By SINARA STULL O'DONNELL
The phrase "holiday job search" brings to mind two images. One is a Dickensian scene of a job seeker trudging through the snow, pausing now and then to press his face to a window and see happy employed people inside. He becomes an apple seller, standing knee-deep in snow. The other image is of a job seeker landing a dream job on New Year's Eve, and opening champagne in celebration.
Somewhere between these two pictures is the truth of a December job search.
When I was an executive and a corporate recruiter, I found that December was my busiest and most stressful month. It's no exaggeration to say that I often made job offers on Christmas Eve and came in the day after Christmas to do the paperwork so that an employee could start Jan. 2.
Yet, the misconception that nobody hires in December is common, as is the poor advice that "you might as well take the month off." It may seem counterintuitive, but the opposite is true.
Holiday job-search myths have been around for a long time and are repeated like mantras. Like other myths, they're fantasies that shatter when scrutinized. Consider the following:
Myth No.1: "Nobody hires in December"
December can be more fattening, it can be busier, but it's still a month employees are being paid to work. There are six reasons companies may hire in December:
1. Many companies must spend the money in their budgets before the end of the year. Hiring "heats up in December because hiring managers are trying to reach deadlines to use budgets," says Susie Basanda, principal of Basanda Consulting, a recruitment management company in Ventura County, Calif.
2. People tend to want to tie up loose ends before the new year. Hiring managers, human-resource representatives and executive recruiters are like the rest of us who have that feeling of urgency as the year-end approaches. If there are unfilled positions on their staffs, hiring managers naturally want to fill them. "There's that mentality of a fresh start," says Leslie Ruther, manager of human resources for Princess Cruises in Santa Clarita, Calif.
3. Positions open up in late November or early December because many professionals quit their jobs this time of year. As David Knowles, a senior recruiter with Excel Unlimited, an executive search firm in Houston, says, "The holidays can bring on a time of longing to be closer to family, roots and people. If no bonus is involved, people often will quit Dec. 1, and give two weeks notice so that they can be with family for the holidays." Professionals who have been looking to leave a company will plan their resignations in order to start a job right after the new year.
4. Headhunters are more motivated to place candidates before the end of the year. Almost all executive recruiters are paid on commission. This commission is based on fees their company earns for placing professionals. The amount the individual recruiter receives can be up to 60% of the total fee or higher if the recruiter is a principal or owner of his firm.
What helps the December job seeker is that this commission rises based on overall yearly billing. One might start the year at 30% and graduate to 60% by December. The catch is that it goes down to 30% again Jan. 1."My last three years have been a blur because I have worked so hard at recruiting over the holidays," says Ms. Ruther. "Last year I hoped to spend the time between Christmas and New Year's catching up and getting my files in order. I spent the time recruiting and interviewing. We made an offer that week."
5. The holidays don't affect much of a change in some businesses. There may be decorations and a few parties, but activities roll along just like any other month.
6. Strong companies often want to start the new year with a bang. "Companies that are forecasting profits want to have key people in place to start the year off well," says Mr. Knowles. Sales organizations often have their national sales meetings in January and want to have their whole sales force on hand.
Myth No. 2: "You won't find the job you really want in December"
You're just as likely to find the job you really want in December as in any other month. One reason is because you won't have as much competition, says Judy Kneisley, senior vice president and general manager in Woodland Hills, Calif., for New York City outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison Inc. "Because so many people believe in the myths, it's a perfect time to be out there," she says. It may sound logical that only losers would be desperate enough to look for jobs during the holidays, says Mr. Knowles, but "the fact is that winners are looking in December." Winners don't give up.
Job seekers must "know the opportunities are there and go in with a positive attitude," says Kim Eberhart, principal of KEB Resources, Inc., a human-resources consulting group in Valencia, Calif.
Additionally, it's easier to network during the holidays because holiday events present opportunities that you can use to your advantage. "You can network at parties, your children's school and church," says Ms. Basanda.
Despite the often hectic pace of parties and shopping, the holiday atmosphere makes many people more relaxed. "When you do get into see someone, they tend to be more open and magnanimous," says Ms.
She once interviewed for a position at a Texas country club over dinner amid the hustle of holiday parties. She received an offer and credits the festive mood in part for her success.
Myth No. 3: Nothing ever happens after Dec. 15, so you might as well leave town
Most recruiters advise job candidates to be flexible in scheduling interviews and meetings around the holidays. Ms. Eberhart goes a step further and advises candidates to avoid taking weeklong trips during the holidays. Ms. Basanda once held a round of interviews New Year's Day. Right before Christmas, she'd been asked to fill a position and give the hiring manager candidate summaries by Jan. 2. She'd been unable to arrange interviews with candidates between Christmas and New Year's. But most prospects were free, for at least an hour, on New Year's Day. On Jan. 1, she interviewed candidates in a restaurant, sitting in a booth for hours as candidates drifted in. The first ones received breakfast, the next round was served snacks, the following group had lunch, and so on. The candidate summaries were on the hiring manager's desk the next day. The finalist was hired in January.
Myth No. 4: Even if an employer has an opening, the hiring manager won't have time to meet with you
The interviewing process can be slower during the holidays because of the number of days people are out of the office. But, as Ms. Basanda says, the process "will slow down but it doesn't stop. "Again, flexibility is key. Because hiring managers are in and out of town and there are so many parties and other holiday activities, you may have to visit a company as many as three or four times to meet all of the players involved in the decision-making process.
Myth No. 5: You'll have a better chance if you wait until the first of the year
If employers have a need, they don't care whether it's January or December. "[Hiring] isn't focused on the time of year. It's focused on need," says Keith Mills, vice president for Aaron's Automotive, a manufacturer in Springfield, Mo.
His company's budgetary preference is to interview in December and hire in January. During the holidays, job candidates need to make sure they'll be available. "The thought that someone will come in on Christmas Eve if need be really shows something about him or her," he says.
-- Ms. O'Donnell is a free-lance writer and a career consultant in Springfield, Mo.