Mistletoe and making dough: Wear the right shirt and attitude for holiday job

This post was updated on Nov. 7, 2011

Zingerman’s Mail Order brings in about 300 temporary workers to send out sugarplums from Portugal and brownie bites from its Bakehouse. Toys R Us will hire some 40,000 temporary workers for its stores and distribution centers, and United Parcel Service and FedEx together could add 75,000 drivers, helpers and others.

‘Tis the season to work in retail, and it’s already Christmas time in the malls and Main Streets of America.

Almost 30 percent of retailers will add to their staffs for the busy holiday period and so will 10 percent of hospitality companies, about the same as last year, according to a new CareerBuilder survey of 2,600 employers.

That’s about 480,000 to 500,000 seasonal jobs, according to an estimate by the National Retail Federation, or maybe 627,000 positions based on a Challenger Gray Christmas estimate for this year.

While many of those jobs have already been claimed, one-third of the employers say they’re still adding staff this month and 10 percent will still be hiring in December, according to CareerBuilder.   November is the big month for hiring, according to Challenger Gray, which recommends going to the store and starting an in-person conversation with a manager.

So start now if you want a holiday job this year, but don’t go anyplace on a Saturday because most retailers and restaurants are too busy handling paying customers to consider potential candidates. Go on a weekday afternoon or another slow time.

Here’s three more  tips on landing a seasonal job:

  1.  It’s who you know and what you know.  Start your search at a store where you know someone or something, Challenger Gray suggests. “You should also target establishments of which you are a frequent customer,” CEO John Challenger said. If you are very familiar with the merchant, the store and the merchandise, show that clearly – by wearing their sweaters or shoes to the interview or commenting on their new line of hair care. If a friend works at the location 15 miles away, ask her to email or call the general manager the day before your interview and sing your praises.
  2.  Show success and customer-service savvy.  This may come from volunteering at a dance marathon or PTA fundraiser. It may appear in your leadership role in a student organization or working in your aunt’s shop on busy weeks.  But make sure it shows up in your application, even if the work was unpaid. Demonstrate your customer-focus mindset in the way you treat people before and after the interview, and if you see a row of books that needs straightening up or a person who needs assistance, jump in and do it.
  3.  Weekends and midnights – perfect! You must be available almost every weekend through New Year’s and some strange shifts that start or end at 1 or 4 a.m. If possible, be upbeat and enthusiastic about the chance to sell truffles or Teddy Bears at 6 a.m. every Saturday. Attitude matters – and so does availibility. People who are unwilling to work certain hours was the biggest turnoff to hiring managers in the CareerBuilder survey.

If you apply online as many retailers require, stop in at the store about three or  four days later. This helps you stand out from the crowd of candidates and allows you to show positive attitude and company attire.  “Have a three-sentence elevator pitch on why you’ll be a great employee ready,” said Shawn Boyer, CEO of SnagAJob.com. Then be prepared for a hello and a handshake or an impromptu interview.

MORE IDEAS / INFORMATION:

Home for the holidays? Here’s my WorkingKind post on making connections while you make merry.

Five tips for getting started on temping -in my Glassdoor piece.

 Fortune.com contributor Anne Fisher has advice on holiday hiring – and turning it into a permanent job.

If your company is sinking and you are starting to plan for your future, read my blog post first written for Borders Books staffers.

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