If you're looking for work, don't dismiss a temporary job in retail this holiday season. It may be more of a foot in the door than in past years. Stores say they need extra workers for the rush and are also looking for employees they can keep after the season ends.
Toys "R" Us said recently that it will hire 45,000 extra staffers this holiday shopping season. Last year, 15 percent of its seasonal workers stayed on after the holidays.
Target said it converted about 30 percent of last year's extra holiday helpers into year-round workers.
About 43 percent of retailers surveyed recently by the Hay Group said they plan to have more permanent workers in stores this year and plan to keep more of them after the holiday, based on responses from 14 major U.S. retail companies.
"What better way to audition for a permanent job in retail than during the holidays," said National Retail Federation spokeswoman Ellen Davis. "Last year, Target hired almost one in three of its seasonal workers. That's impressive."
Retailers have been caught in the past with too few store employees during the Christmas rush, leaving them with long checkout lines and shelves that needed restocking, Davis said.
"As the economy rebounds, price will be less important and experience will be more important," she said.
Retailers are guarded but encouraged because shoppers came through for back-to-school shopping in August.
The early holiday forecasts come with caveats. It will be a challenge to convert shoppers to buyers this year, according to ShopperTrak, the largest provider of retail foot-traffic analysis in stores and shopping centers. It has forecast that sales will be up 3 percent this November and December, but traffic in stores will be down 2.2 percent.
Retailers are trying to make stores more seamless with their online operations, a shift that requires more seasonal hiring in distribution centers, call centers and back rooms.
For some shoppers, stores are morphing into merchandise pickup locations and retailers are using their back rooms as miniature fulfillment centers.
Toys "R" Us is hiring 5,000 more people for the holidays than it did last year, partly because this holiday season it is introducing a ship-to-store option for customers. Toys "R" Us will add staffers dedicated to merchandise pickup kiosks in its stores.
Pier 1 Imports has expanded its e-commerce business this year and is hiring more workers at its Mansfield, Texas, distribution center where online orders are fulfilled, but a spokeswoman declined to say how many. Pier 1 plans to hire 10 to 15 seasonal staffers at each of its 1,058 stores, she said, more than last year.
J.C. Penney said it will give priority to existing staffers who want the option of increasing their hours.
At GameStop, the plan is to add 17,000 seasonal workers in stores and 200 people at the Texas refurbishment center where it processes merchandise from video game discs to iPhones.
It's also adding 60 to 80 people at its Louisville, Ky., distribution center, said senior vice president of human resources Mike Buskey.
"We're looking at a strong fourth quarter with the new Wii console and big titles coming, including Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.”
Most seasonal jobs are part time and don't require experience. Ads usually are like one from Sephora that asked for "enthusiastic, hard-working" applicants with "a passion" to serve customers. (Some, however, require specialized skills.)
Weaklings need not apply.
Kohl's seasonal job requirements are a reminder that physical stamina is required: "Ability to lift up to 50 pounds on an occasional to frequent basis. Ability to spend up to 100 percent of his/her working time standing or moving about register areas and around the store."
A Target warehouse worker needs more than muscle. Applicants "must be able to operate all power equipment safely, read labels, tickets and other product documentation, able to use a personal computer."
Kohl's said it started hiring for its stores this month and will be set by mid November. Most retailers are on the same schedule. Target said it will still be hiring in December.
In its annual holiday hiring forecast, Challenger, Gray & Christmas said seasonal jobs gains are likely to be up from a year ago but still below pre-recession levels.
The Chicago outplacement firm said the industry hired just over 660,000 people for seasonal jobs last year. This year, it expects hiring to approach 700,000.
CEO John Challenger said there's still "too much uncertainty to expect seasonal employment gains to reach the level we saw in 2006, when retailers added nearly 747,000 extra workers."
The record was set in 1999, during the dot-com boom, when nearly 850,000 seasonal workers were hired, he said, but that level may never be reached again.