How to Keep Your Seasonal Job


NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Every year, the holiday season brings a different kind of gift to thousands of Americans: jobs. With millions of shoppers hitting the malls and department stores, the retail industry hires seasonal workers en masse to keep up with the crowds. Last year, despite continuing unemployment and economic uncertainty, the industry added more than 450,000 workers to the payrolls, according to the National Retail Federation.

For the most part, though, seasonal workers are just that—seasonal. With Christmas behind us, retailers have already begun laying off holiday help to trim their budgets. And while many of these temporary hires were simply content to pick up a little part-time work to help pay for presents, others will find themselves back on the unemployment line, trying to make ends meet.

Not every seasonal worker gets a handshake and a pink slip, however. A select few are asked to stay on permanently, having sufficiently impressed their boss in the two months they’ve spent on the job. We spoke to employment experts and retail veterans to find out what workers can do to make the most of their seasonal job.

Have the Right Attitude

Almost every expert or employer we spoke to agreed that having the right attitude toward the work was crucial. While that’s true of any profession, the people-oriented world of retail makes attitude and disposition particularly important – especially if you’re seeking work as a sales associate or customer service representative.

“A lot is based on personality – can you get out there and meet and greet the public?” says Beth Feingold, executive director of Under One Roof, a nonprofit gift shop based in San Francisco. A veteran of the retail industry who’s worked everywhere from Saks Fifth Avenue to I. Magnin, Feingold says she looks for “someone who can engage with customers and ‘get it’ about what drives the business.”

A recent survey of employers by the job site CareerBuilder likewise found an emphasis on customer service. When asked what attributes make them more likely to hire a seasonal employee for a full-time position, 31% said they sought someone who could “provide great customer service by offering help instead of waiting to be asked for it.”

Attitude is important even for those who aren’t on the front lines interacting with customers.

“In retail in particular, many managers are young and don’t have a lot of experience, so the last thing they want to do is deal with whiny people who aren’t customers,” says Roberta Matuson, a human resources consultant and the author of Suddenly in Charge. Having once worked a seasonal retail job while in college, she’s seen firsthand how seasonal employees can take themselves out of the running through unprofessional behavior. “It’s a lot like Santa – [managers] are checking their list and seeing who’s naughty and good, and there are a lot of naughty people showing up late and missing shifts.”

The prevalence of “naughty” people in these temporary retail jobs can definitely work to your advantage, as a little extra effort can distinguish you from the young and inexperienced people who are just there for a little extra spending money. “Make a solid first impression as a can-do, enthusiastic, resourceful employee,” advises Alexandra Levit, a career expert and author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College.

Show Your Interest

It may seem obvious, but seasonal workers hoping to become permanent, full-time employees need to make their intentions clear. Many who sign up for seasonal work are simply looking to make a little money on the side – or get an employee discount for gift-buying – so it’s important to tell your manager you’re more career-minded.

“I think the first thing you need to do is let your employer know that you’re interested in a regular position,” says Matuson, who once managed to parlay her holiday job at a toy store into a permanent, full-time position. The employers surveyed by CareerBuilder confirm this: 28% said that seasonal employees should tell their manager upfront that they’re looking for full-time employment. 

Charles Purdy, the senior editor of Monster+HotJobs, offers similar advice based on personal experience. Having once worked a holiday retail job in a department store, he was let go after Christmas, despite his desire to stay on board. “I would have made it clearer and talked to people about my desire to be kept on,” he says, looking back. He also advises workers to cast a wide net by speaking to managers other than their own. “I didn’t go out of my way to talk to people in other departments [like] store security or the stock room. I should have let everyone know that I was interested in what they did.”

Go Above and Beyond

With half a million seasonal employees coming on board for November and December, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. That’s especially true at big department stores. Macy’s, for instance, announced in the fall that it planned to hire 65,000 sales associates for the holiday season. If you’re one of dozens of new employees hired for Christmas, you may be lucky if your manager can even remember your name.

“Ask for additional responsibility,” says Jennifer Grasz, a CareerBuilder spokesperson who helped conduct the employer survey. “Show that you’re self motivated, want to take on new challenges, and are eager to learn.”

If numerous people are vying for a single position, it couldn’t hurt to show that you can thrive in another capacity. “The people that get kept are those that can do more than one thing,” says Matuson, who wound up gravitating toward customer service. “You’ll be much more valuable than somebody just on the sales floor.”

Look Toward the Future

Following these tips can certainly improve your chances of getting hired full-time, but the truth is that those chances aren’t high to begin with. While companies typically won’t release information on what percentage of seasonal employees are retained, Levit estimates an average of one out of four seasonal workers gets hired permanently. Matuson puts the number closer to one in 10 at some retailers. With employers still wary of hiring, your chances could be even worse.

“At this time of the year I’d be advising people that the full-time job may not be an immediate, direct result of their seasonal job,” says Purdy. “The reality may be that there aren’t any jobs right now, though they might arise in three to six months.”

But don’t give up. Even if you won’t get invited to stay, you can still take the opportunity to network in the time you have.

“Now that you’ve made your impression, add the HR people, your manager, and your coworkers to your professional network,” says Purdy, advising the use of social networking tools like LinkedIn to keep in touch. He also notes that having contacts in the Human Resources department can provide an avenue to jobs beyond the store, in such areas as finance, marketing and inside sales departments.

With Christmas behind us, you’ll know in the next few days whether you’ll be asked to stay on – if you don’t already know. Use this time to make as many contacts as possible, and don’t be shy about requesting informational interviews with managers in other departments that interest you.

“Most people are flattered and would like to talk about themselves,” says Purdy. “You have access to all these people at the company, so meet them.”

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