Welcome to the Pitfalls of a Holiday Season Job Search

Despite everyone's best efforts, things will slow down

Davide Cantelli

In the New Year, many companies, flush with new budgets, new plans and new optimism, will open up new searches for employees. Davide Cantelli/Unsplash

Any company recruiting during the holiday season to bring aboard new employees that can start at the beginning of January is facing some challenges that don’t exist during the rest of the year. These challenges place unique pressure on job seekers and hiring managers alike.

A firm planning for a new hire to begin the first week in January is probably targeting a start date of Monday, January 2, 2017. Backing up the planning calendar means that a successful candidate that is currently employed would need to resign by Friday, December 16, 2016 in order to offer two-week notice.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time to source candidates, schedule interviews, extend an offer and negotiate terms. Currently unemployed candidates technically have an extra couple of weeks, but hoping to extend an offer on Friday, December 30 and expecting a candidate to accept terms and start the next Monday seems like a bit of a long shot. Even if you push a candidate’s start date out, beginning from a dead stop now (as the incoming presidential administration is doing) will be problematic. Managers already well underway in their recruiting activities will still find that the intervening Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and their attendant travel and festivities will make it difficult to for them to meet their target schedules.

Heightened Schedule Conflicts

More employees take time off between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than at any other time of the year. Virtually no one in corporate America works on Thanksgiving Day or the following Friday. Many will also take off the preceding Wednesday and/or the following Monday. Because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, many managers will take off days preceding or following that holiday as well. The period between Christmas and New Year’s Day makes many offices look like virtual ghost towns. While this is great for family time, long lunches, or catching up on clearing out that email inbox, it makes scheduling interviews difficult—especially if the input of several different managers is required for a specific hire.

Candidates, too, have travel time worked into their holiday schedules and it can create an unfair choice for them. While many companies will be accommodating in working around long-planned vacation or family travel, in scheduling an interview, some may not. Given the paucity of potential interview slots this time of year, pushing for a time outside of a company’s suggested window could be seen as a lack of interest. The competition for many jobs is fierce and some candidates are willing to jump through any hoop placed before them. Delaying an interview until after the holidays may give another candidate a chance to win a position before you even show who you are and what you can do.

Finally, with so many people out of the office, even extending offers can present a challenge at this time of year. A couple of years ago, we were working with a CEO who had a great final interview with one of our candidates and wanted to extend an offer. While he could do so verbally, the entire human resources staff was on holiday leave and nobody was available to draw up a formal offer letter. Without seeing the terms in writing the candidate could not accept the offer. Nothing can be as helpless as a CEO without staff. Luckily, in this case, with his approval we were able to cobble together an offer letter by cutting and pasting parts of letters from other placements we’d made with the firm in the past.

Holiday Parties

During the rest of the year, it is common for candidates to be taken to lunch or dinner during the course of the interview process. At this time of year, candidates will occasionally be extended invitations to the holiday office party, instead. I would urge candidates and clients both to treat these opportunities as what they really are: not parties, but extended interviews under different circumstances. Each should recognize that despite a good time being had by all, they are being judged. For candidates and hiring managers alike, this means behaving appropriately and continuing to sell themselves, their skill sets and the opportunities they offer. I’ve seen many candidates blow offers or clients scare off candidates by letting their guard down in what they regarded as purely social situations. They are not.

Bonus Considerations

Finally, for candidates who are bonus eligible at their current firms, accepting an offer at this time of year poses one final obstacle. Many companies determine bonuses based on calendar year performance. Additionally, many require that workers be employed as of some specified future date to actually have the bonus paid.

If this applies to you, be upfront with your hiring company if this will affect your decision-making—but only after an offer is extended. Making an issue of this during the interview process could raise a red flag and factor into the process of deciding whether to hire you or not. Once a decision has been made, a company is much more willing to make concessions that will result in bringing you aboard.

For instance, it would not be at all inappropriate to respond to an offer by saying something like this: “I’m very excited about the offer you’ve extended, but there is one factor impacting my decision. Based on my performance at my current firm, I’ll earn a bonus of $X on December 31. This bonus will be paid out on January 31 if I’m still employed there. I understand that you want me start on January 2, but $X is a lot of money to walk away from. If I start when you want, can you cover that bonus payment for me?”

Many companies will offer a sign-on bonus to make employees whole in a situation like this, or at least offset your loss. If they refuse, ask if they’ll cover a portion of the bonus or be willing to push your start date back. If they again refuse but still seem eager to bring you aboard, see if there is something else they can offer: increased vacation time, a gym membership, or an increased performance bonus in your new role. Once an offer has been extended, it rarely hurts to ask for more—especially if leaving your existing job will make you incur some costs or loss of benefits.

As fast as companies may try to move around the holidays, despite their best efforts things slow down. While good news generally doesn’t wait, don’t take a delay in a company responding to necessarily be a bad sign. I’ve seen many, many companies miss their targets for filling jobs and have to push them back. Even better, in the New Year many companies, flush with new budgets, new plans and new optimism, will open up new searches for employees.

Keith Liscio is the president of Patrickson-Hirsch Associates, an Executive Search firm specializing in the placement of marketing executives at consumer-focused organizations.

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