Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in November 2020 and has been updated to reflect data in 2023.
Entering into the last month of summer means days are already getting shorter and temperatures are (usually) starting to drop. Before you know it, you’ll be getting hit with more targeted retail ads and starting to think about holiday vacation plans for “the most wonderful time of the year!”
But for professional Santa Claus Santa Rick Rosenthal, the most wonderful season is also his busiest. He and many other professional Santas are busy doing what they’ve been preparing for all year: spreading cheer to children everywhere.
In our “Hard Shoes to Fill” documentary series in 2020, Santa Rick told us about his work recruiting, hiring and training professional Santa Clauses and other Christmas performers as the owner and talent scout at the Northern Lights Santa Academy. Here are some key takeaways from his experience to help you fulfill your own candidate wishlist when hiring for unique jobs.
Hire People You Trust, and the Rest Will Follow
Santa Rick is a busy guy. Between overseeing the Santa academy and actually being Santa Claus, how does he find time in his schedule to focus on recruiting? It starts with hiring trustworthy, responsible team members to do what needs to be done.
“That’s why the president of different companies goes out and plays golf every day,” Santa Rick explains. “It’s because they’ve hired the right people, so they can go play golf and seal some business deals.”
This applies to anyone recruiting for hard-to-fill positions. Focus on hiring people you can trust and rely on, and it will pay off for both you and your organization. Skills and experience can be learned and gained over time — but trustworthiness and reliability aren’t qualities that can be easily taught.
“We’ve never missed a Christmas yet,” Santa Rick says. “That’s a lot of stress. But it’s not stressful because, at the North Pole, we have the right staff.”
Look for Passion and Enthusiasm
Often, recruiters look at candidates’ work experience to assess whether they are qualified for the role. But focusing on applicable skills instead of hard criteria expands your talent pipeline. In some cases — especially for unconventional jobs that don’t require a lot of hard skills — what matters more is the candidate’s genuine passion and enthusiasm for the role. Santa Rick is particular about the qualities he looks for in professional Santas.
“First and foremost, you need to love children,” Santa Rick says. “If you don’t have that love in your heart, you should not be Santa. [You also] have to be able to think on [your] feet, be jovial, be endearing and warm — and [you] have to love people.”
Santa Rick also feels that, with every new Santa or Christmas performer he hires, he can bring some good to the world.
“If I can spread joy and happiness and take perhaps a moment out of your heavy day to redirect you to just be light — wow, that’s a great thing,” Santa Rick says. “And I don’t take it for granted. I’m humbled by it.”
Always Be Networking
Most people probably don’t give a second thought to how the Christmas performers they see around town are hired — or even know that Santa school exists! Santa Rick, however, is always keeping an eye out for his next hire.
“I personally am on the lookout nonstop,” says Santa Rick. “Even walking into a restaurant or store, I’m looking for guys. My wife will start walking beside me — next thing she knows, she’s going, ‘Where’s my husband?’”
“I’m always stopping to talk to people, whether they have a beard or not,” Santa Rick says, leading his wife to call herself a “Santa widow” at times when he disappears to network with potential Christmas performers.
The work is always ongoing for someone recruiting for unique roles, and you must find creative ways to widen your talent pool — even in unlikely places outside the office. Just like Santa Rick is always on the lookout for star Santa potential or just a good conversation, be ready to build your network anywhere you go.
Check for a Growth Mindset
The Northern Lights Santa Academy focuses on training Santas and other Christmas performers to be the best Christmas performers they can be.
“We need more Santas, but we need more professionally trained Santas, not guys in a red suit,” said Santa Rick. “Someone who wants to better themselves every day, and strives to do that.”
When hiring for hard-to-fill roles, don’t fret if your candidate doesn’t necessarily have the skills. What’s more important is finding candidates with a growth mindset who challenge themselves to improve. Try asking specific interview questions to assess for a growth mindset. For example, ask the candidate to tell you about their weaknesses or a time when they failed at a project, and pay attention to how they dealt with those challenges.
“You don’t have to go to a Santa school; you can go to an improv school,” Santa Rick explains. “You can go to Toastmasters — they teach you how to talk. Santa has to talk. Anything that’ll help you be a better Santa, that’s what we’re looking for.... It’s just about growth, and if you’re not growing, you’re going.”
Fulfilling Your Candidate Wishlist
Just like hiring Santa Clauses, plenty of other unique jobs require a bit of work to find the right candidates.
While skills and experiences differ from job to job, good employees are the same no matter the job or industry. By hiring candidates who are reliable, passionate about your mission and eager to grow, you can be confident that your hires will excel and become great employees who will make your organization even stronger.
May your hiring journey be merry and bright!