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By Mallika Mitra
October 15, 2021
A Fedex employee wearing a Santa Claus hat takes packages off a truck in New York City
Getty Images

Flashback to fall of last year: millions of workers had been laid off, there were 11 million fewer jobs compared to before the pandemic, and seasonal jobs were a lifeline for the unemployed. For the 2021 holiday period, it's a very different story — because there's a labor shortage and seasonal job seekers have the upper hand.

As holiday hiring kicks off, more than 10% of seasonal jobs postings on the hiring site Indeed.com noted in the description that hiring was “urgent,” up from 1% the year before. Meanwhile, 79% of employers surveyed by Indeed report it has been difficult to hire in recent months.

Major retailers and shipping companies always hire for the holidays, and this year employers like UPS, FedEx, Michael's and Kohl's have already announced they're looking for tens of thousands of seasonal workers. If you're considering a seasonal job for the 2021 holidays, you may want to approach the job hunt strategically.

"Seasonal workers have more leverage than ever to negotiate for higher pay or larger hiring bonuses," says Daniel Zhao, senior economist and lead data scientist at employer review site Glassdoor.

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Seasonal job hiring in 2021

The share of seasonal job postings on Indeed is below where it was for 2020 and 2019, likely because employers have constantly been trying to fill full-time positions for much of 2021. However, seasonal hiring will likely follow previous years’ trends and continue to rise through early November, says AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed. And while the number of seasonal job listings that indicate hiring is urgent has significantly jumped from last year, interest from job seekers is "lukewarm at best," Indeed's research found.

Retailers have been desperately trying to hire this year. On top of giving workers more money and flexibility, some are also offering child-care benefits and free college tuition, and even eliminating drug tests.

While seasonal workers often don't get the same perks as full-time employees, the red-hot labor market certainly gives them an upper hand.

"Job seekers have a variety of choices in today’s labor market," Konkel says. "With employers scrambling to get the workers they need this year, job seekers may be able to negotiate on pay, schedule flexibility or benefits."

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How seasonal workers can negotiate pay and benefits

Do your research

Job applicants should do their homework on how much money different employers are paying for seasonal positions. Many companies just recently committed to paying $15 an hour (or more), including Walgreens and Costco.

"Know your worth and be willing to walk away," Zhao says.

Practice before negotiating

Before you head out to bargain with a potential employer, take the time to plan out and practice what you're going to say.

Yes, that means actually practicing out loud in the mirror or with a friend to make sure your body language matches your words and tone, Konkel says.

"Remember that employers are struggling to find workers, along with supply chain issues and ongoing pandemic challenges, so a calmer tone will likely be perceived well," she adds.

Use a holiday job to get a full-time job

While it can be harder to negotiate for more flexible working hours or better benefits because of the nature of seasonal work, job seekers may want to consider long term options as well, Zhao says. Walmart, for example, is increasing its hiring ahead of the holidays, but mostly for permanent, full-time positions.

Employees can use seasonal work as a stepping stone to continuing employment after the holidays are over, Zhao adds. Gaining experience in a sector as a seasonal worker can certainly help you land that full-time job down the road.

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