The holiday season is full of anticipation, with children longing for toys and gadgets and families planning elaborate gatherings with friends.

For many of the unemployed, the biggest hope is to find a job that can help pay the bills. And with current retail forecasts, their chances are looking good.

The National Retail Federation released its most optimistic sales forecast since the recession, predicting that holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion.

Retailers are staffing up to meet that demand. More managers are planning holiday hires than at any time in the past five years, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for Snagajob.com, a network for hourly employment.

"We're in the throes of it already, for the holiday planning and hiring and scurrying around," said Krista Kinney, director of employment for the northwest region at Macy's. "Our business is up a bit, and we certainly want to have enough folks to service the customers."

Nationwide, Macy's plans to hire 80,000 employees nationwide this holiday season, about 2.5 percent more than last year. Many of those temporary workers will end up with a regular job. The company keeps about 20 percent to a third of its holiday hires permanently, Kinney said.

Target plans to hire 80,000 to 90,000 people, and retained about 30 percent of the seasonal workers it hired last year, the company said.

At Toys &‘R' Us, which plans to hire 45,000 this year, the local store on Santa Rosa Avenue has hired 20 of the 100 workers it plans to bring in this season.

"We're just looking for really quality people who want to have fun and have energy, and are hard-working as well," said Lindsey Mohr, a local human resources manager. She said the store had 25 percent fewer applicants than last year.

Even so, many applicants are competing for a handful of positions. At the REI store in Santa Rosa, about 250 people applied for holiday work and 17 were hired, the store's assistant manager said.

With hundreds of applicants competing for a dozen or so positions, it takes an innovative approach to be noticed. Most retailers require an online application, making it more challenging for applicants to convey the outgoing, accommodating attitude managers seek.

"Rather than just submit an application on their website, maybe submit it but then walk in and hand it to the manager," said Steven Czegus, manager of Sonoma County JobLink. "Any time you make a personal connection, you stand a better chance of being remembered."

Sole Desire, the shoe store, has added a few sales staff to its ranks after moving from Coddingtown to a larger location in Montgomery Village. It may begin holiday hiring in mid-November, said Khris Pandit, store manager.

"There's not any shortage of people to hire in the resources pool now," Pandit said. "Previous retail experience helps a lot. ... Try to be as approachable as possible, and make sure that you present yourself in a friendly fashion."

In retail, applicants also should demonstrate willingness to work at odd hours, like evenings, weekends, and the days around the holidays, managers said.

Kmart in Petaluma hired about 15 new associates in the past few weeks, and plans to hire an additional 15, said Stephen Mills, store manager. That's up 10 to 15 percent from last year. At the same time, more people are looking for jobs than last year, he said.

"We are being a little bit more picky," Mills said. "Kmart does hire seasonal help, but I myself, I hire to keep people on."

Mills himself was hired as a seasonal worker 28 years ago, and wound up sticking around at the company for more than holiday cash.

"The interview process brings out the personality," Mills said.

Job seekers can also set out in a different direction than the rest of the herd of applicants.

Hospitality and food services jobs are on the rise, as companies book holiday parties and others opt to cater events.

"We have been seeing a huge increase in hospitality ... from dishwashers to servers to hospitality assistants," said Nicole Smartt, vice president and co-owner of Star Staffing. "During the holiday season, certain food manufacturers increase their labor needs."

Elderly people who are cared for by family members may need additional help when members of the household travel. Likewise, pet-sitting opportunities abound, according to JobLink.

Major retailers also have roles beyond the traditional sales, stock room and cashier positions. Macy's brings on additional help to train new employees, which may be attractive for those who like to teach. Best Buy is hiring home theater installers, Geek Squad repair agents and drivers for home deliveries.

"We do still have a bit of long-term unemployed but there is a positive upswing," said Karen Fies, director for the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board. "Long-term unemployed have a challenging time finding work, and seasonal work may provide the ego boost that they need to continue their job search and fill the employment gap on their resumes."