When trite music and corporate cheer assault your senses from every imaginable screen and storefront, it means at least two things: that the holidays are here, obviously, and also that fewer companies are hiring.
If you’re looking for a job, that doesn’t mean you should give up. But it probably means you should hold off sending out cover letters and resumes, because at recruiting firms and within employers’ HR departments, they’re much more likely this time of year to go unread.
But fear not. In fact, the holiday season holds two distinct networking advantages compared with rest of the year, and shifting your focus toward those between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can put you in a stronger position when January finally rolls around. During this end-of-year stretch, holiday parties and volunteering opportunities are both in full swing. Here’s what you need to know to use both in order to jump-start your job search as soon as the New Year’s confetti is swept away.
Use Volunteer Work For Purposeful Networking
Yes, you can and should volunteer all year round simply because it’s a good thing to do. Additionally, though, not only are there psychological upsides to acting altruistically (especially when you do it with others), but last year Deloitte researchers even found that recruiters value volunteer work much more than jobseekers expect, leading many candidates to leave it off their resumes.
Many nonprofits go into overdrive during the holiday season, launching drives, events, and fundraisers where extra help is usually appreciated if not desperately needed. This creates endless opportunities to network and show your hustle in real time. You never know who you’ll meet, and giving influential people a chance to see what you bring to a team can prove more decisive in your career than the most masterfully written December cover letter.
Volunteering is by far most effective when you pick something you’re innately passionate about. As job postings dwindle toward the end of the calendar year, you may find yourself desperately slogging applications at positions you don’t really care about. It can feel pretty demoralizing. The holidays are a great time to hit “reset” on the sense of purpose that should drive any successful job search. After all, if you treat volunteer work opportunistically you probably won’t get the best results.
And unlike finding exciting job openings around the holidays, it couldn’t be easier to find volunteer work you can use for purposeful networking. Let’s say for the sake of argument that you live in Seattle and that these are a few issues and causes that feel meaningful to you:
- helping alleviate the opioid epidemic
- mentoring disadvantaged youth in my community
- snow safety (it’s a real concern for folks in the Northwest, and you believe everyone should be able to explore the outdoors safely)
By Googling these keywords plus “Seattle,” I immediately found three places to reach out to:
- The People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, an area needle exchange
- Friends of the Children, a mentorship program
- Northwest Avalanche Center, a regional winter-weather safety organization
The first two have dedicated pages on their sites explaining how to get involved; the second has an events calendar and contact details. Pulling up this information took less than five minutes. The next step is to reach out and see if there are ways to help.
Volunteering here can introduce you to a diverse set of people who are passionate about the same things you are. They may not be hiring managers who can immediately set you up with your dream job, but don’t forget that job-searching is fundamentally a relationships game. The people you meet while volunteering can make critical introductions and offer advice or favors if you make a good impression. This way, come January you’ll have a fresh set of contacts–in a field you actually care about–to start inviting out for coffee when your job hunt resumes in earnest.
Hit Up Other People’s Holiday Parties
Holiday parties come in a variety of flavors, but the common thread here is this: You have people congregating in a cheerful setting, which means they may be more receptive to chatting than they would be to fielding a message on LinkedIn.
So don’t just go to your own company’s holiday party–do your best to land invitations to other people’s year-end celebrations, too. You don’t have to target only companies you actually want to work for, either. Since most people know other people in their industry, all you’ve got to do is find a party at an organization that’s in the field you’re interested in.
So start simply by asking your friends if they have any company parties ahead. It’s a less presumptuous request than you might think. Some people loathe going to these events solo. In exchange for moral support and companionship, you get to mingle with insiders. Just play it cool when you do. Ask thoughtful questions and listen as much as you can. Your goal is to to make a genuine connection that leads to an informal coffee chat early next year–which will hopefully lead to a referral. It isn’t to demand a job on the spot.
It’s worth reiterating how important it is not to be too pushy at an office holiday party for a company you don’t work for–you should be even more on your guard than you might be at a networking event. (So no, do not bring your resume.) Being unemployed or desperate to leave a crappy job is rough, and many of us stop thinking with our heads when we’re desperate. But you need to leave that energy at home.
Mention You’re Job-Searching At Friend And Family Affairs
While you’re on the lookout for office party invites, remember that you probably also have friends’ and family events to attend, too. Look, I know it’s hard to admit that you need help finding a job, and there’s a certain amount of pride that comes into play even among the friends and family you’re close with. But now isn’t the time to worry about saving face, and the holiday season gives you ample opportunity to calmly explain your situation to willing ears.
You never know who will show up at such a party. Someone’s new significant other or a distant cousin might have some insight about a company looking to hire quickly. Plus, it’s much easier to start casual conversations about your career with people you may only see once or twice a year than it is to send them networking emails out of the blue. Don’t let these opportunities slide.
No matter what, always be empathetic when networking. The holidays can be a stressful time for many (career pressures notwithstanding), so always keep that in mind when you ask for favors or help. And finally, even if hiring might slow for the holidays and your job search needs to take a back seat so you can get make efforts like these, you still need to keep working on you. Don’t stop polishing up your digital presence, tweaking your resume, and practicing interviewing.
In the meantime, though, the end-of-year slowdown can give you a chance to be kind to yourself. It it might be the best gift (short of a job offer) that you receive this holiday season.
Nathan Chaffetz is director of Business Development at Perfect Loop.