The best time to look for a job is when you’re reasonably happy in your current job, but, unfortunately, virtually nobody does that.
We tend to pick up the career ball reactively or when we stumble or face adversity in our job. This is a big problem because when you’re not feeling good about your job or not secure in your position, you’re at risk of taking a new job only to get away from your last one rather than having the benefit of being intentional and thorough in your search. You make better decisions when you want the new job rather than when you need that new job.
Networking and building / maintaining your professional and personal brand is something best done all the time. But our time is limited so the next best time will be to find YOUR best time. When do you have the most time, space, and opportunity to engage in career-related activities like maintaining and growing your network, mentoring others and being mentored, and engaging in training or personal growth opportunities? If you have a busy season at work, put your head down, do a great job, then get back to your career development during the slower periods in the year. The bottom line is that most jobs are landed through referral, word of mouth, and from networking – not from applying furiously on job boards. Because of this, it’s critical to begin activating your network and starting your efforts 6-12 months in advance of when you would optimally like get a new job to create momentum within your network and other search efforts.
Depending on the industry, there are certain times of year that are better for engaging in networking and applying for positions. There are also some really bad times.
For example, the fourth quarter for health insurance and financial planning is a terrible time to try to interview or learn about a company. Companies that work with insurance renewals and year end asset rebalancing are getting crushed with volume and employees and these companies don’t have time to waste helping anyone other than their clients. Even if they have are hiring needs, employees and leaders are too busy to interview you or be an ambassador for the company. The’ll come up for air in February through the summertime. Tax preparers are swamped from February to April.
In retail, the opposite is true. Retailers begin hiring for the holiday season rush in the late summer and fall in order to onboard and train their seasonable hourly help. This is the best time to look for these jobs because with a tight labor market, firms will all be competing for the same people and need to keep salaries competitive to attract and onboard the best people to meet consumer needs and holiday volume.
My favorite time for networking and career development is between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Most people seeking advancement tend to write off this time as “dead”, move to the sidelines, and recalibrate their efforts for the new year. They think that managers and human resources are on vacation and no decisions can be made. While that may be true at this company or that one, it’s not universally true – people are working, even if if there’s turkey fatigue and more pot luck events. For companies whose business or service offering is not tied to the calendar year, year’s end offers some peace and quiet, allowing managers and HR to think about staffing needs. Leaders that want to make a growth play in the new year recognize the need to staff up before the year starts. Plenty of offers are made at the end of the year. While scheduling might be difficult for interviews, the networking opportunities are ripe with more frequent social gatherings, events, and holiday parties. These gatherings provide real opportunities to talk to people about what you’re looking for and recruit allies to help you in your search. Guards tend to be down a little more and there are good spirits and generosity in the air.
Back to school! For parents, back to school time ends what can be a slow summer full of vacations. Many of these parents are also professionals who work at companies, who, with a sigh of relief, can get back to normal routines following summer breaks and family vacations. There’s a mindset change that occurs as the country goes from the dog days of summer to the bustle of the fall. It’s a company’s last push for growth before the year ends.
Eli Howayeck (MBA, Kellogg School of Management), Founder and CEO of Crafted Career Concepts, is passionate about helping motivated people achieve their career, educational, or personal goals and helping businesses, large and small, overcome a variety of challenges facing their business.