Expert Advice

10 rules for hiring temporary workers for the holidays

A small business owner interviews and hires a temporary employee by following ten tips for hiring seasonal workers for peak season help.

Experts share advice on what to do before hiring extra staff to meet holiday demands.

It's almost the hectic holidays, the busiest time of the year for most retailers and UPS, which delivers more than 630 million packages between Black Friday and New Year's Eve. To handle the holiday season rush UPS intends to hire 95,000 temporary workers. Our retail customers are no doubt thinking about how they will handle the holiday rush.

"The best employees come from recommendations from current employees."  – Richard Feinberg

Here are 10 smart tips to follow to ensure your seasonal efforts are not in vain.

Rule #1: Start early and allocate resources

Waiting until the last minute to increase your staff is never a good idea. "First, map out the position, including duties, expectations and the experience necessary," says Melanie White, owner of Melanie Marie Accessories, a line of personalized jewelry based in New York City. She suggests listing a job as early as September, which will also give you enough time to conduct interviews and check references. 

Also, White advises making sure that hiring more help is right for your company. Think about your projected sales and decide exactly how many extra hands you'll need to guarantee an above-average customer experience. 

Rule #2: Recruit with help from your employees

"The best employees come from recommendations from current employees," says Richard Feinberg, Ph.D., a professor of retail management in the Department of Consumer Science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Employee referrals are unique because the candidates tend to be a better cultural fit and outperform the competition. And yet, only 63 percent of employers have a documented referral process, according to a survey from iCIMS Inc., a recruitment software provider. Small businesses can reward employee recommendations with anything from movie tickets to a cash bonus.

Rule #3: Ask the right questions

When hiring seasonal workers, time is everything. There is often not enough of it for employers to provide lengthy training or a probationary period, so having a shrewd yet effective screening process may help prevent issues later on. Before you bring someone on, our experts suggest asking these questions during the interview to identify the best candidate for the job:

  • What was your previous retail experience?
  • Why do you want to work for my company?
  • Have you ever worked during the holidays?
  • How did you handle difficult customers in your previous job?
  • What makes you a great candidate for this job?
  • Are there any scheduling conflicts that may prevent you from working a full shift?

Asking these questions will help you figure out who is serious about the job and will potentially do a better job – which is important up front. If you ask about their holiday season experience, for example, you may realize that they don't understand the last-minute rush, or that they expect to leave early on Christmas Eve, when you're planning to be open.

Rule #4: Know what to look for in candidates

Feinberg suggests looking for applicants who align with your company's values. Also, don't just hire skilled people. Hire workers who are also passionate about your company. After hiring someone who noticeably didn't care about her jewelry business, White was left with several incorrect orders and a few unhappy customers. 

Rule #5: Sweeten the pot

If the competition is paying $10 per hour, then offer $11 per hour. "No one wants to hear it, but eagles soar, and the extra dollar may be worth it in productivity, sales and even customer service satisfaction," says Feinberg. 

Rule #6: Engage a temporary staffing agency

According to Smith, enlisting the help of an outside hiring agency can be a quick, transparent method when you need to bring on temp staff in a crunch. "The right agency can minimize hiring missteps while adopting the tedious legwork and administrative tasks," she says. 

As the client, you are paying to use an agency's employees as much or little as you wish without the HR overhead. If you want to eventually hire these temps as full-time employees, this is your chance to observe performance, qualifications and work habits prior to offering a permanent position. 

Rule #7: Always check references

Thoroughly check references, even if pressed for time. Feinberg recalls hiring a worker who offered three references. Even though he checked the applicant's background, Feinberg admits he did so hastily. When the worker didn't pan out, Feinberg discovered that one reference was from the employee's mom. "It amazes me how small retailers leave this task to someone else or leave it out entirely," he says. 

Rule #8: Invest in employee development

According to statistics from Equifax, between July 2014 and 2015, more than half of all employees who left their jobs did so within the first 12 months. Don't necessarily view part-time help as a one-shot deal, where you hire folks for a few weeks during the holidays and then never interact with them again. "Spending time training and developing your staff is an investment that offers a big payoff," says Feinberg. 

Rule #9: Know the law when hiring temporary workers

Ann Fisher, owner and president of HR Alternative Consulting Inc. in Indianapolis, warns that it's critical to know both federal and state laws when hiring seasonal employees. 

"Understand what you can and cannot ask an applicant, such as ‘Are you a U.S. citizen?' and ‘Do you have child care?' All applicants should fill out the same employment application, which becomes a legal document once it's signed. "If the employee falsifies anything, that's grounds for termination," says Fisher. 

Timing is key. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, employees must present two forms of proper ID within three business days of the first day of employment, or the company can rescind the offer. 

Rule #10: Use online hiring resources 

In addition to a number of well-established web resources, small businesses in need of seasonal hires may reach out to websites they may not have considered before:

  • allows for free job posting, which then gets pushed on Twitter and Facebook.
  • posts job openings to more than 40 sites and allows employers to review more than 2 million résumés.
  • spotlights college students and recent grads searching for employment.

Start planning for the holiday rush now. Check out our 2016 peak season holiday calendar here.


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