Mindy Pilarski is no amateur when it comes to holiday seasonal jobs.
She's worked in retail at Younkers and at Borsheims wrapping gifts. But for the past 18 years, she's returned to the Omaha Steaks inbound call center, taking orders from customers during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
“Any time you do anything for the season, it's kind of fun,” Pilarski said.
Holiday hiring got off to its strongest start in 14 years as retail employment grew by 159,500 in October, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.
“We have seen fairly significant hiring plans announced by several major national chains, including Target, Walmart, Macy's, Kohl's and J.C. Penney. Online retailer Amazon.com is reportedly adding 70,000 holiday workers, up from last year's 50,000,” the firm's CEO, John A. Challenger, said in a report.
More than a quarter of the seasonal hiring, according to a CareerBuilder survey of 2,099 hiring managers, remained to be done in November, and an additional 10 percent said they'd hire in December.
While many Omaha firms already have hired many of their seasonal employees, those still interested in a temporary holiday job aren't too late.
Omaha Steaks' employment and training manager, Brian DeVeney, said the company has about 200 positions, mostly in its west Omaha warehouse, left to fill of its total 3,400 holiday hires, a total comparable to last year's.
DeVeney said of those 3,400, about 800 returned from last year. The bonus offered to returning employees is what keeps Pilarski coming back. For Tracey Crawford-Kilgore, another inbound call center seasonal employee, it's the employee discount. This year will be Crawford-Kilgore's fifth returning to work at Omaha Steaks.
“That's the main thing that keeps me coming back is the fact that I only work a month, a month and a half, and then I get a discount all year-round. You can't beat it,” she said.
Crawford-Kilgore and Pilarski both said they find it easy to fit the temporary work into their everyday schedules because, aside from having to work a minimum number of hours per week or a specified number of weekend days, call center employees get to pick their own hours.
Crawford-Kilgore said she usually works at Omaha steaks from about 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, after she finishes at her full-time job around 3:30 p.m. She also works Sundays.
Pilarski, who works part time year-round taking reservations at a hotel, said she typically works at the call center on Friday evenings, Sunday mornings and early weekday mornings. “They are very flexible. ... It's a 24/7 operation, so surely you're going to find something that fits for you,” she said.
Omaha-based Gordmans and the Nebraska Furniture Mart are also hiring for the holidays. Across Gordmans' 93 stores in 19 states, the retailer will hire about 2,700 seasonal associates, up from last year because of total store growth, according to Gordmans executives. About 350 of those positions are for the company's Omaha-area stores and Omaha distribution center.
Bob Batt, executive vice president of Nebraska Furniture Mart, said the company was looking to fill about 92 seasonal cashier and warehouse jobs and had filled 87 of those as of late last week. That number is comparable to years past, he said. The store's sales associates and delivery drivers typically work increased hours during the season as well.
“We're pretty much staffed up by Nov. 1,” he said. November is a busy month for the Mart as people redecorate their homes for the holidays. “It's a big fix-up time for people.”
Seasonal jobs aren't a bad place to start for those looking for long-term employment. Of Gordmans' seasonal employees, about 48 percent will be kept on as regular employees, according to company executives.
DeVeney with Omaha Steaks said that while the company is careful not to guarantee anything, about 40 to 50 seasonal employees per department are typically retained after the holiday season. For those looking for full-time or long-term jobs, the holiday season can be a great opportunity, he said. Most seasonal employees are not looking for a full-time job, so “you're not really competing against 3,000 people.”
“Many people in the upper management ranks started out as a holiday employee,” he said.
The Mart's Batt said there is a lot of opportunity for employee retention after the season's over because of the company's expansion into Texas with its Dallas-Fort Worth store slated to open in 2015. Many managers and senior managers are leaving to work there, leaving openings in Omaha.
But the most important thing to do if you're interested in keeping your seasonal job?
“All you have to do is ask. You don't ask, you don't get.”