|  March 1, 2017

How far in advance should you apply for a job?

There are many times in life where we may be anticipating a job search but not necessarily ready to dive into one right away for logistical reasons. Here are just a few things that may stand in the way of starting a new job today:

  • You haven’t graduated from school yet
  • You’re waiting to relocate
  • You’re waiting to collect on a bonus before you leave your company
  • You’re waiting to hit a certain milestone (or finish a project) before you leave your company

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 want to be proactive.

So, how far in advance can you apply to a job before you’re ready to start working?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t one-size-fits-all. For example, entry-level training programs or internship programs start at a specified time and often are hired for many months in advance. General resume drops don’t have specific timelines and are a way for you to get into a company’s database.

However, if we’re talking regular roles that are posted online, that are either replacements (because someone quit) or new additions (based on company growth or new needs) the ideal timing to apply is 1-3 months in advance of when you can actually start working.

3 months is almost pushing it and 1 month is probably waiting a bit too long. The sweet spot is somewhere right in the middle. Here’s my rationale.

The recruiting process can be slow, but it’s not expected to go on forever

Recruiters know that they can’t just snap their fingers and make the perfect hire appear (we wish!) There are lots of different time to fill metrics out there but in my experience, 2 months from start to finish isn’t crazy. 

If that sounds long to you, just think about the typical recruiting process for a moment:

  • Upload a job posting > gather applicants > screen applicants
  • 1st round of interviews (usually a phone screen with the recruiter) > 2nd round of interviews (usually working around many constrained schedules) > sometimes even a final round of interviews after that (rounds 1 and 2 often have multiple candidates going through at the same time)
  • Gathering feedback > coming to a consensus > making a final decision
  • Checking references > putting together an offer > giving the offer > potentially needing to adjust the offer > waiting for candidate to decide
  • Candidate gives at least 2 weeks notice before starting

You can see how time starts to pile on here, and this isn’t even taking into account that recruiters are going through this process for MANY jobs at the same time and dealing with other stakeholders with crazy schedules, vacations, and very different opinions. The time can really add up!

Based on this, if I come across the perfect candidate today and I know they can’t start for a month or two, that might be okay because I know how long the process usually takes. That being said, once a team finds the person they want to hire, they’d generally like for them to start way sooner.

Applying more than 3 months out wastes your time, and theirs

If you’re applying to a live open job and can’t start working for over 3 months, it’s not going to be a great use of your time. 

If this fact is obvious from your resume (i.e. a graduation date), the company probably isn’t going to call you to begin with. If it’s not obvious from your resume and you do start interviewing, your timeline will eventually come up. The further along in the process you’ve gone, the more annoyed a company will be when they find out you’re not willing to start for 4 months.

Now I’m not saying it’s impossible for a company to decide to wait for the right person, but more often than not they are just going to move on to screen candidates who can start sooner. 

My general rule of thumb is that you should only apply for jobs that you could and would actually accept if an offer was given to you. This also means you shouldn’t be applying to roles you have no real interest in.

It’s simply not a good use of your time, and your time is valuable!

So then what should I do with my time while I’m waiting?

The quick answer is that you should network. There is no such thing as being too proactive when it comes to networking for your job search. 

I would suggest making a list of your top 20-30 dream companies and doing the very best you can to form relationships with someone (can be almost anyone!) inside of those companies.

I recommend doing this by setting up informational interviews and I have a whole post on this here. You can reach out to friends, acquaintances, alumni, or total strangers. You have unlimited options and LinkedIn will help you find nearly anyone these days.

If you build connections inside your dream companies early on, you can then set job alerts to stay on top of postings, and apply when the time is right.

After you apply, you’ll have someone prepped and ready to send your resume to and ask for help or even a referral. In my mind, this is a MUCH better use of your time than spraying applications around 6 months in advance of when you actually want to make a move.

If you’re thinking about being proactive about your job search but aren’t ready today, I hope this post will give you some good food for thought. If you’re interested in learning more about effective networking, check out that section of the blog here and join us for our next free webinar on this topic.

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