It’s safe to say that the excitement over Amazon’s arrival in Northern Virginia is real, and it’s spreading.
The Seattle-based company held its first of many Amazon Career Days in Arlington on Tuesday, Sept. 17, in an attempt to fill the first round of an estimated 30,000 jobs within the next 12 years, even before breaking ground at its incoming HQ2 location in Crystal City.
Before the event had kicked off at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, and a two-and-a-half-hour line stretched down the block of 12 Street South in Arlington, registration to get inside had already closed on Sunday, Sept. 15. Over 6,000 people had registered in hopes of getting facetime with a real, in-person Amazon employee in their desired department or program.
The first person stood in line at 6 a.m., two hours before the large, circus-like white tent at the Amazon HQ2 site, named The Grounds, (and across the street from Whole Foods) would open to the public with dozens of stands, thousands of informative flyers and a lot of hopeful job candidates in every nook and cranny of the offered space.
I arrived at 1:30 p.m. after the event had already cycled through a minimum of 1,500 people and was hardly seeing the horizon of the day ending, since the company extended the hours to 8 p.m. to account for longer waiting times and more presentations from senior-level employees.
Security guards held down the fort outside, not allowing any outsiders without an Amazon employee badge to cross the threshold unless they were being herded inside with another batch of 25-plus interested attendees. But once inside, it was clear that this event wasn’t your average job fair.
Amazon’s Arlington Career Day felt like a solid mix of a stereotypical job fair and a college open house. There were areas for interview tips and resume reviews, lots of separate tables and handouts to grab, but it was mostly filled with Amazon employees meant to teach the community about the company, and welcome job-seeking hopefuls from all aspects of its sprawling business model.
It felt like everyone was there.
Fresh-out-of-college graduates looking for entry-level positions, experienced ex-military professionals looking for a fresh start and dozens upon dozens of casually dressed Amazon employees ready to answer questions and pass out informative flyers.
On one side of the decorative walls, Amazon’s technological history was listed in a timeline, from starting as a online bookseller, all the way to the development of Amazon Web Services and the Alexa devices that now sit atop kitchen counters around the world.
Dueling lines wrapped around the space, with one leading to the resume review area (where an Amazon employee would look through, circle phrases, offer tips and lead candidates to their intended department stand) and another location to sit down with an Amazon employee and work through interview tips (such as problem-solving scenarios, using job-specific terminology and more).
As the attendees waited in line, they could grab a bag of chips, a bottle of water and simply wait.
“The lines are getting through fairly quickly,” said Gina Rice-Holland, a resident of Prince William County who has applied for over 100 positions at Amazon within the past year. “And everyone has been extremely pleasant and patient.”
Much like other attendees, Rice-Holland was looking to find out what she needs to do to get her resume through to the next round. So she stood in the resume review line with several hundred others as some made their ways around the more career-specific stands.
The various stops included finance, human resources, military recruitment, Amazon web services, Amazon Alexa, Kindle Direct publishing, Amazon delivery, selling on Amazon, Amazon stores, apprenticeship programs, student programs, training and certifications and more. Messy lines formed around certain areas to listen to employees speak about the positions’ requirements and the company’s benefits, while others waited and hoped to offer a resume and make a human connection.
The only problem? The recruiters from the event (many who traveled from the company’s headquarters in Seattle), weren’t taking resumes. They were there to answer questions and let people know, “Here’s why you might want to work for Amazon.”
“It feels like a lot of this could have been done online,” says Lester Grant, who recently moved back to Arlington and is actively looking for a software engineering position. “They’re not taking resumes, so really I could have just found the job postings myself.”
But when asked what drew him to the company, Grant replied, “I see Amazon as a more career-driven company.”
It was a common theme for others too: The image of solidity from a large company that is the second-largest private employer in the United States (only falling behind Walmart), with over 566,000 employees.
“It’s the stability,” Julian Edwards, a resident of Prince George County, Maryland, said, after asked why he wanted to get his foot in the door at the multi-billion-dollar company. “It seems like they just keep growing.”
And the company is, according to Ardine Williams, the vice president of Workforce Development. The company currently has around 30,000 job openings across the country, from software engineers to delivery-truck drivers, and all are guaranteed part-time or full-time work with highly competitive benefits, which is why Arlington was one of several Amazon Career Days, also being held in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Nashville and Seattle.
In the DMV, Williams says, there are about 1,500 current job openings and an estimated 150 to 200 for HQ2, and the company is on track to hire 400 by the end of the year in the Northern Virginia area.
But if this event wasn’t meant to find strong candidates for those roles, what exactly was it for?
“This event gives people the opportunity to learn about Amazon, find out specific job titles and roles (along with the responsibilities), and then once they have those conversations, they can go outside and click to apply,” says Williams. “The candidate’s experience is very important, and you can’t have a thoughtful conversation in this environment. It’s just not practical.”
With the loud, upbeat music, to the whirl of the air conditioners and long wait times, it surely didn’t seem like the ideal environment to get to know someone, let alone offer them a job. But, after my two-and-a half-hour stint inside, one thing seemed very clear: It was just enough to let the job-seeking community get to know Amazon.
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