Dust off your resume, rewrite your cover letters and start posting on LinkedIn.
That’s the advice we’re hearing for recruiters as we head into the fall and enter the “September Surge,” a time when it might be easier to land a job. But we know 2023 has been full of layoffs and economic uncertainty. So will the fall be any different? Is the September Surge real?
Well, it depends.
We talked to economists, recruiters and job experts to get a better understanding of what the so-called September Surge is, if it’s real, and what job candidates can do to prepare.
What is the “September Surge”?
You may have first heard of it on social media, especially TikTok, where creators, whose day jobs are job recruiters, are going viral for talking about the probability of landing a job in September. “Be ready,” said Chanelle Howell in a TikTok about it that received nearly 1 million views.
But while the term has been whipped up on social media this year, it isn’t actually new. In fact, it pretty much happens every year. This annual surge is due to a combination of a few different factors. Working parents are sending their kids back to school and they have more time at work to consider hiring. It’s that back-to-school spirit that carries into the workplace too of a fresh start and opportunity to do things differently.
“I feel like September is more of a New Year’s philosophy than New Year’s,” said Laurie Chamberlin, head of LHH Recruitment Solutions, North America. “September is like back to school, back to work, back to ‘what am I going to do everyday?’ It’s like New Year’s for the workforce and education.”
The change of seasons also brings more work, particularly in retail, but for general desk jobs too, and employers looking to bump headcounts impacts the volume of job listings. Plus, it’s the middle of the third quarter and some companies might have a “use it or lose it” protocol around their budgets.
“Sometimes it is a ‘use it or lose it’ mentality,” said Dr. Leslie Filippelli-DiManna, interim dean of the Wallace E. Boston School of Business at American Public University System. “It’s not surprising to me when we think of it from a fiscal position.”
Chamberlin says that because the end of the fiscal year is around the corner, companies are wondering about the best way to finish it strong.
“It’s asking if we need more headcount to make that happen,” said Chamberlin. “Then they’re starting to think about what they need to do to hit their numbers for next year and how to prepare for it now. The September Surge is real.”
But does September really have the biggest surge in switching jobs?
LinkedIn’s principal economist and head of macroeconomics, Guy Berger, says no. The September Surge is worth noting, especially because it’s hot for entry-level jobs, but there are other times of the year that we see a peak in jobs too. January to March will always be a hot time to find a job, more so than the fall.
“There are inevitable fluctuations some times of the year that are more busy for hiring, and other ones less so,” said Berger. “What we see in our data is that the most busy months for people starting new jobs is the beginning of the year. In June, when most students start jobs, and then early fall for some roles, like retail.”
Last year they did see a late summer, early fall pickup in hiring, even amidst the ongoing cooling. But it was only a brief interruption and then hiring declined again after. Once the data is adjusted for seasonality, the surge doesn’t even show up. Berger thinks that for all the frenzied talk around job switching in September, the job market itself is actually stabilizing.
“The uncertainty in the economy has not disappeared completely,” said Berger. “Recession risks may have come down a little bit, but they’re still elevated. Hiring is still not as high as it was, so people are positioned for that. But last year, hiring was cooling and now it doesn’t seem like it’s cooling as much or at all anymore. It’s just stable.”
Last year, people were adjusting after hiring too much. In the second half of this year, the recalibration is largely complete and companies are in the position to either stay steady or very slowly crank things back up.
“Because we’re entering more stability, does that urgency actually ironically diminish?,” said Berger. “If you learn they are going to cut back the amount of roles you can hire next year, you will do your darndest to hire people before that. If you’re less worried, you won’t hire all at once.”
It also depends on the job sector.
Art Zeile, CEO at Dice, a career marketplace for technologists, says that in the past two Septembers, they have not seen a September Surge of job listings.
“They aren’t hiring until January and February,” said Zeile. “The surge is in the first quarter, where people feel like they need to get on top of their strategic projects and it all comes down to if you have the right people resources.”
Plus, hiring in tech is expensive. Zeile says the average salary on the platform is $112,000, up significantly from the average worker making $48,000, which means that companies are even more cautious in hiring, especially if they don’t know if a recession is around the corner.
On the other end, though, some jobs are so hot that a season won’t mean that candidates have a higher likelihood of being hired. Zeile says that with AI, cybersecurity and cloud engineering, you can do a search at any time of the year and be in good shape.
But it’s a fine line to walk. “I see companies posting, but they are probably going to be a lot more careful about how many job listings they put out there and not making promises,” said Filippelli-DiManna. “Then it’s just a layoff and turns into negative news about the company.”
How can job candidates stand out amid a surge?
Chamberlin says that even though there will be more job listings to come this fall, candidates should really understand why they’re applying to a specific company and role.
“If you don’t know about the company, do your homework,” said Chamberlin.
She advises not to apply to every job you see during September Surge, but to focus on the ones that you really see yourself working at. Ahead of the surge, make sure that your resume is updated and you have keywords that can be read by automated systems. Prepare for interviews and amp up your networking opportunities.
Filippelli-DiManna agrees. She also suggests being strategic, keeping an open mind, and putting in the work even when you aren’t hearing back yet. Last year, though, people largely jumped on the first offer they received because they weren’t sure if there would be anything else. That’s changing a little.
“We’re in more of a steady state,” said Berger. “It’s not like you have to jump on the first thing because it might disappear. The conditions we’re looking at now are probably going to be similar conditions in a few months. That’s a better situation than last year when it was ‘as challenging as things are now, they’re going to get more challenging in the next few months.’ Whether we see a surge or not, this is a great time to start preparing.”