Can’t you do better than ‘Help Wanted’?

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Reality Check

Put down your peashooter for a moment to consider how weaponry has evolved in the battle for restaurant talent. Restaurants have been griping for more than three decades about “Help Wanted” signs becoming permanent fixtures of their front windows. The only break came in the Great Recession, when the hiring pleas were replaced with “Going Out of Business” alerts.

Now the industry, or least its expansion, has picked back up, and hiring enough employees amid the rising demand has gone from impossible to ridiculous. Nearly 80% of quick-service places and virtually every full-service establishment is operating short-handed, according to the researcher TDn2K. We’re already seeing openings postponed and hours slashed because the staffing just isn’t there.

The response of most operators has been to use stronger tape on their “Help Wanted” signs.  But a few forward-thinkers are rethinking their pitches to prospective hires. We provide a few of those ideas in our report on recruitment and retention innovations. Here are a few of the broader trends we discovered in putting that download together, trawling through a dozen or so jobs sections of restaurants’ web sites.

Go video

If you’re counting on static copy to tout your concept as a place to work, invest an hour in freeform YouTube surfing. It’ll be a Berlitz course of sorts on how to speak to today’s applicants. Video was the language of choice on nearly all the big-chain recruitment sites we visited (one notable exception: Chick-fil-A). Typically, it was the way they conveyed a sense of the culture, with particulars like benefits detailed in accompanying print. Even better, make real employees the stars. You’ll lessen risk of dorkiness, and gain credibility.

Promise fun

The deliverable most often promised in our slog through recruitment sites was having a blast instead of slaving away in boredom. It’s not as if popular employers such as In-N-Out are glossing over the rigors of the job. Team members appearing in its recruitment video stress that the work is hard. But as one concludes in wrapping up the come-on, “You’ll have fun, I promise.” The recreational aspects of the job are stressed in particular by a number of fun-and-foods concepts, as our special report notes.

Brag about clocks running fast

One of the bigger surprises to come from our review was the number of restaurant employers who promised time will seem to fly by if you work there. That enticement might sound like a complement to the having-fun pitch, but it seems directed more at people who can’t stand the boredom of where they currently punch a clock.

Provide a life

Not dissimilarly, many of the restaurant sites promised a social life along with a paycheck. “All of the friends I have now I met at In-N-Out,” the star of that chain’s crew-level recruitment video croons. Adds another employee appearing in the clip, “We hang out at work, we hang out outside of work.”

Tout the pay

Despite the increased promises of fun and friendship, restaurants aren’t overlooking the all-important consideration of what an applicant is likely to make. TDn2K, among other observers, has noted that wage and salary shopping has become more routine in a business where compensation was once relatively low on the list of reasons to take a job. Our spot check found considerably less coyness about pay. The recruitment video for Olive Garden, for instance, had employees confiding in would-be applicants, “The pay is awesome,” and “I make incredible money.” In-N-Out was even blunter, stating upfront in its clip that the chain’s starting wage is $11 an hour.

Offer careers, not jobs 

Finding a website’s recruitment section wasn’t always easy; the link was often buried in what amounted to the site map. But the terminology used to flag it was almost always the same. Specific job openings were mentioned on a few of the virtual HR offices, but more often the emphasis was on finding a career, a ladder up the ranks.

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