By most standards, Royce Leather has a rigorous hiring process.
For a certain kind of job, roughly 10 people apply for each available position at the Secaucus, N.J., maker of handmade leather accessories.
Applicants should demonstrate solid, extensive experience in leather craftsmanship, says company CEO Andrew Royce Bauer. And, to top it off, the company prefers that employees are bilingual.
Whether they speak Swedish or Somali, that might prompt some employees to ask: “All this for a job that lasts about three months?”
Royce Leather’s hiring reflects the evolving reality of an annual job hunt that many pursue — holiday employment. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics consistently show hiring upticks in October and November — 944,000 and 523,000 jobs added, respectively, in 2013 — evidence of hiring that can be attributed — at least in part — to businesses taking on extra help for the holidays.
But those numbers don't necessarily mean holiday employment is easy to come by. Long a popular option to earn extra cash for gift giving and other expenses, landing a holiday gig can be as challenging as finding full-time employment. For folks looking to boost their income during the holidays, that mandates a serious and thoughtful job search strategy.
Opportunities and challenges
The task of landing a seasonal job is a holiday wassail of both good and bad news. On the one hand, nationwide unemployment fell to 5.9 percent in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If nothing else, that’s fewer people looking for work.
Further good news: retailers plan to add more than 800,000 seasonal hires to their workforce, according to an outlook from the Chicago-based consulting concern Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “That number has been rising for the past five years — really, since the recession,” says CEO John Challenger. “I really think it’s a very positive environment. Not only are retailers looking for more people this year, but the labor pool has shrunk. The number of people you’re competing against is dropping.”
On the other hand — as Royce Leather’s emphasis on experience and varied language skills demonstrates — employers seem to want a good deal more than just a warm body taking up space.
“Employers today are much better at finding people with the right skills and the right background to select,” says Challenger. “I do think they’ve been able to be more selective because more jobs are being created and the smaller pool of people who want those jobs.”
Treat it like a 'real' job search
Although the short-term nature of seasonal work may suggest a more laid back attitude, experts urge job seekers to approach the task every bit as systematically as they would a full-time job hunt. To that end, here’s an abbreviated outline of how to take on a job search — holiday or otherwise — courtesy of Orville Pierson (for more detail, check out his book, “The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search”):
Define specifically what your ideal job would be. That means pinpointing “sporting goods salesperson,” not just “working in retail.” “You need to be clear exactly what you want to do and where you want to do it,” explains Pierson.
Develop a “core message” — a brief description of interest in and ability to do a particular job that comes through on a resume and in personal contact with prospective employers.
Identify possible employers and, just as important, get to know what the business does, both through Internet searches as well as conversations with others who work at or know the business. “A lot of job applicants are alarmingly ignorant about what an organization does,” says Pierson. “And, by Googling the company, you can find out what other people think of them, not just what they think of themselves.”
Prioritize your prospects. Based on what you know about the company, identify those that are very appealing versus others that are less attractive. Then, circle back and ask anyone you know connected with the companies at the top of the list for a brief introduction. “Who does the hiring? Get a name as well as a title,” says Pierson. “Get to know the decision-maker, no matter if there’s a job opening or not.”
Try to arrange for a quick introductory meeting with a decision-maker in the company. Be prepared by completing whatever job application the company may have: “That way, if you get to meet the decision-maker who tells you to fill out an application, you can say ‘I’ve already done that,’ ” says Pierson.
Express interest. “In the two minutes you may have, say how much you’d like to work for the company and why,” says Pierson.
Follow up regularly, ideally once a week via a phone call, email or message via anyone you know within the company: “When the hiring starts, you want to be fresh in their minds,” says Pierson.
Tips for the holidays
Pierson’s strategy is a solid approach to job hunting, no matter the circumstances. Add to that a few extra ideas specific to holiday jobs:
Start looking now. Employers rarely wait to the last second to start sifting through seasonal applications. Let them know as soon as possible of your interest and qualifications.
Don’t assume it’s too late. Even if you don’t or can’t get an early jump on your holiday job search, don’t give up the closer the calendar moves to the holidays. Staff turnover and unexpectedly high customer volume constantly create seasonal job opportunities.
Look for companies that target holiday earnings. Royce Leather brings on 45 to 50 people in the fourth quarter, since its business ramps up during the holiday gift-giving season.
Act like a pro. Since the job only lasts a short while, some seasonal applicants may slack off in their appearance and demeanor when talking with prospective employers. If anything — given companies’ focus on making holiday shopping the best experience possible — the opposite may be true. Be sure to dress professionally for any job interview or other contact with an employer. “Applicants that take a seasonal job seriously, which means showing up with resumes, nice clothes and a great attitude, will get the job over those that do not,” says Tim Backes, a career adviser at Resume Genius, an online resource for resumes and related employment services.
Go in with your eyes open. However appealing the thought of extra holiday cash may be, know that seasonal employees often work bleak hours that full-time staff want to avoid. That may mean staffing a register on Thanksgiving evening: “We’re looking for applicants who are willing to sacrifice themselves during the holiday season for the betterment of all the employees who work at Royce Leather,” acknowledges Bauer.
Accentuate the positive. Companies try to make holiday shopping fun and memorable. A job seeker who’s consistently upbeat and enthusiastic may be more appealing than a more experienced applicant who isn’t quite so gung-ho.
Hit the road. While retail may be a natural target for holiday work, all those gifts have to find their way to their recipients one way or another. That makes shipping companies such as Federal Express and UPS prime targets for seasonal work.
Look past the holidays. Although it may not be every seasonal worker’s goal, short-time employees who excel may find an opportunity for work once the tinsel and New Year’s hats are back in the closet. “If you treat the opportunity like you’re applying for a full-time position, it very well likely could turn into one,” says Backes. “At the very least, it’s an excellent way to get your foot in the door for when a regular position does open up.”