November 27 2007: 4:05 PM EST
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Turn your holiday job into a full-time gig

Turning a part-time holiday gig into a full-time job isn't easy, especially this year. But with effort, and a little luck, you can do it. Fortune's Anne Fisher explains how.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I got laid off from my job at a commercial bank last spring and, although I've since picked up a couple of consulting projects, I think it's time for a career change. Retailing has always interested me, and I'd be willing to start at the bottom to break in. (I just turned 30, so I figure I have time to start over.) Several large retailers in my area are advertising for holiday sales help, and I'm wondering, if I apply for a temporary position and make a good impression, what are the chances I could stay on after the New Year? Could this be a way to get a foot in the door for a permanent job? -- Maria the Mall Maven

Dear Maria: Maybe, but it's probably going to be tough. Let's look at the bad news first. According to Chicago outplacement and career-counseling firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, retailers don't normally consider holiday help for permanent jobs after they've put away the Santas and taken down the tinsel.

"For those lucky enough to be hired in November and December, any hopes for a permanent position will likely go unfulfilled," says CEO John Challenger. He explains that retail employment tends to plunge after Christmas: "Over the past several years, retailers have cut more workers in January and February than they hired in the preceding three months."

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The 2006 holiday season, for instance, saw retail jobs increase by 721,200, only to fall by 818,000 in early 2007. In 2005, retailers added about 711,000 seasonal employees and cut 871,100 in January and February of 2006. "Many of those seasonal employees had planned to leave anyway, of course, but it's likely that some permanent full-time staff will be let go this time around as in past years," Challenger says. "In fact, if holiday sales are weak, the post-holiday job cuts will be even heavier in 2008."

And that's if you can even manage to get a temporary gig. So far, retail hiring is at its most anemic levels since 2001. That year, retail employment shrank 26% in the fourth quarter, and 2007 may be just as bad, if not worse: The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that, in the dark October days of 2001, retailers nonetheless hired 95,700 seasonal workers. This October, they hired far fewer, just 71,700.

"The October hiring figure could be adjusted upward as the government continues to process all the data," Challenger notes. "But this very low October number provides a solid clue to how retailers perceive hiring needs for the season."

None of this means, however, that you should forget the whole idea. After all, you've got little to lose by giving it your best shot. So go ahead and apply for those holiday jobs you see advertised. If you get one, Challenger says, "it is critical to use the short time you have in the job to prove you are indispensable. Show up for work early, offer to work extra hours, do more than what is asked of you and -- most important -- make sales."

He adds: "In a year when holiday hiring is expected to be minimal, it's also important for job hunters to look where others aren't looking. Everyone wants the sales clerk job, but stores also need stock clerks to restock the shelves." Obviously, a stock clerk isn't in a position to make sales, but the stock room or some other part of the store may still give you a way in and a chance to meet people in the company, which could lead to opportunities later.

Incidentally, anyone looking for a temporary job over the holidays -- regardless of whether it has the potential for permanence -- would be smart to broaden his or her search beyond retailers. Challenger notes that shipping companies like FedEx (Charts, Fortune 500) and UPS (Charts, Fortune 500) typically hire thousands of extra workers to handle the heavy holiday load.

Likewise, restaurants and caterers often need seasonal help, as do hotels and tourist destinations: "Ski areas, beach resorts, entertainment destinations, and warm-climate amusement parks usually see a spike in travelers, and that means extra staffing."

And don't forget customer service call centers. "Gifts often come with technical difficulties, so call centers experience a surge in call volume over the holidays," Challenger says. Not only that, but call centers are an industry with lots of turnover, so they're a pretty good bet for job openings at any time of year.

Readers, what's your experience? Have you ever turned a part-time or temporary job into a full-time permanent position? How did you do it? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog!  To top of page