10 holiday mistakes for job seekers to avoid

I was going to write this column closer to the holidays, but when I looked at my calendar, I realized the holiday season has already started, with or without my permission.

For job seekers, the holidays have always been a double-jeopardy situation. It’s hard to conduct the search when the work world is off-schedule, but also unthinkable to let two months go by with no search. Adding family issues to the mix makes a confusing time even more complicated.

While I hesitate to increase the “should” burden that we all carry at this time of year, I thought it might be helpful to see a short list of mistakes that job seekers sometimes make during this season. The first five relate to the search itself, and the second five concern more personal issues.

1. Letting the holidays sneak up on you. This happens to me every single year, so I’m in a poor position to chide anyone else. For job seekers, the main issues are organization and timing. For example, keeping an eye on the calendar lets you time calls and letters to land when people are more likely to be in.

2. Overemphasizing the holidays in the search strategy. If you’re in retail, then yes, the holidays consume an eight-to-10-week window. But for the rest of the work world, the season encompasses about two days in November, and another three or four in December and January.

3. Assuming no one’s hiring. Surveys do not bear out the myth that hiring grinds to a halt in December. But HR staff will sometimes note that their December ads draw fewer respondents — leading them to hold off until January to announce a search that’s actually already in progress. This is a misunderstanding that can cost job seekers valuable opportunities.

4. Not taking advantage of seasonal networking opportunities. It would be poor taste to wave your resume around at your child’s holiday pageant. But talking to the other parents and learning about their work? That’s just classic networking. You don’t need to announce that you’re looking for work. Just listen attentively and follow up later with an invitation for coffee.

5. Not laying the groundwork for January. At some point, every job seeker will close the books on this year’s job search. Whether you do that early or late in December, you’ll fare better in January if you’ve set up a couple of meetings or otherwise given yourself a starting point.

6. Spending too much money. As often as not, the pattern can be traced to something fundamental, such as not being organized enough to shop earlier (and cheaper), or overcompensating for feeling inadequate.

7. Feeling inadequate. It’s not very kind to tell you, “Stop feeling that way!” And yet, your friends and family will take their cues from you. So even if you wish you could do more this holiday season, or if you feel ashamed to be without a job, you have to hold your head up and move on. That said, if your celebrations involve someone who is toxic to you, it’s fair to limit your contact until you’re in a stronger position emotionally.

8. Losing the opportunity to make holiday cash. These months represent a unique opportunity to earn extra income, so missing that chance is unfortunate. Those options exist even into December, as small and large organizations adjust to customer flow and the loss of holiday workers who quit before the season ends.

9. Not helping others. Another unique opportunity presented by the holidays is the chance to help others. For job seekers, this kind of outreach provides perspective and the confirmation that they are needed. Whether you join a well-organized effort such as a toy drive, or simply offer your services to a shut-in neighbor, reaching out will strengthen your spirit.

10. Not celebrating with joy. Of course, you’d rather have your career issues resolved in time to fully enjoy the holidays. But the season won’t wait, so your misgivings will have to. Set aside everything negative and prepare to enjoy your family and friends.

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