Want a New Job? Game These Seasonal Trends in the U.S.

If your 2016 resolution is to find new work, we have some tips for you

A Career Fair Ahead Of Jobless Claims Figures

An attendee, right, speaks with a job recruiter at the San Jose Career Fair in San Jose, Calif., on Nov. 10.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

If you're looking for a job this month, our condolences.

You're facing a market that boasts the fewest openings of any month of the year, based on U.S. Labor Department data from the last decade, unadjusted for seasonal fluctuations. Looking under the hood of labor data can give that and other insights about timing a job search: April sees the most job openings all year, for instance, and the spring in general is prime time for hiring.

For anyone resolving to find a new job in 2016, here's an overview of some of the gems seasonally unadjusted data on the job market have to offer. Major caveat: these are aggregate trends. Specific industries (and specific roles) often have different dynamics.

1. When companies hire 

Looking at hiring overall, the labor force expands by the most in the spring and early summer and the fall, probably reflecting hiring for the warm summer months and then a bump up to prepare for the winter holiday rush. It contracts a lot in January, by less in July and by a little in December. This varies by industry, with finance, professional and business services closely echoing the overall structure—April is the peak, January is the low. Retail trade, by contrast, has a really accentuated November peak and then a much more dramatic January contraction. 

December is sluggish for hiring because people may have other things to think about and aren't applying as much. "December is slow and in my experience it’s definitely attributable to the holidays," Jim Weinstein, a career consultant in Washington, D.C., said in an email. This time of year, there are "so many things to do—parties, buying presents, sending cards, visiting family—and so much on people’s minds that there’s little room for serious consideration of career." 

2. When companies post new jobs 

The end of the year also sees a slump in job postings. By contrast, in 7 of the years between 2005-2015, April saw more available positions than any other single month. This makes sense, since the U.S. academic year ends in May or early June, and employees may be ramping up to hire new graduates. It's also the start of warm-weather seasonal hiring. If students are waiting till May or June graduation to start their job search, a solid chunk of positions will have been on the market for months by then. 

3. When everyone else quits 

If you're trying to quit away from the crowd, August is not your month. Neither is January, when many people either leave work voluntarily or are laid off, as the graph below shows. 

Regardless of when you're planning on looking for work, there's reason to take heart: With 5 percent unemployment, its lowest level since 2008, and employers posting new jobs at a steady clip, this is a pretty good time to look for work regardless of when a job seeker gets started. 

"The overall takeaway from the opportunities we're seeing, in terms of when to structure your job search, is—honestly, it's now,'' said Tara Sinclair, chief economist at job search website Indeed. "We now have many more job openings and opportunities across the board than we've seen in several years." 

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