Why Seasonal Jobs Are So Competitive This Year — And What You Can Do

A sales clerk helps a pregnant customer find apparel. Seasonal jobs are competitive this year. This story gives tips on how to prepare and get that seasonal job this year.
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It’s hiring season again. Around this time each year, businesses — retailers especially — hire hordes of temporary workers to accommodate expected surges in sales.

According to the National Retail Federation, the industry made $730 billion in sales during last year’s winter holiday season. Those sales fueled tons of jobs.

In a typical year, hiring season is a good time to be a job seeker. But this year is anything but typical.

“(The job market) has most definitely changed. You are not seeing the same amount of seasonal hiring that you saw before,” said Tony Lee, a recruitment trends expert at the Society for Human Resource Management. “The usual suspects are still hiring in really large numbers. But bluntly, it’s a lot less.”

Higher Demand for Fewer Jobs

The economic fallout from the coronavirus has decimated small businesses. The big guys or “usual suspects” as Lee put it — Amazon, Target, UPS, FedEx — they’re doing fine. Better than ever by some measures. But your local mom-and-pop shops are a crucial part of the seasonal hiring puzzle. And they’re not doing nearly as well.

“The huge difference is for small and medium-sized businesses, especially family-owned businesses. A lot of them are gone. We probably lost a fifth to a fourth of them,” Lee said.

Individually, a mom-and-pop shop might hire only a couple of seasonal workers. But with thousands of small businesses out of the picture, those job losses become a big-picture issue.

Lee estimates the cumulative effect is “in the millions of jobs.”

Then consider that with record unemployment, demand for seasonal gigs is expected to be much higher.

According to the Department of Labor, more than 25 million Americans are collecting some form of unemployment benefit. And week after week, more than 800,000 new unemployment claims roll in.

Labor department data show as of August, there are about two unemployed Americans per job opening.

The big picture? There are millions fewer seasonal gigs and about 24 million more people unemployed than at this time last year. The result is that your seasonal job hunt is going to be much more competitive than previous years.

Tips for Your Seasonal Job Hunt

By preparing for hiring season to be very competitive, you can improve your employment prospects.

  • Start applying early. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers are starting their shopping early this year. The jobs are following suit. Major employers are already filling more than half a million seasonal jobs. The earlier you start looking, the better, Lee advised.
  • Try to stand out. Many seasonal jobs are billed as entry-level. Don’t take that as a pass to blow through the application. Take your time and tailor your resume and responses for each position. If you have related gig work or college experience, be sure to use it on your resume to sell yourself to the hiring manager.
  • Prepare for virtual hiring. Virtual recruiting is in. It’s been steadily growing in popularity in recent years, but the pandemic is supercharging the trend. Still, it’s new to many. And not everyone is great at it. Use that to your advantage by preparing for virtual job fairs and interviews. Something as simple as having your ethernet cable hard-wired to your computer for a stable connection could be a distinguishing factor during an interview.
  • Treat it as a long-term gig. The temporary nature of seasonal work may tempt you into not taking it very seriously. Don’t let it. Again, it’s the little things that count. Punctuality and work ethic can go a long way in separating you from millions of other seasonal recruits. If all goes well, you can turn your seasonal gig into a permanent one — even amid the pandemic.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.