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Posted: October 30, 2012

Holiday job search primer

By Amy Lindgren

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

The holidays are just around the corner, and that means holiday job search is upon us. Indeed, some companies have been hiring for several weeks already.

Whether you’re new to the holiday work game or a veteran of this process, the following primer should provide some helpful tips.

First, here’s a quick review of the basics.

What: Holiday jobs are generally defined as temporary shift work conducted between October and January each year. The jobs can vary from relatively unskilled (stocking shelves) to positions requiring higher-level abilities (supervising call center staff).

Where: Any business that experiences a surge in customer demand during this period is a likely prospect. That would include most retailers and restaurants as well as caterers, delivery services, airports and other transportation hubs, grocery stores, mail-order call centers, distribution centers, etc.

Who: Traditionally, holiday workers have included homemakers and students on winter break. Recent years have seen an increase in other applicant pools: retirees, unemployed workers of all types, and underemployed workers adding a second or third job.

Why: Quick cash compels most people into the holiday work pool, although some are building experience or trying to get a foot in the door for ongoing employment. Product discounts also can lure people to certain employers.

How: Large retailers and big-box operations have nearly all adopted a kiosk/online process for their hiring — although some also rely on staffing agencies. If these employers populate your dream list, start submitting your electronic applications right away. You’ll likely face some competition from other job seekers, and the process might go slowly.

To gain more control over the timing and process, consider adding smaller companies to your target list — or focus on them exclusively. To reach these employers, create a short, straightforward resume highlighting your relevant skills, such as customer service, retail sales, etc. Then hand the resumes directly to department managers during the least busy period of their workday (i.e., not dinnertime for restaurant managers). Ask if they anticipate hiring and say that you will check back to touch base. Then maintain your follow-up with each manager until someone brings you on board.

Now that you’ve had the short course on holiday job search, let me add some advanced tips for your consideration.

1. Choose employers according to the commute. The easier it is to get there, the more shifts you can accept and the more cash you’ll actually net.

2. Do the math to be sure the job is worthwhile. If you have no other income, or need the experience, then you will see the math differently. Just to be sure, multiply your anticipated hours against the expected wage and deduct costs for taxes, day care, uniforms and commuting.

3. Don’t be surprised by large group hiring processes. Larger retailers have been known to “cattle call” 30 or 40 applicants to the same room and cull the herd through successive rounds of paperwork and interviews.

4. When reviewing an offer, ask about “shift integrity.” That’s a term I made up, but I use it to indicate the difference between being promised shifts and actually getting them. It’s very frustrating to expect 20 hours of work for the week but get scheduled for only 15. Worse yet is to arrive for a shift but get sent home because business is slow.

5. Regard product discounts with caution. If your holiday employer offers discounts for things you would have purchased anyway, that’s a terrific perk. But taking home all the stale doughnuts each night? Maybe that doesn’t compensate as well for a lower wage.

6. Try to have fun.

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