Jobseekers often contend with a lot of folk wisdom during the job search. Even while the holiday lights are still shimmering nightly, it is common to hear that chestnut, “January is the best time of the year to find a job.”
An Internet search to determine whether or not this is a true statement reveals some confusing – and contradictory – information. After a while, a sensible person will read the clickbait articles available on the topic, yet remain no wiser about the best time of year for companies to hire or jobseekers to search. So is it wise to reallocate one’s valuable time and energy for a January job search?
The quick but incomplete answer is yes, January is in general a good time to begin or accelerate a job search, and for companies to hire. Even the few weeks leading up to the new year can be a very good time to start applying.
The complete answer, however, is more complicated, and deserves a review of the facts so that jobseekers can make prudent choices about investing scarce time and energy on a January job search.
Fact #1: There are definitely good times for organizations to hire
Hiring organizations need to fill positions by specific dates in order to execute their strategic plans, in close alignment with the production and consumption cycles of their industries. Candidate selection must begin several weeks or even months in advance in order to assure proficient, fully staffed teams.
Consequently, hiring follows a strong seasonal pattern that is tightly coupled with overall business activity. Consequently, hiring typically increases from late March through October. Conversely, the lowest hiring months are typically November through mid-March.
Figure 1: The annual hiring cycle since 2007. Lowest hiring activity typically occurs between November through mid-March, then picks up to a high point midway through the summer. From July to mid-October, hiring levels are still high, but typically decrease month to month, A spike in low-season hiring levels typically occurs in January, making it a relatively good time to be active in the job market.
However, folk wisdom is partially correct in that January usually brings about a temporary spike in hiring after a season of overall decreased hiring levels. Competition is usually less fervent (which shortens time to hire), budgets and hiring plans are firming up, and companies are intensifying efforts to assemble staffing pipelines that will last through the first half of the new year.
For jobseekers, January is an excellent time to perform company research, network, and schedule informational interviews. The latter provides an especially keen opportunity to get indications of target companies’ up and down times, where and when they anticipate growth, and what skills they are likely to need to support that growth. “Knowing the space” isn’t just for executives and entrepreneurs, but also every savvy jobseeker.
For companies, January affords HR and recruiters the perfect time to audit their own hiring function: do we really have the right people, processes, technology, and principles for 2017? Both HR and recruiters should also take this time to reaffirm their mutual responsibility to assemble strong applicant pools, act in a timely manner on good candidates, and provide very high standards of communication to both candidates and one another.
Fact #2: There are definitely good times to search for jobs
As discussed above, the best time for jobseekers to get hired is during business-as-usual months, which can be determined through research or informational interviews.
But the best time to be searching for those jobs is 2-3 months ahead of the industry’s busy season. Why? The average time to hire is around 40 days, though it can be much longer in some cases. Jobseekers should, therefore, expect a bare minimum of one month from beginning the job search and the first paycheck. During this time, jobseekers should be following up with hiring managers and recruiters so as to remain fresh and relevant in their minds.
Fact #3: There is no really bad time for jobseekers or recruiters
Even in the months of lowest hiring, the number of hires drops off only by about one-third from the highest month, or from approximately 6 million hires down to approximately 4 million hires. In other words, hiring and job seeking are both year-round activities that nevertheless have their seasons.
During the stronger hiring season, competition is more rigorous, and jobseekers need to adopt their summer playbook: follow up diligently, personalize every contact, be easy to be found, be agile. During the lower seasons, jobseekers should switch over to some of their winter strategies: research the field, network, update resumes and online profiles, set up informational interviews, stay visible. Recruiters need to be receptive to these seasonal changes in jobseeker behaviors and set proper expectations about the hiring process with every quality candidate.
Job search success is about timing, but the time of year plays a relatively small part. After the holidays, jobseekers may want to give themselves the gift of time, perhaps to network, research where they want to go next, or plan to act in anticipation of new opportunities. However, serious jobseekers need not put any artificial constraints on themselves regarding time of year because there is no bad time for good companies and good workers to find each other.
Especially in January.