Chinikwa Christian hopes to land a temporary job at a clothing store, an office or a hotel that will last through the holiday season, from November through January.
"That's when stores and other places need help the most," said Christian, 21, a Farmville, Va., resident who started looking last month.
By starting her job search well before the holidays, Christian is on the right track, experts say, because now is the time to line up a position.
"It's a misconception to think that businesses don't start hiring until November," said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, the industry's largest trade group. "Most want seasonal employees hired and trained by the end of October."
The retail industry is famous for adding employees during the busy holiday shopping season. In 2004, stores hired 524,350 additional workers nationwide during the holiday months, accounting for 3.5 percent of the industry's total workforce, according to NRF data.
But retail is not the only sector that bulks up during the holidays. The travel, hospitality, delivery and food-preparation industries also add workers. In fact, a survey conducted in August by CareerBuilder.com, an online job site, found that 58 percent of hiring managers nationwide said they planned to recruit workers for seasonal positions from October through December.
Nonprofit groups also hire extra staff members to handle the year-end surge of donations, said Renee Whalen, vice president of the mid-Atlantic region for OfficeTeam, a California staffing firm.
When it comes to pay, salaries for seasonal jobs tend to be lower than those for comparable permanent positions, according to David Hunegnaw, a partner with Groovejob.com, an employment Web site that features part-time and temporary jobs. But some work -- such as loading delivery trucks -- may pay well around the holidays, he said, in some instances as much as $13 to $14 an hour.
Some holiday jobs make up for lower pay with perks, such as those well-known merchandise discounts. Positions in the travel or hospitality industries may even provide seasonal workers with subsidized or free housing.
And there are intangible benefits, such as the chance to work at a beautiful ski resort or meet co-workers from around the globe, according to Bill Berg, president and founder of Coolworks.com, a Web site focused on seasonal jobs in the travel industry.
But applicants are warned not to be fooled by the festive mood of the season. If you sign up to work on a cruise ship, "don't expect to just work a few hours and party," said Matt Lucas, president of JobMonkey.com, a travel and hospitality jobs Web site.
Companies take holiday hiring very seriously, said Davis of the NRF. "It's almost as important to them as hiring year-round employees because these people will be the face of the company during the holiday season," she said.
Managers are looking for experienced and enthusiastic applicants, said Jennifer Sullivan, spokeswoman for CareerBuilder.com. "Employers are not impressed by people who just want an employee discount," she said.
Approach your search for a seasonal job as if you were looking for a permanent position, Whalen said. Look at online job sites, in newspaper classified ads and at temporary placement firms. Walk into a store you love or frequent, and ask for a position. And of course, network.
"Chances are you probably know someone who works at a store or office where you'd like to work on a seasonal basis," said Sullivan.
Present an error-free resume to your potential employer, though for retail jobs, a company application may suffice. Prepare questions and dress appropriately for interviews. Let potential employers know "that you are willing and able to work nights, weekends, or whatever it takes," because prime shopping times are often evenings and weekends, Hunegnaw said.
And about those discounts and other fringe benefits? Experts advise against asking about perks in the interview. "Typically the hiring manager will bring that up, so it's best to shy away from these types of questions," Sullivan said.
It is usually a plus to inquire about the possibility of turning the temporary job into a permanent position, Sullivan said.
"Letting an employer know that you're interested in that can separate you from the other people hired at the same time," she said. "Sometimes these jobs are used to test drive candidates, to see if you want to become a permanent part of the team."
Christian said extending a temporary job beyond the holidays is just what she has in mind. Once she has her foot in the door, she said she hopes to angle for a permanent position.
Seasonal workers can increase their chances for turning a temporary job into a permanent one, Sullivan said. She encouraged holiday workers to assume additional responsibilities, volunteer for extra hours, suggest ideas about displays and take greater roles in projects.
Christian said she plans to follow some of those tips once she finds her holiday job.
"I will go over and beyond the limit of my duties of my job, so that when the manager or whoever is there is watching people, they can see me and know that I'm doing an excellent job," she said.