Retail stores added 618,000 workers to handle the 2007 holiday rush, according to the National Retail Federation, but seasonal employment this year might be harder to come by. The U.S. retail sector shed almost 20,000 jobs in August - the ninth consecutive month of job losses - as businesses continue to struggle against the downturn in consumer spending and the increase in fuel costs.
According to an estimate by Manpower Inc., the number of holiday jobs available this year may reach a low not seen since 1991. In fact, about 52 percent of retailers surveyed said they plan no seasonal hiring.
Many Americans count on seasonal jobs to offset holiday spending and provide relief for January credit card bills. People planning on seasonal jobs this year should start now, and plan on being flexible in the work they're willing to do and the hours they're willing to work - this will be one of the tightest seasonal job markets the U.S. has seen in more than a decade.
The BBB offers the following advice for seasonal job hunters this holiday season:
Start the job search earlier rather than later. Because there will be fewer seasonal jobs available this year, job hunters need to start searching early. Retail, shipping, restaurants and catering companies are common sources of seasonal employment and now is the time for job hunters to determine which job suits them best, identify companies they'd like to work for and begin submitting applications or resumes.
Work where you shop. There are several reasons for job hunters to find seasonal employment with businesses they actually shop at or frequent. For one, the job hunter will already be familiar with the company and its products and, secondly, discounts available for employees mean significant savings when shopping for Christmas gifts. Discounts can range from 20-40 percent for seasonal employees.
Put your best foot forward. Even if they are just picking up an application at stores in the mall, job hunters need to dress their best and be prepared for an interview. This includes being familiar with the company's brand and its products. Retail job hunters in particular need to focus on impressing potential employers with their customer service skills - which is a must when dealing with stressed-out shoppers, long check-out lines and day-after-Christmas returns.
Be flexible. Full-time employees usually have first dibs on preferred hours and shifts. Therefore, seasonal employees will likely find themselves working long, sometimes inconvenient hours and even on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. If the seasonal employee is taking on a second job in addition to their primary job, they will need to be up front and clear it with their new employer on their available hours.
For more trustworthy advice on finding a job and making it through the holidays on a tight budget, go to www.bbb.org.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., serving 41 counties in Central Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area.