January Is The Cruelest Month — For Layoffs

In my ten years as a working adult in New York, I’ve had some varied experiences, to the extent that I was even an online Unemployment / Finding a Job guru for a while. (Interviewing tips include “Wear deodorant. An applicant with BO is DOA.”) I’ve been laid off twice, both times in the winter. I’ve been hired numerous times, often when the weather is warm.

A calendar overview of my past decade, employment-wise, would look like this:

JAN: 1 layoff
FEB — APR: no activity
MAY: 1 start date (this one, in fact!)
JUNE: 3 start dates
JULY — AUG: no activity
SEPT: 1 start dates
OCT — NOV: no activity
DEC: 1 start date, 1 layoff

I have wondered whether these were merely my personal circadian rhythms or whether maybe there were other larger forces at play. Do other people also get hired in late spring and let go in winter? Turns out the answer is yes.

At least sort of. There are seasonal hiring cycles, especially for certain industries. (Though, don’t forget, “the best time to look for a job is anytime!”) And, according to an expert quoted in the Guardian, “January is the worst month of the year for layoffs.”

“Even when things are normal, employers still lay off a total of about 300,000 people every week, or 1.2 million people every month. It’s a staggeringly large number.”

The news is worst for the more vulnerable segments of the US population, too:

Even though the unemployment rate is now only 5.6%, that masks the fact that youth unemployment is more than twice as much, and for African American youth it is north of 20%.
As President Obama pointed out, the devil is in the details. He can propose policies like raising the minimum wage, or giving working couples more money for childcare. He can’t create jobs, or order companies to create jobs, or even suggest that it might be a good thing for the country as a whole if enough Americans were employed and earning a living wage to be consumers of the goods that all of these companies produce and try to sell us.
But ultimately, it’s all up to the private sector. Only they can stop viewing employees as little more than just an annoying cost center.

By the way, the methods we use to hire employees are enragingly dumb:

In 2012, for example, consulting firm Leadership IQ announced it had tracked 20,000 new hires over time and discovered that 46% of them had failed within 18 months. In other words, most recruiting practices are about as effective as a coin toss. …
Max Levchin, co-founder and former CTO of PayPal, tells a story of a time when PayPal rejected a candidate who aced all the engineering tests but who said he liked to play hoops. “No PayPal people would ever have used the word hoops,” Levchin told a class of would-be entrepreneurs. “Probably no one even knew how to play hoops. Basketball would be bad enough. But hoops?” …
Google is one of the few companies to go public about the flaws in the traditional hiring process. Except for recent college graduates, the company no longer asks candidates for transcripts or grade-point averages. It found that neither grades nor interviews predicted success. “Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president for people operations, told a New York Times reporter in 2013. “We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess.”