Job Hunting? How to Turn a Seasonal Gig Permanent

December 2, 2019, 4:30 PM UTC

It’s not news by now that companies like UPS, Target, and Amazon are on a hiring binge this holiday season, looking for record numbers of people to handle the crush of seasonal business. The National Retail Federation, for instance, expects stores to bring on board as many as 590,000 temporary employees this year, up from 554,000 in 2018.

What’s gotten less attention, though, is how many of those jobs employers are counting on to fill permanent, full-time openings. “Clients are telling me they’re planning to convert as many as 20% more holiday workers to permanent employees than last year,” says Amy Glaser, a senior vice president at staffing company Adecco. “In this tight job market, with unemployment so low, companies are having to get creative about exploring more sources of talent, and this is part of that effort.” It makes sense. What better way to try someone out for a full-time, year-round position than a six-week or two-month test run at the busiest time of the year?

Trying to beat the rush, some companies started hiring for these gigs as early as August and September, but December isn’t too late to apply. Turnover is fairly high, so most employers have openings throughout the season, and even well into January.

That’s partly because some workers leave mid-season for a better offer somewhere else. Companies are competing with each other by sweetening the pot, wooing applicants with higher pay, more perks, and more generous employee discounts than in years past. Target, to name just one, this year is making its biggest holiday-hiring push ever, bringing on 125,000 in-store workers, plus another 8,000 in online-order fulfillment at 39 locations across the U.S. The retailer is starting newbies at $13 per hour (vs. the U.S. average of $11.15), bonus pay for working on Thanksgiving and Christmas, a 10% employee discount plus another 20% “wellness discount” off fitness gear and produce, and extra-flexible scheduling.

So how do you turn one of these November-to-January gigs into a career? Says Glaser, “Employers are looking for permanent hires who have what I call the 3 A’s: attendance, attitude, and aptitude for learning.” Shine at those, and your chances of scoring a year-round job are good. A few suggestions about each:

Attendance

This one sounds simple, although it’s often easier said than done since the holidays arrive, alas, during flu season. Don’t be absent, and never, ever be late.

Attitude

Sure, it can be a challenge (to put it politely) when a crowd of cranky customers is getting on your last nerve, but keep smiling. Stay courteous, patient, and considerate of coworkers, even when you’ve been on your feet for 10 hours. Aim at being the person you’d most like to work with —or hire.

Aptitude

Employers hope to find people who can start on the sales floor, warehouse, or delivery truck and then develop new skills, move up, and build long-term careers. Toward that end, “they’re searching for people who are enthusiastic about learning,” says Glaser. When you first fill out an application for a holiday job, “try to highlight anything you’ve learned recently in a job, or in volunteer work, and any classes you’ve taken, including online courses and [tech] certifications.”

At the outset, you’ll probably be asked to take assessment tests or training classes, or both. These aren’t idle exercises —you’re most likely being evaluated as a permanent hire— so take them seriously and bring your A game.

Then, without being obnoxious about it, “once you’ve started working, advocate for yourself,” Glaser adds. “Speak up if you have an idea or a suggestion, and make sure supervisors know it was yours.”

Think of a seasonal gig, in other words, as a very long, arduous job interview that you also just happen to get paid for. These days, more than ever, that’s precisely what it is.

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