More about holiday job searching. Here's some advice from Duncan Mathison, a career consultant and author of "Unlock the Hidden Job Market: Six Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times are Tough."

Mathison makes the point about early new year hiring even more strongly than I did in the last post. Managers who see their reports struggling under heavy workloads caused by layoffs are probably asking about adding headcount. If they get the go-ahead, they'll go. The trick is to catch that wave now so you can surf into a start date in January.

So, he said, if you do talk to someone at your target companies ask about plans for next year. Don't be put off by vague discussion of more cuts. What matters is whether your function is being added. Ask about the employer's plans for the coming year. Is there a new product to launch or a new market to open? Is there a new emphasis on quality or some other corporate initiative? Try to find out. Sometimes it's a secret, but other times, it is simply a matter of nobody asking the question. What's you know, see how you can respond. (Maybe you'll be the answer to some company's new year's resolution!)

Mathison said that you should try to start the hiring process even before the position is approved.  Naturally, a hiring manager will be reluctant to promise a job until he gets a clear go-ahead. But there are questions you can ask. For example, you can ask, "Are there other people you think I should meet as this job is under consideration?" Or, "If you do get the budget, are you confident that I am the right person for the job."