Why Employers Hire Less PhDs In January And February (& How To Be The Exception)

The holidays were not so happy for my family as my husband was about to be laid off by his employer due to funding restraints at the lab. Employers hire but they truly do not care.

We had finally come to realize that academia does not look after people. Even after dedicating our time and effort to writing grants, publishing papers, and tirelessly working for hours in the lab, we were expendable. 

This was a wake-up call; the plight of a postdoc in academia. We started sending our resumes to every company in January with the hope of a miracle. Endless applications yet no result. We came to know that employers hire less in January and February as the companies have several other priorities to focus on. 

A common friend who is a successful industry professional, enlightened us with a few tips to improve our job search strategy. Based on the advice, we reinvented our strategies, tailored our resumes, refreshed keywords. We increased our networking several-fold. Then hit every pillar and post with the new industry resume and cover letter. It was a long run but refreshing our job search strategy proved miraculous. 

The information acquired through networking proved critical in moulding our transition strategy to land our first industry job. 

Why Hiring Decreases At The Beginning Of The Year

January introduces a new year of possibilities, opportunities, and challenges. After the holidays are over, companies need to set new goals to advance their mission. There are many Q1 internal priorities to focus on. These may be appraisals, bonuses, role changes, mergers, re-allocation of annual budgets, setting up new growth goals, or starting a new branch. These precedents are due at the beginning of the year. Therefore, companies who have surplus budgets look to hire quickly in December before the funds are reallocated in the new year. 

January starts slow for most people as employees return from holiday vacations and take some time to reorient their workflow and their work-pace. 

1. HR departments & company staff are tied up rolling out the new year’s corporate strategy 

In January and February, company professionals focus on setting new goals for the rest of the year. 

The CFOs revisit and check if the previous year’s outcomes, assumptions, and decisions stood the test of time. The sales reports and business earnings from the past year are carefully reviewed and new corporate strategies are outlined. Especially with the COVID-19 crisis, companies need to set stronger risk management and mitigation strategies in place. Corporate strategies in the event of workforce decentralization, virtual team management, work allocation, and salary specifics are mandatory. 

Although this is the best time for appraisals, annual performance reviews, and role changes within the company, hiring new talents is held off until the new goals are set and budgets allocated. These dedicated meetings are quintessential for the companies to understand what their future needs are. 

Companies need to set a clear picture about the short– and long-term goals to plan future hiring. 

2. Budgets have been renewed & departments are rationing spending until Q1 sales are in 

Companies start the year by carefully creating and streamlining master, static, operating, and cash flow budgets. The next priority in the list after designing the budget is budget allocation; designating specific funding to each expenditure line. This demarcates the maximum funds that a company can spend on a particular commodity or program. 

Defining the short and long-term financial goals of the company is indispensable for budget allocation. Even though a sales budget is just an estimate of anticipated revenues, it is a crucial way of projecting income based on factors such as the rampant economic conditions, competition with similar products, production resources, and expenses incurred. Therefore, analyzing the Q1 sales is crucial for budget spending. Such cardinal precedence warrants dedicated research and keeps hiring at bay. 

3. Company resources are focused on training new PhD team members, especially those hired in December

Once companies set the priorities that need to be accomplished, they focus their resources on training the new team-members. Most of the companies hire in December and complete the onboarding and staff training at the beginning of the year. 

With the budget in place and a clear picture of what is needed, industry professionals tend to embark on the next big journey of acclimatizing the new recruits to the company goal and mission. Both the trainers and the trainees are in the best shape right after the holidays. 

The HR team is not worried about deadlines on their Time to Fill up a position requirement. hence they devote their time to advancing the company’s mission. 

How To Be The Exception – Focus On The Earlier Parts Of The Job Search Funnel 

There is a general notion that, being in the right place at the right time is often a big reason why some people get hired over others. However, having the right strategy matters a lot too. Endless, unfocussed applications will not lead to a job offer. A lot of efforts has to be put in to be the candidate that the employers hire.

Instead, insider information, pointers to job applying strategy, and reinventing your resume and LinkedIn are fundamental. Reinventing your job search strategy is the need of the hour.

1. Increase your networking efforts & make connections with employees who have been at the company for over a year 

Networking has proved to be the most useful weapon against the job application process particularly at the beginning of the year when employers hire less. Getting in touch with people who have been at the company for more than a year and are familiar with the way that the company works, significantly improves your chances of getting hired. 

These people will not be going through the intensive training process and already understand the company’s strategy for the year. Using the insights gained from networking, PhDs can show how they are the perfect candidate who is needed to accomplish the goals of that new year. 

By getting insider information, you can ensure that the relevant experience needed for the job appears in your resume. This is a huge advantage over the candidates who don’t have this information, especially in a scenario where employer hire less. 

Especially during a pandemic, networking becomes more important as knowing an employee within the company can potentially favor your case as the HR would get first-hand knowledge about your experience and skills. Employee referrals have been accredited to yield the highest return on investment (ROI). The retention rate is also high when a candidate comes in through networking. 

Companies prefer candidates who can network as it showcases their interpersonal skills and potentially reduces the time/cost per hire, while improving the quality per hire.

2. Set up more informational interviews with employees 

Informational interviews with industry professionals ranging from a 5-minute call to a zoom or in-person meeting. The purpose of an informational interview is to help you gather first-hand insider information. 

If you conduct these interviews properly and add value to your contact, they greatly increase your chances of getting a  referral and/or land a job at your target company. 

Identifying the right person and setting up an informational interview are the preliminary yet crucial steps in the entire process. At the beginning of the year, employees are quite relaxed, in the holiday spirit, and are more than willing to help interested candidates understand the trends of the company. Often, they also provide information about the jobs that have not been posted online yet or specific information about how to tailor your resume to match the company’s expectations, which will put you ahead in the race. 

Applying with a referral pushes your candidature to the top of the pile and multiplies your chances of getting hired. HR professionals prefer hiring through word of mouth as it saves them monumental hassle down the road.

You will get the best insights for the 1-year+ employees who have a reflective and resolution oriented mindset at the beginning of the year and are very likely to be highly responsive to questions about what challenges they faced last year, where their career is taking them, and what their goals are for the current year. 

Knowing the problem alone is not enough, the solution is equally pivotal. Therefore, merely knowing the company goals won’t be enough, but since the main goals have already been traced, you can take advantage of those to provide potential solutions and wow employers during the interview. 

This first-hand information makes you stand out as the safest candidate for the job.  

3. Reinvent your resume and LinkedIn profile for the New Year. 

Every New Year comes with new industry trends and a burst of new buzzwords. Are these words on your resume? Does your LinkedIn profile appear to be updated weekly if not daily to coincide with “right now,” or does it look like you haven’t changed anything since before the holidays? 

Industry is constantly reinventing itself, and it expects the same from its top candidates. Employers don’t like to invest in people who don’t like to change. 

Employers hire candidates who are versatile and adapt according to the changing trends. There are several transferable skills that you have amassed as PhDs; these skills have very specific industry nomenclature. Rewriting your resume and LinkedIn profile in industry terms is extremely essential to show that you are an industry professional.

Your resume must be free of overused and exacerbated lingo and must include the relevant power words that will make you stand out. Currently, there is a lot of competition with numerous candidates eyeing the same job profile. So, to be the candidate that the employers hire, you should include pandemic-proof and pandemic-preferred skills such as change management, virtual team management, risk management and mitigation, interpersonal communication skills, cross-functional team leadership to your resume. 

That holds true for your LinkedIn profile too; adding relevant keywords will make your profile more visible and increase your chances of getting noticed by recruiters and hiring managers. 

Your industry contact can give you a massive lead by pinpointing the required attributes, which can be converted into current buzzwords and transferable skills. 

Concluding Remarks

Although hiring is slow in January and February, reinventing their job search strategies helps PhDs to attain a job offer.  When used wisely, networking and informational interviews can provide valuable information to show how you are the perfect candidate for the new year’s company goals. Substantially updating your industry-tailored resume and LinkedIn profile will work to your advantage even at the beginning of the year, when employers hire less.

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Meerambika Mishra
Meerambika Mishra

Meerambika holds a PhD in Biotechnology. She has invested her knowledge earned from extensive R&D ventures to pursue her dream of medical writing; with a passion for communicating science to the multitudes.

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