Finishing 2015 job search on a high note

End of the year already? If you’re in a job search, you may have mixed feelings about the march of time. On the one hand, a year in which you may have lost a job or been engaged in a difficult search for work probably can’t end fast enough. Be gone with you, 2015! On the other hand, it can be terribly disappointing not to have found a job before closing down the year.

Regardless of how you feel about turning the page from December to January, this transition presents some unique opportunities – and barriers – when it comes to job search. On the plus side of the equation is the relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity to engage in a warmer style of networking.

Unfortunately, these positive aspects are often overwhelmed by the season’s challenges: Difficulty connecting with people, a tendency by some employers to shelve recruiting until the new year, and the personal demands faced by job seekers during the hectic holidays.

Over the years I’ve learned to adjust my advice in this season. I used to push for added outreach during December, to take advantage of the networking opportunities, not to mention the lessened competition from others seeking work. I still stand by that counsel, as I’ve seen it work very well for those who can manage the increased pace.

But for those who can’t pour on the steam for these last weeks, I’ve added another layer of advice: Make use of these weeks to reorganize your search and prepare for a new burst in the new year. Go fallow, if you will, to allow time for contemplation, strategy or recharging before jumping in again.

The following five steps will help put you in good position for a successful job search in 2016.

1. Gather everything in one spot. If you're like many job seekers, this project has slowly taken over space in your home, your car, and most definitely, your computer. Not only does this lead to inefficiency, but it creates a defeating sense of being surrounded by something you can't control.

Allocate an hour or two to move all the books, folders, workshop packets and other physical items into one spot so you can decide which to tuck away in a box and which to keep close at hand. Then review your email and computer files with the same goal. Those things that can be put in a “toss later” file should be moved so you’re not tripping over them as you move forward.

2. Sort the winners and losers. Now that you have everything in one place, review the job leads you've been pursuing. Which ones still have life in them? I favor three categories: Yes, Maybe, Probably Not.

The first category is for those leads you feel most inspired to follow, as well as those with an element of timeliness. “Maybe” is for those that might need more legwork to pursue, while “Probably Not” is where you house the opportunities for which you’ve been told “no.” Hold onto these in case you need to mine the data later in your search.

3. Cap off this year's process. December is a good time for this step. Start by reviewing your Yes and Maybe categories to identify individuals you'd like to stay connected to in the new year. These folks should receive a brief holiday note from you, by either email or post.

For the most part, stay away from the e-cards that sing and dance, and from religious messages, unless you know your recipient well. Instead, write a short note of appreciation for the connection you’ve made in 2015, and well wishes for the coming year. There’s no need to add requests for meetings or other action.

If time permits, review your Probably Not list and send some of these individuals a note as well.

4. Plan out your steps for January. Now that you've reduced some of the clutter from 2015, you can focus on success in the new year. Use your Yes file to identify people and processes to pursue in January, then allocate each task to a date on the calendar.

To give your plan more energy and urgency, set at least one appointment for each week in January. That can be for networking, meeting with a job search strategist, attending a workshop at your government workforce center, or any other scheduled activity related to job search.

5. Take a break. It's easier to enjoy a few days off when you know your next steps; conversely, you'll be fresher for your search if you've had a chance to rest. Enjoy your holidays.