Applicants in various states of dress — from suits and ties to jeans and T-shirts — waited patiently, hoping their time and effort would land them one of Harrah’s 500 new positions, most of those as card dealers.
The state and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which owns the casino, reached a deal earlier this year to finally bring table games such as Blackjack and Roulette to Harrah’s gaming options. The casino was previously only allowed to offer video gambling machines and digital versions of Poker and Blackjack.
To prepare for its mid-August addition of table games and an anticipated increase in visitors, the casino plans to go from 2,100 to 2,600 employees this year and is hosting job fairs until they fill all 500 slots.
“We are going into an exciting time at the casino,” said Nelson Lambert, one of the interviewers at the casino.
The casual onlooker might think it’s simple to find that many employees, especially given the state’s 9.4 percent unemployment, but Harrah’s application process is extensive. First, the applicants are shown into a classroom where someone explains exactly what the job entails so applicants realize what they are signing on for.
Next, they are ushered into another room to complete a third-grade level math test. Job hopefuls must score at least an 85 percent and are given one redo if they do not pass the first time.
More waiting follows as groups of about 10 or 12 are directed into a room and asked to sit around three Blackjack tables for an interview. It is far from the typical “Why do you want to work here” or “What would you do if you have a conflict with a co-worker”-type interview, however. It is more of a conversation to see how well applicants will engage with customers — basically how outgoing and pleasant they are.
“We really want to see if you can be interactive,” said Jo Blaylock, vice president of human relations and external communications for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
As one group of job applicants filed into the interview room and took their seats, a panel of three interviewers armed with legal pads and pens studied their body language and general demeanor. A Harrah’s employee began asking them about their lives.
The interviewer asked them where they traveled from — Franklin, Sylva, Maggie Valley — and watched as applicants shuffled cards and dealt a quick hand of Blackjack. The goal of the job, Lambert said, is to keep the customer in good spirits and engaged.
“We want them to be happy even though they are losing,” Lambert said. “Be one step ahead of their needs.”
At the end of the unconventional, 15-minute interview, another Harrah’s hiring officer informed the 11-person group that they had all won that day and were being offered a job on the spot. Each just needed to complete the final steps — filling out the written job application, submitting for a hair off their head for drug test, background checks and completing several required government forms.
While those 11 received the good news that everyone else hoped to hear, still more people crowded outside for their chance.
Greg Hudson, 56, of Franklin, was nonchalant about his one-year unemployment status and the fact that he had already waited more than an hour.
“Had to come to see the opportunities Harrah’s has to offer,” Hudson said. “(Friends) told me how wonderful the benefits are.”
All Harrah’s employees, even part-timers, have access to an on-site fitness room, additional job training and grooming for advancement, and a wellness clinic offering onsite doctor’s visits during the workday, among other perks.
The job fair drew the gamut of job seekers — people who have been looking for new work for years to those wanting summer jobs, including Brandon Rupinski, a 22-year-old college student studying mathematics at Western Carolina University.
“It seemed like a great place to roll the dice and get work,” Rupinski said.
One of the applicants who traveled farthest for a job is 25-year-old Danielle Long from Macon, Ga. Long’s boyfriend lives in Western North Carolina, where Long lived for a year before moving back home.
“I just couldn’t find a job,” said Long, who studied Cherokee history in college. “There is nothing when it comes to history majors in the area.”
Long has applied for a job at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian three times to no avail.
“I’ve applied for so many jobs here (rejection) doesn’t faze me,” she said.
Long said her only concern about applying for a table game position is that Harrah’s will over-hire and then fire any extra employees.
The casino will indeed hire more people than needed, but they also know that a percentage will not make it past the first couple weeks or months.
Harrah’s employee turnover rate this year is 25 percent because of attendance, Blaylock said, adding that the casino has a liberal attendance policy that allows for 10 absences before the person is fired.
“You just have to come and be on time,” Blaylock said.