The first quarter is the best time to look for a new job. Hiring managers and recruiters need to find high-quality, professional candidates to fill key corporate slots before year-end, and they have new hiring budgets to support those efforts.
But even with all of the energy behind Q1 hiring, there are still significant hurdles that job applicants face as they navigate the application and hiring process. This year in particular has some unique first quarter hiring challenges.
Here are 4 hurdles you will face while trying to land a new job this quarter, and how to handle them.
1. Companies are more selective in Q1
This is not intentional. Standards are standards, and the goal for HR departments is always to adhere to them.
But it’s human nature. At the end of the year, HR departments are focused on satisfying year-end budgets and completing hiring before the holidays hit. That often results in a rushed process with fewer candidates interviewed, and those brought in for interviews not as thoroughly vetted.
However, when the first quarter starts, a lot of those pressures go away, so hiring managers take all the time they need to review as many candidates as possible to find that needle in a haystack “perfect” candidate. And because job applicants typically gear up for a new job search at the beginning of the year, it’s easy for HR departments to attract plenty of candidates to fill those interview slots.
Overcome this challenge by showing your passion.
The best way to overcome this is for you to be that ideal candidate, making looking further not necessary.
An ideal way to show your passion for the company you are applying for is developing a case study of the company, showing that you have not just researched their internal workings (which everyone will do), but have thought about how the company can improve and your proposed solution. This serves the additional purpose of highlighting how your skills (for example, in marketing, sustainability, asset management, etc.) can be directly applied to the role you’re applying for.
Now, obviously, if you’re applying to a hundred jobs (you shouldn’t be) then it won’t be feasible to do this for all of them. But if you’re being extremely selective about what companies you’re applying to (which you should be), then the time and energy it takes to prepare this type of case study for those few companies that truly matter to you will cut the time it takes for you to find your next dream job down exponentially.
Also, overcome this challenge by being the expert they’re looking for.
And one simple way to fast-track your way to expert status is by speaking on industry-specific podcasts about the industry topics that excite you.
This is much easier than it may sound, which means that you should start doing this now. Identify those podcasts that are popular for your industry. Reach out to the hosts and pitch a few ideas. Podcasts are always looking for new ideas, so the pitches should be a twist on episodes you’ve already heard on the show.
The key here is that the topics you discuss are in areas that you are truly interested in, so that your enthusiasm comes across during the interview.
Once you’ve recorded the episode, put a link to it on your LinkedIn profile and voila — instant expertise.
2. You’re competing with all of the other Q1 responsibilities that HR is also working on
In addition to their hiring tasks, HR departments are also responsible for administrative, operations, and strategic planning functions, and those responsibilities intensify at the beginning of a new year. Because your application process is competing for time with those other tasks, your process may be stalled and you are apt to get lost in the shuffle — even if you’re one of the best candidates.
Overcome this challenge by staying on their mind.
Once you’ve gone through the interview process, it’s up to you to follow up appropriately to keep yourself top of mind and express your continued excitement for the job.
The key here is following up the right way. Too much can be annoying, and it’s important to remember that there’s an actual person on the other end of those emails who may stop responding altogether if they feel you’re harassing them.
Ideally, follow up two to three weeks after you sent out thank you notes or after you had your last communication with the company, whichever is later.
Pro tip: Use this template as a guide to refresh their memories about your abilities and what you discussed during the interviews.
Hi [name of HR or hiring manager you connected with],
It was great to meet you on [date] and speak with you about the exciting [title of position] opportunity available at [company].
As a reminder, some of the things we spoke about during our meeting were:
- [These should be very specific points discussed during the interview (i.e., how you could add value if it appeared that what you shared landed well)]
- [Areas where you connected, or where they showed interest in what you shared]
For your convenience, I’ve attached another copy of my resume.
I left our conversation on [date] excited for the role at [company], and I look forward to hearing from you with the next steps.
3. You may be asked to forfeit your bonus
You got the job offer, hurray! But, for many companies, performance-based bonuses for work done the prior year are not dispensed until February or March. If that is the case at your company, then leaving your current job for a new one may put that bonus in jeopardy.
You’ll want to refuse the proposed start date because you’re waiting for a much-deserved bonus check to come in. But depending on how much extra time you need to extend beyond the proposed start date, your new employer may ask you to forfeit that bonus
Overcome this challenge by asking for (more) money.
The first — and easiest — step to take when you’re asked to start your new job before you get that last bonus check is to attempt to negotiate the start date.
If it’s just a few extra weeks, a simple “I would like to start on [date], if that works with your timing” when responding to acknowledge the offer is a good enough by way of request.
However, if you need to hold off longer than that, then you’ll probably need to explain why you need the extra time. That more substantive conversation is best done over the phone if at all possible.
Once on the call, say something like:
“I’m thrilled to get this job offer, and I’m excited to contribute to [company] by [ways discussed during the interview process]. My current company’s policy is to give out it’s performance bonuses on [date], and unfortunately I will need to forfeit that bonus if I resign before that date. Because of that, I’d like to delay my start date at [new company] until [date]. Would that work?”
Now, at the end of the day, if your new company has something specific planned for you once you arrive (a project with an immovable deadline, onboarding training, etc.), the date may not be able to be moved. But it’s worth the ask so you’re not inadvertently leaving money on the table.
If the date can’t be moved, then the next step is to consider whether you think it’s worth it for you to negotiate for a sign-on bonus (or an increased sign-on bonus, if you’re already getting one) to replace what you will be leaving behind. If it is, use this simple script as an add-on to your previous discussion:
“I completely understand, and I am thrilled to get started contributing to [the company/the group] on [date]. Given the experience and value I would be bringing to the company — and given that I will need to walk away from a bonus at my current company — I am wondering whether there is a signing bonus available?”
This way, you’re reiterating your interest as well as making the ask. Often HR has the authority to give a sign-on bonus, but only if asked.
Note that many companies will require written proof from your current employer that you were going to receive a bonus and the amount before they will agree to compensate you for it because you left before the payout, so it may not be worth making this additional ask if you don’t think you will be able to get that proof.
4. With companies bracing for an economic downturn later this year, they are confused about how to move forward with hiring this quarter
You can expect a bit of wishy-washyness in the hiring process this year. Some employers will use these early months to load up with top candidates like you and lock them down before the anticipated recession hits.
However, other potential employers will open a job posting only for you to get that dreaded “The role you’ve applied for has been canceled” email. And that will inevitably leave you feeling disappointed that you put the time into applying, and maybe even interviewing.
Overcome this challenge by being that unusually gracious candidate.
You will need to have the right mindset to not take it personally and to not use it as an excuse to stop searching for the right job for you.
If you had direct contact with anyone before the role was canceled, reach out to them to keep the connection intact. Most people don’t do this, so you will stand out instantly. And, since the reason you didn’t get the job, in this case, had nothing to do with you or your qualifications when something new opens up, you are putting yourself in a good position to be top of mind for that new role.
Use this template as a guide.
Hi [name of hiring manager],
I appreciate your note. Of course, I am disappointed to hear that the position was canceled. But I am so glad that I had the opportunity to meet with you and learn more about [company]. Our meeting confirmed and enhanced what I already knew about [company], and I am surer than ever that I would be an asset to [company] and that I would truly enjoy working there.
If a role in [your area of expertise] does open up, I would appreciate you keeping me in mind for the position. And if I see other suitable roles, I hope you won’t mind if I reach out to you directly to learn more.
All the best,
This article first appeared on Business Insider.