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No Holiday for Job Hunters
Firms Won't Wait Till January to Fill Their Ranks

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 12, 2006

We're about to enter the busy season: shopping, cooking, planning, preparing, partying.

And yes, hiring.

So many workers assume that because the holidays are upon us, hiring must come to a halt. And perhaps when companies actually closed down for a week or two before Christmas or slowed down around Thanksgiving, that was the case. But that's just not happening as much as it used to.

"A lot of people think, 'I'm just going to kick back and start my search in earnest after the first of the year,' " said Lisa A. Ryan, senior vice president and managing director of Heyman Associates, an executive search firm that places senior-level professionals. "That's a huge mistake because when companies have a need, they're going to hire no matter what the time of year is."

Indeed, at the beginning of January last year, four people placed through Heyman started new jobs, meaning they were hired and interviewed during the busy holiday season. Typically, the company places about 60 people a year.

And if workers think companies won't start someone during the busy holiday rush, think again: This year, three people thus far are starting new jobs between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Ryan said.

The job search this time of year might be a bit different, but you can use holiday parties and other potential candidates' belief that it's not a good time to job-hunt in your favor.

Add in that the unemployment rate is the lowest since 2001, and it's a good time to look around.

Randstad, a staffing company, has 300 positions of its own to fill right now, said Jeanne Pardo, managing director of operations. The number is higher than the usual 50 to 75 openings because the company is expanding its business in Georgia and Tennessee and is looking for new help.

Now.

But, Pardo said, it's not just Randstad. "It's actually a very good time to look" anywhere, she said. "People are beginning to prepare for 2007. They are evaluating and looking at the structure today and are looking at hiring."

Proceeding with the job search this time of year may be a bit different than at other times. The interview process might take even longer than normal as interviewers take time away from work. But that also can work to the job seeker's advantage: No need to take off an entire day to spend several hours interviewing.

Enjoy people's holiday spirit -- and spirits. Holiday parties are the perfect place to network and let people know you are on the hunt, said John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an executive outplacement consulting firm.

People have chances to talk and meet each other at holiday parties. "These are great places to get into the community or circles that you are engaged with to tell people you're thinking about changing jobs," he said. And if you're out of work? Even better. Fill that social calendar as much as you can, he said. It's all part of the job search.

What's even better is that there is less competition during the holiday season. Job seekers (except for readers of this column) are probably taking the season off, assuming few companies are hiring.

"You have this wonderful opportunity to see people. And business certainly doesn't stop during holiday season," Challenger said. "That's a quaint idea that is long gone."

In addition, some potential job hunters want to wait until after the holidays are over. "They're waiting through to the end-of-year bonus. People are kicking back making sure their hard work pays off," said Jim Bowles, vice president for workforce development at Cingular Wireless.

Though budget constraints can keep it from happening, starting work during the holidays can also be a hidden plus. The new job will probably be slower, so that gives a new worker more time to settle in and get ready for the post-holiday whirlwind. It's a good time to train, and more people have time to answer questions or help a new employee fit in to the position.

Some companies have a hiring rush to prepare for the holiday season. But hiring around this time isn't limited to seasonal work. In addition to the several thousand people Cingular Wireless must hire to staff up its retail operations, it is still looking for strong candidates for non-seasonal positions in retail, call centers and professional spots.

Bowles said that for every 100 people hired, the company looks through about 1,000 résumés. Therefore, it is important to keep reviewing those résumés and interviewing prospective workers, yes, even during the holidays.

"Companies can't afford to shut down at this time of year," Bowles said.

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