Why the holidays are the best time to find a new job
FORTUNE — Dear Annie: Can you settle a bet? A friend of mine who has been out of work for quite a while is planning to take the month of December off from job hunting because he says hiring managers are taking time off, or are distracted by their own holiday preparations, and are not hiring until after January 1. Based on my own experience as a manager, I think he’s mistaken and will miss out on some great opportunities if he stops looking during the holidays. I suspect that part of his reluctance to go to big holiday parties — which are terrific for networking — is that he’s embarrassed about being unemployed. He has agreed to keep looking if you say he should, so what do you think? —Concerned Friend
Dear C.F.: Your friend is mistaken, but he’s certainly not the only one. “This ‘bad time of year’ myth has become conventional wisdom among job seekers,” notes Harry Urschel, head of Minneapolis recruiting firm e-Executives, who adds that it isn’t at all unusual for people to find new jobs even in that quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s.
Other headhunters agree: A new survey of recruiters by online executive career network ExecuNet says that 69% report place as many, or even more, candidates in December as in any other month.
Calling off a job search during the next few weeks is counterproductive for several reasons. First, Urschel says, “there is a great deal of pressure on managers to be prepared” for the New Year, which means having people in place before it starts. Moreover, many employers have “use it or lose it” budgets that bosses have to spend before December 31, or they need to staff up before the year ends for tax purposes, so January may be too late.
“December is the easiest job market of the whole year — followed by January, which is the toughest and most competitive,” says Susan Joyce, who runs career site Job-Hunt.org. To help out during the holidays, Joyce and branding expert Meg Giuseppi compiled an e-book of tips from 25 recruiters and career coaches, called New Year, New Job! 101 Top Tips from the Job-Hunt Experts for Your Holiday Job Search. It will be available for free on all Amazon Kindle apps from midnight on Thanksgiving Day until midnight next Monday (99 cents thereafter).
A few of those tips your friend might useful:
1. Build your online network over the holidays. Reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances is natural at this time of year, so reach out to them on LinkedIn (LNKD) and Facebook (FB), and get caught up with what they’re doing these days. Touch base with any recruiters you may know, as well.
2. Volunteer. Many nonprofits need extra help during the holidays, and lending a hand can lead to new relationships that will help your job search. Just as important, notes career coach Nan S. Russell, “It feels great to make a difference. It ignites your self-esteem and reminds you of what’s going right in your life.”
3. Send cards to companies where you’ve interviewed. To remind hiring managers that you’re still interested in working with them, executive coach Camille Roberts suggests sending a holiday card, and maybe even a small gift like a little box of chocolates, along with a note. “Ask if there are any openings where you might be a better fit” than the job you previously applied for, she says.
4. Thank everyone who has helped you in your job search so far. Holiday cards are a great way to express appreciation to networking contacts, recruiters, and anyone else you’ve been in touch with about your job hunt — and to stay on their radar screens for opportunities they may know about right now.
5. Go to holiday parties. Professional-association get-togethers are particularly helpful. “I know hiring managers who go to holiday parties looking for people to hire,” says e-Executives’ Urschel. Once you get there, adds Jeff Lipschultz, president of Southlake, Texas, recruiting firm A-List Solutions, “make it your goal to meet all the people there. Any one of them could be a hiring manager or a recruiter.”
6. Throw your own party. “Invite friends for dinner, cookies, coffee, or a glass of holiday cheer at your home or in a restaurant, bakery, or bar,” suggests Barbara Safani, Job-Hunt.org’s finance industry job search expert. “This is a great, low-key way to practice your pitch and reconnect with people who may be able to help you with your search.”
Speaking of parties, New Year, New Job! includes a chapter about handling the party chitchat that tends to make unemployed people uncomfortable. “Prepare what I call ‘Teflon’ answers to questions you dread,” says Phyllis Mufson, a career coach at Job-Hunt.org who specializes in helping Baby Boomers find new jobs. An example of a Teflon answer: If someone says, “It’s so awful that you got laid off. How are you?” you can reply, “My old job was great, but I’m excited to find new ways to use my skills. Thanks for your concern.” Then steer the conversation to less awkward ground.
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“Don’t hide, and don’t apologize,” adds Job-Hunt.org’s Joyce. “You’ve done nothing wrong, and anyway, unemployment is a temporary state. It’s not who you are.”
Talkback: Have you ever found a job during the holiday season, or hired someone at year-end? Leave a comment below.