For savvy Santas, Christmastime is more than just child's play. A hardworking Santa with sound business skills could take home $10,000-$20,000 during the holiday season, says Susen Mesco, president of American Events and Promotions in Denver. Marketing and negotiating are among the topics covered by her company's annual Professional Santa Claus School, an intense five-day seminar for aspiring Kris Kringles. Training also covers such areas as child psychology, makeup application, sign language and acting.
Playing Santa may look easy, but the job can be both physically and emotionally challenging as it requires constant interaction with a large number of children. Mesco has helped everyone from truck drivers to college professors prepare for the role. She says that the best Santas are ones who truly want to do a good job and are willing to go the extra mile, from using curling irons to enhance their beards to scouting toy stores to become more knowledgeable.
Santa rates vary by experience, location and duties. Mall Santas generally earn $10-$40 per hour, while those hired for parties or to model for print work often command considerably more.
2. Santa's helpers
"A good elf is worth his weight in gold," Mesco says. While they might not garner the same attention as the man in the red suit, these costumed characters are instrumental to greeting families, keeping lines moving, taking pictures, coordinating activities and handing out gifts. As with Santa, there are variables influencing the going rate, but an experienced Mrs. Claus or other character capable of ensuring a smooth flow can make upward of $25 per hour at private events.
3. Gift wrappers and packagers
Santa needs plenty of help getting presents ready for Christmas morning, so many department stores and mall customer service stations hire gift wrappers. Online and mail-order companies also beef up their staff this time of year to package and wrap items, label cartons, inspect products for defects, attach shipping information and keep records. The mean hourly wage for a hand packer is $10.63*.
4. Delivery-service workers
Delivery-service workers are vital to the transportation of holiday packages. While some seasonal workers drive trucks, many load and unload, handle paperwork or help veteran drivers. The mean hourly wage for these jobs is $15.45*.
5. Retail sales clerk
In addition to established chains needing assistance, niche businesses selling items such as calendars, candy and ornaments spring up in shopping centers during the last few months of the year. The mean hourly wage for a retail sales clerk is $12.02*, and many seasonal hires can save big bucks on their own holiday purchases by using their employee discount.
6. Food-service workers
Extra shoppers mean increased traffic at food courts and restaurants. Likewise banquet halls, hotels and catering companies need additional staff to handle holiday parties. Mean hourly wages are $9.99* for waiters and waitresses, $9.93* for food-preparation workers and $8.95* for fast- food workers.
7. Snow removers
As any 12-year-old with a shovel will attest, there is money to be made if you're willing to brave the after-storm elements. Local and state governments add manpower, some on an on-call basis, to keep roads plowed. The mean hourly wage for highway maintenance workers is $17.23*. Shopping centers and other businesses often contract with snow removal companies to keep parking lots and sidewalks clean for holiday customers. These groundskeeping workers bring in a mean hourly wage of $12.23*. And while official statistics don't exist on enterprising kids (or adults, for that matter) looking to capitalize on Mother Nature, $10-$25 per driveway seems to be the going rate for digging out individual residences.
*According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.
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