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Understand Recruitment Cycles to Give Your Job Search an Edge

Understand Recruitment Cycles to Give Your Job Search an Edge

When it comes to connecting with the right job opportunity, timing isn't everything, but it's certainly something. Tuning into industries' and employers' annual recruitment cycles just might give you a decisive edge.

That's the consensus of recruiters and employers with fingers on the pulse of seasonal variations in hiring. Here's a quarter-by-quarter summary of how these hiring dynamics play out.

First Quarter: A New Year's Wave of Hiring

Sometimes peaks of hiring correspond with workplace factors that are only loosely related, like when people take vacation. "Hiring seems to be done by consensus more than any other decision," says Scott Testa, chief operating officer of Mindbridge Software in Norristown, Pennsylvania. "So most hiring decisions have to be made when people are in the office."

Major hiring initiatives may follow close on the heels of the holidays and summer. "The big months for hiring are January and February, and late September and October," says Testa. "Job seekers who make contact right at the start of these cycles have the best chance of being hired."

Strong hiring periods like the first quarter, when demand for talent may outweigh the supply of qualified candidates, may be a good time to go for a job with more responsibility or higher pay. "If you're currently employed and looking to improve your status, you'll want to look during the peak hiring season," says Glenn Smith, president of search firm Precise Strategies in O'Fallon, Illinois.

Second Quarter: Gearing Up for Summer

For those whose livelihood depends substantially on fair weather, spring is when hiring peaks. In the construction industry, hiring in April, May and June proceeds at double the pace of December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS).

Tourism and hospitality hiring is also very strong in the spring. And businesses looking to hire professional workers before fall often do so now, before key decision makers start rotating out for summer vacation.

Third Quarter: Recruiters Relax a Bit, and Vacation Plays a Role

Hiring slows down in July before picking up at the end of August. For those with nontraditional but impressive employment backgrounds, there's an advantage to looking in relatively slow hiring months like July and December, says Smith.

For example, recruiters, less pressed for time than in peak months, may be willing to take a longer look at an experienced professional woman seeking to return to work after taking years off to care for children.

Fourth Quarter: A Rush, Then a Lull

The fourth quarter presents the most complex hiring dynamics of the year, with its mix of fall activity, holiday retail hiring, Thanksgiving-to-New Year's slowdown, and end-of-year financial and budget maneuvering.

"Hiring managers and bank CEOs will typically try to reduce their operating profits by incurring search fees towards the end of each year, to avoid paying taxes," says Josiah Whitman, an executive recruiter with Financial Placements of Lake Oswego, Oregon. His firm's job orders are distributed this way: first quarter, 23 percent; second quarter, 21 percent; third quarter, 20 percent; fourth quarter, 36 percent.

Although December hiring is at low levels in many industries, recruiters are determined to fill the year's remaining openings by December 31, and the supply of applicants dwindles as Christmas and the new year approach.

Major industries classified as information, financial services, and professional and business services, having hired heavily in the second quarter, see their lowest level of hiring in December, says JOLTS.

But December isn't as slow as it used to be, say some observers. And applications tend to slow down during the holiday season more than openings do -- tipping the balance in favor of those who do apply.

"It seems that business just keeps going through the holidays," says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement and search firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago. "There doesn't seem to be the kind of letup that there used to be."

So playing the recruitment peaks doesn't mean waiting out the rest of the year. "You need to be out there looking for opportunities, not finding excuses to avoid looking," says Tom Johnston, CEO of SearchPath International in Cleveland.

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