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How to Keep a Job Search Going Through the Holidays

Illustration by Heather Scoggins

Illustration by Heather Scoggins

Companies don’t hire during the holidays, you say? Corporate hiring managers are all out on vacation? Nobody’s going to get back to you, so you’re just going to go stand in line at a big-box store on Black Friday and dive into shopping mob frenzy? Bah, humbug! The truth is: Companies do plenty of hiring during the last two months of the year, and the rare job seeker who keeps up the hunt is a big fish in a shrinking pond.

Talk about a blue Christmas.

She had been a business analyst for the telecom industry in Chicago. But now, her company was closed down, it was Thanksgiving, and she found herself heading into the holidays unemployed.

Lauren Milligan, her resume coach, isn’t at liberty to give out her client’s name, so let’s call the business analyst Tracy.

If Tracy were like many of us, she would have hung up her job search for the holidays, right next to the stockings on the fireplace.

After all, the thinking goes, nobody’s around during the holidays, right? Corporate hiring managers are on vacation, and companies just don’t hire during the last two months of the year, right? You might as well just kick back and stuff your belly with turkey, for all the good sending out your resume will do, right?

Well, no, wrong, actually, as career coaches, recruiters, and hiring managers are happy to tell you. There are numbers to back up their anecdotes, too. Last year, around this same post-Halloween, pre-holidays time, ExecuNet surveyed hiring managers to find out just how accurate is the perception that nobody hires over the big U.S. holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. The executive recruitment and retention firm found that, while hiring may slow down during the last two months of the year, it most certainly doesn’t stop.

The numbers:

  • More than two-thirds, or 69%, of executive recruiters say that their number of search assignments initiated either increases or stays the same during November and December.
  • According to a large majority—89%—of recruiters, the number of jobs posted either increases or stays at the same level as other times of the year.
  • A majority—62%—of recruiters say that hiring decisions  increase in November and December or stay the same as at other times of the year.
  • Only 38% say hiring declines over the holidays.
  • The recruiters are in the office, too. And 65% of corporate hiring managers are still around during those last two months, and still accessible to job seekers.
  • Fifty-three percent of executive recruiters report their interviewing activity stays the same or increases over the holidays.

So don’t let up. This is a story about how to keep up that job search “oomph”, and to motivate you, we look at good things that happened to two job seekers who didn’t slack off around this time.

Let’s get back to Tracy. Milligan, a career coach and resume expert with ResuMAYDAY, told Tracy – as she tells all her clients – that many, if not most, job seekers slack off during the holidays. As a result, those job seekers still on their game turn into big fishes in shrunken ponds. If Tracy could keep up her job search gusto, she’d have less competition. For another thing, Milligan told Tracy, she’d find hiring managers are easier to get hold of, given how the torrent of applicants they typically drown in drains off to a trickle this time of year. Those corporate hiring bosses would also be more relaxed, Milligan said.

So when Tracy came across a company that she was itching to work for—one that matched her personal philosophy to a T—she did what any smart job seeker does: She turned herself into a stalker, more or less.

A good stalker, though. Tracy started by creating a Google Search alert that sniffed out any news about the company that came up and delivered it directly to her email inbox.

Then, Tracy worked LinkedIn, connecting with anybody she could find who currently or previously worked for her target company. She reached out in a friendly, professional way, of course, as opposed to doing it in an unbearable, demanding and/or whiny/needy way. Specifically, Tracy told her LinkedIn connections, she really liked the company and felt very aligned with what it was doing.

When you approach a company like that, Milligan says, people generally are open to sharing information, since they don’t detect an ulterior motive.

Tracy is a business analyst so she was, of course, collecting information on what the company was doing right and what gaps it might have. She was finding out what the company’s numbers were, and identifying gaps that she could conceivably fill with her expertise.

Then, Tracy sat down and wrote a thoughtful cover letter, using the data she’d gleaned from employees, news articles, and previous annual reports. She sent it without her resume, as she wanted the hiring manager to focus on the letter itself without getting distracted. The missive was, really, a love letter, telling of how Tracy was passionate about the things the company was doing in the business realm but also how aligned she was with its philosophy. (You sense a theme here?) And then, of course, she outlined what she could bring to the company that others could not.

In the very last sentence, Tracy wrote that she would follow up by sending her resume after her recipient had a chance to take a look at the information she’d sent.

Days after she sent the letter, the manager who received it connected with her on LinkedIn.

“Which is basically like unlocking and opening the door for her,” Milligan says. “That’s exactly what every job seeker wants, and if it happens, you do the happy dance.”

Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, says that the climate has changed in recent years, to the extent that more holiday happy dances are now possible.

Before 2009, Hurwitz always said that the dead season for recruiters was the week of Thanksgiving (still true, he maintains), the last two weeks in December, and, depending on which day of the week is New Year’s, maybe the first week in January.

When Hurwitz says “dead,” he means, “dead.”

“The phone never rang,” Hurwitz tells me.  “E-mails were few and far between.”

But when the economy tanked, something strange happened.  Hurwitz started getting calls from his clients—i.e., employers—in the beginning of December, looking to fill permanent positions.

Hurwitz would always say something like, “I’ll be happy to do the search but, just understand, nothing happens the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s,” and his clients would always tell him that they understood.

Nowadays, there is no problem meeting with candidates during the holiday season, Hurwitz says. In fact, most of his employed job seekers tend to take days off during the holidays, so they’re available for meetings to explore new opportunities.

For his part, John Reed, senior executive director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology, tells me that RHI has seen a continued, steady demand from companies wanting to build their open positions before year’s end, for a few reasons, First, they want to go into the new year fully staffed. It makes for better holidays if you can have all your seats filled before you walk away, he says.

Another reason is that if companies are using a recruiter or pay for job postings, they prefer to use the remaining budget before year’s end.

Actually, Reed himself is a happy holiday dance story. He came out of technology product sales and started with RHI in December of 1998—on Dec. 28, to boot, three days after Christmas.

Leading up to the new job, Reed found himself interviewing with managers who had a bit of extra time on their hands, with less pressure from a deadline perspective. One of the best benefits to come out of it, he says, was that it turned out to be a great time for getting oriented in the new company: When things are a little slow, more experienced people have time to devote to training new hires and getting them acclimated.

If this has been enough to convince you to keep the job search fires burning through the holidays, here are some tips:

  • Network during the holidays. Holiday parties are a great place to do it, given that people are more laid back, relaxed, and friendly, so go to as many as you can. “Everybody’s jolly during the holidays, so it’s great to go to Christmas parties, Thanksgiving, Hanukah, whatever, and meet more people. They’re more likely to be helpful when they’re happy,” says Abby Kohut, president of AbsolutelyAbby.com, a career consulting company.
  • Send holiday cards. Don’t just sign the cards and send them off, be they electronic or snail mail cards. Instead, take the time to write a personalized note in each one. People are more apt to respond if you’ve taken the time to show you care.
  • Invite your key contacts out for lunch, including recruiters.
  • Be kind to yourself. Reward yourself for your job search progress by taking a judicious amount of time off—say, an afternoon or a day off.
  • If you get overwhelmed with your job search, recruit an ally, whether it’s a career coach or another job seeker. An accountability partner can help you stay tuned in to timelines and objectives.

Oh, and to check back in on Tracy: She sent that great cover letter right around Thanksgiving. Before December, she had an interview. She started around the first of the year.

So deck the halls with offer letters, fa la la la la, la la la la.

 See also:

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  • Alfred Poor

    Great advice! Every job seeker should be a “stalker” and learn all that they can about their target, even if it’s just for an entry level position. And the advice about networking during the holidays is probably most important of all, as getting a referral from someone inside the company increases your chances of getting the job by almost 10 times.

    • Lauren Milligan

      Yes Alfred, every job seekers should learn how to “stalk” in a competitive yet appropriate way. (I like having quotes around that word, too because it its a little tongue-in-cheek.) So glad you liked the article! And for those who know how to use LinkedIn in the right way, getting help and advocacy from within a company has become much easier!

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  • sherif

    great

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  • bm

    I just received a job offer today, Dec 30, and have a third interview with another company scheduled for Jan 2. So, yes, it is definitely worth continuing the job search through November.