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This Holiday, Shopping for Gifts and Jobs

Season Can Be A Smart Time To Hunt for Work

By Rebecca R. Kahlenberg
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page K01

This holiday season, Reston resident Betsy Schultz, 55, will have Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with her family, buy gifts from stores and catalogues, and decorate her Christmas tree. But she will also be busy for about four hours most days with another project: her job hunt.

Since summer, Shultz has sought a public policy, public affairs or community outreach job in the private or nonprofit sector. She has researched organizations at the library and online, responded to job postings on the Internet, and attended networking events. From now through the New Year, "I won't slack off. I'll slog through," she said, adding, "I think it's as good a time as any to be looking."

No Need to Hibernate in December

Some tips for holiday-season job hunters:

• Recognize that you may be more likely to be noticed by employers now because there are fewer applicants.

• View social occasions as potential networking opportunities.

• Keep in mind that it's fine to take some time off, as long as you don't lose your job-search rhythm.

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Career experts tend to agree. "It's a myth that companies shut down in December. . . . It's just ridiculous [to think that they would]. They can't afford to," said Thomas W. Morris III, president of Morris Associates Inc., a District-based outplacement and career transition firm.

In fact, Morris and others point to several reasons why the holiday season can be one of the best times of the year to job hunt.

First, job seekers have less competition because some people think there's little point in looking now. With fewer job applicants, "it can be easier to stand out with employers," said Steve Pogorzelski, president of Massachusetts-based Monster.com, a Web career site.

Contrast that with the "January job rush, when everybody and their brother is out there with a résumé and a [New Year's] resolution," Morris said.

Second, many companies whose fiscal years begin in January want new employees to start shortly after Jan. 1, Pogorzelski said. Because they routinely post openings 30 to 60 days before start dates, employers end up reviewing résumés, arranging interviews and negotiating salaries in November and December, he said.

Third, networking opportunities often increase because there are so many holiday gatherings, said Margaret F. Dikel, whose Web site, www.rileyguide.com, serves as a guide to employment resources on the Internet. She said "networking is the number one way" to find a job and that every social event is a networking opportunity. "You never know, you could be caroling in the street" and meet someone who can help you find a job, she said.

Finally, certain industries, particularly retail, increase their hiring before Christmas, and working in a seasonal job can lead to a permanent position after the holidays are over, said Shawn Boyer, chief executive of Richmond-based SnagAJob.com, a part-time and hourly employment resource.

For example, RadioShack Corp. of Fort Worth, which has 250 stores in the Washington region, hires 10,000 people nationwide during the holiday season and retains some of them, depending on their performance. "We always want to go back to great seasonal help," said Holly Gathright, the company's senior director of recruitment.

Boyer said that most retailers like to have their holiday season staff members on the payroll and trained by now but that openings sometimes remain into early December.

If applying for a seasonal job, be ready to start working right away and be prepared to work nights and weekends, Boyer suggested. "If you say you are only available till 6 p.m. on weekdays and not at all on weekends, chances are you won't get hired," Boyer said, because "it's too much of a scheduling nightmare for the manager." Also, tell a potential employer if you're willing to stay on after the holidays.

If you are applying for a permanent position during the holiday season, it's important to recognize that it's okay to take a few days off from your job hunt for a vacation or religious observance, experts said. The key, they noted, is not to lose your momentum because gaining it back in early January can be hard.

Arlington resident Vanessa Brown, who is in her forties, knows this. She plans to continue looking for a marketing position during the holidays. "While the turkey is in the oven, I can be online looking at company Web sites," she said.

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