As the holiday season looms and retail businesses across the country ramp up for fourth quarter sales, hiring seasonal help may be at the top of many small-business owners' to-do lists. With the unemployment rate dipping to a low of 5.1 percent this past August, hiring help for the holidays may be more challenging than usual. Couple the shortage of employees with increasing growth in e-commerce, and that means you may need to put some extra effort into holiday, short-term staffing.
If you haven’t already started, now is the time to staff for the holiday season, advises Ethel Grant, who has 20 years retail experience and formerly worked as a hiring manager for TJX Companies. “There’s a lot of competition out there for quality employees, who are able to work the crazy hours that the holiday season brings, so now is the time to put the word out and start interviewing and hiring.”
Begin looking for employees immediately, agrees Sandy Brown, owner of Catering On Time. “It might be a little challenging to pin people down for the holidays right now, but it’s necessary to start the process so you can hold your own against the competition when the holidays hit.”
Grant and Brown offer these tips for finding and vetting seasonal employees.
Locating Seasonal Employees
In addition to putting ads online, here are some ways to find seasonal employees:
- Hire customers. “Those people who are familiar with your store and your merchandise are already fans of what you have to offer and have a positive attitude toward your company, so they are able to give customers a good experience,” says Grant, who suggests putting out applications near the store’s entrance. “I always received a lot of applicants when I put a tablecloth on a table, decorated with a piece of art from the store and left a stack of applications and some pens along with instructions [for applying].” Other ways to alert customers that you’re looking for help include posting a notice in the window of your shop, or if you have an online presence, noting the fact on your homepage. Link the notice to a job description and application.
- Ask employees. Some of the best sources of seasonal help can come from your existing employees, who are likely to know people well-suited to your company. Employees can also give new hires information on company culture and help with their training. Get the word out to employees that you need help, and you’re likely to get a good response.
- Call your local colleges. Nearby community colleges and universities can offer a vast pool of seasonal help. “Many students are off of school during the holiday rush time, and they are used to odd hours and late nights,” says Grant.
- Check out complementary businesses. Brown finds her best employees at local restaurants, as wait staff have the skills necessary to work for her catering business. “I find the best people in the food and beverage industry, because they have the experience necessary,” she says. “When I find a good waiter or waitress, I approach the person about temporary holiday work.”
When to Hire Seasonal Employees
The challenge of hiring seasonal employees is in the timing. While you don’t want to take on holiday help too early prior to your needing the assistance and having the budget to cover the resulting payroll, you also don’t want to miss the opportunity to lure the best and brightest.
Grant suggests starting the hiring process now and having employees in place by mid-October. “It’s important that you have sufficient time to train seasonal employees and observe them working to ensure that they are punctual, friendly, well-groomed and helpful to your customers and will represent your company well,” she says. “During the holidays, it’s common to have as many people on the register as possible, which means you need to know that they are ready for that task, as well as the rest of the tasks that will come up, such as dealing with returns and helping customers find the ideal merchandise.”
Given the competition for good seasonal employees, beyond paying a competitive rate, it’s important to do what you can to offer a flexible schedule and work environment. This is often fairly easy to do during the holiday crunch time when afterhours help may be a necessity.
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