First, a quick review of the who, what and where of this tradition.
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 under-employed workers adding a second or third job to their schedules.
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 work. Product discounts can also 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 itself 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 work day (i.e., not dinner time for restaurant managers). Ask if they anticipate hiring and say that you will check back to touch base. Then maintain 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. Holidays jobs typically feature low pay and awkward hours – you don't need a long or difficult commute to boot. 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. Smaller organizations have no need for these techniques, but larger retailers have been known to “cattle-call” 30 or 40 applicants to the same room and cull the herd through many rounds of paperwork and interviews.
Group interviews, another technique used by larger employers, can also feel unsettling. Answering questions and ad-libbing product demonstrations in front of competing job seekers isn't a highlight for very many people. Remember that the other candidates are likely unhappy with this process too. There's no reason to imagine you're doing worse than anyone else.
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 – or to the break room, off the clock – because business is slow.
5. Regard product discounts with caution.
6. Try to have fun.