How to Snag a Seasonal Job

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One holiday season, California resident Jenson Crawford took a seasonal job as a dancing Christmas tree in the Christmas parade at Disneyland. The gig required him to work two parades a day every weekend in November and get an elf-esque haircut.

“I wasn't looking for a job that included green tights as part of the uniform or that was a split shift,” Crawford admits. “But the job paid for my Christmas presents for my friends and family and even provided some extra money to start the new year.”

This year, both unemployed and employed Americans are looking for seasonal work that will help with the holiday bills. The good news is that despite the slow economy, many retailers are hiring.

A survey conducted by consulting firm Hay Group in September found that 83% of retailers planned to hire more or about the same number of workers when compared to the 2009 holiday season, a sentiment that rings true when you look at the number of opportunities advertised by major retail chains.

Best Buy (Stock Quote: BBY), JCPenney (Stock Quote: JCP), Target (Stock Quote: TGT) and Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT), for example have all announced plans to hire the same number of seasonal employees this year as they did last. Macy’s (Stock Quote: M) and Toys ‘R’ Us (Stock Quote: have actually said they will add jobs.

“The number of employees being hired this year is consistent with those hired over the last few years,” says Allison Nawoj, corporate communications director of CareerBuilder.com, who also pointed out that this is not to say the market is not competitive. In fact, Nawoj says, you can expect the competition this year to be stiffer. The Hay Group survey, for example, found that 43% of respondents expect to see more applicants this holiday season than in 2009.

“It’s definitely harder this year to find a seasonal job than it has been in years past,” Nick Jimenez , executive vice president of Climber.com agrees, adding that some of the smaller retailers  who advertise on his jobs site have already started to say that they have enough applicants. “Retail stores are inundated by people looking for work.”

Part of the influx of people looking for temporary jobs is due to the lull that the already flailing full-time job market traditionally experiences during November and December, as companies and corporations hold off on hiring while they make their budgets for the next fiscal year.  

“The job market itself has gotten more competitive over the last 18 to 24 months,” Nawoj says. “It’s a very competitive time of year.”

MainStreet offers the following suggestions to help you get work this holiday season.

Start Early.
As reported, 45% of those planning to hire seasonal employees in the fourth quarter won’t be accepting applications past the month of October. Additionally, those planning to wait until December to apply will have an even harder time, as 80% of businesses said they don’t plan to hire seasonal employees after November.

“If you’re looking for a seasonal job, you need to get started early so you are trained and ready to go before the big holiday rush starts,” Nawoj says.

Show Enthusiasm.

Most seasonal jobs are concentrated in retail, which means customer service positions that require a lot of personality and patience. Showing that you have the chops means showing you are enthusiastic about both the company and the position.

“They want to know you can take care of the customers,” Nawoj says, explaining that a lack of enthusiasm is the top pet peeve of seasonal hiring managers, as indicated by 59% of respondents in a recent CareerBuilder survey.

Look and act the part.

Additionally, 15% of hiring managers were deterred from hiring a candidate who showed up with a competitor’s products, the survey found. This means that if you’re interviewing at the Gap, you shouldn’t show up in an Abercrombie and Fitch ensemble.

Of course, scoring a job often involves more than just wearing the right outfit. The survey found that 30% of hiring managers said they were deterred from hiring a candidate because the candidate had little knowledge of the company or its products.

“You need them to understand that you know their market and you know their clientele,” Jimenez says, suggesting, for example, that those who frequent Best Buy and are familiar with electronics should apply for one of their positions.

Use all available resources.

Using available resources means relying on more than just online job postings. Applicants should consider using social media, looking through classified ads in the newspaper or even pounding the pavement, as many small businesses will simply advertise a job opening by sticking a “Help Wanted” sign in the front window.

“You need to cast a wider net,” Nawoj explains. You also need to network and pursue old connections.

San Diego resident Bonnie Russel, for example, was able to get a job at the Sharper Image because she happened to know the chain’s creator. “I had only one reference, the founder, but as the manager said, "that would be the only one needed,’” she tells MainStreet.

Treat it like a full-time job.

Because, hopefully, it might be. According to Nawoj, CareerBuilder’s survey revealed that two in five employers who are hiring seasonal workers this year said they will likely transition some into full-time, permanent employees, up from 31% in 2009. If you’re interested in getting one of these coveted spots, you need to show the company that you are committed.

“Don’t treat it like a seasonal job. Perform like you are already a full-time employee,” Jimenez says. “You need to take incentive and show that you are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty.”

Stick to the search.

Don’t panic. Those who have missed a store’s hiring window or were denied a position initially may benefit from being persistent.

“Go back with a smile after being turned down, within a reasonable period of time, maybe a week later,” Russell advises. “I promise, someone will be hired and then bomb out. One smiling on-the-spot replacement can just step right in and save them from having to interview all over again.”

Patience and persistence also pays off for many college students who were unable to find work at the beginning of the school year. You can read about their plight in this MainStreet article.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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