How Early Is Too Early to Search for Jobs

For students joining the job market, the hunt for employment often relies heavily on timing. While job searchers are often at the mercy of market forces, Dr. Marcia LaReau, founder, president and career strategist at Forward Motion, LLC, maintains that the early bird still gets the work. LaReau discusses the optimal time to begin a job search and what to do when your timing is less than ideal.

LaReau’s background includes bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music and a doctorate in adult education. She spent 15 years teaching in higher education, 10 years in the corporate sector as a project manager, learning technologist, and human resource director. In addition to running her career counseling business, she shares her advice on the job market with a regular radio show and speaks at career conferences.

Dr. Marcia LaReau advises students to begin their job search as early as possible.

Question: Is there a specific time of year that more companies are likely to be hiring?

LaReau: Yes! This is a change over the last two to three years. Companies have shifted to calendar year financials (instead of July to July). Consequently, by October-November, they know their budgets, their top projects and their skill needs. For the last two years, more clients were hired between mid-November through January 15th than any other time.

Question: Do winter or spring graduates typically have more competition for jobs?

LaReau: For those grads who have a specific degree (engineering, financial business analysts, graphic design, IT) their best bet is to get an internship with companies that hire their interns. Internships usually begin in January and they are hired in June. These are usually larger companies. For grads with non-specific degrees, winter graduation will be less competition and have a better hiring market. Regardless of their degree, an internship will give real work experience and references. It’s always a plus. Spring graduation is hard all the way around.

Question: We know that graduates should start looking early, but how early is too early?

LaReau: I have coached college juniors who started looking for a full-time post-graduation job. One client, a junior, worked for a Fortune 50 insurance company during the summer and accepted a 6-month internship. He will return to school in this January, finish his senior year by September, and will have a job waiting for him when he graduates. Another college junior interviewed for jobs during the summer of his junior year. He was hired with a start date following graduation, one year later.

Another junior is juggling a non-paid internship during his senior year with the hope of a job by graduation. So, the answer is – I don’t believe it can be too early. If college sophomores can manage an unpaid summer internship in a company of choice and continue their commitment during the summer following their junior year – it will say a lot about them when they graduate.

LeReau offers the following tips on maintaining an effective internship which is truly beneficial to the student:

  • There should be one (two at most) people that they report to – so a relationship can be developed.
  • That person should be doing the kind of activities that the grad wants to eventually do.
  • The work assigned to the grad should be credible experience for their resume and not basic office support.
  • There should be “enough” supervision to ensure success and a reference that can speak to the person’s work.
  • There will hopefully be a mentor relationship with someone who will serve as a champion or spokesperson on behalf of the intern.

Question: If you aren’t available for a full time job until after graduation, but get offers earlier, what is the best course of action?

LeReau: Most, if not all, applications ask for a start-date. If the job offer comes, the candidate should indicate something like, “Thank you. I’m excited about you offer and would like to hear about the specific details.” If asked, “When can you start?” The response is, “I am currently scheduled to graduate in May, however, depending on your needs, it’s possible there could be some flexibility.”

Question: What is your advice on how to transition part-time work or internships into full-time opportunities after graduation?

LeReau: Start early. At least one semester prior to graduation, the grad should begin discussing future opportunities with the company. There should be clear communication on what a future position might look like and what the compensation will be. To make sure this can happen, it’s critical that the work activities are a vital part of the company – even at this entry-level position. It will be a stretch to land a full-time position when the intern or part-time work has been more along the line of office support. Again, the person should develop some kind of mentor during their time with the company – even if it’s just for a summer.

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