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Make Seasonal Hiring Easier and More Efficient

Updated: December 15, 2011 11:31AM



Any season may be the season of your discontent -- if you don't take care to source, hire and onboard seasonal workers who represent the best that your business has to offer.

Many pitfalls plague employers that must supplement their full-time staff for the summer, for tax season, or for any other portion of the year when business peaks. Most of these troubles stem from a failure of the company's leadership to devote energy and resources to assembling an optimal seasonal workforce.

Are you willing to take a fresh look at your seasonal operations to see where you might improve your staffing? Consider these 11 approaches to fielding superlative workers when the annual rush is on.

Don't assume that high unemployment will make your seasonal hiring a cinch. In fact, "we've experienced pockets of the country where it was very difficult to hire," says Jennifer Lemcke, chief operating officer of Weed Man USA, a lawn-care franchisor. "It's been hard to hire in Detroit." Michigan has very high unemployment; the catch for seasonal employers is that extensions of Federal jobless benefits have made many Michiganders eligible to collect for up to 99 weeks, reducing the motivation to find work, according to Mark Perry, a professor of economics at University of Michigan in Flint.

Use sourcing channels that offer a high yield of candidates who only want seasonal work. You'll make better seasonal hires faster if you can mine rich veins of candidates who just want to work for the season. "We have tapped into graduating university students who are taking time to figure out what they want to do," says Lemcke.

If your seasonal staff is large, dedicate substantial resources to successful onboarding. Giving seasonal employees the sink-or-swim test could hurt your bottom line at season's end. "One of the most common mistakes is throwing seasonal hires on a sales floor with minimal training or onboarding, viewing them as a way to fill a schedule rather than as company representatives to serve your customers," says Nels Wroe, partner and product director at SHL Group, a vendor of talent-assessment tools.

Take time to ensure that job descriptions for seasonal hires are accurate, complete and up-to-date. "We have clients using job descriptions that are four or more years old," says Wroe. Consider asking the author of the job description to spend a few hours shadowing an employee in the relevant position. Your customers won't forgive poor service simply because it's rendered by a seasonal worker.

Consider tools for high-volume hiring and screening. If you're hiring for hundreds or thousands of seasonal positions, you'll probably benefit from talent-management systems. "Our candidates have doubled or tripled over the last few years, so we need tools to manage the flow," says Kyle Martin, manager of talent acquisition at Vail Resorts Management Company in Broomfield, Colorado. Wroe says that with seasonal hires, "you have a very limited window to get a return on your hiring investment. Assessments let you select workers who will get up to speed more quickly."

Hire for attitude as much as aptitude. Most seasonal work is about being flexible and getting up to speed quickly, rather than bringing to bear an elaborate skill set. "All of our training is so in-depth -- we don't necessarily need someone with experience," says Lemcke. "We're looking for dependable workers who emphasize safety and customer focus," says Martin.

Give preference to "same time, next year" candidates. If you're able to select for candidates most likely to return for another season, do so; it'll streamline your hiring next year. "We'll hire 10,000 seasonal workers in 2010, including about 5,000 who are returning," says Martin.

Don't shortchange HR and related processes for seasonal employees. You may be tempted to save short-term costs by bypassing some HR processes for seasonal employees. This can bring you trouble on many fronts, from fielding confused workers to running afoul of labor laws. So keep your seasonal workers on your regular HR platform, and disseminate systems and knowledge to branch offices that are hiring for the season. "We supply franchisees with information on how to interview and evaluate candidates, with orientation and training programs, and with all the forms they'll need," says Lemcke.

If you use staffing vendors, consider giving just one an exclusive for your seasonal hires. Staffing agencies may be swamped filling the seasonal needs of many clients at once. If you promise one agency all your business, they may be more willing to go the extra mile to bring you the best seasonal workers.

Don't assume that all your seasonal hires are just for the season. Many of your seasonal workers will never be candidates for permanent positions, but some of them may be. Tag potential permanent hires early on, keep close tabs on their performance, and at the end of the season, evaluate their fitness for full-time employment.

Don't neglect your end game. Never assume that your workforce will remain intact through the season; it most likely won't. "No matter how much we plan, we still have to hire some people toward the end of the season," says Lemcke. Consider structuring compensation to reward seasonal workers for staying as long as you need them. "Our lawn-care technicians get a bonus based on production if they complete the season," Lemcke adds.

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