Q1 Versus Q4: When is the Best Time to Hire New Talent?

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January has always been a reasonable time to make hiring decisions—but consider this: October, November, and December are too. 

In fact, for many digital health companies, Q4 is a better time to hire than the start of the new calendar year, especially in 2020 and beyond. Because the pandemic has more professionals immersed in remote work and staying at home through the holidays, hiring managers have a unique opportunity to attract good candidates before competitors do in Q1.

Still, launching hiring efforts at the start of a new year has other advantages. As you consider your options against a talent acquisition timetable that works for you, here’s what you should know:

The Advantages of Hiring in Q4

If you’re tempted to hire at the start of the new year just because you’ve always done so, this may well be the year to buck tradition. Making hiring decisions before the holidays gives employers many advantages, particularly when it comes to the available talent pool. Here’s why:

You’re not fighting for competition. 

Everyone posts job listings in Q1 because of budget resets, which means that getting an early start in Q4 (if you have the leftover budget) enables employers to reach the cream of the crop before they send their application somewhere else.

You’ll be tapping into seasonal trends. 

Many employees look for their next opportunity starting in Q4 for the added benefit of locking in job and financial stability ahead of holiday expenses. With the pandemic’s economic uncertainties and exhausted/expiring unemployment benefits, these trends may gain even more steam in a coronavirus world.

You can get onboarding done before January. 

By hiring in the last quarter, employers can take the rest of the year to onboard and train employees. That way, new hires can jump into January already up to speed and ready to hit (and exceed) Q1 goals.

You’ll make the most of an otherwise slow time. 

People naturally wrap up and slow down in Q4, as opposed to the hustle-bustle of Q1. By hiring near the tail-end of the year (but before Thanksgiving), you can make the most of both interviewees’ and interviewers’ time—and very likely, find more mutual windows of availability to get everyone together in a lower-stress environment.

You can use up remaining budget. 

Everyone’s familiar with the end-of-year scramble to spend use-it-or-lose-it budget. If you have the luxury of extra money—and your fiscal calendar coincides with the new year—you don’t need to wait until January to make hiring decisions. After all, the right hire is a much better way to spend those dollars than a frivolous rushed purchase for “just-because” budget burn.

The Advantages of Hiring in Q1 

Even with all the benefits of a Q4 hire, January still has appeal as the right hiring season for employers—with these advantages moving many to stick to their traditions for Q1 talent acquisition:

It’s a fresh reset. 

Research has shown that January psychologically triggers in us new starts and clean slates—and these tendencies can align well with prospective employees who are eagerly looking to contribute to something new. Hiring at the new year welcomes new employees when they may be in their sharpest mental state, starting on Day 1.

Budget is ready. 

Assuming your fiscal calendar aligns with the calendar year, the budget purse will get refilled come January—meaning that dollars are not a concern for new hires. That potentially gives more negotiating room for the right rockstar candidate, or it may mean you can make multiple hires at once for the same team.

You’ve got time to make the right decision. 

Beneficial though it may be, Q4 hiring does come with the pressure of a deadline: If you’re filling a role before the new year, you’ll probably feel rushed to do it before Thanksgiving, or Christmas at the very latest. With a Q1 hire, you don’t have that kind of countdown: You can take the time you need to make the right choice.

Vacations are less of an issue. 

Unlike with an end-of-the-year hire, Q1 hires won’t require as many accommodations for pre-planned vacations or holiday breaks. With less demand for time off in their first few months, workers can dive in and be fully present from the get-go.

You won’t be stealing hires away from a Q4 bonus. 

Applicants hunt for jobs during all seasons, but one common reason candidates wait until January is because of their bonus structure: Many hires may want to finish out the year to claim that cash before moving on. By hiring in Q1, you don’t have to poach people away from their earned bonus (which is hard—and expensive—to do).  


Best Practices for Hiring—at Any Time

The decision to hire in Q4 versus Q1 can depend on many factors, and really—either can work for you, depending on your situation and goals. If you have a vacancy you’re looking to fill, ask yourself these questions to find the best timetable:

  • What’s your budget? Obviously, hiring decisions depend on budget, so if you don’t have any of it left this year, you’ll need to wait until you’ve got the renewed funds.
  • What are your immediate needs? Hiring in Q4 can get a lot of the onboarding work of training out of the way before January. Still, if you don’t have a ton of immediate needs for your new hire, you may want to wait until Q1 when employees can be more involved and productive in active projects.
  • What is the competition doing? If your competition is hiring for similar needs in Q1, you’ll likely get the benefit of a preemptive start by pushing your own hiring process up to Q4.
  • How long does it take to complete the hiring process? Some companies can fill openings in a matter of days, while others have an end-to-end process that takes more time. If your process is on the longer side, hiring in Q4 runs the risk of not getting done before the holidays—in which case, starting in Q1 may be better for everyone.

Ultimately, the timetable can look different for different companies—but very often, a Q4 hiring process has a certain appeal that a Q1 one doesn’t. Either way, assessing your needs and sizing up the labor market are necessary steps to find the right talent at the right time.

Need help filling open roles? Whatever you need and whenever you need it, Phase2 Health’s executive search specialists can help. Reach out to get started finding your next hire.


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