The coldest month turns out to be the hottest time to move up the corporate ladder, according to a new study.
But if you didn't get a promotion this month, career advisers recommend starting to plan for the next big opportunity in April.
Professional networking site LinkedIn analyzed the job histories of its 90 million members worldwide, including three million in Canada, to chart when moves up in rank and authority are most likely to occur.
In Canada, the peak month for promotions is January, followed by April and September. This differs slightly from global findings, which find January, July and September are the months when people are most likely to make a move up in their careers.
The survey found that in Canada and most other countries, August is the least likely time to get a promotion, unless you are in education or retailing, where managers are preparing to gear up for the fall.
"It's a trend we didn't realize was so pronounced," said Phyllis Reardon, president of St. John's-based CoachPhyllis.com, who reviewed the data for Canada. "Knowing that these are the times when most hiring and reorganization goes on, it creates an opportunity to take action now for a move up in the spring."
It's also essential information for people who are looking to make a career change, because these are months when job shuffles will leave positions open, she added.
And opportunities definitely seem to be opening up, based on her own experience. "In the past year, 90 of my 250 connections on LinkedIn have either moved up, or moved to a new job. In 2009, when companies were downsizing, there was just no movement at all."
The timing is most likely because of the budget cycles that organizations go through, said executive coach Colin Holbrow, a faculty member of the Canadian Management Centre and principal of the Holbrow Group in Toronto. Many employers, particularly governments, are on a calendar fiscal year, so they have a fresh budget to work with in January and can add in new positions and promotions as of that date.
"A September peak also makes a lot of sense, because the summer months are typically slower business months. But summer is actually when decisions are made to gear up for the fall," Mr. Holbrow said.
While some months are the times when actual moves are made, it's important to remember that the promotion decisions are made well in advance of the day the calendar flips, Mr. Holbrow said. "Your strategy should be to look ahead and be on the radar when promotion decisions are being made," he added.
Visibility and advance preparation are essential, the experts advise. "First and foremost, getting ahead in your career means getting noticed by those who are making the decisions, by connecting on a social level, on social media, and getting more visibility in your workplace," Ms. Reardon said.
A key place to start is to update your professional profiles on LinkedIn and other social media. "It's the modern résumé, which people are more likely to refer to than a piece of paper in your personnel file," she said. "Make it as complete as possible and emphasize your strengths, and that you are willing and anxious to learn and expand your expertise."
Secondly, if you want to take on new responsibilities, research what new skills and knowledge you are going to need and start to acquire them. Let your manager and employer know that you are getting development training, because many companies will subsidize such learning.
A third element is to make the effort to give a higher value to the organization. "You are getting paid to do a certain level, but look for things you can do that add value to the company," Ms. Reardon said, assuming that you are working on a promotion from within. But it also works from outside if you want in, she noted.
Developing a mentorship relationship with someone who has been in the position you aspire to will not only help you learn the ropes, but will also give you more confidence and open doors, said career coach Randall Craig, president of consulting firm Pinetree Advisors in Toronto.
By finding someone who is or has been in the position to which you aspire, you can learn what expertise and skills the position requires. And developing a dialogue with a mentor about your goal broadcasts the fact that you are interested in reaching that level. You can start to visualize yourself in that position.
Your visibility should not be confined to the workplace, Mr. Craig added. Spend more time networking at external events and bring the knowledge you gain back to your company and share it with colleagues and managers.
All of this can be done relatively quickly, but the sooner you start the better, Mr. Holbrow recommended.
"You'll get your best shot for the April promotion spike if you spend the next two months preparing. But you should really be planning for promotions that may be available a year or even three years down the road."
THE PATH TO PROMOTION
Make your goal known
Let managers know you aspire to get new challenges and gain more responsibility.
Update your profiles
Review your biographies on professional social media sites, highlighting current successes and skills and experience you're acquiring.
Fill in gaps
Do assessments of your strengths through self diagnosis or with a coach, and get feedback from others about your performance and potential shortcomings.
Have your résumé critiqued by a trusted colleague or career coach to make sure you are offering what employers are asking for now.
Highlight new skills
Take courses and develop skills that go beyond your current role and make sure your manager knows you are taking the initiative. Your company may even offer to cover your costs.
Develop a dialogue with a mentor who has been where you want to be. After the promotion, a strong relationship with a peer will also give you a friendly ear you can rely on for advice.
If a client thanks you for a job well done, suggest they provide you with an online recommendation or e-mail the praise to your manager.
Sing your praise
Find ways to remind managers of your accomplishments and encourage more frequent performance reviews. Even if your achievements have been monumental, they may have been overlooked.