Summer Firsts: Finding Jobs, Finding Love

Wilson family photo in front of the same restaurant they worked at 25 years ago

Inside Chick-fil-A

The summer months are always filled with firsts – first day in the park, first cannonball into the pool and first picnics in the warm weather. For teenagers it often means the first foray into the “real world”: the first summer job.

More than 5 million teens get summer jobs each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and most of them – nearly a third – work in “accommodation and food services” – restaurants, hotels and the like. Teens are a workforce that, for three months of summer, drive the service industry.

Whether they’re saving up for school, to buy their first car or just to have some extra spending money, for some teens, a summer job can be much more than a way to fill the gap between the school calendar; it can be a jumpstart to a new skillset, a new career or – in some cases – even a new family.

A Family Tradition

For one such family in suburban Atlanta, the site of summer employment has been a family tradition spanning more than 25 years, centered around one special restaurant.

“I’ll be the sixth person to work at Chick-fil-A in my family,” says Emma Kate Wilson. “It’s pretty crazy.”

From Left: Craig Wilson, Dana Wilson, Emma Kate Wilson, Ralph Stephens. Emma Kate poses with
her family and restaurant owner Craig Wilson – the same restaurant her parents worked at more
than 25 years earlier.

 

Emma Kate, who will enter her senior year of high school this August, will work at the same Kennesaw Chick-fil-A restaurant as her parents did 26 years ago. And that’s not all; the family list of Chick-fil-A employees includes her mother’s sister and her father’s two younger brothers.

Craig and Jana Wilson pose for a pre-date photo. Craig and Jana met while working summer jobs at Chick-fil-A.

 “I started working at Chick-fil-A in 1989,” says Emma Kate’s mother, Jana Wilson. “I was 15 years old and needed some spending money and also wanted to save up for a car. My sister also worked there and always said they were great with schedules, so I applied, and it turned into my first summer job.”

But Jana’s first job turned out to be more than just a way to make extra summer money – it’s where she met her future husband.

“I had just gotten promoted to team leader,” says Jana’s husband, Craig Wilson. “So I was in charge of scheduling, and Jana was a really great worker. But I’m not going to lie… I basically let her do whatever she wanted to do,” he jokes. “It basically just bloomed from a really great friendship.”

Jana and Craig at Jana’s high school graduation.
Jana and Craig at Jana's high school graduation

 

Like many teens today, Craig was, at the time, looking for a summer job right out of high school before heading to college. He worked throughout college and even received theLeadership Scholarship, which helped pay his tuition.

Inside the First Interview

Ralph Stephens, the local owner of the Chick-fil-A at Barrett Parkway, has employed more than just Craig, Jana and now Emma Kate – over the span of 34-year Chick-fil-A career, he’s given countless teens their first summer jobs. And at a restaurant company known for service and hospitality, hiring is a serious business.

“When I’m thinking of bringing on a new employee, I like to ask myself three questions,” says Stephens. “First, would we be a better team by hiring this person? Second, would I want that person to serve our CEO, Dan Cathy? And third, would I let that person babysit my children?”

What else can help land a first job at Chick-fil-A? To David Langston, the owner of the Chick-fil-A Triangle Town Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, it’s a positive first impression.

“We look for people who have a desire to grow, an engaging personality and a naturally enthusiastic spirit,” Langston said, adding, “Dressing in a professional matter shows that you really care about the position and are truly interested.”

A teen looking for his first job at Langston’s Chick-fil-A made national news when he went to Target in search of a clip-on tie to wear to his interview. Target employees not only helped him find the perfect tie (a real tie—not a clip-on), but also gave him helpful tips for the interview. That applicant, Yasir Moore, got the job and credits his new friends at Target for giving him the confidence he needed. “They’re like family to me now,” he said. “They helped me so much with the job.”

“When I’m thinking of bringing on a new employee, I like to ask myself three questions. First, would we be a better team by hiring this person? Second, would I want that person to serve our CEO, Dan Cathy? And third, would I let that person babysit my children?”– Ralph Stephens

Making it “My Pleasure”

Equally as important as finding the right applicant for the position is making sure the employer is a good fit for the teen. For Craig Wilson, that was one of the most important factors in his daughter’s first job search.

“It makes me feel comfortable knowing the people she’s working for are good people,” says Craig of Emma Kate’s boss.

So 26 years and countless chicken sandwiches later, Emma Kate Wilson continues her family’s tradition by landing her own summer job at Chick-fil-A and adding a simple phrase to her vocabulary that her parents did so many years before: “It’s my pleasure.”

The Wilsons with Ralph Stephens. Stephens has hired all six Wilson family members.
The Wilsons with Ralph Stephens. Stephens has hired all six Wilson family members.

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