January is one of the busiest hiring months of the year and recent economic data suggests a favorable environment in 2020 for job seekers. According to the Labor Department, the U.S. unemployment rate continues to hover near a 50-year low.
The Wall Street Journal reports that wages are rising for most workers, but especially for those in non-supervisory roles. The tightening labor market has placed job seekers in a position of power.
But while hiring trends are helpful in assessing the health of the economy, they can’t predict your unique job search experience.
January brings with it an influx of new opportunities, but it’s also a challenging month to beat out competition. If you are launching or continuing a job search in the month of January, here’s what you need to know to capitalize on this month’s increased activity.
1. You’ll need flawless execution to stand out
Finding and identifying jobs will be easier in January than in the slower month of December. But with a lot more people searching for the same opportunities, you may find it surprisingly difficult to get recognized by recruiters and hiring managers.
This month, more than any other, you’ll need to stand out as a candidate. It takes extra effort to land the best jobs in January and you can’t afford to raise any red flags that would cause a recruiter to move on to the next applicant.
For starters, know that the most important thing you can do to edge out other candidates is to be personally recommended for the job. Do not rely on online applications alone, but instead do the legwork to identify any possible connections you can make within your target companies.
You may not have any direct contacts at first glance, but someone else in your network might. Check LinkedIn for second-degree connections and don’t be shy about leveraging your professional and personal relationships to boost your application.
In addition, make sure your résumé is error-free and clearly articulates how your skills and experiences qualify you for the job you are applying to. This is a basic task, but it’s still extremely important. Don’t assume that any recruiter will take extra time in January to guess at what you might bring to the table or look for other roles for you if you haven’t shown how you are qualified for the one you applied to. Unfortunately, they are too busy in January to take those extra steps.
Finally, focus on writing better emails when inquiring about jobs or making networking introductions. Your emails should be short (about one paragraph), concise and ultra-personal. Do not send any long, copy and paste emails ever, but especially in the month of January.
With an overloaded inbox, recruiters will notice and appreciate the short messages that stand out from the pack.
2. Companies open jobs before they know what they want
In January, many companies are looking to add talent who can launch new product lines, address changing customer needs or take the business in an innovative direction. Whatever new and aggressive 2020 goals leaders set, they won’t achieve them without hiring the right people.
This creates pressure to kick off searches in January, even if leaders aren’t fully aligned on what the job will entail. The hiring manager may know more about what the business needs to accomplish than what it actually takes to get it done.
Pay attention to what is driving the need for each job opening you apply to. Be sure to ask recruiters if a position will be a brand-new role in the company. You’ll need to prepare differently to interview for new roles than you would for a job that is already well established.
During your first round of interviews, try your best to get each interviewer to tell you about their vision for this new role and what they think it will take to be successful within it. Don’t be surprised if each person describes a slightly different role and wants to dig into parts of your background that another interviewer ignored completely.
Go into these initial discussions knowing that you have to remain flexible and might need to adapt your interview strategy based on each interviewer’s priorities. The most important thing is to help each interviewer understand how you would meet their business need and to show that you can handle the uncertainty of a newly created position.
However, as you move deeper into the process, make sure the main stakeholders are in agreement on your final job description, or else you won’t be set up for success when you join the team. Before accepting, have a candid discussion with your potential boss about organizational support for the projects you will be launching and be clear about how your performance will be measured.
January brings a large number of positions that are new to an organization. These are often some of the most exciting career opportunities, but weigh the risks before taking a leap. If the company still doesn’t know what they want by the end of your hiring process, it is a major red flag that should make you question taking the role.
3. Some of the best jobs are coming soon
It’s a strong hiring month, but brace yourself for what may be a higher volume of disappointing moments when emails go unanswered or you receive automated rejection messages. This is simply a natural result of your increased application volume and higher competition. Don’t let it surprise you or shake your confidence.
January is the best time to launch a job search because you will have a hiring season with six full months unbroken by major disruptions like summer vacations or the holiday season. So while this month is a great time to get started, it is only the beginning of what will prove to be months of increased activity and new job announcements in your LinkedIn feed.
Almost every person that takes a new job requires a backfill. Keep in mind that the job you most want may be opening next month instead. Your boss or boss’ boss may even be launching a January job search as well, which would soon create space for your promotion.
Gear up in January, but stay patient with your goals to advance your career in 2020. You never know when the best opportunity will come your way.
Kourtney Whitehead is a career expert and author of Working Whole. You can learn more about her work at Simply Service.