6 Strategies for Hiring Seasonal Retail Employees

Sara Korolevich
January 03, 2024
4 min read

With advanced planning – and some creativity – retailers can fill seasonal positions ahead of the competition.

Retail and the Leisure and Hospitality industries are the biggest employers of seasonal workers in the US. Retailers hire about 700 thousand workers every month, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and total retail employment in the US hovered around 15.5 million at the end of 2023. With such a high demand for retail workerscombined with increased hiring needs during peak seasonshow can retail employers attract the short-term workforce they need to meet their seasonal hiring goals?

In many ways, hiring seasonal employees will look quite similar to your regular hiring process, and if you have a built-out strategy, you’re already in a great starting position.

However, there are also a number of best practices particular to hiring seasonal retail workers. In this guide, we’ll look at these unique hiring strategies, including suggestions for how to:

  • Define your expectations from seasonal employees
  • Leverage industry-specific hiring and screening tools
  • Source and target candidates interested in seasonal work
  • Offer more than a paycheck
  • Offer extra hours to current employees
  • Use evergreen job postings to stay ahead

Before starting your hiring process, remember that a successful seasonal hiring strategy, like all hiring, demands initial planning. Take time to determine everything from the specific qualities and skills you’re looking for in your seasonal employees to how you’ll integrate them into your larger team. Ultimately, putting the time and thought into your hiring upfront will save you from headaches down the road.

1. Define your expectations from seasonal employees

One of the biggest mistakes a hiring manager can make is reusing the same description for every job post. A one-size-fits-all job description simply doesn’t exist. Your expectations for your seasonal employees likely differ from those for your full-time staff. To meet (and surpass) these different expectations, they’ll need a different set of skills and knowledge.

Thus, tailor your job descriptions to the actual work your seasonal hires will be doing—not the work of someone else at your company. In addition to a general description and background of your business, your job posting for seasonal employees should include the following information:

  • Responsibilities. What exactly will your seasonal employees be expected to do on a day-to-day basis?
  • Required skills, education, and training. What experience do they need to be successful in the role? Is there knowledge or retail industry-specific software they should know?
  • Compensation. How much will you pay? Will there be additional benefits? (More on this below!)
  • Schedule. When will the season begin and when will it end? How many hours per week do you expect them to work? Are there specific shifts required (e.g. early mornings or late nights)?

When you’re clear about your expectations from the get-go, you’re more likely to find employees well suited to the position, and it will be easier down the road to track and assess your seasonal employees’ performance.

Because the role will change from year to year, as you adopt new technology and business strategies, update the description both at the beginning of each season based on your projections and at the end of each season based on what you’ve learned.

2. Leverage hiring and screening tools and software

Unlike hiring full-time employees on a rolling basis, seasonal hiring often requires you to hire a large number of workers in a short amount of time. Hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates may cross your desk in a matter of days. Instead of trying to keep track of so many applicants, use hiring tools that allow you to quickly:

Your hiring software should integrate with your other digital tools and allow you to work from a single dashboard. For example, integrating background checks with your HR tech can automate many manual processes for greater efficiency. Checkr integrates with 100+ popular ATS, HRIS and onboarding systems. At Checkr, the most common platforms we integrate with for hiring at scale in the retail industry are Paylocity, Fountain, Greenhouse, and Workpop.

Most applicant tracking systems enable seamless collaboration between recruiters and hiring managers with centralized communication to streamline decision-making. You may also want to select tools that allow you to personalize every step of the hiring process, from your initial communications with candidates to relationship-building outreach and onboarding.

When you have a better sense of all the candidates before you, you’ll make better informed and more efficient hiring decisions.

Reduce time-to-hire with Checkr

3. Source and target candidates interested in seasonal work

As you might expect, not just anyone is a good fit for seasonal work in the retail industry. Hiring the wrong candidates can lead to dissatisfaction and costly churn at the height of your season.

For example, a candidate searching for a permanent full-time job probably isn’t the best fit for seasonal work and has a higher chance of leaving mid-season. On the other hand, high school and college students, retirees, and off-season workers who typically work in the summer months may all be looking explicitly for seasonal work.

By tailoring your job description above, you’ve already done part of the work to target those interested in seasonal work. You can take this a step further in how and where you share your call for applicants, including:

  • Asking for referrals. Your full-time employees and business partners may know of friends and family in search of seasonal work. To encourage referrals, offer a bonus to employees who recommend a successful hire.
  • Recruiting events. Host a recruiting event at your business or join a job fair at a local university. Provide a QR code for an easy-to-complete mobile-friendly application, review resumes, conduct interviews, and make job offers to the appropriate candidates.
  • Posting on job search platforms. When posting on job search engines, include relevant keywords—including “seasonal” or “holiday work” —in the job title. That way, candidates will know the general context of the position before they even read the job description.

Once you’ve gone through a few seasons using these strategies to find candidates, plan to gradually adjust your approach. In fact, your biggest source of seasonal employees will likely be your previous season’s staff.

Hiring previous seasonal retail employees poses two main benefits:

  • They’re already trained and able to start contributing to your business on the very first day of work.
  • You can save yourself time in the hiring process that can be spent running your business.

To get a head start, consider directly asking your high-performing seasonal employees at the end of the season to return for the next one. Then, maintain up-to-date contact information for these workers and reach out to them when the time to start hiring begins again.

4. Offer more than a paycheck

In most markets, the future of compensation consists of more than a simple paycheck. Even if you’re not legally required to offer your seasonal workers a comprehensive comp package, doing so will make it more likely for potential hires to sign on and stay with your team throughout the season—and for many to come. Other benefits you might consider offering in addition to pay include:

  • Skills training. If your business is in a particular niche, consider offering training that seasonal employees can use in future jobs.
  • Team events. Use team events to welcome new employees, celebrate successes, and create an environment where people are excited to work.
  • Schedule flexibility. Consider offering seasonal employees options for when and (if possible) where they work. Use a mobile-friendly scheduling tool to make it easier for employees to view their shifts.
  • Opportunities for full-time employment. While you won’t be able to hire every one of your seasonal employees full-time, you may be able to keep on your top performers. Use seasonal employment as a chance to identify (and eventually hire) new full-time talent.

Of course, direct compensation is still important to seasonal employee satisfaction and retention. In fact, you can tie comp directly to employee retention, offering a bonus to those who work the entire season.

When employees do churn, interview them about both successes and areas for growth in your hiring and retention processes. Whether they’ve been with your business for 10 seasons or this is their first, they’ll likely offer valuable feedback that can streamline your work. Listen to their suggestions, take notes, and leverage what you learn as you go into next year’s hiring cycle.

5. Offer extra hours to current employees

Before investing valuable time and energy into searching for new employees, start by offering additional hours to your current part-time employees, and even FTEs. Every employer knows that a well-trained, experienced employee is preferable to a brand new hire when business is at its busiest—so give those top performers a chance to volunteer for more responsibilities and shifts.

If you’re able, offer overtime pay, bonuses, or other incentives to staff who increase their hours during busy seasons. Having reliable team members on your front lines when business is at its peak can have a positive ripple effect for your entire organization—from less burn-out among managers to an improved customer experience that results in higher sales. You may even find you reduce your seasonal HR spending by avoiding costs associated with hiring, training, and onboarding short-term workers.

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6. Use evergreen job postings to stay ahead

Many retailers have begun using evergreen requisitions, or continuous job postings for essential roles, to ensure they have enough staff in their hiring pipeline when it comes time to schedule seasonal workers. By maintaining postings for roles that you know you’ll need to fill in a few month's time, you can start building up your pool of potential seasonal employees early on. This approach also gives you time to properly train short-term employees, instead of putting stress on managers to get new hires up to speed when business is already starting to ramp up for your busy season.

For most retail businesses, the winter holiday season is when seasonal demand for workers is at its highest. Many retailers now start hiring for those positions in August—so keeping up with the competition could be one more reason to make sure your job postings are live and ready for applicants.

Hire a team of incredible seasonal employees for your retail roles

Ultimately, whether you’re hiring additional cashiers and sales associates, stockroom managers, or warehouse workers, meeting the customer demand of your busy season doesn’t have to come with a sacrifice in staff quality.

Even if they’re only with you for a few months, seasonal staff can make a big difference in your ability to grow as a business.

By following these tips, you’ll find high-quality retail employees and position your business as the place to work for the season.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the author

Sara Korolevich serves as checkr.com’s editor and content manager. In this role, she produces educational resources for employers on a broad range of screening topics, including background check compliance and best practices. She also writes about Checkr’s company and product news to keep customers updated and informed.

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