The Unspoken Rules of Job Searching in January

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I don’t have to tell you that January is quite the kick-starting month. Exhibit A: Have you noticed how packed your gym suddenly gets every January due to fitness-related resolutions?

But it’s also a big time of year for careers. See, plenty of us have just spent the holidays reevaluating our goals (and having to talk about said goals with judging family members). As a result, we enter January feeling motivated to make a change—whether it’s to go after a new job, a new company, or a new field completely.

But before setting the wheels in motion, it’s important to understand exactly what to expect from a job search this month. Here’s what the experts say:

Mid-January Is Your Best Bet for Applying

Why? As HR executive and Muse career coach Angela Smith points out, most people will still be recovering from the holiday break that first week.

“Companies might be kick-starting their annual hiring plans in early January,” she says, so once those processes start to pick up your best bet is to apply toward the middle of the month to ensure your application doesn’t get lost in a sea of unopened holiday mail.

Hiring Is a Big Priority in January

“In sales the end of the quarter is when people don’t take time off. In recruiting people tend to not take time off in the beginning of the year because that’s the busiest time,” says Smith.

The reasons why are several-fold, she explains. The new quarter brings new budgeting plans, which can mean more money to hire more people. It also brings new sales forecasts or company-wide goals, which can indicate where a company might be focusing their recruiting efforts and which teams they’re looking to build out. “Companies might be kick-starting their annual hiring plans in early January,” she says.

That said, Smith warns that this doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more jobs available in January than other times of the year.

…But There’s Also More Competition

January tends to bring an influx of eager job seekers, leading to more competition for job openings.

To state the obvious, “there will be a higher volume of people applying for jobs in January as more people wait until the holidays are over to begin looking for a possible change,” says Jamie Cole, Senior Account Manager at Merritt Staffing, a full-service recruiting agency.

Besides the #NewYearNewYou energy, folks may have a financial incentive to wait until January to job hunt. As Cole notes, companies often have a policy where bonuses aren’t distributed until the end of the year, and “people ideally do not like leaving money on the table with their last employer.”

…And the Process May Be Slower

While hiring in January may be more aggressive, it may also be a more drawn-out process.

Besides new budgets, January could also indicate other internal changes for companies: “I’ve worked with companies that have implemented a new ATS [applicant tracking system] in the new calendar year, so they’re testing out new systems or processes,” says Smith, which could mean delays in getting recruiting off the ground.

And, says Cole, you have to “be aware that not every company may have a finalized budget in place for the year…and this may cause a delay in hiring decisions.”

However, she notes, this could also be a positive: Since they haven’t yet filled those roles, you have a shot at locking them down if you apply in January.

The bigger reason why the process tends to slow down in January is because there’s no real rush. Simply put, “[employers] take their time because they have the time and the money” to do so, says Smith. “Pace yourself, and don’t expect super quick responses or a super quick process,” she adds.

What Does This All Mean?

The short answer? Treat your job search in January like you would any other month.

Keep in mind how your application will get through an ATS. Tailor your cover letter and resume. Network to get a leg-up at a specific company. Follow up to keep yourself on someone’s radar.

Need some more help? Check out our guide to kickstarting your job search in one afternoon.

Anything Else?

One more thing worth mentioning is that January isn’t just about job searching. The beginning of the new year provides as much opportunity to grow and develop in our current jobs as it does to land a new one.

You can set goals for yourself. You can start to lay the groundwork for a promotion or raise. You can ask your boss for more responsibility.

And if you’re not in a hurry to change jobs, you can begin preparing materials now so that you’re ready for when the time comes to move on. After all, January isn’t your only shot to make a change.

By The Muse
The Muse
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