Summer 2015
Creative Ways to Hire Seasonal Help

Prepare for the holiday onslaught before crunch time.

Do you face the same old conundrum each year? The profitable holiday season looms, but you’re at loose ends pulling together extra staff to meet the rush. It could be you’re going about it all wrong. There’s lots of competition out there to line up the most reliable people and if there’s ever a time to get creative about ways to find them, this is it.

The process doesn’t stop even after you recruit the folks who are going to help deliver the profits. Following through with new hires is just as essential as finding them. Failure to successfully onboard seasonal employees could result in some dropping out of the race earlier than expected, leading to a less than jolly holiday finish.

It is possible to put together a team to go the distance, however. So suit up—Santa costume optional—and get ready to tackle the problem head-on courtesy of some timely advice from experts in the field.

Early bird gets the worm

This idea isn’t even that creative. You can’t wake up on November 1 and expect to have a vast pool of applicants left from which to choose. Savvy retailers started banging the gong for holiday help back in September, early October at the latest. All the experts agree on this point. The real test is when the search begins for that elusive creature: the seasonal employee.

The traditional and the off-beat

Cover all the bases. Post ads on websites like Craigslist and Indeed of course—for they are the accepted face of classifieds in most communities these days. At the same time, however, recall some traditional venues. “Consider where people gather,” says Patricia Adame, Senior VP of Human Resources at American Kiosk Management, a company that operates hundreds of kiosks and specialty retail carts across the United States and Canada. “Consider where they live, or commute or use services. Lots of times there’s a bulletin board where you can post a flyer that says you’re hiring.”

Old-fashioned you say? Well, think about it. People standing around waiting for the elevator in their apartment building might just notice your colorful, well-worded flyer posted on a bulletin board. It might start them thinking they could use some extra money around the holidays. Same goes for gym enthusiasts lacing up their shoes who notice a similar flyer on the locker room wall. Or shoppers who stop at every grocery store’s ubiquitous message center. Even if you have to pay for the privilege of posting—and it’s usually a small amount—it’s worth it, says Adame. You could interest someone you might not otherwise, someone who wasn’t even thinking about getting a temporary job.

High schools and colleges are usually a good source of employees for seasonal positions, with community college students trumping university scholars simply because the former tend to be local residents. Why risk having your hires skip out early because they’re heading home for the holidays? The pool may shrink but there’s still a creative way to get plenty of reliable applicants, suggests Mike Tesler, a partner at Retail Concepts, a marketing and consulting firm that focuses specifically on the retail environment. Tesler, who also teaches retailing at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, proposes partnering with another business.

Here’s how it would work. Find a business that needs help at a different time of year than you do. A summer resort would be a good example or even a ski resort that gears up after the holiday shopping rush is over. Work out an arrangement with the business owner/proprietor there. If you can offer the incentive of segueing into another job when the one at your establishment ends, it could sway a potential employee’s decision to come work for you. “Partnering with another business and offering a transition—something along the lines of, ‘if you do well here, I can help you get a job in ski country or down the Cape in the summer’ might really appeal to high school and college kids,” Tesler says.

Cast a wide net

It’s all too easy in this digital age to dismiss employee applications with a keystroke. If someone’s resume seems weak or their email is awkward, they are often deleted without a second thought. Doug Fleener recommends doing the opposite. “I’m a big believer in attracting as many applicants as possible,” says the President and Managing Partner of Dynamic Experiences Group, a consulting firm that works with specialty retailers and other customer-focused companies.

“I think one mistake people make not just with seasonal hires but with regular hires is they try to filter people out. I’d rather meet people in person,” Fleener continues. He cites an example of a gentleman who did not come across well online, and later Fleener learned English was a second language. “A lot of people would have just rejected him, but you know writing resumes and e-mails wasn’t part of the job! So come to find out he’s an incredibly empathetic, engaging person who I think is wonderful for the store I was consulting with at the time.”

Fleener also thinks a lot of employers put too much emphasis on applicants having prior retail experience. “They’ll reject people who don’t have any,” he says. “But I’m looking for personality. I don’t need retail experience. I need people who like to talk to people.” Towards that end he suggests always being on the lookout for potential employees. You might even find them among your regular customers …
someone you enjoy talking with and who is interested in your product. They’re in your store, right? It doesn’t hurt to inquire. “There’s a lot of people who aren’t even thinking about taking on a holiday job until you ask them.”

Your antennae should also be out whether you’re in a bank, a restaurant, anywhere where you receive good service. You have to be discreet but you could slip the person who impressed you a business card letting them know you’re hiring. After all, you’re looking for seasonal help and who knows? The person in question might be looking to make some extra holiday cash even if they are employed full-time elsewhere.

A couple of insider secrets to remember: The majority of your customers won’t know who’s a regular employee and who’s a seasonal one. Your job then is to make sure whoever you hire represents your company the way you want. This feat can be accomplished by making smart hiring decisions and quickly bringing your temporary employees up to speed.

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June Allan Corrigan

Freelance writer June Allan Corrigan addresses a wide range of topics including business, medicine, parenting and education. She’s a fitness enthusiast and also makes a mean apple pie. Visit her website at junecorrigan.com.
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