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Seasonal hiring strategy in three easy steps

Any day now, that shopping mall food court will be transformed into a Styrofoam North Pole paradise. Red and green decorations will dot your dining rooms, and special warm and homey menu items will make seasonal cameos.

The holidays are almost here, which means seasonal hiring is here. Right now. Your competitors have big plans for ramping up their front lines, which means if you want to compete for the best and brightest seasonal staff, you need to follow suit. According to a research study conducted by Snagajob and third-party firm Ipsos Public Affairs, 51 percent of those charged with hiring year-end, seasonal workers will do so this year. That percentage is up a significant 8 points over 2008—and the highest it has been in four holiday seasons. That uptick translates to each hiring manager bringing on an average of four additional workers.

But before you jump into hiring, it's important that the effort and resources allocated toward seasonal hiring match the impact these roughly 90 days have on your annual bottom line. Hungry shoppers, gift card sales and other seasonal changes deserve more than a holiday hiring fire drill.

Here are three core seasonal hiring best practices to consider baking into your plan:

1. Give peak season more than a peek. Seasonal staffing is the culmination of a year-long strategic endeavor. Developing ideal candidate profiles, honing your recruitment brand and materials, and then communicating with past or prospective workers takes time. Search engine optimization is a prime example of why an annual timeline is required. You first need time to research which keywords and phrases need to be included in your seasonal job descriptions and recruitment content to ensure applicants searching for these positions can easily find them. (If you don't have in-house resources to make this happen, consider an expert third-party.)

Additionally, it takes several months for these search engines to crawl and appropriately rank your seasonal jobs messaging. Then there is this: Google Trends data shows that in 2010, the surge of searches for "seasonal jobs" began around Sept. 19 – about a week and a half earlier than only a few years ago. At this point, the 2011 surge has already started – so job seekers have already searched for opportunities. Were you included? With applicants searching earlier than ever for your jobs online, you need to be locked and loaded with compelling, optimized messaging.

2. Practice selective staffing. Because of the unique factors that perfectly suit seasonal hourly employees for your holiday roles – from availability to interest in your positions – they can't come from the same crop of applicants that your everyday, hourly workers hail from. They're students with temporary availability or full-time workers who will take on 60-hour work weeks for only a few months. They also may not possess the same ideal set of skills and experience you look for in traditional, full- and part-time workers. Maybe they've never worked a register or have only cooked for the family. That's OK if you can find the right interpersonal skills – skills that manifest themselves in stellar customer service and rapid traversing of the training learning curve.

Interviews can help mine for these skills, but applicant assessments can apply the science you need to confidently hire folks you normally wouldn't. And, most importantly, the right interpersonal skills combined with schedule availability for those hard-to-fill shifts will be just what you need. Don't forget to screen for candidates who can actually work the shifts you need filled.

3. Get competitive. In the same way your seasonal staff won't be a mirror image of your typical, year-round work force, neither will the factors that motivate them. It's important to get insight into what benefits your seasonal workers value – immediate access to employee discounts, competitive pay, potential opportunities after the holidays; leverage these in your recruitment branding. Don't forget to look at the competition, a group that includes all who increase hiring for the holidays. and not just those in your niche or industry, to see how your benefits stack up.

Whether the holiday season represents a minor yet measurable uptick in sales or 40 percent of your annual revenue – and perhaps 100 percent of your profits – you need good people to keep current patrons happy and win over new customers. And don't forget that seasonal hires will also be needed past the holidays to assist with returns and inventory. With so much riding on these temporary workers, they merit a real strategy. Tis the season.

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Latest posts by Amanda Richardson
Amanda Richardson
As SVP of Product and Marketing, Amanda manages product development of Snagajob's business solutions making it easier for hourly employers to source, hire, manage and train workers. She is also responsible for business development efforts. Oh, and she loves brunch.
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