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How to get a job for the holidays - and beyond

Seasonal hiring is well under way, but it's not too late to get a temporary job - and maybe even turn it into a full-time gig.

By Anne Fisher, senior writer
Last Updated: October 27, 2008: 5:57 AM ET

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(Fortune) -- October is the biggest month for hiring holiday help, so if you'd like to make some green during the season, it's time to get busy. According to Shawn Boyer, CEO of SnagAJob.com, a job board for hourly employees, the competition this year is particularly tough. Retailers plan to take on even fewer workers than they did last fall (which was not such a hot hiring season either; see Ask Annie, 11/20/07). And "there are about 1.6 million more people working part time this year than last who would rather be working full time," he says, "so turning a holiday position into a permanent one is going to be harder than ever."

How do you boost your chances? First, when choosing where to apply, cast a wide net. Boyer notes that most people automatically equate seasonal work with brick-and-mortar retail stores, where employees discounts are a sought-after perk.

But a number of other industries also need extra help to cope with the surge in shopping and shipping. "Don't overlook Internet retailers, who add order-fulfillment people in their warehouses and call-center employees to handle orders and customer service," he says.

You might also try movie theaters. "Holiday blockbusters mean higher ticket sales, and many people have more time off to go to movies," Boyer notes.

The same goes for restaurants and catering companies, which may need help with holiday parties. "You can also apply at inventory-service firms, whose customers are retailers," he adds, "and try companies like FedEx and UPS, which usually add extra drivers and package-handling employees."

Got a head for figures? Check out opportunities with tax-preparation firms, including big national outfits like Jackson Hewitt and H&R Block. "The tax-prep companies like to start training new hires for the tax season which starts in January," Boyer says. "They use the holiday season as a kind of audition period to see who they might want to hire into permanent jobs." If you're hoping to get hired full time, this might well be your best bet: Few retailers keep many seasonal employees once the holiday rush is history, but Boyer cites one survey showing that a whopping 46% of tax-preparation temps get offered permanent positions.

"It's not that these companies increase their workforce by almost 50% a year," he explains. "It's that they use the holiday season to upgrade their staffs, replacing less-stellar current employees with new hires who prove themselves at this time of year."

No matter which sectors you target, employers can afford to be pickier than ever because there are so many applicants for each available opening. To maximize your advantage, Boyer suggests you bring the following four assets with you to interviews:

1. Flexibility. This year even more than in the past, it's essential that you be available to work whenever you're needed, including nights, weekends, and what retailers call Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) - or even, in a restaurant, catering, or movie theater job, on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Warns Boyer: "If you aren't willing to take on inconvenient hours, the person behind you in line will be."

2. Enthusiasm. "You need to show a genuine upbeat attitude," says Boyer, "because interviewers want you to pass that along to customers and co-workers."

3. Knowledge. Study up on each company and its products or services, especially if the job requires you to deal directly with customers. "Around the holidays, with the crowds and the stress, customers tend to get impatient, and if you can't answer their questions, they get even more irritated than at other times of the year," notes Boyer. Job interviewers are well aware of this, so go in knowing your stuff.

4. Experience. As with any other job interview, applying for a job you've done before gives you a real leg up. If not, look back over your work history and try to find something similar. That part-time job waiting tables that you had in college, for instance, might have taught you a thing or two about mollifying dissatisfied customers, so be ready to talk a bit about that.

If your goal is to stay on after the holidays, Boyer says, say so during the interview. "It's important to express your interest in a full-time position up front, to give the employer a chance to evaluate your performance in that light," he says. "And after you're hired, do remind your boss that you are hoping to stay on. You don't want to be a nag about it, but you need to plant that seed." Then do a great job and, says Boyer, "be proactive. Ask for extra work, and keep an eye out for what you can do that's above and beyond the job description."

One more tip: If your seasonal job search turns up nothing in October or November, try again in early December. "There is always a certain amount of turnover," notes Boyer. "Some companies will still be hiring in December to replace people they took on earlier who didn't work out."

Readers, what do you say? Are you looking for a seasonal job this year? Got any tips for finding one - or for turning it into a permanent one? Post your comments on the Ask Annie blog. To top of page

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