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‘Tis the Season for Holiday Hiring: 2021 Edition

By Jessica Elliott Reviewed By Mike Lucas
By Jessica Elliott
By Jessica Elliott Reviewed By Mike Lucas

Holiday hiring in 2021 is more challenging than in previous years. But there are steps you can take to attract temporary employees. 

Use these strategies to improve your seasonal hiring process.

2021 Holiday Hiring Outlook

Deloitte expects a 7%-9% increase in holiday retail sales and 11%-15% growth in ecommerce sales in 2021. For many employers, this means they need to hire more staff than in previous years. 

Outplacement and career transitioning firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts “retailers will add 700,000 workers during the 2021 holiday season.” 

Accordingly, plans to hire 50% more seasonal employees in 2021 compared with 2020. The retailer in 2020 wanted to hire 100,000 employees, whereas Amazon is looking for 150,000 in 2021

However, applicant tracking system (ATS) provider iCIMS (Internet Collaborative Information Management Systems) found a “44% decline in retail applications per opening since the start of the year, compared to a 19% decline across other industries.”

Likewise, consulting firm Korn Ferry reports “100% of survey respondents from the retail industry say they are having trouble hiring distribution center employees,” with 40% facing significant challenges. 

These statistics suggest recruiting seasonal employees will be difficult and retailers will need to get creative to overcome the labor shortage.

Santa’s workshop at the North Pole has a big sign on the window that reads “Help Wanted.”

Temporary Workers: Industries and Timing

What industries hire seasonal workers, and when do they start? The top sectors with temporary staffing needs are industrial, office and administrative and managerial. 

In general, employers hire for their peak season, but they use contingent staff to cover employees on leave. 

When Do Stores Start Hiring for Seasonal Help?

Some industries, such as agriculture, require temporary help during the spring, whereas hospitality businesses in popular summer destinations increase their workforce in the summer. 

Holiday retail hiring often starts in September to fill jobs during November and December. Yet, iCIMS notes that “it now takes 40 days to fill a retail position,” representing a 21% increase since April. 

In short, if you haven’t started hiring for seasonal positions, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on critical job candidates. 

Who Hires Seasonal Employees?

The retail sector does the majority of holiday hiring. While many jobs are specific to retail, this time of year is also busy for marketers, content writers and social media consultants. 

Typical segments hiring seasonal employees include:

  • Warehouses
  • Call and customer care centers
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Retail stores
  • Shipping and receiving hubs
  • Transportation and logistics

How to Attract Seasonal Employees: 7 Tips and Best Practices

Filling temporary job positions isn’t an easy task, especially for small business owners who often can’t afford to give sign-on bonuses of $3,000 or increase wages by several dollars. 

But there are steps you can take to enhance your process and secure a seasonal workforce.

1. Reimagine Seasonal Roles

The National Retail Federation (NRF) finds “37% of part-time retail employees say they took a retail job specifically because of the flexibility they needed because they are in school, 21% because they work another job and 11% needed the flexibility because they are stay-at-home parents.”

Yet many temporary positions lack flexibility or require a long list of skills to be considered. Companies that adjust job roles and initial expectations will have a better chance at attracting a seasonal workforce. 

Think about your temporary positions and see if it’s possible to: 

  • Pay a higher rate for nights, weekends and holidays
  • Offer later (or earlier) start times to accommodate school, other jobs or family duties
  • Make the position remote or hybrid, whenever possible
  • Drop requirements about previous retail experience

2. Craft an Informative and Captivating Job Description

Job applicants have plenty of options, so being elusive when it comes to pay or hours won’t help you recruit them. 

The same goes for listing a bunch of skills and experience requirements. While these help narrow the pool of candidates, iCIMS reports “average applicants per opening declined 28% compared to Q2 2020, and 21% compared to Q2 2019.”

Improve your job ad with these tips:

  • Define the application process: Show that you value people’s time by telling them how long it usually takes to complete the application and how soon they’ll hear from you. 
  • State pay clearly: Provide your hourly rate, including any differences for less-popular shifts. Plus, note if this number is flexible based on experience.
  • Give timeframes: Tell applicants how long the contract is, if you offer part-time and full-time hours and potential start dates.
  • Tout the benefits: Highlight perks such as an employee discount or a sign-on bonus. In addition, talk about scheduling flexibility and the tools used, such as mobile apps.
  • Use keywords: Make it easy for individuals to find your job ad with a search-optimized job post. Include words such as seasonal, temporary, holiday work and seasonal roles.

3. Appeal to Your Target Market

Think about who applies for seasonal positions and speak to their challenges and needs. For example, iCIMS says “applications from 18 to 24-year-olds are up 35% year-over-year, making them the most active talent pool.”  

A job ad tailored to a student on winter break from college should look different from targeting people looking for a second job or stay-at-home parents wanting extra cash for the holidays. Keep your target audience in mind each time you write a job post for social media or create an advertisement.

Consider highlighting your:

  • Dedication to worker safety
  • Small business status or connection to the community
  • Brand mission and values
  • Tools used to help workers swap or pick up shifts
  • Interview hours outside the 8-to-5 timeframe

4. Simplify Your Holiday Hiring Process

Here’s the thing: If you’re still asking applicants to stop by or call your store, then you’re losing out on potential job candidates. If your methods take days instead of hours, it’s likely those job candidates already got hired elsewhere.

Create an efficient system for hiring seasonal employees by: 

  • Using an ATS system to track applicants and respond quickly
  • Providing the ability to apply via text message
  • Offering a mobile-optimized website application
  • Having a chatbot or live chat assistance on your application page
  • Being ready to hire on the spot with same-day job offers

Putting new employee forms and your onboarding process online

Two signs (one is labeled “Perks!” and the other says “Benefits!”) are posted in a snowy landscape.

5. Offer Competitive Pay and Perks

Dealing with the public has become much more difficult since the pandemic. Many workers are dealing with burnout. Moreover, the U.S. Census Bureau says “In 2018, 10.1% of retail workers lived in poverty. In contrast, 6.0% of all workers lived in poverty.”

Attract a contingent workforce by: 

  • Creating a tiered bonus program: Along with a sign-on bonus, motivate employees by giving smaller bonuses at weekly intervals or when they show up to work after a busy holiday weekend.
  • Giving higher pay rates than competitors: Nearly every employer has a story about losing a new hire because a competitor offered them a dollar more per hour. Look at rates in your area and increase them accordingly.
  • Providing discounts: Offer a regular employee discount with special double discount days. Plus, consider providing special shopping hours for your staff and a couple of guests.

6. Create a Campaign and Expand Your Hiring Efforts

The days of tossing out a job ad and waiting for applicants to flock to your store are over, at least for the time being. Treat your recruitment efforts like a marketing campaign, where you woo candidates with words, images and video. 

Holiday hiring employee recruitment strategies include: 

  • Create TikTok videos showing your staff, workplace and benefits
  • Ask people to share your Facebook post
  • Reach out to your network, including past employees, friends and family
  • Request and reward referrals from current or previous staff members
  • Use a recruiter or staffing agency to fill a large number of jobs
  • Work with schools and nonprofits to reach underrepresented people
  • Write a press release about your hiring initiatives
  • Host a virtual job fair with breakout sessions for interviews
  • Use in-store hiring events during the day and evening
  • Ask current staff for testimonials and add these to your marketing assets

7. Consider the Open Hiring Model

The Body Shop made the news last year after adopting an open hiring model. Instead of lengthy applications, interviews and background checks, the Body Shop puts all candidates on a list according to their application date.

When a position opens, the Body Shop connects with applicants and asks three questions “to confirm they are eligible and physically able to fulfill the requirements of the role.” This method helps reduce unconscious bias in hiring and better serve underrepresented populations.

Finding Seasonal Employees: Enhance Your 2021 Efforts

Fill retail positions by improving your recruiting strategy. Reach out to your audience with targeted content and well-defined job ads while highlighting the benefits of working for your small business.

Jessica Elliott Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Jessica is a business-to-business content strategist and consultant with 24 years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. She writes about technology, marketing and finance.
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