’s response to Hurricane Katrina drew her in. But it was Sam Walton’s legacy of honoring and serving veterans like herself that helped Sherri finally find her place, as a manager for military programs.

And though she’s been with the company for going on 10 years, Eiler never stops talking about aligning stars. Staying connected to her own experience is essential to helping her connect with transitioning veterans, many of whom are learning the same tough lessons she had to learn years ago.

Transitioning back to civilian life requires a significant shift in the way one views the world and his or her place in it, she said. In the military, everyone is moving toward the same goal. When a recruit emerges from training, he or she knows what everyone is doing, and each learns to rely — to stake their very lives — on that sense of shared responsibility.

“In the military, your team, your sense of service, always comes first,” Eiler said. “But in the civilian world, that’s not the case. Because of my experience, I can speak their language. I can understand them. I can translate for them.”

So Eiler works with internal and external recruiting partners, helping veterans prepare their resumes (“employers aren’t looking for war stories”), introducing them to hiring managers (“a good connection is worth more than an immediate job”) and coaching them to stick with it, no matter how frustrated they might become (“persistence breaks resistance”).

But that’s only half of the battle. She also works to help hiring managers understand how strong of an asset a veteran can be.

“Hiring veterans feels like the right thing to do, but we’ve also been able to show that it’s a very wise business decision,” Eiler said. “On paper they may not be the perfect candidate. But with the skills and abilities they have, they often make a much larger impact on our business than anyone would think.”

Since 2013, Walmart has hired more than 92,000 veterans. And this week, as part of its Veterans Welcome Home Commitment, the company announced plans to hire a total of 250,000 veterans by the year 2020. Eiler is playing a major role in the effort, both as an advocate for Walmart within the veteran community and as an advocate for veterans within Walmart.

“Walmart is a great place to work,” Eiler said. “People should be proud of the impact this company makes on the lives and careers of veterans.”

She understands, more than most, the powerful and lasting work that can be accomplished when the stars finally align.