Chipotle is going to spend Wednesday interviewing somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 job applicants. The one-day hiring binge will eventually add 4,000 employees to the burrito chain, a roughly 7 percent increase in its total workforce. An expansion of that scope would mark a massive undertaking for any company. At Chipotle, it will also be a free-advertising coup with lasting benefits.
The most difficult part of hiring in huge numbers is recruiting. To find 4,000 suitable hires, Chipotle will need to interview at least five times as many candidates. The plan for Wednesday's nationwide hiring blitz envisions screening more than 10 times as many job seekers as there are open positions. Attracting thousands of potential candidates typically comes at a steep price, with hefty advertising outlays and costly recruiting tactics. When H&M sought to hire 2,800 new employees for its U.S. expansion earlier this year, the fast-fashion retailer ran an extensive campaign that included displays in 363 stores, video testimonials from current employees, and billboards in malls. Large employers have tried text-message registration and rewarding applicants with discounts for turning up at large-scale hiring events.
Chipotle has a different strategy: earned media. It's the same approach favored by presidential candidates, with a campaign message repeated at no cost provided there's pickup by news organizations or social media platforms. Earned media exerts powerful influence on purchasing decisions, according to a recent survey from Ogilvy and Mather, and it can just as easily drive job applicants to an event. "By bundling all of this hiring in a single day, it creates an event that there’s a lot of conversation around," says Chris Arnold, the director of communications at Chipotle.
News of the one-day hiring binge came out more than two weeks before the event. By positioning the push for 4,000 new Chipotle employees as one of the biggest hiring days ever, and as a way to climb the ladder to a $133,000-a-year salaried position at the company, a fairly uninteresting recruitment effort turned into a publicity stunt worthy of hundreds of news articles. Chipotle set up a website to handle preregistration for applicants and added to the attention with promotions on social media and advertisements on Pandora, a streaming music service.
The result? "Everyone" is talking about the event in the recruiting world, says Jeanne MacDonald, president of global talent acquisition solutions at Korn Ferry. "It's smart for Chipotle; it’s free press for them," she adds. "A lot of other companies who go through these type of campaigns are paying for it."
The website to register for the one-day hiring event now has more than 60,000 preregistrations, according to Chipotle. The company won't hire the vast majority of those applicants, but the trove of names will still prove valuable in the future. "Your recruitment spend has just reduced because you have built yourself a population," MacDonald says.
There are some potential logistical downsides to running such a large-scale event on a single day. If things get hectic or don't go smoothly, the candidate might leave with a tainted image of Chipotle. Many of the people applying to work there might also eat there on a regular basis, and so rejection might alienate loyal customers.
But the actual day won't differ much from Chipotle's normal hiring practices. The company has already held localized hiring events to fill large numbers of jobs in cities with high demand. The interviews will happen from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis across 1,850 Chipotle locations, and the 60,000 people who have gone through the trouble of registering in advance will get first priority. That works out to about 20 interviews per restaurant in a three-hour window. "It’s not unusual for a restaurant to hire multiple people in the span of a week or 10 days," says Arnold. When Chipotle opens a new restaurant, for example, the process typically involves hiring more than two dozen new workers pretty quickly.
Most people will have one-on-one interviews. In cities with higher applicant volume, managers might switch to group interviews with two or three candidates to prevent long delays. Not everyone will be hired on the spot, some candidates will be asked to return for multiple interviews, and nobody will start a new job rolling burritos this week. "It is our goal to offer positions to as many people as we can on [Wednesday]. It is not, however, a one-and-done formula," said JD Cummings, a recruitment strategy manager at Chipotle.
In other words, Chipotle is hiring 4,000 people in one day—it just might take a few weeks to pull it off. Makes for a less attention-grabbing headline when you think about it that way.