It's only October, but it's not too early to plot and plan if you're in the market for a holiday job. The early numbers tell us there will be greater competition for fewer positions.
In 2008, retailers added just 384,000 jobs during the holiday season -- the lowest in 20 years and almost half of 2007's total, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Already this year, 62 percent of retailers are seeing more seasonal applicants than last year, but 40 percent say they'll hire fewer seasonal workers, according to consulting firm Hay Group.
Some companies are giving their existing staff first shot at picking up extra hours, which is good news for those workers, but it means increased competition for anyone who wants to break in.
But all hope is definitely not lost; opportunities exist, so let's look at where the jobs are.
Go Big and Go Small
Look at big box, big names, especially in retail and package handling because this is their busiest time of year. Similarly, look at the same types of businesses in your own backyard.
UPS will hire 50,000 seasonal package handlers and drivers' helpers. (That's down from 60,000 two years ago, but it's a big number of openings.) These are fast-paced, physically demanding roles with average pay starting at $8.50 an hour. UPSJobs.com lists all the openings by location.
Just as we see a giant like UPS hiring, so too are local independent delivery services. My small messenger service adds walkers, bikers and drivers for the holiday rush. Look up the locals in your area and just cold call.
Toys R Us will hire 35,000 seasonal employees nationwide, which is on par with its workforce for the last two holiday seasons. Apply online at RUsCareers.com.
In addition to applying to the giants, walk the mall and your neighborhood looking for "help wanted" signs. And even without the signs, chat up store clerks to find out what's available and when. If you're friendly, you'll often get the inside scoop, even on unadvertised positions.
Season Jobs: How to Find Them
Companies such as Allied Barton beef up their ranks with seasonal hires to safeguard the big crowds in stores.
Online Job Boards
One Web site I like for seasonal jobs is SnagAJob.com, which is a clearinghouse for a variety of part-time opportunities as diverse as taking holiday photos in JCPenney's portrait studios, to quick-serve restaurants nationwide and even winter resorts that add seasonal staffers.
Find Clients for Your Personal Services
The one thing we all want is more time, so think about the things people have to tackle over the holiday season -- shopping, wrapping, shipping -- all of which takes time that many of us don't have. If you're out of work, you have the time to do this for someone who is working.
Pitch yourself as a seasonal personal helper. Stand on line to make their purchases, get them wrapped and shipped.
With the exception of New Year's Eve, the demand for babysitting doesn't spike during the holidays because families spend more time together, so the need for care drops.
But the holidays are the biggest time of the year for pet care. People travel, especially around Thanksgiving, but they don't always bring their pets. Sites like Care.com see a 30 percent spike in demand for pet sitters during the holidays.
You can also find your own clients among neighbors. Research the going rates among well-established service providers and price yourself competitively.
Four Final Tips
No matter what you're looking for, the key is to start looking now. Don't wait until Thanksgiving. Given the competition, don't delay your search.
Be willing to work all shifts since it'll increase your chances of being selected.
Apply online and in person. That one-two punch ensures that you're covering all your bases. Don't wait for your resume to be found online; do both.
And finally, know the product. Most seasonal jobs require people who need very little training.
You'll be thrown in with little ramp-up time, so establishing that you have solid customer skills and that you understand the company's products and services will set you apart from other applicants.
Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire and the workplace contributor on ABC's Good Morning America. Visit her Web site at www.womenforhire.com and talk to her anytime at Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.