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In addition to “hanging the stockings” with care this holiday season, small business owners will also be challenged with “hiring the seasonal staff” with care.

To many entrepreneurs, short-term hourly workers seem like a dime a dozen. I mean, everyone knows that a call to a temp agency, a Craigslist post, or a career website ad will have job applications flowing in by the hundreds. Right?

Well, surprise! What went gangbusters in years past is likely to deliver slim pickings this November.

There Are More Of “Us”

This year, the competition to hire for the holidays is fierce, according to consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas:

  • In the U.S., 2014 is on track to be the strongest year for seasonal hiring since 1999.
  • Two in five retailers plan to make holiday hires.
  • Retailers plan to add more than 800,000 jobs by December 2014, with some businesses more than doubling their workforce.
  • Major seasonal employers (i.e. your direct competition for applicants) include: Macy’s, Target, Kohl’s, Walmart, Toys R Us, and Game Stop.
  • In addition, non-retailers (such as UPS and FedEx) are beefing up their numbers to align with online shopping habits.

There Are Less Of “Them”

In addition, the Wall Street Journal points out, “The labor-force participation rate—which measures everyone who is employed plus everyone who wants a job who is age 16 or over—was 62.7% last month, near the lowest since the late 1970s.”

So, basically, no one really wants to work. And, who can blame them, when you consider that (adjusting for inflation) retail employees are actually earning less than they were in 2004?

They’re Not Where We Thought They Were

Luckily, it turns out that the best source of holiday help has been right in front of small business owners the whole time.

  1. Use Your Social Media Outlets To Recruit: We’ve turned a corner, wherein customers have turned into candidates. “To augment traditional hiring methods, which are failing to produce enough job candidates, retail chains are recruiting through channels usually reserved for promoting products,” notes WSJ’s Eric Morath. “Social-media pushes broaden the pool of candidates by attracting workers who aren’t actively looking for jobs.” Take BevMo!, for instance, who started using its Twitter feed to help fill 1,000 holiday openings. Apparently, the liquor retailer was, initially, “hesitant to tap customers as potential hires, but the strategy worked. Online applications increased 66% from the previous month.”
  2. Look Among Your Rank and File: Another overlooked applicant pool is current part-time employees, who may be interested in a full-time schedule for a short while. “By drawing from a pool of workers already familiar with your organization,” notes Inc. magazine’s Evan Klonsky, “you can be assured that they will catch on quickly with the everyday operations.”
  3. Bring Up the Past: Finally, there are the good old reliable temps from last year. And, if you don’t have any repeat performers this year, start prepping them for next year. “Consider putting incentives in place that will increase retention, lowering your total labor costs,” suggests Monster. “Examples include bonuses, discounts on company goods or services, access to development programs for regular employees, or preference when it comes to hiring for long-term positions.”
  4. Think Outside the Application: If you need short-term help or assistance on surge days, consider tapping intoTask Rabbit. There are plenty of hungry rabbits, ready to tackle your party, serve drinks at your event, beef up your Black Friday doorbuster, staff your Small Business Saturday Sale on November 29, or even just hang that darn flatscreen TV that’s been leaning against your office wall since (ahem) last Christmas.

Hiring for Small Business

Regardless with which route you choose, be sure that you have an up-to-date job description ready to go. It will make it easier for candidates to self-select and speak to their most relevant skills.

According to MPay’s Stephanie Allen, “Another aspect to keep in mind is to make sure your website or ‘About Us’ information is up-to-date and gives those seeking a position a good idea of your company culture.”

Not Every Body Is Equal

Obviously, not all seasonal candidates will be equally desirable.


Quick tip: don’t rely on resumes alone. Instead, consider using questionnaires to filter candidates. By asking a simple question (like “How much experience do you have in retail sales?”), it becomes much easier to narrow down the the applicant pool.

Also, use your gmail account to access an easy Google doc-turned-questionnaire form. I’ve created a quick Seasonal Help Form for your use to play with…or you can just google “create google doc form” and go all DIY on it.

“When interviewing candidates,” advises Inc. magazine’s Evan Klonsky, “look for people who have a willingness to learn, an ability to be flexible with demanding hours and responsibilities, and a genuine interest in using or selling the products.”

Above all, recommends Monster, “hire for attitude as much as aptitude. Most seasonal work is about being flexible and getting up to speed quickly, rather than bringing to bear an elaborate skill set.”

Have a question for me? Bring it on! Every question posted in the comments, below, will be answered thoughtfully and, if it’s useful to others, may even be featured in an upcoming column or blog post.

300-SellLocal-Thinkglobal-OlgaMizrahi-CoverWant even more? Order my new small business book, Sell Local, Think Global, packed with 50 invaluable tips that will take your business to the next level in no time. Oh, and just because you’re an awesome reader of this column, you’re also invited to a fabulous (and free) book launch party on Friday November 21!