Retailers who are typically big seasonal employers are suffering through a prolonged slump in consumer spending that's forced many to cut back staffing. Other employers such as the United States Postal Service have implemented hiring freezes. So, while these companies are employing temporary help, they don't expect to make many permanent offers.
Still, personnel consultants and company executives say there are plenty of opportunities for hard-working seasonal employees to stay on even after the new year. Shipping giant UPS Inc., for one, says it could eventually hire thousands of workers who make it through the frenetic holiday season.
The first step in nabbing a job: Make it clear that you're interested in the company, and looking for a permanent role. Most seasonal workers never get a chance at other jobs because they simply never ask, said Jeff Joerres, the CEO of staffing company Manpower.
But be tactful, and don't pester management.
"Make yourself available for additional opportunities," he said. "But don't over extend yourself."
More tips for making the transition from temporary help to full-time employee:
REMEMBER THE BASICS
Even when a job is short-term, employees need to behave as they would in a full-time, permanent position. So, arrive on time, follow your schedule and don't request time off work unless it's absolutely necessary.
Seasonal workers do to tend to get the less desirable shifts, such as late nights and weekends. But to make a good impression, just smile and keep working hard.
"In a temporary employee, that's the No. 1 thing employers look for: reliability and dependability," said Craig Rowley, vice president of the global retail sector for the Hay Group, a consulting firm.
Along with that, show that you're willing to be flexible. If managers ask you to work longer, do it. Likewise, if they need someone to pick up an extra shift, be the first to volunteer.
Small gestures can go a long way in winning over employers, Joerres said.
"There's an amazing amount of people who show up for work and want to collect a paycheck and don't show that they want anything more than that," he said. "And I think that disappoints employers."
AUDITIONING FOR A JOB
A seasonal job, like an internship or temporary gig, is truly a multi-week job interview.
Supervisors watch to see how well employees fit with the company, and they quickly judge how easily workers pick up on new tasks.
That's because many companies treat seasonal positions as "auditions to find some of their best people," said John A. Challenger, chief executive of consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
To stand out, look for ways to "wow" customers and demonstrate a mastery of the business.
At the high-end kitchen retailer Sur La Table, CEO Jack Schwefel says the best seasonal workers are the ones who are able to interact with customers on a personal basis while also explaining the key differences between products, such as a copper-bottomed pot versus a steel one.
Sur La Table will hire about 2,000 seasonal workers this year to work in its stores and distribution warehouses, essentially doubling the size of the company's work force. Schwefel said up to 20 percent of those seasonal workers could eventually be offered either permanent part-time or full-time jobs.
REALIZE: OPPORTUNITIES DO EXIST
In fact, companies across a variety of industries say they're still interested in hiring their temporary workers, even amid the recession.
UPS plans to hire about 50,000 seasonal workers this year. Some of those employees will work in the company's hubs, loading and unloading trucks, while others will be on the road with drivers going door-to-door to deliver packages.
The jobs can be exhausting, given that the holidays represent the company's busiest time of the year.
But spokeswoman Karen Cole said employees who make it through peak season could be in a prime position to land a permanent job, initially on a part-time basis. The company hopes to hire about 20 percent to 30 percent of its temporary work force this year.
At the staffing firm Manpower, the company hires about 10,000 seasonal employees to work for distribution centers, credit card processing facilities and other companies during the holidays. About 40 percent of those workers could eventually snag a permanent job, Joerres said.
That's certainly good news for people like Steve Brannigan.
The 46-year-old was laid off from his job as a manufacturing engineer in the auto industry near Detroit about two years ago. He worked a couple of odd jobs, but couldn't find another full-time position.
So, he recently moved to Portland, Ore. to be closer to relatives, and is now working two seasonal jobs: one at an ice skating rink, and another in the bakery department of a Costco store.
He's hoping one of them will lead to a permanent position.
"I hope to find a job out here," he said, and "hopefully, a career."