Looking for a holiday job? Start now

FORT WORTH — Job-seekers interested in holiday season positions should begin their search now, as some companies may already be screening applicants, Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in its annual holiday hiring outlook report.

"Even if retailers are not ready to make hiring decisions until November, they may begin screening candidates much earlier," CEO John Challenger said. "Some employers may already be starting."

In 2009, retailers added 501,400 jobs nationally in October, November and December, Challenger said, citing federal data. "That was a 30 percent increase from 2008, when holiday hiring fell to a 22-year low of 384,300 extra holiday helpers," Challenger said.

This year, Challenger said, his firm expects to see "further gains in seasonal hiring, but it probably will not achieve the levels we saw in 2006 or 2007, when retailers' holiday payrolls grew by 746,800 and 720,800, respectively."

"There is still a lot of doubt about the sustainability of this economy," Challenger said.

Some reasons for optimism, Challenger said: Retailers' job-cut announcements have fallen 65 percent from a year ago. And while retail payrolls are still lower than they were a year ago, a recent hiring surge resulted in a net gain of 329,400 new workers since February, Challenger said.

He noted that Toys "R" Us announced last week that it will open 600 temporary stores in shopping centers and will need 10,000 workers.

"With that much hiring planned, it is doubtful that they will delay the process too long," Challenger said.

He also said that the 500,000 to 600,000 extra workers his firm expects retailers to hire is a "net gain," with retail sector employment typically volatile. "There is often simultaneous hiring and voluntary or involuntary separations," Challenger said.

The best opportunities for seasonal job-seekers will be at the large discounters like Target and Wal-Mart, Challenger said.

He advised job-seekers to look beyond the sales clerk positions for available spots.

"The big box stores need extra workers on the floor, but they also need extra workers in their shipping facilities and overnight stocking positions," he said. "Opportunities also exist outside of retail, in areas like catering and with shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx."

Job-seekers should also be "prepared to be on standby," Challenger said. "Retailers may conduct interviews in September and October and prepare a list of hirable candidates that they will call only when it becomes obvious that more manpower will be needed."

He said job-seekers should be flexible and avoid "demanding a specific schedule from prospective employers."

He said holiday job-seekers should start their search by contacting friends who work at businesses that might need holiday help.

"You should also target establishments of which you are a frequent customer," he said.".. Try to make a connection with a manager or assistant manager."