By: John Rossheim
Amazon and Target do it. UPS and Fedex do it. Even Harry & David do it. Plan their holiday hiring in painstaking detail, that is.
More and more, you must compete with these enterprises, so your small business should do it, too.
We spoke with small businesses about how they master seasonal hiring and ramp up just in time for the holiday crunch. Here’s their distilled wisdom.
Mine your 2011 data to plan this year's holiday workforce. As uncertain as your upcoming holiday labor needs may seem, try to put a fine point on how many workers you'll need when.
"It's very difficult to staff for the holidays," says Laura Platt, human resources manager at Spreadshirt, a retailer of customized T-shirts in Greensburg, Pa. "We start with last year's day-by-day orders, then factor in our sales projections for this year."
Remember that all holiday-season workers are not created equal. The short-term employees you hire for the holidays will make a long-lasting impression on your customers. So recruit and manage temps with care.
"I have to get clients past the hours, pay rate and job description, to what it is that makes a seasonal worker excel," says Julie Mann, president of JMann Consulting Group in Lansing, Mich. "I ask client, 'If Frank was your best worker last holiday season, what made him so great?' "
Actively recruit top seasonal workers from years past. Your best seasonal workers from last year are the most likely to make great workers for the coming holidays. So don't treat them like strangers and wait for them to contact you.
"We call the people we like, to ask them to come back for the next season," says Guy Lenke, director of manufacturing for PersonalizationMall.com, a retailer of personalized gifts in Burr Ridge, Ill.
Employee referrals are key for seasonal recruitment. Your employees know what it takes to get the job done, and they likely know other people who could do it well.
"In my section, the employees all know somebody" who wants to work the holiday season, says Lenke. Three-quarters of the 150 holiday workers who Lenke expects to hire himself in 2012 will be returning seasonals, he predicts.
Seasonal or not, optimal recruitment requires outreach. As with any recruitment effort, to achieve the best results, you need to reach out to key demographic groups suited to the job and work arrangement, including on-campus recruiting.
"I do a lot of work with colleges," says Platt. "My next thing is to go to 'Mommy and me' groups."
Avoid candidates who are seeking full-time work elsewhere. "January is a peak hiring season for many companies," says Ben Piper, an IT management consultant in Woodstock, Ga.
"If you hire temporary employees who are looking for a permanent job, there's an increased risk they will leave just before the end of the holiday season, right when you need them most."
Stagger hiring according to skill level. Spec out the job requirements of each seasonal position in detail, and set hire dates accordingly. A staggered schedule will make optimal use of your seasonal labor budget and spread out the onboarding burden on your permanent staff.
"We start bringing in people in September for positions that require more training," says Platt. "Our December hires will be for the most basic jobs."
Hire in time for on-the-job training. Strange as it may seem, even with continuing high unemployment, you can't always pull people with the perfect seasonal skill set out of a hat filled with 2,000 applications.
Hire for attitude -- in advance. Temporary, skilled workers with the right attitude are always in short supply, and even the best workers may require at least a little time to ramp up.
"In the current job market, I might have to start people a week earlier and do some on-the-job training to get workers where they need to be," says Mann.