May 2006
Seasonal Help 101 By Carol Hacker

It’s that time of year again: Nice weather is bringing customers to garden centers across the country. The surge in sales and services that is taking place creates the need for additional staff. For many retailers, seasonal employees are lifelines to their customers who expect friendly and knowledgeable personnel to answer questions and help them make purchasing decisions.

Different businesses and locations need seasonal employees for varying lengths of time. For example, a lawn and garden center in the upper Midwest may need seasonal help for just a few months while a similar business in California or Florida may recruit employees to work for a longer period of time. Whether you are hiring for six weeks or six months, it’s important to find the people who can best represent your business.

Businesses who use seasonal employees face many challenges including decisions about when to hire, how many people to hire, where to find suitable applicants and how to train and introduce new employees to the job and the business.

Evaluate Your Needs

Before you begin the process of hiring seasonal help, it is important to evaluate your specific needs. The first question to address is whether seasonal workers are appropriate for your business. Despite their importance in the workforce, seasonal employees are not the answer for all businesses. Smaller operations may prefer to rely on family members to help during the busy season. Doing so eliminates the hassle of interviewing, hiring and training someone for a need that exists for only a few months each year.

Once you decide if seasonal help is right for you, there are many more questions to consider:

  • How many seasonal employees should you hire?
  • Will they work full or part time?
  • How many hours will they work each week?
  • Are you prepared to pay for overtime hours?
  • How long will you need their services?
  • Will there be opportunities for permanent employment at the end of the season?
  • How flexible are you in terms of work schedules?

Some businesses have found it is easier to get people to work longer hours, which means fewer seasonal employees are needed. This can translate to improved service for customers because the employees get to know repeat customers. Seasonal employees will start recognizing frequent shoppers and maybe even call them by name when they enter the store.

Improving economic conditions and stiff competition for top-notch people means that many businesses are finding it more difficult to fill seasonal job openings. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin searching for seasonal staff. This can be especially important for smaller businesses that don’t have human resource departments to handle recruiting. Advertise, interview, make job offers and set starting dates for hiring new employees weeks in advance of your need.

Attracting Applicants

Don’t rely on a “Help Wanted” sign in your store window to recruit candidates; try multiple approaches such as advertising with local newspapers or radio stations.

Schools. Get proactive and contact high schools about student work programs that may include young adults who are interested in working part time during the school year and full time during summers and holidays. It’s also a good idea to post job announcements at area colleges and universities.

Churches. Call churches and let them know you are looking for seasonal help. Many churches assist their members in finding jobs; some even offer free classes on how to do so and have a “job leads” bulletin board to post open positions. Usually there isn’t a cost for this service.

Employee referrals. Think about your best employees; do they know someone who is looking for seasonal work? New hires that are referred by your current employees are often a good bet.

Former employees. Contact former seasonal employees who performed favorably and ask if they could return for another season. Even if they can’t, they may be able to recommend someone who is looking for seasonal work. Even a former full-time employee may be interested in a seasonal position providing he or she is someone you would consider rehiring.

Retail employees. Some retailers have been known to walk through stores and restaurants in area shopping malls, strike up conversations and look for prospective seasonal employees — those workers who appear to be personable and customer-focused. These people are working for other retail businesses; decide how you want to approach them about working for you without coming across like a poacher. Sometimes offering a business card accompanied with the words, “If you’re ever looking for a job, give me a call,” is all you need to do to get the ball rolling.

Customers. Some of your best customers can make good employees. They know your product and buy from you because they like you and the things you sell. To see if they are interested, make it known in your store that you are looking for seasonal employees to add to your team.

Competitive pay. In the search for seasonal employees, consider what your business can offer in the way of compensation. Be aware of what other area businesses offer so that you can be competitive. While seasonal jobs usually don’t pay the same hourly rate as full-time, regular positions, discounts on merchandise, paid lunch breaks and the possibility of a bonus for high performance may help attract good prospective employees. This can be especially helpful if the hourly rate you’re prepared to offer is not as high as that of other businesses in your community. Also, consider offering a higher rate of pay to experienced former seasonal workers to encourage them to return.

Build Your Workforce

Who you hire is more important than how you manage them once they are on the job. That is why it is important to identify the best applicants, interview them and compare them to your most successful employees. Before you put them on the payroll, look beyond what you want to see in a job applicant.

When you begin interviewing seasonal applicants, treat the matter seriously. While you may not conduct the same in-depth interview for a seasonal position that you would for a full-time position, take the time to learn about potential new employees.

People often fail to uncover the truth about applicants during the job interview. And although no one is perfect, getting to know applicants through the questions you ask will help you make an informed hiring decision. Ask good, thought-provoking questions and listen with full attention to the answers.

Your job as the hiring manager is to determine the applicants’ weaknesses. By asking the right questions, you can find out where an applicant is weak. This will make it easy to decide whether or not this is someone you want to hire. The time spent selecting the right seasonal employees is more important than many employers realize.

Take note of applicants’ appearances and attitudes. What about experience — how important is previous retail experience? If they have a lack of experience but seem like ideal prospects in every other way, are you willing to train them? What kind of training can you offer that will be fast and efficient?

Don’t forget to check their references. Many businesses don’t bother to contact the applicant’s previous employers especially for seasonal help. That decision can be a HUGE mistake! In checking references, verify the facts and solicit opinions.

Avoid The Pitfalls

As tempting as it may be to hire the first warm body that walks through the door, it’s usually not a good idea. Although you may feel relief at having resolved the problem for the short term, hiring the wrong person even for a seasonal job can have long-range repercussions. A customer who is dissatisfied with your seasonal worker’s attitude or lack of job skills may not bother to return and never give your business a second chance.

Building customer loyalty starts with a loyal workforce whether regular, full-time employees or temporary, seasonal employees. The loyalty factor begins with a business culture that respects and values each of its employees as well as its customers. The relationship between the two will impact the profitability of your business. Create a workplace culture by hiring the right people, training them, communicating frequently and honestly, listening, empowering, emphasizing teamwork and leading by example.

Orientation And Training

Take time for a brief orientation to the business and the job. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it is important to help each of your employees get off on the right foot. Explain the goals and philosophy of your business. In addition, let your seasonal employees know what you expect of them in terms of performance. Don’t inadvertently encourage an attitude of, “It’s only a seasonal job.” If you consider their jobs to be relatively unimportant, employees will quickly get the message, and they may adopt the same attitude.

Another important step when hiring seasonal employees is to provide training. Often the seasonal worker doesn’t get enough guidance, especially during the first few days on the job. Someone teaches them the bare bones of operating a cash register, stocking shelves or answering the customers’ questions and assumes the matter will take care of itself. This is seldom the case.

A fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to training new hires is a de-motivating action on the part of the owner or manager. While an experienced employee may handle the job with a minimum amount of training, the inexperienced worker requires extra attention. Otherwise, someone will invariably have to spend time correcting the mistakes and resolving the problems created by the employee’s lack of experience and knowledge.

The employer also has to consider the amount of time spent training new employees. Training two seasonal employees may be more costly than training one full-time employee; yet, training is just as critical for the seasonal employee. Sometimes employers make the mistake of believing that because a person is a seasonal employee, it is not necessary to train him or her as thoroughly as the full-timers. However, any employee without adequate training, especially when interfacing with customers, can easily and quickly cost the business both dollars and customers.


Seasonal employees are an integral part of the business world today. The successful use of these people depends in large part upon how a business applies what it learns from one season to another. Make notes about what did or didn’t work well. Keep a list of experienced employees you want to contact the next time you are looking for seasonal workers. Planning ahead can make the seasonal-employee aspect of your business easier and more profitable.

Carol Hacker

Carol Hacker is a human resource consultant, seminar leader and author of 13 business books including Hiring Top Performers-350 Great Interview Questions for People Who Need People. She can be reached at (770) 410-0517.


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