Data reveal best time of year to hire, find a job

Golden parachutes being available for only the most elite of corporate executives, it’s probably true that there’s no good time to be out of work. There do, however, appear to be times of the year when it may be better or worse to be looking for work – or, if you’re an employer, looking to hire.

Using over 10 years of internal data on client briefings and candidate registrations, Executives Online shines a light on what recruitment industry seasonality really looks like. Much of the writing about trends in the recruitment industry lately has focused on the effects of the global recession and recovery. We wondered what an average year looks like in terms of the monthly peaks and troughs of new jobs, and numbers of new jobseekers. Here’s what we saw, and what it means for people seeking a new role, or to hire:

1. Don’t make the job search the topic of a New Year’s resolution. Yes, there’s a pop in the number of client briefings in January, but this is primarily because December is so completely awful. Client briefings in January were on average 36% higher than the prior month, but the level of briefings did not return to levels seen earlier in the autumn until March. January is third from the bottom of the twelve months in terms of new jobs. What makes January even less advantageous to the job-seeker is the New Year’s resolution effect: Candidate registrations surge in January, which may make it harder for yours to stand out. The ratio of new candidates to new jobs – a figure we’ll call the Search Competition Index or SCI – is highest in January of any month, by a considerable margin (24% higher than the next month). Too much noise in the market also makes the employers’ and recruiters’ task of selecting the right people for shortlist and hire more difficult. It may be better, when hiring, to wait for a calmer month.

1a. But don’t job-search during December either.  December is the worst month of the year in terms of new jobs clients put out to search. Compared to November, our 10 years of data shows December to be 37% lower. In comparison to rest of the year, December is still an outlier, 35% worse than the average and 25% worse than the next best month. The SCI, our measure of competition for jobs, is only about average in December; perhaps jobseekers try to get a jump on their New Year’s resolutions by registering in December.

2. The summer slump is real. The second-worst month for briefings, after December, is August. During the summer months, clients appear to be on holiday and not briefing us in the same numbers as in the first half of the year. The market starts levelling off in June, declining each month until September when it surges back.

3. The Easter holidays aren’t just for schoolkids. In eight out of ten years, April’s briefings have been lower than March. In half the years, April was more than 20% off March’s figures. We have noticed this effect in other parts of the sales and marketing “funnel”; for years we’ve observed our search marketing spending – pay-per-click (PPC) advertising – dropping in April. We advertise on a wide market basket of diverse terms relevant to interim management and executive recruitment. Less spend indicates less traffic, which in turn means fewer people – clients and candidates alike – were out there doing Google searches on themes related to executive recruitment. The drop-off is more severe among candidates, though, so on a relative basis, April may be a slightly better time of year to start a job search than other times. The SCI is lowest in April relative to any other month.

4. The first half trumps the second. Conventional recruitment-industry wisdom talks about yearly seasonality favouring the second half. While briefings recover after the summer lull, and October is the strongest month of the year, on average our data show the first half of the year is about 10% stronger than the second.  It seems that autumn is has some strength, but it's fleeting: Not strong enough to counteract the fact that the second half also contains late summer and December. We’re not sure how the conventional wisdom arose. Perhaps other firms experience an uptick in placements (sales) rather than briefings, as clients finally complete hires in the autumn from briefs they gave earlier, or EO’s experience is just different. Or perhaps the autumn strength creates an outsized perception given it’s bracketed by weaker periods.

5. The best time for job-seekers is during business-as-usual months. Our data show that on average, November, February, March, May, June, and October are months in which the number of new jobs exceeds the year average. The spring and early summer are also best in terms of candidate noise relative to new jobs, with the SCI being lowest during these months.

6. Interim management is more stable than permanent recruitment. Both types of roles show peaks and troughs of seasonality through the years. However the number of briefings for perm roles shows higher peaks and lower troughs, whereas the interim roles fluctuate within a narrower range. This could be because permanent hires require more input from multiple stakeholders in an organisation – the line manager, prospective co-workers, HR – making it more challenging to kick off a recruitment during seasonally difficult times of the year. It could also be that perm roles are more affected by company sales seasonality, which may track the same high and low periods as our data. A sales lull, even if just seasonal, may make it more difficult to think about hiring.

Of course, it’s not just jobseekers who register that month who are vying for the jobs taken on that month. Savvy recruiters and employers will use their entire database of everyone they know is still in the market, and whose profile matches the role at hand, to develop their shortlist. One industry estimate is that it takes one month per £6,000 of salary to find a new role. Timing still matters, though. New registrants often get extra attention, if only from a recruiter seeking to network for business development, or because there’s a particularly narrow brief being worked on that their background might fulfil. And many recruitment firms’ business process, especially for permanent roles, de-emphasises their database of past registrants in favour of new respondents to ads and headhunting. It’s probably best to avoid registering, and for employers to avoid starting a new search, during the noisiest or quietest times of year.

Executives Online uses our Global Talent Bank, a diverse and constantly-refreshed pool of executive jobseekers, on every role we work on for our clients. We interrogate the Talent Bank on diverse criteria including job function, career level, broad and precise industry categories, desired remuneration, work location and limitless keyword searching to identify the audience who should hear about your role. And we engage effective search and targeted advertising techniques to reach candidates newly in the market who might not have registered with us yet. Contact us to work with an Executives Online recruiter the next time you need to hire an executive employee or engage an interim manager. If you’re looking for a new role, register your CV.


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