Slowing recovery threatens holiday hiring

The latest bumps on the economy’s road to recovery could not have come at a worse time for holiday job seekers.  While retailers are still holding out hope for decent holiday sales, the slowdown is likely to dampen expectations and reduce demand for extra seasonal workers.  As a result, seasonal job gains in the retail sector will be about the same or possibly lower than a year ago, when employment grew by 627,600 from October through December.

The retail environment has improved significantly since 2008, when the recession was at its worst.  However, retailers are seeing several signs that consumer spending is dipping just as they are beginning to make decisions about how many workers to add for the upcoming holidays.  This does not bode well for job seekers.Of course, this should discourage holiday job seekers from conducting a search.  And, it is still not too late to start.  Even if seasonal hiring is flat, we are still talking about an extra 620,000 being added to retail payrolls over the last three months of the year.

There is constant churn in the retail industry.  It has some of the highest turnover rates of any industry.  You may walk into a store one day and they are not hiring.  Walk in the next day and they may have had an employee quit and plan to replace him.

The best opportunities for seasonal job seekers will be at the large discounters like Target and Wal-Mart, which will be heavily favored by cost-conscious consumers this holiday season.  However, job seekers may have to look beyond the sales clerk positions for available spots.

The big box stores need extra workers on the floor, but they also need extra workers in their shipping facilities and overnight stocking positions.  Opportunities also exist outside of retail, in areas like catering and with shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx.

When job seeking in retail or any other sector, it is important to remember some key interview guidelines: dress appropriately, be on time, show enthusiasm and follow up.  According to one hiring manager, the biggest mistake job applicants make when seeking a holiday position is “demanding a specific schedule from prospective employers.”

Temporary workers must be prepared to be flexible, whether it is hours or type of work.  Either can vary as the holiday season progresses.

Holiday job seekers should start their search by contacting friends already working in establishments that could need holiday workers.  You should also target establishments of which you are a frequent customer.  If there are certain retail outlets where you would prefer to work, start going there when business is slow and try to make a connection with a manager or assistant manager.

Following is some additional holiday job search advice, including where to search and job search dos and don’ts.


Retail: Only a portion of the retail jobs available are at the cash register or on the sales floor. There are a wide array of opportunities in back-office positions, including shipping, receiving, warehousing, accounting, information technology and security.  There are also countless job opportunities in areas related to the support of retail, such as transportation, marketing, consumer product manufacturing, etc.

Shipping: As consumers boost spending, major shippers such as UPS and FedEx typically bulk up their processing and delivery staff, but job seekers can also look to shipping offices.

Catering: The holiday season is a heavy period for corporate and private events, even in a down economy, and caterers will need to increase serving and food prepping staff.

Restaurants: As consumers hit the streets for holiday shopping or families plan pre-holiday get-togethers, restaurants will need attendants, cooks, bartenders and serving staff.

Entertainment Venues: Movie theaters will see heavier traffic among young people on winter break, but job seekers can also look for holiday positions at performing arts theaters, as well, since many of these venues host multiple holiday-oriented events, such as Christmas concerts and performances of the Nutcracker.



Start now: It is not too late to secure a position for the holidays, but don’t delay further.  Begin by determining what types of retailers are suited to your experience and skills.  If you are an avid golfer, that could be of help in securing a job in a sporting goods store or with a golf merchandiser.

Become a fill-in:  Some retailers put many of their full-time back-office people on the sales floor during the holiday season.  That means temporary help will be needed to ensure that back-office work continues.  You can also get a foot in the door by offering to start working now as an on-call fill-in for vacationing staffers.

Befriend store manager, staff: Retailers may not make any holiday hiring decisions until late October.  However, you can get a head start by frequently visiting the stores where you might like to work.  Befriend employees, particularly the managers.  Your enthusiasm about shopping there will pay off later when you mention that you are looking for holiday work.  Let it be known you and your family like to shop there.  That could help secure a position.

Offer to be a floater: Chain stores with several locations in your area may be interested in using you as a substitute for employees who call in sick or are on vacation. Let the hiring manager know up front that you are willing to be wherever the store needs you on any given day.

 Promote computer skills: More and more stores are changing from traditional cash registers to computer-based systems that allow stores to manage inventory more efficiently.  Being comfortable and skilled in computer use should be a major selling point when applying for a position.

Dress for success:  Even though employees may not dress up for their jobs, it is always a good idea to wear your nicest clothes to interviews.  If you own a suit, wear it.  It will make you stand out among all the applicants who come to interview in jeans and T-shirts.

Be available to work after the holidays:  While stores need extra help during busy seasons, many would still prefer to hire someone who plans to stay longer.  The cost of hiring and training someone who will be there only for a few months is costly.  So, by letting the employer know that you would like to remain after the holiday season, you are sending a message that you are committed and not just there for the discounts.



Not Dressing Appropriately.  You do not have to wear a business suit.  However, you do not want to show up in torn, baggy jeans and an oversized basketball jersey.  If you are a retiree, make sure you wear updated styles.

Arriving Late to the Interview.  In a competitive market, late arrival immediately eliminates you from the interview process.  Particularly in retail, where adhering to one’s scheduled hours is paramount, arriving late to an interview tells the employer that you will be unreliable.

Requesting a Certain Schedule.  Asking to work a certain set of hours during the interview is a big no-no.  As a part-time seasonal worker, you will be the lowest person on the totem pole and have the least leverage when it comes to requesting a special schedule.

Asking About Money During Interview.  Let the employer bring up money.  The only thing you should be focused on during the interview is providing information that proves you will be a good addition to the staff.

Not Mentioning Relevant Experience.  As a teen, stay-at-home mother or a retired CPA, you may think that you do not have any experience worth mentioning in an interview.  Chances are good that you do.  Whether it was organizing a pep rally at school or running the church bake sale, you want to mention all experience that will tell the employer that you are capable, responsible and able to organize and prioritize.


About CGC Coaches

The latest workplace news/trends/issues from global outplacement and business coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
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