Don't Slow Your Job Search During the Holiday Season

by | March 10, 2009

Question: What advice do you have about how to approach the job market during the holiday season?

Answer: It's a myth that hiring slows down between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Many offers are made during the holiday season as managers try to fill jobs before their budgets expire.

"Not only don't things slow down in December, but there's a sense of urgency to fill jobs in many cases," says Tim Jones, vice president of human resources for Ixia, a communications technology test systems maker based in Calabasas, Calif.

Even though you may have heard otherwise, don't drop out of the market over the holidays. By staying active, you'll have an advantage over candidates who think nothing happens in December and who take a break until January.

"A lot of people do halt their searches at this time, so continuing to look might give you a leg up," says Rich Gee, an executive career coach in Stamford, Conn.

Mr. Gee, a corporate executive for two decades, notes that in December, managers want to spend their current year budgets so they don't lose funds in subsequent years. This gives them a strong incentive to find candidates to fill approved openings. Most executives also know their budgets for 2008 and may want to get a head start on filling newly requisitioned openings. Some may have pre-set performance objectives requiring them to fill a certain number of jobs by year-end, Mr. Jones adds.

"We in the staffing business see managers motivated to hire by a couple of things, and one is the need to hurry up and hire before they lose the budget," he says. "The other is being committed to an objective that says they need to hire people before the end of the year."

The urgency may result in an extra benefit: companies may ease up slightly on their requirements to fill openings, says Mark Jaffe, a principal with Wyatt & Jaffe, a Minneapolis-based search firm. "It isn't a policy decision, but if you have limited time and have to get things done, the process may suffer," he notes.

Although many candidates hired in December don't start their new positions until January, it's possible you may have to give up your days off around the holidays to begin work, says Mr. Gee. This happens particularly in the retail, security, media or manufacturing industries.

"If you were unemployed, you have already received an unplanned 'vacation' and want to get back to work ASAP," says Mr. Gee. "If you are moving from another company, that's the way the dice tumble."

Hiring managers prefer to find candidates through referrals or chance meetings, so they don't need to advertise or employ recruiters to fill openings. Your goal as a job hunter should be to personally meet as many potential employers as possible at this pre-advertising stage. By meeting and talking with current and new contacts, you may receive important referrals or an inside track on potential opportunities.

The process is networking, of course. And it's easier to do it during the holidays than at other times of the year because people tend to be more open and relaxed than at other seasons. Many organizations hold annual holiday events, and attendees often are encouraged to bring guests. Ask friends or relatives to invite you to December gatherings of such groups as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club or Toastmasters. Also attend meetings of professional groups in your industry or function, neighborhood gatherings and church open houses where you can mingle.

"People will have their guards down and be happy to meet you, so take advantage of that," says Mr. Gee.

Be personable and interested in others and ask for their business cards. Call new acquaintances after the meetings and ask for their advice. Ask about their current professional or personal needs and offer your expertise so your conversation isn't totally one-sided.

Hiring managers often like to be close to home and in their offices in December. Conduct a targeted job search by researching companies where you'd like to work and learning the name of the hiring manager in your area, Mr. Gee suggests. Google their name on the Internet and try to learn something about them professionally that you can use as an ice-breaker. Call the person directly, mention what you learned and say you would appreciate a few moments to ask questions about their companies and upcoming needs. If the conversation goes well, the manager may want to know more about you.

"This is harder to do and more work than job hunting with a computer, but the payoff can be dramatic," says the career coach. "If you can wow them with some information or just by being yourself, they may be very interested."

Corrections & Amplifications: Mark Jaffe is a principal with Wyatt & Jaffe, a Minneapolis-based search firm. In an earlier version of this article, Mr. Jaffe's name was misspelled.

Filed Under: Job Search


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