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Video: Have a debt-free holiday

By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 12/1/2008 5:53:39 PM ET 2008-12-01T22:53:39

Each winter, many American workers bank on their ability to land part-time retail jobs to help them cover their holiday expenses or otherwise make ends meet. This winter, though? Not so much.

With the economy in the tank and retailers reeling from what’s expected to be the weakest holiday shopping season in decades, most stores are hiring fewer workers, and many job seekers are finding that competition for seasonal work is downright brutal. But no matter how depressing or panic-inducing your initial job search might have been, jobs really and truly are out there if you know where to look.

“With more people looking for fewer (available) jobs, it emphasizes the fact that you have to be resourceful and creative,” said Shawn Boyer, chief executive officer of SnagAJob.com, an employment Web site that has been connecting people with hourly jobs for nearly a decade. “You have to view this job search as a job itself.”

Below you’ll find ten possible categories where part-time — and in many cases full-time — seasonal positions should still be plentiful in many parts of the country, despite the crummy economy. Pay ranges are included whenever possible.

In such a competitive environment, job applicants must take definite steps to make themselves stand out, Boyer said. He advised job seekers to:

  • Apply for multiple jobs, not just one or two
  • Offer to be as flexible as possible with their work schedules
  • Demonstrate a positive, can-do attitude on job interviews
  • Remember to send handwritten thank-you notes to the people who interview them

Boyer also encouraged those who do find seasonal work to take their jobs seriously — even if those jobs don’t tie in at all with their ultimate career goals.

“Even if you don’t want to stay on past January, you still might want to come back for part-time work next Christmas and you don’t want to burn any bridges,” Boyer said. “Employers’ first plan of action is always to call back the crew from last year.…

“Also, even though they say they’re only hiring for the season, the majority of hiring managers would like to keep good people on past the holiday season. Employers will look at you as a potential long-term employee if you express interest in that.”

Without further ado, here are some ways to find seasonal work this year:

1. Help people with their taxes. Tax preparation service companies begin hiring people in December for their busy season, which lasts from February through April. You may feel woefully unqualified for such a job — but don’t. “They’ll take you through tax school,” Boyer said. “You’ll pay for most of that training up front, but they reimburse you for the training if you complete it.” Average hourly wage for tax preparers: $16.78.

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2. Count stores’ inventory. Even if retailers aren’t hiring as many sales associates as they usually do this holiday season, they still need help tracking their inventories in all of their stores. That’s why they contract with inventory services companies, who send workers into stores during off hours to count dress shirts, coats, shoes — you name it. The crunch time for inventory services companies begins during the holiday season and really ramps up in January and February, so now is the time to apply. A job requirement will be your own set of wheels so you can float from store to store as needed. To find potential employers where you live, do a quick Internet search for the words “inventory services.” Typical hourly wage: $10 to $15.

3. Install satellite dishes. As of Feb. 17, 2009, all television stations across the country will switch to digital broadcasting. In preparation for the conversion to digital TV — and also in recognition that many people upgrade their TVs over the holidays — satellite television companies such as Dish Network and DirecTV are hiring people to work as satellite dish installers. “Again, they train you,” Boyer said. “It’s nice because you’re outside and moving to different homes or locations all the time. It’s good if you don’t want to go to the same place every day.” Typical hourly wage: $11 to $16.

4. Get thee to the gym. Gyms and health clubs gobble up employees at this time of year because so many people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get in shape. Gyms tend to become insanely busy in January — and then they tend to settle back down to their usual pace. The pay for gym jobs can vary quite a bit depending on where you live in the country and what level of expertise you have. (A front-desk clerk typically won’t be earning as much as an experienced personal trainer, for example.) On a related note, another way to tap into people’s goals for the new year is to pursue a part-time job at a sporting goods store. These stores tend to hire now because they know how busy they’ll be selling gear to well-intentioned shoppers in the early weeks of January. Average hourly wage for retail salespeople: $11.79; average hourly wage for cashiers:$8.84.

5. Look for other bright spots in the retail sector. Sporting goods stores aren’t the only oasis in the retail desert this year. Boyer noted that crafts stores and photo-finishing stores will stay busy throughout the holiday season and beyond because people become highly motivated to make prints and organize their photos into albums, scrapbooks and picture frames at this time of year. Other retailers that are continuing to hire at a brisk pace this year include dollar stores, convenience stores, toy stores and discount retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart and Big Lots. Again, the average hourly wage for retail salespeople is $11.79, and the average hourly wage for cashiers is $8.84.

6. Focus on food. No matter how badly the economy is faring, people are still eating. The key detail is that they don’t want to spend a ton of money on what they eat. For that reason, fast-food restaurants are busy — and hiring — right now. Typical hourly wage: About $8.

Other possibilities in the food realm include restaurants situated near malls — (think The Cheesecake Factory and Romano’s Macaroni Grill) — as well as catering companies, which tend to be crazy-busy putting on big parties at this time of year. Waiters and waitresses at casual-dining restaurants typically make about $9 an hour; pay at catering companies can vary quite a bit depending on where you live and how experienced you are.

Yet one more possibility to remember in this area: Pizza delivery. This is one of the busiest times of the year for businesses that deliver pizza, in part because the weather is icky and people don’t feel like leaving their homes in search of grub, and in part because college football bowl season is about to start. Typical hourly wage for a pizza-delivery person: $10 to $20, including mileage reimbursement and tips.

7. Work in a winter wonderland — either in the snow or in the sun. Do you live anywhere near a ski resort, theme park, ice-skating rink or hotel in a tourism hotspot? If so, all of those places likely are hiring right now. In addition to a memorable part-time job, you also could score other perks. “You could get a discount on ski rentals, hotel stays or free ice-skating passes,” Boyer said. Jobs at these spots typically pay about$9 an hour. Also, here’s yet another possibility in the entertainment category: Movie theaters, which tend to get extremely busy at the end of every calendar year. Average hourly pay for movie ushers, lobby attendants and ticket takers:$8.60.

8. Be one of Santa’s helpers — or be Santa himself. If you’ve got what it takes, you really could land a job as a Santa impersonator right about now — but if that isn’t your style, you could get hired as a gift wrapper at one of the big anchor stores at the mall. Retailers hire lots of people for gift-wrapping positions at this time of year, so be sure to tell them you’re interested in doing just that when you apply. Yet another possibility to consider: Christmas tree lots. Just pull up to one in your area and find out whether they could use any part-time help. Hourly wages for these seasonal positions will vary considerably depending on where you live.

9. Get presents where they need to go. You could score a part-time shipping-related job at this time of year with the likes of FedEx or UPS — both of which are hiring right now, Boyer said, primarily for package-handling positions as opposed to driving positions. Typical hourly wage for a part-time package handler: $8.50 to $9.50. On a separate but related note, Boyer pointed out that this is also a good time of year to help out with packaging, shipping and receiving at online retailers’ warehouses and distribution centers. To start the process of finding such a position, do an Internet search for the phrase “warehouse jobs.” Wages will vary depending on where you live.

10. Remember self-employment possibilities. You also could make some money on the side by being a bit entrepreneurial and tapping into any special skills you have. Could you, for example, help people design Web sites, upgrade their computers and other technology at home, do handyman-type work for people or provide lessons on a musical instrument? Also, dog-walking, house-sitting and babysitting aren’t just for teenagers, you know. (Or at least they don’t have to be!) Just focus on your strengths and get the word out locally about what you have to offer. You could be pleasantly surprised by the results of your efforts before you know it.

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