For some handsomely paid seasonal employees, now truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Those Christmas carolers in the mall might really be professional singers earning up to $100 an hour. That woman hustling past them laden with shopping bags could even be a personal gift shopper, taking home $200 an hour.
As weary job seekers already know too well, such plum gigs are not the norm.
“We find that job seekers searching for the perfect seasonal job are looking for an experience, not just a paycheck,” says Wendy Marshall of AboutJobs.com, a network of employment-oriented websites. Hence, seasonal jobs in the most desirable vacation destinations aren’t known for their impressive wages.
Whether the pay is high or not, there’s at least one reason to consider temporary work rather than giving up the hunt this holiday season: networking.
“The holidays actually present job seekers with a great opportunity to stand out from others who take a break from their job search during this time,” says career consultant Jean Baur, author of "Eliminated! Now What? Finding Your Way from Job-Loss Crisis to Career Resilience."
Also, many seasonal jobs offer room, board, discounts, or in the case of mountain resorts, “ski benefits.”
A job ad for the San Francisco pet caretaking company Pet Camp lists a modest $12 hourly pay, but when holiday workers stay on longer, they qualify for benefits like paid vacation, discounts, medical, dental, vision, and even bringing one pet to work. UPS will hire around 50,000 employees this holiday season, and those temporary hires will have the opportunity to stay on or apply for permanent work with health benefits and a 401(k) program.
Being in the right place can increase the odds of finding a good seasonal job. Certain locations are hotspots, like Alaska (fishing industry, tourism, petroleum) and Lake Tahoe (casino and recreation industries in the summer, skiing and other snow sports in the winter). Specialty websites exist to help those looking for seasonal jobs, but in the case of the Alaskan seafood industry you have to physically walk the docks to find the work.
But the best method for finding seasonal work could be to view hallmarks of the season as opportunities. For example, holiday parties create jobs for wait staff. Jeremy Redleaf, creator of the website Odd Job Nation, says such staffing can pay from $100-500 per party plus tips, as well as demand for chefs, security guards, decoration and invitation services, and event planners.
The Christmas and Hanukkah gift-giving frenzy traditionally brought seasonal retail jobs (with their usual not-very-impressive pay and sometimes-impressive discounts), but gift-giving also creates a newer job title: virtual comparison shoppers, which Redleaf says can pay up to $20/hour.
“We're seeing a lot of people hiring virtual assistants to find the lowest price for their gifting needs,” Redleaf says. Also, somebody has to deliver all those gifts, and occasionally it even pays decently: an ad for seasonal mail hauls on Denver’s Craigslist was hiring 70+ drivers at $23-24 an hour.
The approaching end of the fiscal year means that businesses need professional office help and budget preparation assistance at a time when they can’t hire new staff, says Lynne Sarikas, executive director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University. She points out that the year’s end also signals the beginning of tax season. Tax preparation services hire a seasonal tax force and many provide training, notes Sarikas, and so does the IRS. One Arizona tax firm is advertising for seasonal tax preparers at $25 an hour plus bonuses.
Even stormy weather can be a boon. Snow removal pay rates aren’t spectacular, but they can be good. An informal review of snow removal job ads for the Denver area indicated a pay range of $13-$30 an hour, and in the Anchorage, Alaska area, a recent ad for snow sub-contactors offered $50-$60 per hour.
Also during nasty weather, people are more inclined to pay others to do outdoor errands, such as wait on line for tickets. Redleaf says these rates can run from $20-80. One recent Raleigh, N.C.-area ad on Craigslist offered $40 for someone to wait about 3 hours for tickets (and rather astonishingly asks for a resume).
The jobs mentioned here, and the even better compensated jobs in the following slideshow, won’t be found at these rates in every locale, but take this as an inspiration to size up local markets and cook up your own service relating to seasonal demands.