Many people often write off the period between Thanksgiving and New Years as a dead zone for a job search, believing that nothing will happen until after January 1. Based on my experience working with scores of executives looking for their next role, this is a myth. Not only do I currently have several clients scheduling interviews well into December, some of which are likely to result in offers shortly after, but I also have had clients receive offers and conduct negotiations the week between Christmas and New Years.
The holiday season is, in fact, precisely the time you want to fully engage in job search activities for the following reasons:
An abundance of social gatherings. Whether it’s Thanksgiving dinner, the company holiday party, friends’ holiday parties or New Years’ gatherings, there is no shortage of opportunities to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances as well as meet new people. These are all occasions to share with people about your current search for your next opportunity, describe what you are looking for and elicit their help. If you are employed, your company’s holiday party is also a chance to meet people from different parts of the organization where you might learn about new opportunities in other departments and build your internal network. In addition, the date of an acquaintance at a holiday party may work at a company on your target list and could be the perfect “in.” Research by Mark Granovetter has shown that it is these “weak” ties that provide valuable bridges to other networks, resulting in better jobs with greater tenure, stature and satisfaction.
Others have time to meet. While there are certainly exceptions, work generally tends to slow down a bit over the holidays, allowing time for others to meet for lunch or coffee during the workday, provided that they are not out of town on vacation. And if they are away or unable to meet, your request to meet is still likely to evoke a “Let’s get together in the New Year” response versus an outright “no.”
People are feeling generous. Charitable donations surge 42% over November and December, with three times as many people making donations during this period than any other time of the year, as people are typically feeling more generous during the holidays. Using this as a proxy of people’s willingness to help others, this can be a great time to reach out and make a job search request for useful information or introductions.
As with any other time of the year, you’ll want to employ the following strategies to make the most out of your job search activities.
Don’t make assumptions. Never assume who will or won’t be helpful. People who you didn’t expect to be helpful will turn out to be extremely generous, and others who you thought would be helpful may not be. Further, don’t write someone off because they work in a completely different field or are unemployed. Your cousin’s date to Thanksgiving dinner may be a schoolteacher, but perhaps his sister works at the tech company where you are interested in working. You never know whose mother, brother, cousin, college roommate, childhood friend, etc. works or used to work where you are interested in working.
Have a concise, compelling way to talk about yourself. This is sometimes referred to as a positioning statement or an elevator pitch. It is essentially how you answer any question where you have an opportunity to talk about yourself, particularly the “dinner party” question, “Nice to meet you, so what do you do?” The acid test to a good positioning statement is this: Does the other person know how to help you? Be as specific as possible - even if you are unclear about what’s next. You might say something like, “I’ve been in high-tech marketing for the last 10 years, but I’m currently looking to make a change. Right now, I’m researching the wine industry and socially responsible investing and am looking to talk to people in either of these fields.”
Be curious about others. Being curious about others allows us to establish a common interest or connection. Perhaps you both went to the same university, used to work at the same company or grew up in the same small town? In being curious about the other person, you are also likely to be able to identify how you might be helpful to them, whether it’s giving a restaurant recommendation for their upcoming vacation, connecting them with a useful contact for their business or some other way to be helpful. Finally, knowing a bit about the other person allows you to frame how you talk about yourself (and your job search) in a way that is most meaningful and relevant to the other person.
Follow Up. If you do meet people who could be helpful to your search, be sure to follow up with them in a timely manner. If someone has offered to meet with you or make an introduction on your behalf, the onus is on you to initiate the follow-up since you are the beneficiary of these activities. You’ll also want to connect on LinkedIn, with a short note reminding them of where you met. Following up also includes closing the loop with others by sending a timely thank you note by email for any introductions made or time they took to meet with you.
Any social interaction is an opportunity to advance your job search. I can’t think of any better time to do this than the holidays.