How to Land a Holiday Job

Just as more people will be scouting for seasonal work, employers are expecting to hire fewer workers.

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Macy's in Minneapolis is looking for elves this season. The holidays aren't complete without Macy's Santaland, and Santaland needs elves or, more specifically, costumed associates who work inside the holiday display while offering holiday greetings and helping with crowd control.

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This year, becoming an elf is no small thing. Just as more job seekers will be scouting for seasonal work, many employers are expecting to hire fewer holiday workers. If you're intent on finding a job this season, here are some tips on landing one:

Get your old job back: A recent survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers found that half of the workers companies intend to hire are those who worked for them the previous season. When the payrolls are leaner and time is at a premium, fewer companies can afford to vet new hires and then train them in the basics of the business. So, if you've worked a holiday job before, try to return the same employer to apply this year. That's likely the best option.

But don't forget to consider other options in the same vein. If you've worked in retail before, you might stick with applying for jobs at retailers, particularly those that sell the same type of products. Also, if you're familiar with a company because you've been a loyal customer, you should emphasize your knowledge of the company's wares (turning your much-regretted bills into something of an asset).

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Think transportation: Although holiday sales are expected to dip slightly this season, more customers are expected to do their shopping online. Forrester Research estimates that online holiday sales will increase by 8 percent. "Despite the lingering effects of the global financial crisis, the online space remains the retail industry's growth engine," says Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst.

For the most part, products ordered online must be shipped. So, while "UPS driver" might not be the first holiday job that leaps to mind, the company appears to be the most enthusiastic hirer this season. Brendan Cruickshank, vice president of job site, says UPS has launched a major hiring campaign for package handlers and drivers in many locations nationwide. And although many employers seem to be cautious about adding staff, this season's opportunities might be better than the previous holiday season. "In terms of job postings right now, there's certainly increased demand versus last year," Cruickshank says. If you recall, last fall was really the peak of the financial crisis and the steepest recessionary payroll cutting.

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Be flexible: The Black Friday sales bonanza, when some stores stay open 24 hours after Thanksgiving or open very early for steep discounts on specific items, is a pretty recent phenomenon. These weird hours mean job seekers applying at larger retailers often need to be very flexible with their schedules to get hired, says Cruickshank.

On the other hand, if your schedule is tight, some employers may be keeping shorter hours this season, in anticipation of a consumer population that lacks the appetite of years past, says Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Earlier this year, when the shopping landscape was especially tumultuous, many retailers were closing earlier on weekdays, Grannis says.

Alert yourself: Job sites such as Juju or LinkUp allow job seekers to set up E-mail alerts for job postings that satisfy certain keywords and customized locations. Cruickshank encourages creativity in setting up seasonal job alerts, by trying keywords and phrases such as "Santa" or "gift wrapping." What's the advantage? The early bird gets the worm. As soon as you see an opening, you can hop on it.

When you're searching online postings for opportunities, you may be surprised by the kinds of jobs that are seasonal. Job titles often associated with the holiday season include cashier, greeter, driver, merchandiser and seasonal sales associate, according to job search engine