Although I have written about this topic before, it never ceases to amaze me when I talk to recruiters and managers how many of them still look at December as “downtime” for recruiting. I frequently hear phrases like, “No one’s in the office,” or, “No one changes jobs during the Christmas season” as excuses. But if you are a smart recruiter or recruiting manager, you will find that December is in fact a great time to recruit, for a variety of reasons. Now, I’m not talking about recruiting those high-volume active job seekers, because they do actually apply for fewer jobs during December. The target here are top performers, who are normally too busy to respond to job offers and recruiter calls. Some of the reasons to gear up recruiting during December include:
- Thinking globally requires you to recruit globally. Although many people talk about the importance of global recruiting, only a handful of U.S.-based companies actually practice global recruiting. When you begin to think globally, you realize almost immediately that not every country in the world takes the entire month of December off to shop and attend holiday parties. In fact, in only a handful of countries does Christmas have the same impact on the business world as it does in the U.S. As a result, it’s essential that you continue to recruit in all areas, but especially in the geographic regions where others don’t slow down in December. In particular, focus your recruiting in countries like China, India, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia, which are excellent places to pick up great hires in December.
- Not all top performers celebrate Christmas. Even in countries like the U.S., where December is a month dominated by religious holidays, it’s important to remember that not everyone in the U.S. celebrates these holidays. You don’t have to target individuals specifically because they are not likely to be celebrating, but never assume that everyone is too busy shopping and celebrating to appreciate a great job opportunity when it is offered to them during this period.
- Top performers are sitting around and have time. Because many employees do take time off during this month, a lot of projects are essentially forced into suspended animation. Not being able to work on key projects actually frustrates many top performers and project managers, who look at slack time as a missed opportunity. Individuals that work for companies that are in a “no growth mode” may have had projects, hiring, and budgets frozen for much of the past year. When new budgets are announced in December, their frustration can actually intensify dramatically when they realize that there will be no funding for new and exciting projects during the next budget year as well. As result, you are likely to get a positive response from these go-getters and top performers when you indicate that your firm is still operating at full speed, at least in your recruiting effort. Smart recruiters take advantage of these frustrations and offer individuals new opportunities to work on fully funded projects.
- Candidates can get away because December is a great “excuse” month. Because so many people take time off for Christmas parties and shopping, it is relatively easy for candidates to make excuses to get time off to interview. It’s also a great time just to do informational interviews in order to assess and sell potential candidates for future job openings. All combined, the circumstances make it easy for candidates to find available time to interview, and fortunately, few managers question their intentions when employees do take significant time off to interview. It’s also important to note that, in particular, the period between Christmas and New Year, when many facilities shut down completely, may be the most opportune time to interview individuals who are always” too busy” or who refuse to lie in order to take time off work for an interview.
- Hiring managers are available. Because many individuals and managers take almost random and unscheduled time off during this month, there are fewer scheduled meetings, off site events, or professional conferences to attend. As a result, hiring managers are generally in town and at in their office and have few excuses for not reviewing candidates’ resumes and interviewing the best. Catch these managers when no one is asking for their time and turn December into recruiting and interview month.
- Everyone else’s recruiters are asleep. With everyone else relaxing, you might find that you are the only recruiter actively seeking candidates during December. Yes, there are a scarcity of job fairs and other “active candidate” recruiting events to attend during this time, but you probably shouldn’t be wasting your time at these events anyway.
- December is bonus time. Once individuals receive their year-end bonus (and most top performers get them), the incentive for them to stay diminishes almost immediately because they won’t lose much of a bonus if they leave. This is simply because early on, the bonus hasn’t had time to accumulate to the level where it would have any significant sway over the candidate.
- December really is prime time for identifying and recruiting retail and customer service people. In case you are not aware of it, December is the very best month to recruit retail and customer-facing employees. Almost every recruiter knows that many of the mission-critical positions in their companies are these customer-facing positions. Since literally anyone that is any good in customer service is working during the December holiday period, there is literally no better time to identify the very best than this month. The best approach for recruiting customer service people is to utilize your employees and your employee referral program. Because your employees will be interacting with literally hundreds of customer service people during their shopping excursions, as well as when they eat out and attend holiday events, now is the time to focus your referral program on identifying great customer service people. Re-energize your referral program to focus on customer service people during this month. Specifically ask employees to get the name and number of any “special individuals” that dazzle them during this difficult rush period, when the very best are the only ones that are not frustrated and tired. Offer a small reward just for a name, a number, and the fact that the employee made a sincere effort to assess and sell them to the point where they would accept a phone call from your recruiters. Build a candidate pool and target individuals for hiring right before the holiday seasonal layoff time and then as they are needed throughout the year.
- December is prime time for college recruiting. As a college professor, I am always intrigued by the fact that few companies have realized that up to one-third of college students graduate at the end of the fall semester. The days of every student graduating in June have been over for years. Unfortunately, few college recruiting programs are designed to specifically capture these individuals. Fall graduates are sometimes actually better graduates because they have finished their work early. They are certainly easier to recruit because most college recruiting programs are geared for June graduates. Try it and you’ll find that the competition is almost nil and the pickings are excellent. A few companies have come to realize that recruiting college students in vacation areas during spring break can be quite effective. But why not beat them to the punch by recruiting at resort areas during the winter break as well, when college students are also playing? Even emailing students during the break is more effective because they have no schoolwork to distract them. The obvious advantages include no competition and the fact that you get them three months before your competitors, who recruit only during the spring, even approach them. But don’t stop with college recruiting. Successful managers and top performers have both the resources and the flexibility to take time off during the winter. Recruiting at large ski lodges and vacation resorts can be both rewarding and a lot of fun.
- Upcoming layoff fears may spur top performers to act. Because so many companies have recently announced their intent to layoff a large number of individuals (Mercedes-Benz, Ford, General Motors, Delta, and Delphi, just to mention a few), it’s a great time to target individuals who don’t want to go through another Christmas season carrying the fear and mental burden of pending layoffs in their minds. In addition, a large number of displaced workers (as a result of recent natural disasters) are now dreading the thought of going through the holiday season without a paycheck. Be careful and cherry pick the very best during a period when no one wants to have an insecure future.
- 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 get through to key individuals during December when so many receptionist and “call blocking” jobs are staffed with temporary fill-ins. In fact, the holiday spirit makes almost everyone more willing to accept calls that they wouldn’t take during normal frantic business periods.
- Budget time often means frustration and availability. Because many companies don’t budget their positions effectively throughout the year, they are unable to recruit during December because they have run out of headcount until new budgets take effect on January 1st. If your firm has been more efficient at budgeting open positions, you can take advantage of your leftover budget resources by actively recruiting during this time period when others are inactive. If you are clever, you will also realize that you don’t actually need budget funds or an open requisition to begin the recruiting process. If your budget cycle begins on January 1, you should actively begin recruiting candidates in December, in anticipation of the budget release that will come in January. Yes, there are some risks in recruiting without approved requisitions, but the worst that can happen (if budgets and headcounts are not released) is that you will have built relationships with top candidates and developed a prescreened candidate pool for use later.
- Recruiter workloads are lighter. Many of the less desirable active job seekers are inactive during the holiday season because they assume no one is looking, and as a result, they don’t flood organizations with their resumes. This reduced volume of resumes and calls can free up your recruiters’ time so that they can focus on identifying the people that you really want: the much more desirable employed top performer.
Outside-the-Box December Recruiting Tools and Approaches
If you decide to increase your focus on recruiting during December, here are some specialized tools and approaches that you might find valuable.
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- Recruit passively at the mall. Cisco, long known for its creativity in recruiting, once sent a team of recruiters to wrap packages at a popular mall where Silicon Valley engineers shopped. What seemed on the surface to be a PR gesture (wrapping holiday packages for a fee that went to charity) was in fact a great branding and recruiting strategy. FirstMerit bank also has a formal program for recruiting at the mall. Because the number one axiom of great recruiters is “Go where the candidates are,” and because during the holiday season most candidates go shopping at some point, by placing recruiters in the mall you can increase your visibility, catch candidates off guard, and have an opportunity to capture business cards and to chat informally with potential candidates while you wrap their packages. In case you didn’t know it, passive event recruiting is one of the highest ROI recruiting tools on the planet.
- Holiday invitations. Because most individuals are in a celebratory mood during December, potential candidates are generally more willing to accept a luncheon invitation during the holiday season. You should also consider inviting targeted candidates to your company’s Christmas party as a recruiting strategy. Meeting and mingling with your team during these types of informal events might turn out to be your best selling tool.
- Greeting cards. Smart recruiters use the greeting card tradition to further build already established relationships. Sending potential candidates greeting cards is an excellent way to remind them that you are still interested in them. A follow-up recruiting call is more likely to be accepted after they have received a greeting card from you. FirstMerit bank pioneered the now legendary approach of sending cookies and cards to potential candidates right before New Year’s, because almost everyone rethinks their job and life during the process of making New Year’s resolutions. (Incidentally, they got 130 responses after sending out only 175 cookies and cards.)
- Send the family gifts. If you’re really bold, sending T-shirts and other small gifts to the family of a few highly desired candidates can get the families involved in discussions of, “What would it be like to work there?” or, “Isn’t it about time for change?”
Of course, there are some difficulties associated with December recruiting. Because many candidates do take time off, it’s a little more difficult to find top performers and managers if they are away from the job. However, if you do find them, the chances of them answering a phone call or e-mail are much greater during this period. In addition, potential candidates may be distracted by holiday events and shopping, but the large holiday bills might also make them more eager to seek better paying opportunities. Because most firms don’t recruit during this period, it’s easy to follow the crowd and to also shut down your own recruiting effort. Strategically, however, that would be a huge mistake and a missed opportunity. The best time to recruit is when others are idle and when candidates are most receptive. This is even more true if you are a lesser-known organization that has little success when you must recruit side-by-side against better-known competitors. It’s time to seize the opportunity and take advantage of the idleness of others by beginning your winter recruiting campaign today. It’s also time to realize that recruiting is a 12-month profession, not an 11-month job with one month off for slacking. Just think how many more of your recruiting goals will be met if you have a full 12 months to work in!