Chick-Fil-A hiring customer-centric employees

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When it comes to Chick-Fil-A, the popular eatery isn’t only known for tasty chicken and quirky cow marketing. Whether ordering one meal or 20, it quickly becomes clear that customers can expect upgraded customer service.

And it is up to Shannon Leidy, director of talent, to find employees who can be counted on to live up to the chain’s standards.

“When we interview potential team members, we look for the three Cs: character, chemistry and competency,” Leidy said. “We believe we can teach people just about anything to do a job, but if their character and chemistry isn’t good, we can’t do much. We can’t teach you to be a nice person if you didn’t learn that before now. That isn’t something we can train into people.”

Leidy said even being hired at the executive level was different and more efficient than with many other companies.

“When I applied, I got a phone call two days later and Brian kept up with me, adding he’d be in touch with my by this date and he followed through,” she recalled. “We try to establish clear expectations of us for the applicant to save trouble and that feeling of being in limbo. We don’t want to keep people in the pipeline longer than three weeks, so from the moment you apply to training, it should be no more than three weeks with reference checks.”

And unlike other businesses who only accept applications when there are openings, Chick-Fil-A is always hiring and has group interviews at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday.

“We’re always looking for great talent,” she said. “We don’t want to pass up on a great team member because technically all our spots are filled.”

But to find the right employees, the hiring process is uniquely Chick-Fil-A starting with the group interviews. Potential employees are directed to www.snagajob.com to fill out an application, which usually takes about 30 minutes and goes beyond the basics with math, reading and personality assessments.

“That process ranks an applicant with either green, yellow or red in terms of how they’ll fit in,” Leidy explained.

From there, applicants head to the group interviews that include a behind-the-scenes tour and an overview of owner Christy Proctor’s vision for the Forest Hills Road location.

“We don’t care about a person’s prior experience as much as we care about who they are,” Leidy said.

If a lot of people show up to the group interview, Leidy gives the individuals written problems to solve that involve many issues that frequently arise during a shift, but she said she prefers small groups where she gives them a hands-on activity. As an avid escape room fan, Leidy put together a puzzle in a toolbox where applicants have to work together to solve problems.

“The toolbox is a more fun way to see how people actually handle conflict and work together with others,” she said. “It is a great way to see who has leadership abilities, who barrels over others to get things done. Really it is a fun way to assess things you can’t really tell about a person from a sheet of paper.”

Applicants who make it through the group interview phase go on to a one-on-one interview with Leidy and a final interview with Proctor.

“If everything is running on full cylinders, they’ll have a group interview Wednesday, be hired on Saturday and start orientation on Monday,” Leidy explained.

And from day one, a trainer works with new hires to ensure everyone learns what they need to learn to be successful. Full-time employees have a 30-day evaluation period to make sure they are well trained and part-time staff has a 60-day evaluation. Once through training and evaluation, team members choose a word that will be printed on the name tag and exemplify their own focus to grow professionally and personally. For Proctor, her word is “faith,’ and Leidy’s word is “others.”

“I chose my word as a nod to my Salvation Army roots,” Leidy explained. “If I had to describe the Salvation Army in one word it would be ‘others’ and my job here is to serve the entire team. ‘Others’ reminds me that even if I’m hungry, I should check with the others to make sure those here before me have gotten their break.”

Because the process is different from the start with higher expectations, Chick-Fil-A boasts a retention rate of 72 percent — markedly more than most fast-food joints with frequent turnover.

“I think other restaurants look for someone that can just do the job,” Leidy said of the difference. “For us, we want someone who is capable of doing the job and doing it well, but also can fit into the family here and someone with the potential to grow. If they want their whole career to be a team member, that is great, but if someone wants a career, that is possible, too at Chick-Fil-A.”

The bulk of the more than 100 employees fall under the title of team member and do everything from take orders to cook food or focus on getting refills and helping customers in the dining room. The rest of the employees include trainers, team leaders, assistant directors and directors, with about 40 people working on any given day.

“We advertise a higher than minimum wage, and we base that on experience, education and availability,” Leidy said. “We understand that to get premium people, we need to be able to provide the benefits, so full-time employees have health insurance, 401(k)s and all the benefits you’d get at an office job, but here you have a more flexible schedule.”

Leidy seeks to hire about 10 people a month, but will be extra busy with nine employees heading off to college this fall.

“Having Chick-Fil-A as your first job is awesome, but we also have opportunities for adults looking for a career change,” she said. “If they have previous leadership experience, they can get hired as a leader instead of working up from a team member.”

And Proctor made sure employees were taken care of during the temporary closure of the restaurant earlier this year to expand and remodel. Leidy said before the remodel, all employees were evaluated and ranked based on performance. From there, 20 hours of classes covering everything from retirement planning to finance and college readiness were available weekly and based on an employee’s ranking and completion of the classes, employees could earn as much as their whole salary despite the restaurant closure.

“Even while Christy wasn’t drawing an income for herself, she made sure everyone was taken care of,” Leidy said. “We made sure our team was provided for, which was awesome and not something every boss would do.”

With an expanded footprint and double drive-thru, it is obvious business is booming at Chick-Fil-A, which means hard work on the employees’ part. Leidy admitted, though, that when it comes to customer service, not every day is going to be stellar. Chick-Fil-A leaders work hard to check in with employees and help if someone is struggling, whether at work or at home.

“We’re all pretty good about focusing on work when we’re here,” she said. “Any time I’ve noticed someone is frustrated, I’ll point out that work is the opportunity to forget about whatever else is happening in your life and focus on making others feel good.

“There have been days when I’ve had stuff going on, but I’ll come to work and realize five hours later that I hadn’t thought about what was happening. If something major is going on in an employee’s personal life, though, we know it is hard to work, so we’ll work to see if they need their shift covered, so they can get through it and be even stronger when they come back.”

For more information about the Wilson eatery or to apply, visit www.cfarestaurant.com/wilson/.