What should job seekers be doing during the holidays?

In this guest post from Tim Heard, an HR Recruiter, you'll get some tips on how to handle your job search during the holiday season.

Thanks to my loyal readers who have asked when I was going to write another article... both of you. And, no Mom, we can't ban people from TechRepublic for making snide comments about things I have written.

My other loyal reader sent in this question: Would you cover the topic, "Job Searching during the holidays" in a TechRepublic blog? There seems to be some ignorance (on my part, too) about how to modify your normal job search techniques to take advantage of the holidays. Should you do more? Less? Are company budgets ending?

Those are great questions. I'm happy to take a run at them. Keep in mind that, as with any career "expert" you need not look far to find an abundant supply of other "experts" who will disagree. If you don't buy this, a quick search for "job search" and "holidays" should turn up a few articles that will tell you just the opposite.

My experience has been that in most companies, especially those that use the calendar year as their financial year, late November and all of December aren't great times for filling full-time positions. The main reason is that generally some VP wants to make sure that he or she is going to get a year-end bonus, so all the positions in that person's division get frozen until it becomes clear that critical numbers are going to be met. Sometimes the decision is taken out of the VP's hands, and it's the CFO or CEO making the call.

In theory, this isn't a terrible thing. Sometimes these companies have various forms of profit-sharing or employee bonuses that allow the rank and file employees to share in the good fortune. If nothing else, watching those numbers like a hawk keeps the company healthy and hopefully allows for renewed hiring in January. On the other hand, sometimes hiring managers and employees alike have to check themselves into mental health clinics, having been traumatized from overwork.

There are, of course, some full time jobs that are posted, but even progress on those openings seems to drag along because of scheduling issues resulting from office parties, holiday travel, year-end budget meetings, candidate holiday travel, poor weather conditions, and so on.

There is admittedly some recruiting that typically continues to take place for contract positions through the end of the year, and of course we see a whole lot of temp/holiday-related hiring. My guess though is that, despite the fact that the election is over and companies now know that they can probably expect mostly gridlock from our fearless leaders in the House and Senate (so the uncertainty of who's going to be in power is now behind us) we probably won't see much change in company behavior until February-ish. (Maybe an uptick in January.)

Does this mean you give up altogether this month? No, of course not. It does mean though that maybe you revise your behavior and expectations for a month.

Here are some suggestions. Please know that I know that anything I say will sound miserably lame to anyone who has been out of work for 6+ months without so much as a nibble. I'd love to say, "Do these five things and everything will be better." Unfortunately, my gun is out of silver bullets. I do think and hope though that I'm offering you some helpful ideas.

1. Update everything: I speak with a lot of job seekers who, despite having been out of work for some time haven't refreshed their online resumes, created LinkedIn profiles, told their Facebook friends they are looking for work, and so on. With respect to resumes, you need to remember that when you refresh a resume online (link on Monster or CareerBuilder) the system puts a new time and date stamp on it. When recruiters look for candidates, they generally want to see the most recently posted resumes first, reasoning that the person who posted three months ago may have already found another job. Similarly, make sure that anyone you know who thinks well of you knows that you're looking for work. Your next job lead may very well come through one of those people. 2. Ask for some help: This is probably the hardest thing in the world for someone has been working most of his or her life, who has taken pride in not ever needing any help with anything from anyone. Maybe you have always been the person who was there to help others who were in need. Seriously though. Ask for some help. This is the time of year when even the most crusty jerks are wanting to do nice things for people. It makes people feel good about themselves that they put that fifty cents in the Salvation Army bucket. Setting aside the fact that people are struggling all year round, donations to many charitable organizations will be up this month. If you are struggling and pride is the only thing standing in the way of you going down to the local community assistance organization, suck it up and go get some help.

I serve on the board of directors of a local community ministry and that organization is helping people from all backgrounds. Some organizations can help with gas cards. Some offer food banks. Some can offer assistance when the local utility company is leaning on you.

I'm telling you this from firsthand experience. I was in a contract recruiting position for most of '08 which ended in January of '09. When that ended, I began my own company. However, I had no clients. I started from a dead stop in the middle of the worst recession that we have had in my lifetime. And because I was technically "working" (trying to line up clients) I wasn't eligible for unemployment. Thankfully my wife works, so she and our kids were on her health insurance plan, and we had a steady income ... but it was a LOT less than what we were used to.

Going to that same charitable organization and asking for some food assistance was a really humbling experience, but it was good too. I think I have always been pretty sympathetic when it comes to the struggles many people face in life. Having been though that experience though, I can definitely attest that just because you're struggling doesn't mean you're lazy, unskilled, or that you have done something to "deserve" being in a tight spot.

Even having just a bit of financial assistance, not to mention being the recipient of someone's kindness, will do you some good emotionally.

3. Help someone else: I have a friend who says something to the effect that no matter how miserable your situation, you can always find someone who's worse off than you are. Maybe that's not the case, but there's no rule that says you can't lend a hand to someone who's better off than you are. As nice as it is to be a recipient of someone's kindness, it's also really good for your emotional well-being to get your focus off of yourself. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen, or down at the food pantry. People who run nonprofits generally know next to nothing about IT so while they probably can't pay you anything for your services, they'd welcome your offer to help them set up a wireless network, update their antivirus software, set up the PC someone donated, or do any number of other things that you're probably good at. (Not to mention helping them stock shelves or make food deliveries to shut-ins.)

There's even the slim chance that someone that you're volunteering with may know someone who knows someone who has an open position for someone just like you.

4. Spend extra time with friends and/or family: This is different than going to lunch with one person a week who might be able to help you connect with a hiring manager. This is about renewing relationships that may have become a bit strained as you have dealt with the stress of being out of work.

One of the hardest things about losing a job is that you also lose those relationships. ... The people you went to lunch with. The people who you used to joke with about your inept boss. Your inept boss, who really wasn't a completely terrible person. ... Those all got stripped away and at best we occasionally trade emails with them or go to lunch with them.

Combine that with the time of year. Cold weather and low light can cause seasonal affective disorder in many people. For others, it's all the hype which for many turn the holidays into just the opposite of what they should be. The daily onslaught of ads of idealized happy people, or the mere thought of buying gifts for loved ones on a budget that may not even cover rent and utilities can put anyone into a funk.

IT people are definitely different than non-IT people in a lot of ways. They don't mince words. They tend to be more left-brained than the average population, or balanced, as opposed to mostly right-brained. They were years ahead of the rest of corporate America when it came to dress codes. ... One way that they aren't different though is that even the most left-brained, introverted, technology-centric individual needs some real flesh and blood relationships. Not just the virtual ones we build online.

Whether your job search is going to be another week, or another three months, you need to refill that tank. If you can't physically go see your old high school buddies, get on Skype and reconnect. ... But also get out and spend some real quality time with someone. Find someone you can hug, even if it's one of those awkward man hugs. It will do you some good.

Finally, I'm not an advocate of sending holiday cards for the purpose of finding a job, or even adding a client. However, for those of you who would like some "Holiday Schmoozing 101" instructions, here are a couple of articles that you might find useful:

I've been saying it for months now. I think 2011 is going to be a better year for most of us. Hang in there for the next few weeks. I hope you can use this time to recharge, and hope that a few of you are even fortunate enough to land jobs during this slow time.

See you next year.