Seasonal jobs on the rise

While 15 million Americans remain unemployed, holiday jobs may cause that number to shrink -- at least temporarily. Seasonal jobs have always been a staple for certain segments of the population, such as college students. But this year, larger numbers of people are vying for holiday season positions. Fortunately, more are available.

According to a recent holiday hiring survey by SnagAJob.com, an hourly job website, hiring levels should be up 26% from last year. Participating hiring managers say they will each hire an average of 3.9 workers, up from 3.1 workers in 2009. In addition, some 50% of hiring managers are looking for holiday help this year, versus 47% last year.

So there's money to be made this holiday season, whether you're unemployed or just looking for some extra spending money. You just need to know where to look, what managers are looking for in seasonal employees and how to fit a temporary job into your schedule.

Retail, the default holiday job

The retail sector typically grows this time of year, says Paul Shanahan, regional vice president of staffing firm Adecco. Recent reports from the National Retail Federation indicate an expected increase in sales this holiday season. So retail stores are an obvious place to begin looking for a seasonal job.

Some of the national retail companies that are hiring for seasonal positions include Macy's, Target Portrait Studio, Kohl's, Toys R Us and RadioShack, says Heather Moose, spokeswoman for SnagAJob.com. Local shops and boutiques are likely to be hiring holiday workers as well, so check your local job listings or stop in your favorite stores and ask if they need extra help for the season.

"Try to identify seasonal employment with businesses you actually shop at," says Alison Southwick, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau. "You will already be familiar with the company and its products. Secondly, discounts available for employees mean significant savings when shopping for Christmas gifts. Discounts can range from 20% to 40% for seasonal employees."

Looking beyond retail

"Retail drives the need for additional workers in warehouses, shipping and packaging, gift wrapping and more," says Sherry Kast, communications and public relations manager at Express Employment Professionals.

For instance, the staffing firm Staff Management is in the process of hiring more than 12,000 seasonal associates to work at fulfillment centers across the United States for the holiday season. In these centers, where workers manufacture, package and ship goods that consumers purchase in retail stores or from online retailers, positions often pay more than retail opportunities and offer other benefits. These can include referral bonuses, gas card programs to encourage carpooling, sign-on bonuses for hard-to-fill shifts, attendance and safety incentives and retention incentives, says Joan Davison, Staff Management's chief operating officer.

In addition, plenty of companies hire extra workers during the holiday season to work from home as customer service representatives, says Christine Durst at RatRaceRebellion.com, which offers a list of such opportunities. Another often-overlooked holiday job outside retail is child care, says Candi Wingate at Nannies4Hire.com, as more parents need time away for holiday shopping and parties.

Attitude, adaptability and aptitude

With unemployment numbers still high, competition for holiday work is stiff. Start early and take the process as seriously as you would for a full-time job, Kast says. "Recent surveys consistently list attitude as the best attribute of a seasonal worker," she says. "Be outgoing, offer solutions and provide examples of how you would handle stress during the Christmas rush."

For a better chance at getting the job you want, be flexible about the hours and shifts you're willing to work. "If you really want a seasonal job, be willing to work the shifts that may be less attractive to other applicants," Moose says. "For example, UPS (is) in full hiring mode, and the positions that they need help with are often for the overnight hours."

It can also be helpful to apply for seasonal jobs for which you are uniquely qualified. "If you are a knowledgeable technical person, apply to stores that sell technical merchandise like Best Buy and RadioShack; if you've waited tables in the past, apply at restaurants that are looking for extra help," says career coach Bettina Seidman of Seidbet Associates. "If you can tie the seasonal employment to a long-term career goal, that's a good connection too; (it will be) easier to get the job and useful on the resume."

Making it work for you

During the busy holiday season, adding a seasonal job can be energizing and stressful. Make sure you know what you're getting into and that the job will help you meet your goal, whether it's padding your bank account, having fun or working toward a full-time position.

"If you already have a full-time job, balance your schedule and set priorities for what you want to accomplish with a seasonal job," Kast says. "Ask in the interview about required hours (so) you can make sure the seasonal job doesn't interfere with your full-time job and there won't be any surprises once you start."

Keep in mind that temporary seasonal jobs can be "the bridge for workers to cross over into a full-time, long-term job," Kast says. "Once you get that seasonal job you want, demonstrate your value to the company while you have the opportunity. The employer may find a way to retain you full time."