Decked out in heels and a pencil skirt and carrying a briefcase, 16-year-old Lauryn Perry exuded professional poise as she awaited an interview Thursday at a job fair kicking off the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a coalition of corporations aiming to make a dent in the dismal unemployment rate among U.S. youths.
Chipotle must have thought so too, because Perry emerged from a 30-minute interview with an offer to join the team at one of the chain?s Chicago stores, prompting a squeal and an ?Oh my God!? to erupt from her friend Trenati Baker when they ran into each other in the crowded aisles of the convention center where the event was held.
?I?m excited,? said Perry, who is entering her senior year of high school and hopes the work experience helps prepare her for college. ?I felt if I were to be my true self with the interviewer, I would do well.?
Perry was among 3,000 youths age 16 to 24 who were expected to attend Thursday?s job fair, where 29 companies manned booths, held workshops or conducted interviews with young people who might not otherwise have landed on their radars. Among the companies represented were CVS Health, Nordstrom, Taco Bell, Target, Microsoft and Starbucks, which spearheaded the coalition that says it is committed to giving training or jobs for 100,000 underprivileged youths nationally by 2018.
As promised when the initiative was announced last month, on-the-spot job offers were being made. Some of the candidates had been screened for interviews at prior events, but others, like Perry, were steered to the interview stations after chatting with recruiters at company booths.
About two hours into the fair, Chipotle had interviewed more than 80 applicants and made 34 job offers, each of them contingent on one final interview with the store team, said Chipotle recruitment strategy manager JD Cummings.
Cummings said Chipotle had 60 entry-level job openings in Chicago that it was hoping to fill at Thursday?s event, at Chipotle restaurants as well as its new ShopHouse Asian concept expected to open this year. The average wage for a ?crew member,? as they are called, is more than $10, and the company offers tuition reimbursement.
?Our hiring needs are tremendous right now,? he said. ?Our goal today is to find high-potential folks.?
Taking out a brochure given to candidates, Cummings pointed out the 13 traits Chipotle looks for in new hires, including that they?re motivated, curious, happy and ?infectiously enthusiastic.? Not having experience can be a boon, he said, because they can learn from scratch how Chipotle likes to do things.
The brochure shows a path to higher pay, and Cummings said a new crew member within four years could climb to a restaurateur position making more than $125,000 annually.
?Many of the folks we?ve talked to are really hungry for an opportunity, a shot, a chance, someone to tell them they can be more than they are today,? he said.
A group of three friends celebrated job offers each had gotten from Starbucks.
?I was like, ?Thank you, Jesus,?? said Mizani Cook, 17, who is entering her senior year of high school and had been screened for an interview. ?They said they were impressed with my attitude, that it was so bright.?
Her friend Daija Rice, 16, who is entering her junior year, said it had been difficult to land a job on their own.
?You might not get called back until months later,? she said.
Despite the offers, they still had more interviews lined up that day, at JC Penney, Target, Potbelly and other companies.
?It?s nice to have more than one option because you can think about what you want to do in life,? Cook said.
In addition to interviews, the fair had a station where attendees could get resume help, a JC Penney Style bar where job candidates were getting makeup applied and styling advice, and an area where they could learn to work a Starbucks espresso machine.
Standing in a long line for a bank of computers to fill out online applications, A. Jay Guydry, 23, said he was excited for the networking opportunities. He hopes to open his own freelance photography businesses, and said he felt inspired ?being surrounded by so much positive energy.?
?It?s been more than I expected,? Guydry said. ?I?m glad I came.?