U.S. retailers and observers expect more holiday jobs than in the last two years, but applicants still will have to look hard to find them.
"Retail is going to do better than last year, and last year was better than the year before," said John Challenger, CEO of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas in Chicago.
Last year, there were 501,000 holiday job openings. This year, Challenger said, there should be between 550,000 and 600,000 seasonal jobs.
That's still far short of the 747,000 seasonal jobs available in 2006, when the economy was going strong, but better than 2008, when only 384,000 temporary elves were hired.
High-profile chain stores also have announced holiday hiring plans.
Last month, department store Macy's said it was hiring 65,000 people for the holiday season and Toys R Us announced it would add 45,000. Kohl's said it would hire an additional 40,000 people.
Challenger said Wal-Mart would add to its staff as well. He encouraged job seekers to look beyond retail after shipping company UPS announced it would hire 50,000 people to deal with the holiday rush.
FedEx, another shipping company, would not reveal how many seasonal employees it planned to employ. During the company's last earnings report, the company announced it would lay off 1,700 people.
Stores large and small are looking to add to their payrolls. Macy's at Pittsburgh's Ross Park Mall had a "Now Hiring" message in the outside windows. But many holiday jobs are like truffles, hidden away for the seeker to uncover. You wouldn't know about them from walking through the malls or by looking for big company announcements.
Kelly Williams, store leader for a Restoration Hardware in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon, has not put a "help wanted" sign in the window. But the store is taking applications for seven positions in sales and in the stockroom. She wants to have them filled by month's end to help regular workers as the store extends its hours.
Moonstones in Dormont, a gift shop, isn't advertising for help because owner Amy Mokricky calls in friends who have in the past helped fill out extra hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The surest sign of approaching holidays is the Christmas Village display at Rolliers Hardware in Mt. Lebanon. It's going up, but it is not accompanied by any hiring sign -- or any hiring.
Manager Kirk Satterfield said current part-time employees would increase their hours to cover the store's extended hours and additional shoppers.
Those extra hours, he said, will not include the ultra-early morning of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. "We don't do the 5 o'clock in the morning thing because no employee wants to get up that early to come to work," he said.
Challenger said people who want a retail job should go to stores that they know and where they already shop. That way job seekers can talk knowledgeably about the goods offered.