NEW PORT RICHEY — With a 3-year-old son to support, Jason Jackson needed more work hours. His sales job at a local call center wasn't providing them.
"If you're not making sales, they send you home," said Jackson, 21.
Jackson, who said he once worked at a McDonald's, came out Tuesday to seek a job at the fast-food chain's first national hiring day. He was one of about 40 who showed up before noon in hopes of landing a job at the store on U.S. 19 S in New Port Richey. By the end of the day, 120 people had applied at the restaurant, including stay-at-home moms re-entering the labor force, construction workers hit hard by the housing bust and teenagers looking for a way to make money after school. Other restaurants across the county also had a steady stream of people sitting at counters, filling out forms. "Explore a golden opportunity," they said. "From here you can get ahead."
Christopher Huff, 34, an unemployed helicopter mechanic, hoped to be among the lucky ones.
"I need to find work right now," he said. "I'll do anything they'll hire me for. I won't be picky."
The chain's spokespeople said it aims to hire 50,000 people nationally. That's the same number as typically gets hired near summer. The company says it is working to add employees, referred to as "crew members," as its business improves and as more of its restaurants stay open 24 hours.
McDonald's is not the first national retailer to set aside a day for mass hirings. In February, Home Depot announced it would hire 60,000 workers for the busy spring season.
Up to 275 people in the greater Tampa Bay area are expected to be hired as a result of the McDonald's initiative, and as many as 1,500 throughout Florida, a company public relations representative said.
In addition to offering jobs in a tough market, the event also served as an opportunity for the chain to negate stereotypes that its jobs are low-paying with little chance for advancement. Benefits are available based on what a store owner offers and can include paid vacations and health insurance. The company also points out that 70 percent of restaurant managers started out as crew.
"I'm a friendly person," Jackson told store manager Danielle Riccardo during his interview, which lasted roughly 10 to 15 minutes per applicant.
Riccardo, who was looking to add up to 10 slots to help her weekend crew get an occasional Saturday or Sunday off, asked applicants how well they could adapt to change and how much they liked working with people.
"I look for smiles and eye contact," Riccardo told the St. Petersburg Times. "If they can't make eye contact with me then they probably can't make eye contact with the customer. I also look for people who are forward, who know what they want."
Riccardo, 28, should be able to zero in on qualities that point to success. She was a crew member at 16 and at 21 became a store manager, one of the youngest in the country. Last year, she received a Ray Kroc award, an honor named for the company's founder and bestowed on the top 1 percent of managers.
"It can be a career," said Riccardo, who displayed a poster telling stories of crew members who made it to management and the names of celebrities who once worked under the Golden Arches. "As soon as I started training, I knew this is where I wanted to be."
Lisa Buie, who worked at a McDonald's in South Carolina, can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.