ARLINGTON, Virginia — Job seekers came in droves to Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday, clutching portfolios and wiping sweat from their brows in the muggy heat. Some dressed in sharp suits and others in basic jeans and T-shirts, but regardless of ensemble they all had one goal in mind: scoring a gig at Amazon.
More than 5,000 people waited in lengthy lines to participate in Amazon's much-anticipated Career Day, an event held concurrently in six US cities as part of the e-commerce giant's effort to fill 30,000 open positions. Even after Amazon extended the hours to accommodate for overwhelming interest, most people waited in line for an hour to get inside the tent, strategically positioned in close proximity to the forthcoming location of Amazon's second headquarters, or HQ2.
"We've been humbled by the response," Ardine Williams, Amazon's vice president of workforce development, told Business Insider. "I think it's far exceeded my expectations. Clearly this is what I was hoping for."
However, it was clear early on that Amazon hadn't quite planned accordingly for such a high turnout. Once in the tent, people were crammed together and mobility was limited.
"For our next one, it would be great to figure out how to make it easier for people to move around to see different parts of the business that are here," Williams said.
Navigating a 'haphazard,' overcrowded event
While waiting to have her resume reviewed, line-goer Stephanie Anim-Yankah described the event as "super disorganized" and "haphazard." Though she was ultimately able to make some valuable contacts, she found the layout of the event disorienting.
"I'm sure they have really good intentions and I'm sure they're going to learn from this, but a little bit more planning and just allowing people to know the best places and booths to get to would alleviate the longer lines," she said.
Several others made comments about the choice of a small, open-air tent as the venue rather than a traditional convention center or hotel, which are both in ample supply in the Washington, DC, area.
"The tent is weird," Jessica Bolger, a Washington, DC, resident who works in policy, told Business Insider. "Amazon is one of the wealthiest companies in the world. It's pretty strange they didn't rent out a space."
Others experienced difficulties the night before, after discovering that Amazon had closed registration due to reaching capacity. Still, that didn't stop D. Smith — who requested that her full name not be shared in order to protect her privacy — from attending in search of sales and marketing jobs for herself, while scouting for her son who is currently studying computer engineering.
"I'm not an iCloud or IT person so the whole e-commerce thing is really new to me," she said. "I think there's a bit of a generation divide — I'm a 50-something woman who figured, let's see what's going on."
'I want to start my career'
However, despite the difficulties, the crowd was largely sanguine and excitable, and many expressed genuine enthusiasm about learning about their job prospects. Sheela Thanagaraj — a self-proclaimed homemaker who has been studying computer engineering in hopes of securing her first job — said she was excited for the opportunity to learn more about entry-level jobs.
"I want to start my career and Amazon feels like the place to do that," she said.
Suebin Jin was among the cheery attendees in line. He drove 30 minutes to Arlington with his friend, fellow line-goer Reyner Arelies Rodriguez, and though he said he's unsure what his "dream job" would be, he's grateful for the opportunity to look into careers that would allow him to finance his life while also helping his family.
"I got a degree in art at Virginia Tech, so I'm hoping to get something in graphic design, but honestly at this point I'm just hoping I can help my parents at the house to pay some bills like the car and things like that," he said. "Honestly any job will do for me, I gotta admit."
Joe T. — who also requested that his full name not be used — seemed nonplussed by the line. He came during his lunch break out of sheer curiosity and less so for the job prospects, and even though he donned a heavy suit and carried a large stack of newspapers he was generally unbothered by the chaos.
"The days of going to this type of big job fair are less and less," he said. "I'm old school, so I like this type of thing."
HQ2 protesters make a statement
However, not everything in the line was copacetic. Members of an anti-Amazon group passed out flyers to line-goers, calling out Amazon for its role in issues like community displacement and its alleged ties to ICE.
Danny Cendejes, a member of the group For Us Not Amazon, said that the flyers were intended to educate the crowds about Amazon's practices, particularly as they continue to set up headquarters in Arlington.
"If people are going to be employed by a company like this, they should know what they really are," he said.