A Chick-fil-A HR executive shares the red flags he spots when interviewing candidates and his hiring best practices

Chick-fil-A is widely recognized for its friendly customer service, consistently receiving high praise for the kindness of its staff. It has been ranked as the top fast-food restaurant on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, highlighting its commitment to excellent customer experiences. 

Despite facing controversies related to social issues and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, the company has managed steady growth. In 2022, Chick-fil-A's revenue increased by nearly 11%, reaching $6.4 billion. While its chicken sandwiches are popular, the exemplary attitudes of its employees, often noted by their "my pleasure" responses, seem to significantly contribute to the success of this privately owned, family-operated corporation.  

Tyler Hendon headshot (left) and Chick-fil-A restaurant exterior with its company sign (right)
Tyler Hendon has worked as a human-resources executive for eight years and is a recruiter for three Atlanta Chick-fil-A locations. 
Courtesy of Tyler Hendon; Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Business Insider spoke with Tyler Hendon, an eight-year human resources executive, and a Chick-fil-A recruiter at three Atlanta locations, to learn more about how the company attracted these friendly employees and what he looked for in a candidate. He's been with the company since December 2021 and said his best advice was to lean on your company's core values throughout the hiring process.

1. Look for applicants who express their negative opinions about past jobs positively

"A lot of what we do is shape who people already are," Hendon told BI. "It has to already be in you to want to do a good job for customers, put on that smile, work hard, and have positive interactions with people on a daily basis."

When Hendon looks at an applicant's job history, he focuses on their opinions of their past jobs and how they interacted with other people.

"One of my red flags is if someone has worked several different jobs and they have nothing good to say about any of those jobs or people," he said.

Well-rounded job candidates can express both negative and positive experiences from their past jobs, and recruiters should look out for that. During the interview, if a job candidate doesn't have any positive experiences at their previous jobs, Hendon listens to see whether they speak positively about what attracted them to their previous role and whether they mention the type of tasks they enjoyed doing.

"They should talk about their experience holistically," he said.

2. See how applicants align with the company's core values

Since interviews are crucial to the hiring process, Hendon takes them as an opportunity to gauge whether a candidate aligns with the company culture.

"A lot of what I look for is if this person can align with Chick-fil-A's core values," he said. "We're really big on working together, so I may ask them a question that revolves around being able to work with others and see how they've done that in the past."

At the same time, Hendon doesn't dismiss candidates who lack experience working in groups. Instead, he leans on the company's core values and assesses whether the person he's interviewing has enough traits to become a strong team player.

"Our work environment is very positive and family-oriented, while also being connected to high standards and excellent performance," Hendon said. "We do our best to keep that type of chemistry, and we look for people that fit into it."

3. Everyone doesn't have to be super friendly

According to Hendon, at Chick-fil-A, customer-facing employees should be friendly, but friendliness isn't a requirement for everyone.

"Our restaurants are made up of different personalities and backgrounds, and we try to do a great job blending all of these people together to serve our guests and community," Hendon said.

Hendon emphasized the importance of recruiters looking holistically at applicants. This approach could allow them to avoid dismissing good candidates. It could also help them place employees in the roles they're suited best for, whether that's working hand in hand with team members in the kitchen or taking face-to-face orders from customers in the drive-thru lane.

4. Form a positive relationship with high school and college students

When you visit a Chick-fil-A, it's not uncommon to receive a warm welcome from a college- or high-school-aged worker. Hendon said the restaurant would often hire a diverse group of staff members early in the year and slow its hiring during the summer. This approach accommodates the existing college and high-school-aged employees who can work more hours during the summertime.

"Our student employees are amazing, and they are a huge part of our success," Hendon said. "I find that young team members are often eager to learn and really just need positive leadership and friendly peers around them to help them find success."

Scholarships and tuition assistance are tools that recruiters can use to attract this young working demographic. In fact, it's one of the opportunities Chick-fil-A allows its team members across the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico to apply for.

5. Allow future job applicants to work with the company before applying

When it comes to attracting friendly talent, hiring practices don't have to revolve around the Q&A portion of the interview process. The Chick-fil-A Hendon works at regularly offers people a chance to work with the company for a day — typically for about $15 an hour — before applying for a job, he said.

"Sometimes we'll bring people into the restaurant and actually give them the opportunity to work for a day or volunteer with us during one of our game days," he said. "We use the term volunteers, but they're actually paid."

According to Hendon, both adults and high-school students often volunteer during game days at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where one of the three Chick-fil-A locations he recruits for is located.

"In those instances, they can be really positive for that person because they get to see what the job is going to be like," he said. "It gives us a chance to be around them so that both parties can get an understanding of one another."

6. Don't hire for the sake of hiring

The hardest part of the hiring process can be fighting the urge to overhire — or staff a large number of candidates — based on open roles, even though they might not be the best people for the job. Hendon found this especially difficult after the COVID-19 outbreak.

"During the pandemic, we had people leaving restaurants at record numbers, and it was tough for a lot of restaurants to find people," Hendon said. "The hardest part was the temptation to hire someone and to move forward in a way that didn't align with Chick-fil-A's culture and values."

One way to avoid hiring too many of the wrong people is to remain strict about the brand and standards. It's helpful to refer to that checklist from the beginning to the end of the hiring process.

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