At lunch time on a sunny Friday afternoon in September, a line of hungry office workers snaked down the 1300 block of L Street NW to nab some pizza from DC Slices, a food truck parked on the corner.
But instead of shelling out the usual $9 for two slices and a soda, patrons were getting their lunches for free. The tab was picked up by Vocus, a Beltsville-based online public relations software company that partnered with the mobile pizza kitchen for a day as part of its new approach to recruitment. Vocus is eager to hire 300 highly-skilled workers by the end of this year, but it has been struggling to find them.
“Having strong, local competitive companies, you’ve got to be willing to explore new avenues to meet [job] candidates,” said Cal Shilling, Vocus’s vice president of human resources.
And so he hatched the food truck scheme: Co-opt a popular lunch destination for an afternoon, position it in an area with major foot traffic and then give patrons free food so long as they give Vocus their business card.
On this particular afternoon, Vocus bedecked the pizza truck with a banner bearing the company logo that read, “Best. Workplace. Ever. We’re hiring!”
Recruiters and sales staffers were stationed outside the truck. They handed out Vocus-branded can coolers and held one-on-one conversations with each customer, answering questions about what it was like to work at Vocus and what types of positions were available. They touted the company’s “work hard, play hard” mentality and encouraged patrons to attend an open-house event that was to take place at company headquarters the following week.
One food truck patron, Malena Caruso, said she had heard about the event on LinkedIn. As a journalist whose employment contract expires in November, Caruso not only brought her business card, but her résumé.
She was interested in learning more about an opening Vocus had for a copywriter, a job which Caruso said would allow her to use the skills she has learned as a journalist while perhaps getting better pay.
Caruso said she decided to come to the event because she was “attracted to the company culture.” Their focus on work-life balance, she said, is a refreshing departure from the late-night and weekend hours that her current job demands.
Still, some of the people who showed up were clearly more enticed by the promise of free food than the promise of a new job. But even if they weren’t looking for work, some said they thought the offbeat approach to hiring was a smart one.
Joe Flood, a freelance writer from the District who took advantage of the free-lunch offer, said the set-up “attracts a passive job seeker,” one who isn’t necessarily angling for a new position, but could be lured to take one if the right offer came along.
Vocus was able to gather 130 business cards, and Shilling said he was interested in doing “a deeper dive” with about 87 of those people to see if they might be a good fit for jobs at Vocus.
Shilling said Vocus plans to do more food-truck recruitment events in the future, since it was so satisfied with the return on its $1,500 investment.
“That’s a steal,” Shilling said.
This was the second promotion Vocus had held of this kind; the first one took place earlier in September in Chinatown. Shilling said they might look to partner with a yogurt or dessert truck for other events.
The food truck events are just one of the unorthodox ways Vocus is using to attract talent. The company recently partnered with brewer Yuengling to offer $1 beers at Dupont Circle bar Buffalo Billiards during a kick-off party for football season. Vocus recruiters were on hand to talk with potential job candidates, some of whom had received invitations from Vocus to attend. The goal, Shilling said, was to connect with potential employees in a relaxed environment.
Through these novel outreach programs, Shilling said that he’s gotten “a much higher quality of candidate than what you find in the older, more traditional job posting.”