new jobsFor weary job seekers, the holidays can seem like the perfect time to pull up the covers and retreat until January.

But that’s exactly the wrong attitude, say career counselors and job search experts. Contrary to what many assume, the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be the best time for job hunters.

Why? It’s a combination of factors: Less competition because fewer people are looking; more social opportunities to rub elbows with people who can help you; year-end hiring cycles to fill job vacancies; and better odds of finding company managers in the office — or even answering their own phones.

“A lot of people think this is a down time and there’s no hiring, which is really a myth,” said Terri Carpenter, a longtime career counselor with the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA) and Sacramento Works.

Rather than retreat, job seekers should “bump it up a notch” by calling, mailing, talking, socializing and yes, networking, said Michael Magatelli, president of Magatelli Leadership Group, a Sacramento-based executive coaching firm.

Among the best places: holiday parties and business mixers, such as events hosted by a local chamber of commerce, Rotary-type groups or industry trade associations.

While holiday socializing can seem daunting, now’s the time to take the plunge and strike up a conversation.

“It’s not that high-risk, but the rewards are big,” said Don Gabor, a New York-based conversation coach and author of “How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends.”

Treat networking, he said, as a research opportunity, a chance to listen, establish rapport and pick up tips that could help you later — or let you be a problem-solver for someone else.

“When it comes to looking for work, it can make all the difference in the world,” Gabor said. “If you don’t strike up the conversation, how would anyone know you’re looking for work or that you’re someone they could recommend for a job?”

But don’t be a “networking shark,” whose only agenda is circling the waters for bites on job leads.

If you’re walking into a room where you don’t know anyone, size up the room, he suggests. Listen to conversations, seek out those who are alone, have in mind three or four people — either individually or by company — you’d like to meet.

What do you say? Introduce yourself with a smile and a handshake. Make a comment about the guacamole dip at the buffet table. Ask about their holiday travel plans. Always have several nonthreatening topics to discuss, such as the weather, the latest news. Be open to talking about yourself. Pick up on key words to establish a common thread with the other person.

Too many people, he said, “think small talk isn’t important, but it shows how you communicate, allows people to get comfortable with you” and can lead to a business connection. “It all starts with a conversation.”

“When people sense you are interested in them and what’s important to them, they feel good about the conversation and themselves. It makes them feel good about you. That’s where all this other stuff (finding a job) can happen.”

SEND A CARD OR CALL: If you meet someone at an event, get his or her business card. Within a day or two, follow up with a handwritten note or a holiday card, Magatelli suggests. “That note says, ‘It was a pleasure meeting you at XYZ event; thank you for the conversation, I look forward to following up with you in January.’ ”

During the holidays, when many office staffers are on vacation or reduced hours, executives are more likely to open their own mail and read the contents, especially if it’s personally addressed.

GET CREATIVE: Use your holiday time creatively. Magatelli recalls a Sacramento-area out-of-work retail executive who heard — via networking — about an opening with the Tuesday Morning discount chain. Unfamiliar with the company, he toured several Northern California stores, identified their strengths and weaknesses, and wrote a two-page summary. He emailed it to the chain’s CEO, with the subject line, “Losing Holiday Jingle?”

That effort yielded a Dallas interview that led to a job offer “in the last week of December,” Magatelli said.

DONATE YOUR TIME: Whether it’s at a local food bank or charity event, volunteering is a chance to help yourself while helping others.

“You never know who’s going to be there,” said Magatelli, noting that many CEOs and high-level managers donate their time at food banks and charity events during the holidays. A chance encounter with an individual could enable a job lead or give you an opening to get in touch later.

Volunteering adds to your resume, demonstrates community-minded spirit and lets you give back. “It fills that space while you’re in a job search and adds to your skills,” Magatelli said.

STAYING IN TOUCH: If you’ve lost contact with former colleagues or friends, use a holiday card to reconnect. But mind your message. The first sentiment is acknowledging the friendship, not hitting someone up for a job.

A card also lets you suggest a coffee or “informational interview,” which you can call to confirm now or in January.

If you’re a recent college graduate home for the holidays, reconnect with your parents’ friends. Ask about potential internships with companies they know. Be able to describe what kind of careers or companies you find interesting.

Young adults “should be informing everybody they know — uncles, parents’ friends, old teachers — what they want to do, what kind of job title they’re thinking of, even a list of employers they find interesting,” said career consultant Duncan Mathison, co-author of “Unlock the Hidden Job Market.” He said young college grads should open up “their hearts and minds to this community that wants them to succeed.”

MIND THE CALENDAR: SETA’s Carpenter, who is in touch with dozens of businesses year-round, says many companies have annual budget cycles that allow new hires starting in January. That means job postings go up this month.

“A lot of job offers are made by Dec. 31,” Carpenter said. “Job seekers who are motivated should be maximizing their networking opportunities … all the way through the end of the year.”

Above all, be good to yourself. There can be “hidden benefits” to being unemployed during the holidays, Magatelli said. It’s a time to “connect with friends, family, loved ones” and focus not on what you’re missing, but on what you have.

Source: MCT Information Services