As the holiday season approaches, many employers are looking to bulk up their work force for the expected rush of shopping, shipping and traveling that leads into the New Year. With the unemployment rate still above 9%, competition for jobs may be stiffer than ever, but experts say there are positions to be had for people who aren’t afraid of lifting a few pounds and working odd hours.
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“Unemployment may be under 10%, but the reality is that far more people are under employed, working fewer hours than they’d like, and they’re going to be out there looking for part-time jobs this season,” says Robert McGovern, founder of Career Builder and CEO of jobsite, JobFox.
Part-time job seekers will also have to compete against individuals seeking full-time employment, but are willing to settle for anything that helps pay the bills, McGovern says.
But when it comes to finding part-time work this season, experience may trump education.
“People with a college degree could easily be overlooked in favor of someone with a high school diploma. What the employer is looking for is related experience. If they can hire someone they don’t have to spend as much time training, that is going to be the deciding factor, no matter how many degrees you have.”
However, a good company will always be willing to dedicate time to train new employees, says Erin Peterson, recruitment process outsourcing practice leader at HR consulting firm Aon Hewitt.
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“If you’re looking into the kind of company you should work for, the willingness to train employees should be No.1 on your list. You’re only going to be successful if they invest in you a little bit,” says Peterson.
She also suggests potential candidates apply to part-time jobs that will enhance their resume in the future.
“Even with seasonal jobs, when the season is over, hopefully the company on your resume is a good brand.”
According to McGovern, higher-end brands are the best companies to work for this season because they will likely outperform mainstream brands and offer more job security.
“One thing that’s happening is that the upper-income people have continued to be consumers, and high-end retail is doing well. Luxury brands like BMW, Tiffany & Co., and Nordstrom are doing very well, and as a job seeker, you’ve got to go where the action is.
Another great area for part-time job seekers is the hospitality industry. McGovern mentioned hotels, restaurants, bars and banquet facilities as great places to look for jobs as a member of the wait staff, cleaning crew, or as a bartender.
Of course, during the holiday season, most people’s heads immediately turn toward the retail world, says Lynne Sarikas, director of the Career Center at Northeastern University.
“I’m not sure that retail hiring will be what it was a few years ago, but that’s probably the most obvious place people look for seasonal employment,” says Sarikas. “But even better paying than retail is delivery—if you don’t have any physical limitations.”
Unlike retail, most delivery jobs require employees to lift a certain number of pounds, possess a valid driver’s license and be fast on your feet. But there other jobs within the delivery industry that aren’t as physical, including sorting and packing in a facility, or doing back-office functions processing paperwork.
If paperwork is your preference, Sarikas says there will likely be holiday job openings in the banking and credit card industries.
“Credit cards get used a lot more around the holidays and banks and companies that use credit cards will need assistance processing those transactions,” says Sarikas. “Usually credit card processing, when people make sure accounts are charged and merchants are credited, happens after hours. Anyone taking that kind of job should be prepared to work unusual hours and be flexible.”
Flexibility may be the most important quality a part-time job seeker can possess, according to Sarikas, adding that holiday hours are notoriously lengthy and subject to change.
“It’s really important to be clear about an employer’s expectations, how many hours they want you to work per day, and what those hours are. If all of a sudden the store is open till midnight, can you handle that? Don’t give the impression you are inflexible, but before you sign on the dotted line, make sure everyone is clear.”
Of course if working in a public setting isn’t for you, McGovern says that there are still options—assuming you made A’s in algebra.
“A hot trend in part-time jobs is tutoring. It’s a place where a lot of people who are underemployed are finding additional work. This is the time of year where kids are preparing for final exams, it’s college application season, it’s SAT season, and it’s near the middle of the school year when parents get first report cards coming in, and they start to decide their kids need more help,” says McGovern.
But even if you aren’t a whiz at standardized test prep, you’ll probably need to have at least a few computer skills, according to Peterson. More big-box retailers and restaurants are addressing the recent glut of candidates via more sophisticated application assessments canidates must take online.
“In many cases we are seeing companies making online assessment tests available via mobile device, and previously they didn’t do up-front screening of candidates like this,” says Peterson. “Typically, they’ll ask things like how do you interact with customers, your interest in the industry, that type of thing, but you need to have a certain amount of technical skills to take those tests.”
And for all positions in any industry, Sarikas says that standout employees have the best chance of turning their part-time gig into a full-time one.
“If you’re consistently putting forth your best effort, you show up on time, and you make yourself an asset to the company, you could end up getting a permanent job offer at the end of three months,” says Sarikas. “It’s a safer way for an employer to hire. If they see you do a great job during one of their busiest seasons, then there’s not as much risk to them to bring you on with full benefits.”