|  February 20, 2013

How far in advance can you apply for a job?

In asking our readers what was on their minds, I came across this really good question. I’m sure many people (especially people waiting to graduate) have this same question: “How far in advance can you apply for a job?”

Waiting to graduate isn’t the only constraint people have – time constraints can also include wrapping up another commitment, relocating, and much more.  When you have a date you need to stick to, the job search can get a little more complicated because you don’t want to jump the gun, but you also don’t want to wait too long and be in a position where you’re unemployed for too long of a time while you are searching.

Unfortunately the answer to this question isn’t “one size fits all”. It will depend on what types of roles you are applying to (is it a regular role just posted online, a formal “program”, an internship, etc.?)

For the sake of this post, let’s say you’re applying for open roles that are posted online. Maybe they’re entry level, maybe they’re not.  Either way, let’s say they are the types of roles that are posted by companies on an “as needed basis” (i.e. someone is quitting).

how far in advance can you apply for a job

In this case, I’d suggest applying no earlier than 3 months in advance of when you are ready to start.  Here’s why:

  • The recruiting progress can be slow – but it’s not infinate.  Since recruiters and companies know this, 2-3 months is generally accepted as a typical timeline even though it is a bit long.
  • It’s slow because companies need time to do lots of different things – take a look at a typical recruiting process below:
    1. advertise the role
    2. gather applicants
    3. review applicants
    4. interview applicants
    5. have others interview applicants
    6. gather feedback
    7. check references
    8. put together and offer
    9. negotiate an offer
    10. wait for the candidate to give notice if they accept
  • When you look at all those steps, it make total sense that the process is going to take at least 6 weeks… and generally longer.
  • Therefore, as a candidate, you can account for the fact that the process is going to take time and apply in advance of when you can actually start

On the flipside, here’s why you shouldn’t apply further out than 3 months:

  • For a recruiter, it’s not ideal to have a candidate who can’t start for 3+ months.  
    • Usually hiring managers feel they want their roles filled “yesterday” so waiting for someone to graduate in May (when it’s January) is generally not going to fly for a role that’s currently posted. Because of that, I wouldn’t expect a lot of calls if it’s obvious you can’t start until a certain date.
  • It can be seen as wasting the company’s time.
    • The general rule of thumb is that you should only apply for jobs that you could and would actually take (if given to you). This also means you shouldn’t be applying to roles you have no real interest in.
  • It is a waste of your time.
    • You should save your time and energy to apply to roles that you have a chance at being called in for. Know that not being able to join the company for 3+ months could be a dealbreaker.

But I want to be proactive, what can I do?

As mentioned above, the exception to the rule is with “programs”.  Programs, whether they are for internships, entry-level, or mid-level, generally start on a certain date but start the recruiting process well ahead of time.  You’re more likely to find these programs at large companies so start looking there first.

If you are currently in school, participating in on-campus recruiting is another way to get proactive about your job search.  Companies are likely to come on campus looking to meet you well in advance of start dates.

Now keep in mind… Like I mentioned above 3 months is a somewhat “subjective” number. There is no “across the board” rule that says how far in advance you can apply for a job.  Based on my experience in recruiting, this was my line in the sand between viable candidates that could meet the company’s needs and those who could not.  Every company is a bit different and companies that skip some of the steps above, may have a lower threshold (i.e. need someone to start in 4 weeks).

I’d love to hear about your experiences with recruiting timelines. Please share them in the comments!

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