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Think you have what it takes to be one of Santa's little helpers?
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updated 11/9/2010 7:43:46 AM ET 2010-11-09T12:43:46

As severance checks peter out, unemployment benefits come to an end and job searches drag on, many Americans will want to consider going for that staple of seasonal employment, the Christmas holiday job.

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"It seems as though retailers are looking at a better season this year," says John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm that tracks job-cut and hiring announcements. Last year, when the recession was hitting hard, employment in retail jobs increased 47,800 in October, 318,900 in November and 134,700 in December, according to non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Story: Who's hiring the most this holiday season

This year United Parcel Service, the Atlanta-based package delivery giant, is hiring 50,000 temporary workers through the end of December. The jobs pay $8 to $20 an hour, says spokeswoman Karen Cole. Many of them are for what UPS calls "driver helper," a worker who rides along in the brown delivery truck and helps unload and deliver packages. Cole says holiday jobs can lead to full-time employment at UPS. "Treat the seasonal position as an audition," she says. "If you do a great job, it can lead to a more permanent position."

Wal-Mart also confirms that it's adding holiday help to its gargantuan staff of 1.4 million employees, though spokeswoman Ashley Hardie won't say how many. "Our hiring decisions are made at the local level on a store-by-store basis," she says. People seeking employment can visit any store's hiring kiosk. Hardie A says that seasonal work at Wal-Mart can lead to full-time positions. The salary range is modest, however.

At Indeed.com, the job website aggregator, listings have spiked in the categories that cover seasonal work. Search for "Christmas" and 18,207 jobs come up. To be sure, most of them aren't glamorous or high paying. Among the listings: Christmas light installer, dog sitter for Christmas vacation and Christmas decorator.

How do you best present yourself for a holiday job? Karen Cole at UPS says her company looks for enthusiastic applicants who demonstrate that they are reliable and punctual. "It's critical that you be on time," she says.

Many holiday jobs don't require a particular skill, so employers keep a lookout for reliable, punctual, flexible workers who will step up to a task, no matter how demanding and no matter how long the hours. In fact, overtime is often available in holiday work, which can bump up a paycheck.

Mike Steinmetz, a vice president at the staffing firm Manpower, suggests that workers reflect on their past experiences and enthusiasms and apply those to seasonal work. A wine hobbyist might check to see whether the local wine shop needs an extra clerk to handle holiday traffic, for instance. He also suggests that tried and true job-searching staple, networking.

Customer service, gift-wrapping, delivering packages or chopping down Christmas trees may not be work you'd dream of. But a paycheck may be what you most want from Santa this season.

© 2012 Forbes.com

Video: CNBC: Retailers ramp up holiday hiring

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