With a goal of hiring 100,000 workers by 2022 and expanding by 200 store openings every year, the team at Taco Bell has an ambitious agenda to accomplish. Facing a tight labor market, the company knew it would have to come up with creative alternatives to the standard recruitment fare.
Brainstorming with their public relations team, they found a way to put a Taco Bell twist on the job fair: a hiring party.
Collaboration was key to getting it off the ground. They discussed the concept with restaurant managers, the COO and others. Working with corporate, HR, marketing and store leaders, the idea took shape. The first parties were planned for locations in Indianapolis — a tough hiring market with unemployment barely above 3% locally.
Candidates played games and enjoyed free food while they mingled, and employees answered questions, conducted on-the-spot interviews and made immediate hires. New staffers were treated to "signing bonus" gift cards.
Boosting the brand
"In the last 18 to 24 months, the job market has gotten extremely competitive," Bjorn Erland, Taco Bell's vice president of people and experience told HR Dive. "We wanted to differentiate ourselves; we want to be a 'category of one' in everything we do."
They decided to pilot the program in the Midwestern market, believing it could provide a good read on how it would work across the country. Planning began at the beginning of the year and rolled out in July. And to generate buzz for the events, Joe Unger, the company's Indiana growth leader, told HR Dive they worked with local media outlets and met with the region's mayors to talk about what the company had to offer. "It was a great opportunity to do outreach ... to talk about the growth the company has to offer," Unger said.
"Most of the community leaders had no idea what we do for our staff, including tuition reimbursement from day one," he said. "They were blown away."
Attendees approached the events in various ways. Some came dressed in professional attire, ready to interview; some stopped by for the party and decided to apply while they were there. Some didn’t even know about the party and were just stopping by to eat, but joined in as well. "They could stay 15 or 20 minutes and apply, or hang out for a few hours playing games and talking about what it’s like to work here." Erland said. "Our team members are the best brand ambassadors we have; they’re enthusiastic about telling people all Taco Bell has to offer."
The party also represented an opportunity for the company to boost its brand. “We hoped that even if they didn’t apply that day, we made a good impression and they would in the future, or tell their friends,” Erland said.
Taco Bell isn't alone in realizing it needed to think outside the box.
“The tight labor market has made it necessary for companies to shake up some of their internal practices in order to better attract and retain workers,” Jim Stroud, global head of sourcing and recruiting strategy for Randstad Sourceright, told HR Dive via email. "Individual hiring events are a great branding opportunity for employers because there is no other competition, and the candidates who attend are clearly indicating interest in working for the company." They also offer an opportunity to create "brand ambassadors" among the attending candidates, further expanding their referral network, he said.
The downside for some hiring events, said Stroud, can be too large a response. The most successful are ones where where recruiters and hiring managers are empowered to make decisions on the spot. "Knowing whether or not they have a job when they walk away not only gives candidates ease of mind," he said, "but these sorts of events also help generate buzz around the company and can have a positive impact on an employer’s brand identity."
The typical interview process in fast food can take about a week, Unger said, "but younger people especially are accustomed to instant gratification. Get a job; get a start date — right now."
Many employers are losing out on candidates simply because their conversion time is too long. Taco Bell made sure that candidates had the opportunity to get what they wanted out of the party: a job and a start date. "We were doing some onboarding on the spot," Unger said. "We even had a photo booth to take pictures with new hires. We wanted to make a big deal about each hire to give people an idea of what it’s like to work here."
Did it work? Erland and Unger both agree the answer is a resounding "yes." The "come for the party, stay for the possibilities" events in four locations boasted a 50% conversion rate — more than double their typical 20%. Eighty applicants came to the parties and 40 were hired on the spot. And unexpectedly, online applications spiked, too: they received 375 that week through Indeed and ZipRecruiter, presumably in response to the buzz the events generated.
Another bonus? Community involvement and outreach. Unger said he met a woman at one of the events with her 16-year-old in tow. Her daughter's first job was with Taco Bell and now she had brought her son to the event for his. "Parents are encouraging their kids to work here because they know we’ll get them off to a good start. Regardless of their major, working at Taco Bell, there’s no limit to what you can do. I know we’re making an impact," Unger said, "today and down the road."
Unger said they plan to debrief about the parties and hope to take them nationwide, making each one bigger than the last.