CAREER TIPS - 3 Tips On How To Stand Out In A January Job Search
January is usually one of the best months to launch a job search because many companies begin a fresh and more aggressive wave of hiring in January to match the business plans they set for the new year.
In addition, unlike a fall job search that is sandwiched between job market slowdowns over the summer and holiday season, starting your job search in January gives you several months to make progress in networking and interviewing without losing momentum.
However, while those are the trends you can expect in a typical January job market, this past year has been anything but normal. The global pandemic and economic fallout have shaken up what are typically reliable hiring trends, making it even harder to determine what to expect from a January job search this year.
January Job Market Trends
While the rollout of a vaccine has renewed hope for a more robust job market in 2021, employment gains appear to be slowing, stemming from renewed restrictions and concern about how the ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases will impact an already battered economy.
January hiring activity will vary widely by industry, with some industries such as technology or healthcare hiring at the same or even increased rates from previous years, while other industries such as restaurants, retail, travel and higher education will still bear the brunt of the downturn.
The size of the candidate pool vying for the same jobs will also be larger this January, with US unemployment levels at 6.7% up from 3.6% at this time last year. Overall, it’s a fair assumption that competition for jobs this month will be fierce.
How To Stand Out
If you are launching or continuing a job search in January, it is more important than ever to have a plan to stand out among the crowded field of candidates. Here are three tips to help you focus your attention this month on the best ways to attract and convert new job opportunities.
1. Concentrate your early efforts on a smaller list of companies
When you’re anxious to kick off your job search, you may instinctually begin by applying to any and every option you see on LinkedIn or other job sites. This often feels like the fastest and easiest way to get your résumé in front of recruiters and it provides an immediate spark of hope and anticipation.
However, by taking the time to first research and create a list of target companies that you want to work for, you will net a higher return on your efforts because applying aimlessly to jobs online has a notoriously low probability of producing a real job lead. This is especially true in the month of January, when most recruiters are swamped with new applicants.
Instead, start by drafting a list of up to ten companies you want to target in your first wave of job searching activity. To gather ideas for this list, research the top companies in your industry, field or location as well as lists of the best employers for categories that matter to you such as Most Innovative, Best for Working Parents, Most Inclusive, etc. Then, run your list by at least one or two mentors or industry contacts to get their perspective on the cultures you are targeting or to uncover any companies you may have accidentally overlooked.
This doesn’t mean that you have to ignore online postings all together, as they may help you identify other (especially smaller or less well-known) employers you may want to consider. Just make sure you are actually targeting those companies and building out your network there versus simply applying online and hoping you’ll stand out in the pack.
2. Don’t be afraid to refresh stale or dormant connections
Once you’ve determined which companies you plan to target first, you need to turn your attention toward finding networking contacts within each of your target companies.
It is through these networking activities that you will receive referrals that help you get on the radar of a recruiter or hiring manager, or gain the inside connection on a job before it is posted online.
In a perfect world, you would embark on your job search with the confidence that you have a large, diverse network primed for you to reach out to because you’ve been proactively maintaining those connections. But many people find themselves doubting the power of their network and fearing that many of their professional relationships have grown stale over time.
Reaching out to old contacts, especially those you have not kept in touch with, can feel intimidating. But January is one of the best months to reconnect with lost friends and colleagues because many people are also thinking about their own career path during this time of year and are often more eager to network as a result.
Don’t rule out asking anyone in your network for help making an introduction into one of your target companies simply because they aren’t in the same industry, live in a different location or lack seniority. While you may be correct in judging their professional network, they may instead have a family member or close friend that can help refer you.
Throughout January, work systemically to get on the radar of one to two hiring managers and one recruiter at each of your targets. But don’t overdo it: reaching out to too many people in the organization at the same time can backfire. Focus on a few people this month and wait to try additional contacts later.
3. The best time to shape a job to your preferences is after first-round interviews
This may surprise you, but it often happens that the great job that someone ultimately lands is not the one they were first contacted about.
At some point during your hiring process, a company may decide to create a new position for you or tweak the current opening to better fit your skills, compensation needs or career goals.
On top of the professional growth you hope to gain in your new job, you may also have personal circumstances that impact the parameters of your search, such as a need to work permanently (or for the foreseeable future) from home, an inability to relocate or a desire for a flexible schedule.
While these are all valid work life needs, you may not want to focus on them in your initial discussions with a recruiter or hiring manager unless the job has a component that you view as an absolute deal breaker.
But if there is even a 5% chance that you’d consider the job as described, make the decision to learn more about the opportunity, and give the company a little time to see why you’d be an asset to their business before expressing your concerns.
This is especially important during a busy hiring month like January, when recruiters can quickly move on to the next qualified applicant instead of taking the time to inquire internally if the job might qualify for a higher title or whether you could commute from another office location.
Leave your options open as much as possible during your first-round discussions, and then be sure to express any desires to alter the role before engaging in second-round interviews. By that point, the hiring manager should have some sense of what you are bringing to the table and will be able to consider what flexibility, if any, they have for the position.
The key to getting and staying on the radar for job opportunities in January is to have a personal contact to reach out to. This way, even if that job doesn’t move forward, you will be better positioned to follow up on future leads with that company.
While a January job market is full of potential, these are not the easiest economic conditions in which to look for a job. Yet, many people will indeed persevere and land great jobs over the next few months. With hard work and dedicated focus, you can be one of them.
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