Is January the best time to recruit?

January is that sweet spot where the contemplative reflections of extraordinary talent are converted into new year’s resolutions, while corporate recruiting teams, armed with refreshed budgets, look to clear a backlog of open requisitions.

So, if we are looking for tides floating boats, January and February will generally make us happy.

Of course, the nitty gritty realities of filling critical positions will be more nuanced. Great organisations understand the dangers of focusing on quantity versus quality.

Finding exceptional talent requires a deeper understanding of what is driving their disillusionment.

It takes talent to tango

Together with my co-author, David Oxley, I have spent the last 18 months researching why high-achieving next-gen individuals are increasingly rejecting traditional corporate management paths. We discovered five pervasive themes:

1. Unclear or misaligned purpose. A primary driver for disillusionment was a search to contribute to something with meaning. An organisational aspiration that appealed to a deeper sense of purpose.

2. Inauthentic leadership. Sadly, the stories of poor leadership abounded. However, what was slightly different was the stories of managers slavishly following talking points rather than being honest.

3. Suffocating hierarchies. A frustration for many was the perception they could not contribute to broader exciting initiatives. The sense of being isolated and marginalised was a huge turn off.

4. Unfulfilling work. Many organisations promise the moon when they recruit top graduates. The reality is often much more mundane and repetitive.

5. Integrity and respect. Finally, the fear of having to compromise moral or ethical principles. The most common example was poor behaviour going unchecked.

The challenge for recruiting professionals is to proactively invest in understanding, simplifying and communicating how their organisation is better equipped than others to deliver in these dimensions.

It is a mistake to try to shortcut this. While January affords opportunities to fill vacancies, there is no sense in doing so if the outcome is a revolving door.

There are significant dangers in ignoring these themes or paying lip service to them. Offering more money might be a short-term band aid but, ultimately, you’re likely to suffer lasting reputational damage down the road.

HR in demand in scramble for talent

So, if we reframe the title question slightly to: “How do you recruit exceptional talent in January?” We have a few suggestions:

1. Tune in to the 2024 zeitgeist: The first step is to accept that for extraordinary next-gen talent, their needs are beyond traditional measures of salary, benefits, and titles.

2. Understand your organisation’s holistic offer: We cannot over-emphasise how important it is for companies to communicate their compelling offer across the above dimensions. If this isn’t clear or missing, we recommend building it. Bring together an alliance of business leadership and HR to authentically work through the themes.

3. Be authentic: The golden rule is not to over-promise or over-sell. We found that an organisation with the self-awareness to declare themselves as a work in progress, faired far better than those who attempted deception.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: It may sound counter-intuitive, but one of the most powerful attractions we found for high-calibre talent, was to be invited to help an organisation solve these challenges.

Why any talent strategy needs to start with some simple first steps

This year promises to be an eventful one, for all of us.

The global macro forces will no doubt create unexpected and complex problems.

An old saying comes to mind: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

If you focus on hiring high quality people, challenges will often look more like opportunity.


Helmut Schuster is co-author of A Career Carol: A Tale of Professional Nightmares and How to Navigate Them