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Best and Worst Holiday Jobs of 2012

By Kyle Kensing

Employers respond to the holiday season each year by adding workers to meet increased demand. While some of those seasonal jobs can certainly make this time of year merrier, others are the labor force equivalent of a lump of coal in your stocking.

The best seasonal jobs help you spread cheer through significant paychecks, while others provide work well after all the decorative lights have come down. However, some holiday jobs can turn ho-ho-ho into ho-ho-humbug.

Holiday hiring estimates point to 3% more jobs this season than last, reports the Department of Labor, so there are gigs to be had for those seeking seasonal employment. But distinguishing the desirable from the disastrous requires a list not unlike Santa Claus’s rundown of the naughty and nice.

Using criteria from our Jobs Rated reports, here are this holiday season's best and worst jobs:

  • Best: Santa Claus

    The star of the season is in high demand. Of course, Jolly Old Saint Nick can’t be everywhere at once, so programs like Noerr Program Corporation’s Santa University trains helpers to fill in for the big guy. Becoming a Santa Claus stand-in can pay handsomely. One PayScale estimate says top Clauses can earn over $100 an hour, a pricey investment with significant returns seen in the money spent in surrounding stores. In addition, the gig often starts before Thanksgiving and lasts a solid six weeks, so total earnings can be impressive.

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  • Best: Retail Salesperson

    The National Retail Foundation (NRF) estimates that retail outlets will add about 600,000 new jobs this holiday season. That growth provides a tremendous spike for the economy, and a stronger economy translates to longer-term job opportunities for some retail employees. Target estimates that it retained more than 30% of its seasonal hires from 2011 and into 2012, and this year many other retailers are expected to follow suit.

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  • Best: Volunteer

    You may not make extra spending money working in a food bank or ringing the donation bell outside a supermarket for the Salvation Army this holiday season, but you'll surely make some lives much brighter. Last year, the Salvation Army reports its Red Kettle Campaign raised over $147 million. Those funds are integral to the national organization’s mission of providing affordable clothing, food and shelter to the disadvantage. Food banks also need extra volunteers at holiday time, particularly those that serve Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners to the homeless. No job is as indicative of the holiday spirit of giving, and the rewards often outweigh the financial cost of working for free.

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  • Best: Parcel Deliverer

    Not all gifts arrive via reindeer-driven sleigh. The United States Postal Service (USPS), United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express all bolster their employment numbers to meet the demand of more packages being shipped under tight deadlines. FedEx says it's looking to hire as many 20,000 season employees this year. Not only do these jobs typically pay more than minimum wage, the best employees often have a chance at permanent employment.

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  • Best: Food Server

    Restaurants welcome an influx of guests during the holidays, which is why more than 45% of the part-time positions expected to be filled this season are in food service. For those restaurants that stay open on Christmas eve, Christmas day and New Year’s, there are time-and-a-half pay opportunities. And with customers in a potentially giving mood during the season, tips make for something a little nicer under the tree.

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  • Best: Candy Maker

    The taste and smell of the season doesn’t come from magic. Over 1.7 billion – that’s billion with a b – candy canes are produced annually and consumed almost exclusively during the holiday season. Christmas marks one of the high points in the year for chocolate consumption as well, culminating a two-month stretch that begins in Halloween where candy is purchased at its highest rate. Of course, you may not learn to make candy during a seasonal stint, but those candy makers need lots of help with packaging, shipping and retail sales.

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  • Worst: Santa's Elf

    Behind every good Kris Kringle is a good elf. And just as LeBron James can’t pass to himself or Bruce Springsteen can’t calibrate his own mics during a show, Santa Claus doesn’t oversee the essential operations of a successful holiday village. Directing sometimes frightened children and exhausted parents through the crowds is a much less glamorous gig than being the international icon of the season, and rushing sick kids to the restroom and matching up photos with families can be very taxing. Yet the real treat is that elves typically earn minimum wage, and competition for the jobs is fierce, especially among high-school students trying to earn money for gifts. Ho-ho-humbug!

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  • Worst: Christmas Tree Lot Attendant

    Since few holiday shoppers trek out to their local forest to find that perfect Christmas tree, it means they'll be visiting a makeshift Christmas tree lot. That's where they'll find attendants who are open to the elements throughout the work day and covered in tree sap from lugging pines to customers’ cars. The pay typically is low, with most attendants relying on tips to fill their pockets. And pity the poor soul who gets to spend each night in a trailer protecting the trees from wayward thieves.

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  • Worst: Snow Remover

    Job seekers in Miami and Phoenix can forget about adding this seasonal position to their resumes, but in other parts of the country, snowfall increases in November and December. However, full-time jobs in this field are few, which means if you're interested solely in seasonal work, grab a shovel and bundle up. Of course, if you're prepared to start your own business, be ready to spend time and money to market your services and make sure you have a local license to operate.

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  • Worst: Airport Help

    Travel to spend the holiday season with family leads to long lines and increased anxiety at airports. To help streamline the process, many airports bulk up on hired hands. However, the frantic and nervous energy palpable in so many airports this time of year makes for a stressful work environment; the pay tends to be minimum wage; the hours definitely aren't standard; and the likelihood of turning the job into full-time employment is very slim.

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  • Worst: Taxi Driver

    More movement to-and-from airports and bustling holiday traffic requires more taxi drivers on the roads at year end. But taxi driver is a difficult enough job even when the roadways aren't as congested and passengers aren't as anxious. In fact, this job ranks as one of the nation's most stressful year round, and continues to be a job where the likelihood of being robbed is higher than in any other position.

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I don't know about being a

I don't know about being a Santa, that sounds rough. Too many crying kids!

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