The Surprising Way Chipotle Increased Job Applications by 46% (Case Study)

In the war for talent, Chipotle is winning.

Today’s labor market has put employees in a position of choice, where employers can’t hire fast enough.

Talent attraction mechanisms are far exceeding those of the past, but the bigger paychecks and larger sign-up bonuses are not proving effective.

And even if these tactics bring workers through the door, it doesn’t keep them around.

In fact, the number of people quitting their jobs reached a record high in 2021, a strong indicator that workers feel like they can find another opportunity.

Yet, it seems that one restaurant has it all figured out. To attract quality talent and incentivize employees to stay – in an industry where high turnover is the norm – Chipotle promotes its differentiator: equitable access to education and mobility. 

The challenge: Turnover spike hurts Chipotle’s ability to meet summer sales demands.

The restaurant industry is battling for employees. 

For the crew members on the traditional college path, the end of summer sends many employees who were hanging around for a summer job back to school for the fall semester.

It’s estimated that an astounding 90% of summer turnover at Chipotle is a direct result of this autumnal relocation.

Facing this seasonal shift, Chipotle’s recruiting team must quickly fill the roles in understaffed restaurants to meet the summer sales demands. 

The solution: With debt-free degrees, Chipotle makes education a reason to stay — rather than to leave.

As employees returned to school, the high turnover confirmed what Chipotle leadership already knew: education is important to crew members.

Armed with this insight, Chipotle partnered with Guild to run a national Back to School campaign.

The campaign would leverage Chipotle’s existing education benefit, Cultivate Education, as an attractive incentive to both recruit and retain not just employees that follow the stereotypical path of on-campus higher education, but also those that can balance work and online schooling. 

Chipotle marketed their ability to provide career mobility to crew members

Cultivate Education is much more than just an education benefit. After launching in 2016, they expanded in 2019 to cover 100% of tuition costs upfront for 75 different degrees in business and technology. Debt-free degrees in these fields align with Chipotle’s strategic priorities and give employees the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in an evolving job market and take the next step in their careers at Chipotle.

The campaign targeted the 200 restaurants with the highest turnover rates through carefully-curated social media campaigns and strategic in-restaurant advertising. Hiring managers were trained specifically to highlight the debt-free degree education program to prospective talent, ensuring the distribution of a cohesive, streamlined message. 

The result: Chipotle leveraged its education benefit to unlock new talent pipelines.

In the first 2 weeks of the campaign alone, Chipotle’s recruiting team reached 20,000+ candidates.

Nearly 75% of these candidates (15,000 people) sought out more information about the benefit.

In total across the 200 targeted locations, Chipotle received 7,500 total applications, and each of the understaffed restaurants hired 1-2 new candidates. When compared to other campaigns, the numbers are equally impressive: Chipotle saw a 46% increase in applications.

Applications are great – but what about turnover?

The restaurant industry is notorious for high churn rates, so talent acquisition wasn’t Chipotle’s only goal for the campaign: To effectively decrease turnover, Chipotle hoped to incentivize talent that was interested in staying long-term.

Overall, this part of the campaign proved to be a major success as well.

Compared to the previous month, Guild same-store interest for the education benefit increased by 60%.

Not only did the number of prospective employees rise, but the recruited talent wanted to sign up for Chipotle’s education programs, signaling a strong desire to stay and grow within the company.

Completing a college degree, credential, or any other form of higher education requires a significant sacrifice of both time and resources. The employees planning to commit to schooling demonstrate their commitment to a career with Chipotle simultaneously.  

And Chipotle doesn’t just talk about career pathways – they encourage internal mobility. Hear it from their inspiring employee Iris, who started as a crew member and fulfilled her dream of landing a job in Corporate Chipotle HR.

Higher compensation won’t win the war for talent – opportunity will.

The employees of today are in high-demand – and they have demands of their own. They don’t just want pay for today, they want pathways for tomorrow, and work with a purpose.

Joe Albano, Senior Manager of National Recruiting at Chipotle, oversees all field recruiting across the United States and Canada — a total of nearly 3,000 locations. Albano recognizes that in today’s labor market, higher compensation won’t win the war for talent.

“To be able to say, ‘we offer education benefits through Guild so you can have the job and go back to school’ — Why wouldn’t I shout about that from the rooftops?”

For more insights on how to be a choice employer of the future, check out our 4 strategies to help you win the war for talent.

Strategies for Winning the War for Talent (Case Study)





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