is it worth applying to a job that was posted a few weeks ago?

by Ask a Manager on May 23, 2011

Sorry for not posting since Thursday; I’ve been flu-ish! In any case, a reader writes:

I am currently on the job hunt and I had a question about applying to jobs online. You know how most websites will tell you the job has been posted 1 day ago, 28 days ago, etc. For some reason, I have concluded that I need to apply to a job the first week they post the position to have the best chances of being hired. Although I heard that it can take up to a month for the company to hire anyone for the position, I feel that applying to a job that was posted 3 weeks ago isn’t that promising. What is your take on this situation?

There’s no universal rule here; different employers handle things differently. It also varies depending on the type of position; for instance, an entry-level, low-skill job might be filled very quickly from the first week’s worth of qualified applicants, while a more senior, higher-skill job can often take months.

But even there, it varies by employer — for instance, for me, three weeks after I post a job, I’m still excited to get a really high-quality applicant. Hell, I’m still excited to get a really high-quality applicant up until I’m about to make an offer, which is typically at least four weeks from the posting and usually closer to six or eight. And there have been plenty of times when I’ve been feeling unenthusiastic about my strongest candidates and am thrilled when someone great shows up a few weeks in to change the playing field. And lots of other good employers operate this same way.

On the other hand, there are people who look for the first five qualified applicants in their stack, interview those, and ignore everyone else. (These people aren’t great at hiring, because there are wildly varying degrees of “qualified,” and if you want to hire really well, you want to draw from the broadest pool possible. But they’re out there.)

However, it’s very difficult to know from the outside how a particular employer works … and there are enough employers on each side of this divide that you can’t even really make a good guess. So if you want the job, you should definitely apply. Does that mean you’ll risk spending time applying to a job that is already filled? Yep, it does. But it also means that you won’t pass over a job you’d really like because you’re mistakenly assuming it’s been filled, when it hasn’t been.

You should apply quickly though. Don’t think it over for days and days or procrastinate; that job could be getting filled while you’re waiting. If you want the job, apply now.

(As an interesting side note, I’ve often found that the strongest candidates’ applications often come in late in the process. I figure this is because they’re not applying to everything they see, or even job-searching on a regular basis; they’re being more selective and even leisurely in their job search. That’s not to say I haven’t had great candidates apply in the first few days, but it’s a definite pattern that shows up almost every time.)

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sabrina May 23, 2011 at 11:40 am

Generally I don’t bother. I figure they are probably ignoring resumes after that long, and while those may not be the people who are good at hiring, I doubt anyone would argue with me that the world has an overabundance of competent people, and including those who work in HR. However, if I it’s a company I really like or a job description I think really fits well, I’ll apply anyway. Having said that, there’s rarely a job that would fit into those two categories because I watch out for them pretty closely. Now and then one sneaks by.

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Rachel - Former HR Blogger May 23, 2011 at 11:47 am

Sooner is definitely better. It’s still worth a try later on. However, just be aware that you may not even get looked at if you’re applying well after the posting. There’s really nothing to lose but some time putting your application materials together.

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Diana May 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I agree with Allison – if you want the job, apply for it! Apply within a day of discovering the ad or you’ll talk yourself out of what could be a perfect opportunity. If there is a closing date on the posting, be mindful of it (and perhaps even mention in your CL your excitement at still having a chance to throw your hat in the ring). If a job is posted, it is fair game to apply. Let them tell you it’s too late, if they are the type of organization to even reply to every submission. Some electronic submission portals will automatically prevent you from applying if there is a closing date/time function, but you really don’t have much to lose to apply to another job. (I spent 10 months unemployed, so I know that submitting yet another tailored resume/CL is sometimes extra frustrating and seems a certain disappointment, but often those last-minute applications spark a little extra sense of excitement and possibility, and ideas about pursuing other branches of your industry of expertise.) Good luck!

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Cassy May 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Something I’ve noticed about applying to jobs on career websites is that when they say a timeframe, they are typically talking about the timeframe the job has been posted on their website. Thus, it may have been listed on the company’s website for a couple days or even a couple weeks earlier. I noticed this when cross-referencing Monster, Simply Hired and Indeed job postings. So the jobs you think have been open for a week, might have already been open 2 or 3 weeks. It just depends…

I say apply to anything you are qualified for and interested in! It never hurts to get your information out there, if not for that one job, then perhaps for another at the company opening up soon and un-posted. You never can know!

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Morag May 23, 2011 at 1:07 pm

It really depends on the company. At mine, while the job ad is up, the only evaluation being done is whether or not the reviewing committee thinks they have enough candidates to make the pool competitive. Only after the ad is closed does serious evaluation start so the first person to apply and the last person to apply are on equal footing.

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Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I applied for my current job over a fourth of July weekend–I wanted my application in HR the first thing Monday morning. Tuesday I received an email from the coding manager, I interviewed and took a (medical) coding test on that Thursday, and the next Tuesday HR called and offered me the job. So, depending on the employer, it could be a quick process. That being said, you are guaranteed not to get the job if you don’t apply.

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Michelle May 23, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I’ve had it go both ways. I applied within hours of seeing a job ad, and the employer called me 6 months later for an interview because the position had been put on hold. Another time, I responded to an ad that had been up for at least 2 weeks and the company called me right away.

I’ve also applied, heard nothing and received a call months later because another position had opened up.

So now I apply to whatever I’m most interested in and qualified for, regardless of how old the job ad is. It’s such a crapshoot sometimes. Best of luck!

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Matthew T. Forrest May 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I couldn’t agree more with Allison on this one. In today’s ultra-competitive environment employers have the option of being more selective than ever. Because of this, some employers take their time when making a hiring decision. It won’t hurt to submit a resume and cover letter and even follow up in person to see if you can speak to the hiring manager.

Matthew Forrest
Social Media Marketing Intern
YouTern

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Ask a Manager May 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Thanks, Matt! One thing though: Do not, do not, do NOT ever follow up in person (unless it’s retail or food service or another industry where this is typical). More on this here: http://www.askamanager.org/2009/03/should-show-up-without-appointment.html

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Matthew T. Forrest May 23, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Okay, I will check out that other blog post right now. Thank you!

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Erin May 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I’m really glad that you gave this response to this post. Showing up in person to follow up is one of my biggest turn-offs when I’m hiring, and someone who does that automatically goes to the bottom of my list. And your blog post on the subject makes a great case for why I feel this way.

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Josh S May 23, 2011 at 2:09 pm

This morning, I actually wondered about your absence the past few days. Apparently your blog is one of my favorite reads in the RSS feed each day. I hope you feel better soon!

In regards to the OPs comments, it highly *highly* depends on where you are looking at job postings. I have found that for most online sites (Monster.com etc), you have to apply the day the job is posted (for anything I’ve ever applied for, which is up to mid-level management). My impression (completely anecdotal, so YMMV) is that most companies use these as a way to say “We cast a wide net for candidates” rather than as an actual means of getting candidates. Often, job sites post a job listing a few days (or weeks) after a company’s internal site, so they’re not as ‘up to date’ as they’d like you to think.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at a company’s own job site or getting a referral from a network contact, it may not be as necessary to respond immediately. They know you are paying attention to *their* website, and not just a search result, or that you have some particular interest in the company. Fewer people are likely to do that (sadly) so it may take a while longer for the stream of qualified candidates to come in.

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Liz in a library May 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I agree that sooner is better, but when my department is hiring, we accept and carefully read all applications that we get up until the point that we make an offer (at which point we remove all posted job ads, which is one of my biggest irritations with companies, but an issue for another day).

So I wouldn’t give up hope on a job; if it seems like a really good fit, there is nothing to lose by applying.

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NicoleW May 23, 2011 at 2:40 pm

This is so timely for me! Just this weekend I ran into a problem with a job posted 4 weeks prior. I saw a great listing for a non-profit on Simply Hired and spent nearly 2 hours customizing the “perfect” cover letter (I know that’s long, but I got crazy re-editing and it’s a change of industry for me). When I went to apply through the company’s web site, the job listing was gone. But it’s still listed on Simple Hired. Bummed!

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Anonymous May 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Life’s about being in the right place at the right time. At my current company the only rule is making sure we hire the best candidate so interviewing timelines mean nothing. We’ve had great candidates come along during the final phase of the top 3 candidates and we made the decision to let them in. At my last job I can remember several times we were hiring for a popular position with a great salary, got upwards of 400 resumes (and this was long before the current recession) and disliked all of the final candidates. We obviously did a crappy job of filtering but that’s beside the point. In that situation, we would have jumped at a great candidate months after the job was posted. I’ve been involved in other hiring situations where we hired a candidate quickly and immediately knew we made a huge mistake. That’s another situation where a late applicant would have more than welcome.

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Sarah G May 24, 2011 at 12:13 am

Michelle touched on this possible outcome, but remember that if your resume impresses the employer, they might very well consider you for another position if one opens up soon. My current job isn’t the one I actually applied for at this agency, but it’s a perfect fit.

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doublelles May 24, 2011 at 5:42 am

Agreed: it really does depend on the company. In my recruiting team, we are assessing applicants as they come and are organising interviews as soon as possible. We are not closing the ad first and reviewing applications afterwards. Being an early candidate might get you in the first interview round, and if the hiring manager is happy with you, you might be hired right away.

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Joe May 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Just another note to agree with what several people have said above: You have nothing to lose by applying, and there is a possibility it’s still open. I know that on my team, our hiring policy is “interview people on a rolling basis until we find someone who is a good enough fit”, and our standards are fairly high. In the past, we’ve had positions that were open for months before finding a suitable candidate.

One other thing that people haven’t mentioned: even if the position is already filled, if you get your resume in the door, many companies will keep it on file, so the next time they have a vacancy that you might match, they could contact you without you needing to apply specifically to that new job. (Which is not to say that you shouldn’t keep your eyes open and apply to other openings, just that it could be another possible advantage.)

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Alexis May 25, 2011 at 12:26 am

Nothing ventured, nothing gained! What is the downside of applying? NOTHING! I found the best part time job of my entire life while looking through craigslist for the first time. The job sounded like a perfect fit for my needs, but it had been posted nearly 3 weeks earlier. I decided to try it anyway, and I’m so glad I did. I was called the very next day and it was a fabulous experience. I say, go for it! And I agree with other posters that it’s quite possible that the employer will keep you in mind for another position if the horse has already left the stable this time.

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Autumn October 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm

does anyone know if you update your application once you have submitted, does it move it down in the application pool (close to later applicants)? Or would HR still see that you applied earlier?

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