Hiring seasonal help isn’t like hiring a year-round employee. Here’s what you need to know.
What comes to mind when you think about hiring seasonal help? Is it the throng of college students working in the mall in December? Maybe you picture a few high school kids working in an ice cream shop by the lake on a lazy summer afternoon. Or perhaps it’s your buddy who comes to help you clean pools for two weeks every spring.
Every industry has its “busy” season, and seasonal workers temporarily supplement your regular staff to accommodate a surge in business activity. Agricultural workers have followed crops working and moving with the changing seasons. Tax professionals hire a bevy of professionals and advisors for the April rush every year.
But hiring seasonal help isn’t always as simple as it seems, especially if you’re trying to fill multiple positions or if your business hours necessitate a lot of flexible scheduling. There’s also a tendency to take a lackadaisical approach to hiring since it’s a short-term situation. Unfortunately, that gets a lot of businesses into trouble. So how do you hire the right people? You’ll need to ask a few questions, both of yourself and of potential hires.
to ask yourself when you’re hiring seasonal help
1. Do you need the help?
The first question to ask yourself is whether or not you need help, and if so, how much. If you just have a project that needs attention, you might be better off hiring a contractor. If a small business is trying to update their database and inventory tracking system, that might be something better suited to a professional who would contract with you for the job. If, on the other hand, you need a counter person at your deli for the lunch shift for the next three months, it might be time to hire a new employee.
2. Is it worth the investment?
Hiring an employee, even a seasonal employee, is a big investment of time, money, and energy. You have to sort through applications and resumes and conduct interviews, and even the most straightforward job requires training. And while it might seem like going through the process for a temporary employee is extraneous, failing to follow through on things like checking references and having in-depth conversations with potential employees can often lead to unpleasant situations. It’s always worth the investment to hire good employees, especially ones who may stay with you (or return each season). But if you don’t think it’s worth your time to go through the process, it might not be a good use of your resources to hire someone.
3. Do you already have employees who can fill the gap?
Depending on your need, you may already have employees who would be willing to pick up extra hours, bearing in mind, of course, the labor laws and overtime pay laws of your state.
to ask employees when you’re hiring seasonal help
1. Why are you looking for seasonal employment? Why do you want to work here?
There isn’t necessarily a “right” answer to either of these questions, but it does give you insight into how well someone may fit into your company. “I just need a job,” isn’t a bad answer, but it’s not as helpful as, “I’ve been a customer here for a while, and I’d love to learn more about your business and your industry.”
2. What is your previous experience with this industry?
More specifically, what do they know about the type of work you're expecting from them? Again, there’s no right or wrong answer, but if you want someone who can jump in and contribute right away, some experience may be beneficial.
3. How do you handle difficult customers?
No matter what industry you’re in, you have customers, whether those “customers” are coworkers looking for help with a project or task or people paying you for a product or service. No smart person will give you anything less than a positive answer to this, so be on the lookout for subtle cues as to the interviewee's attitude about the situation.
4. Describe your ideal coworkers.
While this may not be a question, the reply offers insight into how a potential employee could fit in with your team. Someone who prefers working with a friendly, hard-working group might be the perfect fit for a laid-back, but responsible, detail-oriented team.
5 Additional Tips
for hiring the right person for the job
1. Be clear about your needs.
Make sure your potential hire knows your expectations for hours, be that weekends, holidays, late shifts, early shifts, only three-hour shifts, or any specific scheduling needs.
2. Be clear about the duration of the job.
Don’t mislead someone into thinking your seasonal position is any more or less than what it is. If you need someone for two months, state that up front. If there is some ambiguity, be honest about that, too.
3. Share why your company is a great place to work, even for seasonal workers.
Does your team have great chemistry? Maybe it’s the free lunches or the generous employee discount that makes people love working with you. There's a reason people love working with you. Be sure to share that.
4. Hire someone you would want on a full-time basis.
You never know when a seasonal position may turn into a year-round position. If they're a potentially good fit for a long-term position, they'll definitely be good on a seasonal basis.
5. Make sure your questions are legal.
According to the Yale University Office of Career Strategy, questions about age, disability status, religious affiliation, marital status, citizenship, or arrest records could be illegal, depending on how you ask them. In any case, discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), age, national origin, or disability” is illegal.
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