Job picture looks bright as seasonal hiring season kicks into high gear

AP / Sue Ogrocki

Toy department manager Gayla Harris stocks shelves for Black Friday sales at a Wal-Mart store in Oklahoma City. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it plans to hire 60,000 temporary holiday workers for the crucial holiday season in 2014, an increase of nearly 10 percent from last year.

The holiday hiring forecast is looking bright, and those on the hunt for seasonal work should find more options and perhaps even higher wages than in previous years.

Thanks to improvements in the economy, hiring for the last quarter of 2014 is trending up with several national retailers and shipping companies already announcing they will hire more workers than in years past.

Several economic indicators point to a strong holiday shopping and hiring season. The unemployment rate dipped below 6 percent in September, meaning more competition for workers and increased wages. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 27 percent of businesses hiring seasonal workers plan to increase wages over last year and 61 percent will keep the same wage.

“I’m very optimistic about the job market in general,” said Damian Garcia, metro market manager for Las Vegas for the staffing agency Robert Half. “This year, there has been consistent growth in seasonal, temporary and long-term employment in all the industries we serve.”

The National Retail Federation predicts sales in November and December will increase 4.1 percent compared with those two months in 2013, to $616.9 billion. This year, retailers are expected to hire more than 800,000 seasonal employees nationwide, according to consulting and outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

This year, 43 percent of retailers said they would hire seasonal workers, compared to 39 percent in 2013, according to a CareerBuilder survey.

Holiday retail hiring bottomed out at 325,000 right after the recession hit in 2008, but has rebounded steadily since then with 786,000 positions last year. This year, Challenger predicts, could be the first since 1999 when more than 800,000 holiday retail jobs were filled.

Toys R Us, for example, announced recently it would hire 45,000 seasonal employees, doubling the company’s existing workforce. Macy’s plans to hire 86,000 for its call centers, stores and warehouses, up from 83,000 in 2013.

Although retail is the common place to look for seasonal work, all businesses tied to shopping and customer service need extra help. In fact, as more commerce moves online, fewer holiday jobs will be at brick-and-mortar retailers and more will be found in warehouses helping to fill orders.

Click to enlarge photo

Katherine Braun sorts packages toward the right shipping area at an Amazon.com fulfillment center in Goodyear, Ariz. Amazon.com said Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, it is hiring 70,000 full-time seasonal workers around the U.S. to fill orders during the holiday season.

“Job seekers hoping to take advantage of seasonal hiring should be prepared to look beyond the traditional retail store fronts,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Some of the best opportunities could be in the backroom, handling incoming and outgoing shipments. Job seekers should also look for positions at warehouses and shipping facilities associated with retailers and/or transportation companies.”

UPS is planning on hiring 95,000 workers for the upcoming season. FedEx has announced it plans to hire 50,000 seasonal workers nationwide, up from 20,000 during the 2012 holiday period.

Delivery drivers need a commercial driving license, and shipping companies typically have a roster of extra drivers to call upon. But positions filling orders, such as labeling and packing boxes, do not have a high bar to entry, said CareerBuilder senior career adviser Ryan Hunt.

“Customer service is the big skill to emphasize with employers,” Hunt said. “Highlight your interpersonal skills, because you need to be able to work with people during a stressful time of year. Also, anything related to management experience will help, as well as a history working in stocking or shipping.”

Offices also need extra help at the end of the year, Garcia said. Companies need administrative help to enter data for open enrollment periods for benefits plans and to cover for full-time staff on vacation.

Click to enlarge photo

A United Parcel Service driver unloads packages from a truck and arranges them for delivery in New York.

“Some of the big things are Santas and Santa’s helpers,” said Sheila Marcello, director of marketing and client engagement for Millenium Staffing Solutions in Las Vegas. “Also a lot of people don’t think about how many banquets, parties and other events there are. There is a lot of work for bartenders, barbacks, servers, security and hosts.”

According to CareerBuilder, about 40 percent of companies plan to hire permanent employees out of the seasonal hires.

“I’ve been doing staffing for 14 years, and a lot of careers start in a seasonal capacity,” Garcia said.

Hiring for the holidays ramps up in October, but there is still time to grab a position. Here are tips from the experts on how to land the job you want.

• Be flexible: The holiday rush is all about extended and odd hours. Many managers will dismiss applicants who say they can’t work the weekends, holidays and long hours common during the last quarter of the year.

• Look beyond retail: The retailers get a lot of the attention, but holiday hiring extends to basically everyone involved in customer service and fulfilling orders. Companies need people to pack boxes, stock shelves and answer phones. In Las Vegas, it's the season for conventions as well as parties and banquets.

• Get started now: Companies want to have their extra staff in place at least by mid-November. Managers don’t want to deal with hiring in December and do not have the time for training once the shopping season picks up, so they avoid turnover after a certain point.

• Be prepared: Treat the process like you would for a full-time job. Research the company and its needs. Managers will gravitate to applicants who can match their skills to the company’s openings and will need less training. Also, dress professionally and do not be afraid to follow up. During the holiday crunch, managers are overwhelmed and the extra effort can set you apart.

• It’s not always seasonal: A lot of companies will keep a fraction of the holiday hires on as permanent employees after the new year. If you are looking for steady work, treat the holiday opportunity as an audition for a permanent position.