The outsourcing firm, Challenger, Gray and Christmas predicts tepid retail job gains this holiday season, anticipating approximately the same or even fewer than the 627,600 jobs offered in 2010. The Hay Group, a global management consulting firm, says that approximately two-thirds of retailers plan to keep holiday hiring at last year’s levels and another 25 percent expect to hire fewer workers.

“With a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, and many more individuals who are ‘under-employed,’ competition for temporary holiday jobs is likely going to be fierce,” said Norman Wright, president and CEO of your Better Business Bureau Serving Northwest Florida. “Though temporary, these jobs can be great news for struggling families and individuals having problems finding work.”

BBB offers advice for job hunters this holiday season:

• Start searching now! Retail, shipping, restaurants and catering companies are common sources of seasonal employment. And because many retailers anticipate more consumers shopping online, they may be hiring fewer workers for their stores but more for their distribution centers (which often pay better than retail positions). Now is the time to determine which job suits you best, identify companies you’d like to work for and then begin submitting applications and resumes.

• Work where you shop. Try to identify season employment with businesses you actually patronize. You’ll already be familiar with the business and its products. And discounts available for employees may mean significant savings when shopping for gifts this holiday season.

• Put your best foot forward. Even if you are just picking up an application, dress your best and be prepared for an interview. Be familiar with the company’s brand and products. Focus on impressing potential employers with your customer service skills – a must when dealing with stressed-out shoppers, long checkout lines and day-after-Christmas returns.

• Be flexible. Full-time employees usually have first dibs on preferred hours and shifts, so, as a seasonal employee, expect to work long, sometimes inconvenient hours including working on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. If this is a second job in addition to your day job, be very clear with your new employer about your availability.

For additional information and advice you can trust this holiday season, start with