December 2, 2008

Can I start my job search now ... even though it's December?

Unfortunately, there's no simple answer to that question.

In a recent news article from Reuters, it was noted that retail sales, while up for this year, might not be as strong as they first appear. In fact, while the numbers were strong for Friday, they seemed to have dropped off for Saturday and Sunday.

Typically, many shoppers, when confronted with difficult economic times, not only reduce their spending, but they also hold out for better deals. If that's true for this year, then you'll see a lot more people shopping later on in the season, closer to Christmas.

Although this data is from the United States, given how integrated the Canadian and American economies are, I would argue that we'll see a similar effect here in Canada - deep discounts. In fact, I'm not sure if you heard, but The Brick held its first annual Red Day Sale on the same day as Black Friday.

So why am I telling you this?

Well, I've gotten a few e-mails from readers who wanted to know if they still stood a chance at landing a job.

I won't lie - it will be difficult.

After all, most stores typically do their hiring in late October and early November.

Yet this year has been different - with the economic crisis and uncertainty, I've heard of stores scaling back on their recruitment efforts until they see exactly what sales data looks like for the beginning period of the busy shopping season.

Not that this is any different from other years. Take for example the job I had last year at a major clothing chain that had just opened a new store. My manager hired a number of people at the outset; however, some people elected to leave before the store even opened. As such, she was left with a few positions that needed to be filled in early December.

At the same time, given the current economic climate, there is a possibility that stores and restaurants will attempt to make do with as few staff as possible. That means fewer new hires and possibly some layoffs.

Despite that, it is still difficult to determine exactly how the economic crisis will impact jobs that are still available during the remainder of the Holiday Season.

Of course, the options might be limited. For example, I did a search on Workopolis.ca and found 86 jobs in the "Retail - Sales Representative" sector in Toronto. While this is a low number, consider that the majority of stores do not post their job ads online, so the number is likely much more.

And so what does this mean to you?

Well, in a nutshell, this means that there are still positions out there - some are temporary until the end of the season (usually late January) and others might be permanent.

So here are some things to keep in mind:

- Be prepared to hit the pavement. A job will not magically be given to you (unless you have an extensive and active network of contacts). You'll have to hit the malls on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning and speak directly with the store manager.

- Try and understand the needs/demands of stores that you are interested in working in. This doesn't mean that you need to conduct exhaustive interviews with current staff members. If you notice that the store is often lacking stock on the floor or does not have enough sales associates, you might have found your way in - you can highlight how your skills/experiences relate to a position that looks like it needs to be filled.

- Make sure you have a proper resume and cover letter ready. Also, make sure that you've filled out a copy of their application form. There is nothing worse than approaching a manager about an opening and not being 100% prepared.

- Regardless of rejection, continue to try. I heard of stores that in the past have hired people up until the week before Christmas. In fact, last year, in my local mall, one of the largest clothing chains actually hired people on Christmas Eve to work Boxing Day because they were desperate for stock staff.

Just keep in mind that you'll have to to really try in order to find a job.

But don't just limit yourself to retail - scan the classified sections of newspapers to see if any businesses are looking for staff. You'll be surprised at how many offices are often looking for a student to work for a few weeks during a time that many employees book their vacation.

You can also try and register with a temp agency, although those can be quite tricky to navigate - and quite a few won't register students because they aren't available for full-time work.

Either way, just keep positive, hit the pavement with a smile and look for any potential places that you think might be looking for staff.

While I can't guarantee that something will pop up, I often say that hard work and a well-planned and executed job search rarely goes unnoticed and unrewarded by vigilant and aware hiring managers.

Good luck, and Happy Holidays!

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