When he opened Lockhart’s BBQ near Detroit more than five years ago, owner Drew Ciora used window signage and limited advertising to announce he was hiring. “The labor market wasn’t as tight as it is now,” he says. “Now you have to be creative. They’re not walking in off the street.”
So Ciora and others are widening their nets, hooking new talent by hosting job fairs. Ciora’s was as informal as it gets; when staffing his second location last fall, he set up tables in the under-construction restaurant and held interviews on-site, offering strong candidates jobs in as few as five minutes.
On the other end of the job fair spectrum, Starbucks, Taco Bell and more than a dozen other companies banded together last year in an employer-led coalition. The goal: Engage and hire at least 100,000 youth ages 16 to 24 via opportunity fairs.
Neil Borkan, president of NJB Operations, a franchisee with 40 Taco Bells in the Chicagoland area, attended the first opportunity fair in that city last August (another has since been held in Phoenix with a third scheduled for Los Angeles this year). Typically, Taco Bell uses an outside service that guarantees 100 interviews to plan, promote and host its fairs, says Borkan. “But this was an opportunity to talk to 5,000 candidates, many of them prescreened by the city,” he says. More than 800 job offers were extended to attendees, 40 of them from Taco Bell.
Whether hiring for one store or on a larger scale, there are ways to bolster an operator’s job fair experience. Borkan and Ciora share what’s worked for them.
It’s common for high school and college students still in school to scope out job fairs, anticipating summer or post-graduation employment. In fact, Ciora sent word of his upcoming in-house job fair to local high schools and food blogs. Borkan also believes in young talent. “We assess our needs from all the stores, but also look for what we would need for next year as well,” he says.
Have higher-ups on hand
Try to have multiple levels of management available for applicants to meet. “Opinions are diverse, and it’s really hard to judge somebody after sitting down for 10-20 minutes,” says Borkan. That said, be ready to move quickly on strong candidates. “They probably interviewed with several companies,” he says. “You want to [be prepared to] get them started right away.”
Create a good flow
If you have the resources, bring additional staff to handle applications, manage the line and walk the aisles to draw people to your booth. “We had servers and bartenders meeting with a couple of managers, and someone else handling runners, bussers and hostesses,” says Ciora.
Have info in every form
At fairs, Taco Bell posts a QR code linked to its online application, as well as providing paper applications at the booth. “We try to be as green as we can,” says Borkan. “All our in-store hiring is done online.” Brochures can give an overview of the company and benefits, and candidates can read them while they wait.