By MARY JACOBS / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
One December day several years ago, Nancy Williams took a bus into downtown Cleveland for a job interview — in the middle of a blizzard. Normally a 45-minute ride, the trip took 90 minutes, yet she arrived on time.
By New Year’s Day, she’d landed the job.
Lesson learned: If you’re looking for a job during December, it’s not impossible. But you may have to work a little harder.
“December isn’t the best time of year to look for a job,” acknowledges Troy Behrens, executive director of the Hegi Family Career Development Center at Southern Methodist University.
Even in Dallas, where blizzards are rare, “this is typically a time of employment hibernation. Only two out of every 10 companies will advertise job openings during this time of year.”
But don’t hang up the job search along with the Christmas stockings.
“Many job seekers mistakenly believe that employers do not hire during the holidays, so they put their job searches on hold until after the holidays,” said John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The firm estimates that about 20 percent of job seekers will postpone their efforts until the end of the year, leaving a smaller pool of applicants for those who do stay in the game.
“Any time of the year feels like a drought if you’re not getting calls for interviews,” said Ms. Williams, a veteran of a couple of successful December job searches who’s now a database designer in Beachwood, Ohio. “You can’t let the calendar dictate your job search.”
Mr. Behrens has experience helping with December job searches. A growing number of the SMU students he advises are graduating in December.
Students who take an internship or a semester abroad may delay graduation to make up lost class time. Students with double majors often need extra time to meet their requirements.
“These days it’s very common” to graduate in December, Mr. Behrens said. Roughly 1,200 students graduate from SMU every May, and 300 to 350 finish up in December.
“The ones who prepare will find jobs without much additional difficulty,” Mr. Behrens said.
To help nudge December grads, the career center hosts a job fair in September, bringing recruiters to campus and getting soon-to-be graduates thinking ahead.
As with any time of year, it’s important to target job applications and tailor your application carefully.
Some applicants mass-mail applications out of sheer desperation during the slow hiring period.
Mr. Behrens cited a case study of a Chicago-area marketing firm that placed an ad looking for a human resources generalist in December. More than 150 people responded — but 85 percent had few, if any, of the job requirements advertised.
Applicants included a dance instructor, pastor, boiler room operator, gaming host, food service manager, accountant and dental hygienist.
“It was painfully obvious these job hunters did not plan ahead,” Mr. Behrens said. Others omitted cover letters, submitted unrelated materials, had handwritten résumés or demonstrated poor writing skills.
Jennifer Gail Hansen, 29, is following a targeted approach. Anticipating her graduation from SMU in December, she started her job search in October, submitting résumés for jobs in corporate communications and public affairs. She’s hoping to wrap that up before the holidays, but her priority is finding a position that she’ll enjoy and that will offer opportunities to hone her craft.
“My job search will take as long as it takes,” she said, “and I’ll plow on through the holidays and afterward, if need be.”
Tailoring applications is also especially key for entry-level folks looking for jobs in sales, Mr. Behrens said.
“People who want to work in sales tend to cast the net too wide,” he said. “They’re not focused enough on what the hiring manager needs.”
As a hiring manager at Siemens AG, the international electronics conglomerate, Mr. Behrens recruited liberal arts majors for sales jobs. He said history majors made some of the best technical salespeople he ever hired.
Just because you don’t need a specific degree doesn’t mean you don’t need to target your pitch to employers. Hiring managers look for critical-thinking skills and an ability to build rapport with customers. To snag those jobs, applicants must map out a strategy for demonstrating those abilities.
Mr. Behrens advises job hunters to work with a career counselor, or to talk with experienced salespeople, to figure out how best to present their skills to an employer.
Talking to people is always ! importan t in any job search, but perhaps more so for December job seekers.
“During the holiday season, the best thing you can do is utilize your network of contacts,” Mr. Behrens said.
Challenger offers these suggestions: Offer to work part-time to fill in for vacationing employees; volunteer at nonprofit organizations to make new contacts; send holiday cards to contacts you’ve already made; and attend every holiday party you can.
“This is a great time of the year to be networking, because of the additional social occasions,” Ms. Williams said, citing a friend who found a job for her husband through the couple’s annual holiday letter. “Also, people are more relaxed and in a better mood during the holidays.”