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What is a Seasonal Job?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 17, 2024
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A seasonal job is a short-term position designed to fill a temporary need, usually related to the time of year. The summer jobs popularly held by students fit into this category, as do temporary positions — usually in retail and delivery — that open up in many markets around the winter holidays. Short-term construction and house painting jobs, work related to crops and agriculture, and many tourism positions may also follow seasonal schedules.

Basic Premise

One of the defining characteristics of a seasonal job is that it is temporary — employers hire seasonal staff to fill a particular need that is not expected to last more than a few weeks or months. The timeline is usually set out at beginning so that employees are not surprised when the work ends. Students and others with structured obligations often enjoy the fixed nature of these jobs, as it allows them to make money when their schedules permit without having to commit to year-round availability.

Holiday Retail and Delivery Work

Temporary work over the Western hemisphere’s winter holidays — usually between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day — is usually what most people think of when they hear the phrase “seasonal employment.” Many retailers experience a big influx during this season, and often need more workers than usual to meet the demand. In most cases it wouldn’t make sense for a company to permanently grow its staff, but adding a few short-lived positions is often a great way to ease the holiday burden.

The demand for delivery work also tends to increase during this period, and it is often possible to find seasonal work with the postal service or with private package delivery services. Sorting, tracking, and actual door-to-door delivery are all usually required in force during high volume gift giving seasons.

Tourism and Leisure-Related Services

In the warmer months, there are usually plenty of seasonal job openings within the tourism and entertainment sectors. Carnivals and amusement parks that are only open for part of the year are often good contenders. Travel agencies may also see an influx of bookings during this period, necessitating temporary office help; cruise ships, resorts, and hotels typically also hire seasonal staff members during particularly busy times. Seasonal employees in these types of jobs are often housed on-site, and many return year after year — though the promise of continued work is rarely ever guaranteed.

Agriculture Jobs

Crops by their very nature are cyclical, requiring more work at certain times of the year than at others. Many farms hire seasonal laborers to help harvest fruits and vegetables when they are ripe, for instance, or clear and seed fields just before growing begins. There is not usually enough work to be able to sustain a large team of farm hands year-round, but in certain seasons the work is often plentiful.

Construction Work

Many construction and outdoor renovation jobs are also contracted on a seasonal basis in climates with harsh winters, or in regions with a defined “rainy season.” While many construction professionals can keep busy during these “off” months by engaging in planning or interior projects, assistants are usually only required during the height of a project. Firms often hire assistants to help out with building campaigns through the spring and summer, either on a per-project basis or through a monthly retainer arrangement.

Weather-Dependent Situations

Cities and communities often contract out for work like snow plowing, lawn watering, and beach lifeguarding on a seasonal basis, as these are jobs that, in most places, can only be done during certain times of the year. People who take these jobs frequently have other sources of employment, and often pick up the tasks on a part-time or as-needed basis. Weather-dependent jobs can be difficult to predict; a year with surprisingly little snow, for instance, may mean that a seasonal snow plow driver has little to do.

Prospects for Future Employment

A seasonal job lacks the security and benefits of regular employment, but can nevertheless be a good deal in the right circumstances. Students often take seasonal jobs as a way of gaining some work experience, which can help fill out a resume and act as evidence of drive and dedication. People who are looking to break into a specific sector of employment — people who want to manage orchards of their own, for instance, or who have their heart set on winning a full-time position at a certain department store — may also start out as seasonal employees in order to gain industry experience and make contacts. Employers often take note of their best seasonal staff, and sometimes keep them in mind when more permanent openings come up.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Oct 12, 2012

@umbra21 - Oh no, the ideal part time seasonal job is working in a vineyard. You have to find just the right one, but if you do, it's amazing. I have a bunch of friends who go back to the same vineyard year after year in order to help with the harvest, not because they need the money, but because they love the job so much, they think of it like a vacation. The right vineyard will provide plenty of wine, nice accommodation, and gorgeous homegrown meals for their workers. It can be hard work, but the camaraderie is wonderful.

Of course, you do have to hunt around for any place that is going to be like that. I'm sure many of them just feature the back breaking work without the perks and either way you're not going to get paid very much.

By umbra21 — On Oct 12, 2012

@pastanaga - That seems a little bit mercenary to me. And hard on the poor customers who won't be getting the same amount of service at a stressful time of year.

I'd personally much rather work at a ski field or a summer camp or something like that if I was going to take a seasonal job. You'd get really good tips and hopefully learn something new, as well as being able to basically stay at a holiday resort for free.

By pastanaga — On Oct 11, 2012

@surfNturf - It seems like jewelers and other retail stores hire a lot of extra people during the holidays as well. I think it's not only the fact that they are overwhelmed with extra work but that they hope to be able to give their regular employees some time off around the holidays as well.

Plus, I think the way it works here is that if you want your employees to work over a public holiday, you have to pay them twice as much. If you have people working winter seasonal jobs they probably won't be paid as much as your regular employees so they won't need as much when you get them to work over the holidays.

By cupcake15 — On Jul 13, 2010

SurfNturf- I agree with you. Many of these companies initially hire temporary employees, but some of those employees obtain full-time permanent job offers after the season is over.

By surfNturf — On Jul 13, 2010

Great article- I just want to add that many firms hire for the holiday season. Traditionally retailers offer the most opportunities, but companies like UPS and Fedex also offer significant job opportunities during this time frame.

Companies like UPS and FedEx focus on getting packages out on time for the holidays. The sheer volume of packages that they need to process is so great that many times they have to hire temporary help to keep up with demand.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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