December: ’Tis the Season to Recruit When the Competition Is Low

Need an edge in your competition for talent? Think December, when there may be 35% fewer job postings trying to attract the normal volume of jobseekers. If you’ve ever gambled in Las Vegas, you would know that when you face great odds like these, you need to be all in. If you are one of the majority of firms that literally struggle to compete against the dominant firms in your industry, it’s important to realize that December is Recruiting Opportunity Month.

It is easier to understand why December is such a great recruiting opportunity if you know what is likely to be happening within recruiting departments of the dominant firms in your industry this month. In most cases, their yearly corporate budget starts January 1, so they are likely completely out of budget money for new headcount. Which means that zero hiring can take place until January.

Also at your competitors, many hiring managers and employees are taking time off to use up their accrued vacation, making it almost impossible for your competitors to put together an interview team that could make a hiring decision.

Consider December like the day before fishing season opens. There is a large number of fish, but very few people trying to catch them.

Why Does No One Tell Hiring Managers the Level of Recruiting Competition They Will Face Each Month?

Mr./Ms. Hiring Manager,

Of course I can post your job in January. But if I do, you will be facing an intense level of recruiting competition (55% higher than normal). Instead, if I were to post it immediately (in December), you would literally only face minimal recruiting competition. I estimate you would increase your odds of landing a top-tier candidate by 52%.

The Many Reasons Why December ’Tis the Season to Recruit

In addition to the two primary reasons already provided, there are many other benefits associated with recruiting during the slow Thanksgiving-to-December time period, and they include:

  • Not everyone celebrates Christmas. When you take a step back and remind yourself that Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday, you immediately realize that, from my recruiting perspective, many individuals within the United States don’t treat it as a special time. The same may be true globally in many of the countries where you have operations. So, continue your aggressive recruiting because the number of jobseekers does not decrease from the average during December.
  • Many use December as a time to rethink their future. The best recruiting prospects are forward-looking, so they will still invariably spend at least some time before the end of the year reevaluating their current work and life situation. And part of that thought process will likely be rethinking whether they want to spend another year in their current jobs. Smart firms can take advantage of this “reconsideration time period” and be part of the few that proactively propose a new opportunity to these “not actively looking” individuals.
  • Bonus time in December is the time to think about more money. Many in sales, in commissioned jobs, as well as in other roles receive their year-end bonuses in December. So not only is December the top month for turnover in sales jobs; it is often also a month where almost everyone is considering whether they need or deserve more money. This focus on money may be increased because often the holiday season means extensive shopping, travel, and Christmas-party expenses. As a result, it is a time when many individuals realize that they need more money. Therefore, any opportunity that includes more money, stock value, or a promotion will likely be well-received.
  • Engaging your hiring managers will give you a competitive advantage. Most hiring managers at competitive firms literally take the month of December off. Many hiring managers and recruiters will be distracted by shopping, holiday parties, and family needs. Year-end financial closeouts also keep many managers busy, and as a result, people will devote significantly fewer hours to recruiting. However, if you can fully engage your own hiring managers during December by showing them the tremendous advantages during this low-competition period, you can gain a competitive advantage that isn’t available in other months. All that this requires is getting your hiring managers to devote significant time periods to résumé screening and interviewing so that you can make a hiring decision before year-end.
  • Because everyone is more active on social media, targets are easier to contact. With the exchange of family updates and pictures, almost everyone is highly active on social media during the holidays. And that means there is also an increased chance that they will see, read, and even respond to your recruiting messages. In many cases, your recruiting targets will also use their free hours during December to update their LinkedIn profiles. Smart recruiters can use those updates as an alert that these individuals may be open to new opportunities.
  • Back-home travel provides a recruiting opportunity. The holiday season is a heavy travel season and many prospects will return home to visit their family. This visit may stir feelings about wanting to move home and to be closer to family. If you are recruiting in an area where many return to visit their family, try to schedule informal interviews with them during their visit. Smart recruiters will also take this as an opportunity to recruit people while they are visiting your area.
  • December really is the prime time for recruiting for retail and customer-service roles. December is the very best month to recruit retail, customer-facing, and delivery employees — because anyone that is any good in customer service is working during the December holiday period. And that means that there is literally no better time for recruiters and employees to identify the very best people through their work.
  • December is surprisingly prime time for college recruiting. I find it strange that few companies have realized that often more than one-third of college students graduate at the end of the fall semester. But few firms specifically target fall grads. In addition, during the winter break, remaining students have a great deal of free time, and their minds are relatively unencumbered. As a result, college students are easy to contact online and physically meet when they return home. Effective recruiting can also occur at popular college-student gathering areas like ski resorts.
  • Your competitors’ recruiters are exhausted. 2019 has been an intensively competitive year, so almost everyone who works in recruiting is exhausted. And that means that if you can keep your own recruiters energized during this time, you might be able to “out-recruit” the best corporate recruiters at your competitors. They are likely operating under extremely low energy levels.
  • It’s a great time for employee referrals. Because your employees have free time during the holidays, it’s a great opportunity to encourage them to find top-quality referrals. Employees will be shopping and going to many holiday events and parties. They are also much more likely to physically meet and interact with top prospects. Employees should be encouraged to send holiday greetings to top prospects and to use this period when everyone is more open to communications to further strengthen recruiting relationships. If you are seeking customer-service or retail talent, make sure your employees have “referral cards” that they can hand (or electronically send) to those that provide exceptional service.
  • Blockers and screeners have let their guard down. Although I’m not a supporter of cold-calling, it is certainly true that it’s easier to successfully get through to key prospects during December when so many receptionist and “call-blocking” jobs are staffed with temporary fill-ins. It may be the ideal time for recruiters and hiring managers to sculpt a “happy holidays greeting” with a subtle follow-on “open to new opportunities?” pitch. That suggests that they call you immediately when they decide to seek new opportunities.

December Is Also an Opportune Time to Improve the Recruiting Function

In addition to aggressive recruiting, December is an ideal time to work on your strategic recruiting plan. Start by reviewing your year-end metrics, and based on them, implement any needed process-improvement efforts. You should focus your strategic planning on becoming more data-driven and increasing your business impact.

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It’s also important to realize that the holidays are an ideal time for employer brand-building at community events. For example, many years ago, Cisco pioneered holiday employer brand-building through gift-wrapping events staffed by their employees at the mall. The holiday season is obviously a great opportunity to show community involvement and that your employees care, while at the same time indirectly but powerfully build your employer brand image.

Remember That Recruiters Give the Most Impactful Gift of All

Finally, it’s important for recruiters to understand that because this is “a season of giving,” recruiters are not intruding on prospects or spoiling the holiday season. Instead, they are providing individuals with exciting opportunities that may change their lives. And the “gift of a new job opportunity” costs the individual nothing and is quite easy to say no to.

So, begin your December recruiting campaign today and strive to give the most valuable gift of all — an exciting new job opportunity — that will benefit the candidate and their family for years to come.

Final Thoughts

In any head-to-head competition, if you want to win more than your fair share, it makes sense to occasionally go against the flow. In the area of recruiting, this includes what I call “counter-cycle recruiting.” That means that instead of shutting down the recruiting function during December, it makes sense to put together an energized December recruiting push in order to take advantage of the lowered level of competition. And then when you have time, turn to other prime low-competition recruiting time periods, including Easter break and August.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, please take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn and subscribe to ERE Daily.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

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