When's the best time of year to look for a job?

We've all been there: woken up on January 2nd with a sinking heart and decided it's time to look for another job. Indeed, according to a survey carried out in January by www.MyVouchers.co.uk, changing job is the fourth most popular New Year's resolution, with 16 percent of people putting it on their list.

But is January really the best time to start your hunt? It can be, says Flora Lowther, head of research at the Adzuna job vacancy search engine. "We definitely see peaks around September and January; the employment market tends to go into a lull in July and August," she says.

"Employers tend not to hire new staff in the run-up to Christmas because people go away, so January tends to be when employers think about it too."

However, this certainly doesn't mean you should put your job hunt on hold in the meantime. There are still plenty of job vacancies in November and December - and a lot fewer people chasing them.

These days, for many people, getting a new job is more about networking than spotting job ads in the paper - and Christmas provides a good excuse to get in touch with work contacts. Corporate parties can present the ideal opportunity to put yourself in front of potential employers.

And the end of the year is a good time for a speculative approach: if a company's considering hiring in January, it's likely to look favourably on any good candidates that pop up out of the blue in advance.

If nothing else, getting started before Christmas means that when more vacancies do come along in January, you'll be ready for them, with a clear idea of what you want and an up-to-date CV.

Many jobs are seasonal, meaning that if you don't apply at the right time, you've missed the boat. Royal Mail famously takes on huge numbers of extra staff around Christmas - even more so these days, with the rise of internet shopping.

And December is also the best time of year to get your foot in the door with retailers: between a quarter and a half of annual retail sales take place around Christmas, and stores increase their staffing levels accordingly. When a permanent job comes up, seasonal staff will be in pole position.

"Once the peak is over, if a person were to leave you'd be in with a better chance," says Simon Baddeley, regional director of Reed Employment. "With the Royal Mail, there will be some of those people that will temp over the Christmas rush and will find permanent opportunities off the back of that."

September is another peak time for job vacancies, partly because this is when companies get a chance to snap up new graduates. This month, according to Adzuma, there are more job vacancies nationally than at any time in the last year: 534,269, to be precise.

But certain industries have their own peak hiring periods, says Baddeley.

"The public sector tends to tail off in January through March as budgets are signed off," he says. "Come January through March, there's an increase in jobs in the accountancy sector with year-ends."

However, he says, the number of job vacancies is becoming more constant throughout the year as the hiring process becomes faster and simpler.

"With the internet, job boards and mobile communications, seasonality is playing less of a part," he says. "It used to be about print ads, which take time. Now, you can post a job within a matter of minutes, and it can be out there and accessible."

The best news for job-seekers is that competition has been falling for the past six months. In August, according to Adzuna, there were an average of just 2.6 applicants for each job. It's worth noting, though, that this figure disguises some stark regional contrasts: while Salford had a whopping 57.6 job-hunters per vacancy last month, Aberdeen actually had three times as many vacancies as job-seekers.

In a recent survey, the Recruitment and Employment Federation (REF) and KPMG found that permanent staff appointments are rising at their fastest pace since April 2011.

"Many [employers] have stepped up their search for staff, with demand for staff accelerating to a three-year high. Confidence is even beginning to show itself with employers prepared to increase the salaries they offer to new employees," says Bernard Brown, partner and head of business services at KPMG.

"At the same time, candidates are still hedging their bets. We are still witnessing a cautious approach with many hanging on to the jobs they know, fearing the insecurity that comes with starting somewhere new. Yet, if the economy continues along its current path, it is likely that candidates will also step out in increasing numbers as the year goes on."

In other words, the best time to look for a job is - now.

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