application deadlines are misleading you

This was originally published on October 28, 2010.

You know when you see a job posting and it lists an application deadline? And then you figure you have until that deadline to apply?

Well, you might not.

Here’s why: A lot of job sites require the employer to list a deadline or closing date when submitting a post. There’s often no option for “we’re looking at candidates on a rolling basis.” So employers are forced to pick a date, even if it doesn’t reflect how they’re actually handling the search.

This is a bad system, because it forces employers to list information that might not be true and that will mislead candidates.  On the candidate side, you see that date and think “great, I have four weeks to submit my application.” But if the employer is actually looking at applications as they come in and talking to good candidates on a rolling basis, when you apply in four weeks, they may have already assembled a group of finalists they’re excited about, and thus the bar is going to be a lot higher for adding someone else in last-minute. Or they could be poised to make someone an offer, or the job could even have been filled already.

Of course, like everything in hiring, this is not universal. Different people handle things differently. But from the outside, it’s hard to know. (Personally, I will take a fantastic candidate at any time, even if the deadline has passed — I’m not going to turn away a great candidate because of an arbitrary deadline. But I also evaluate applications on a rolling basis, and if I find someone great before the deadline is up, I’m not going to risk losing her to another offer while I wait for the clock to finish ticking.)

So if you see a job you want to apply for, apply now, no matter what the application deadline says.

{ 38 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly L.

    I once got a job by applying to a posting that listed a date that had already passed! It turns out it was a high turnover position and they just didn’t update their website much.

  2. Adam

    My thing with deadlines is that I normally won’t apply to one that says the deadline has passed. I always figured they wouldn’t look at my application because they would decide I couldn’t meet regular work deadlines by extension that I couldn’t meet the one for the application.

    1. KerryOwl

      Couldn’t you just acknowledge in your cover letter that while deadline had passed, the listing was still up so you thought you’d give it a shot?

      1. Adam

        Makes sense. It’s not like I have anything to lose by trying as opposed to a real work setting.

      2. Elizabeth West

        I did that once and got an interview, but they ended up choosing another candidate. I think the hiring manager liked me though. It was nice of him to give me a shot.

    2. Kelly L.

      I wouldn’t assume that if I were the manager–when you’re working and you get a deadline, you know about it from the first moment the deadline exists. When a job listing has a deadline, you might have only just seen it that day. No one can possibly know of all the job openings out there, kwim? If I’d already hired, I’d just send back a polite “sorry, we filled it.”

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes, absolutely. And moreover, since some sites require you to fill in an application deadline when you’re posting an ad there, you have to put one in even if you don’t have a real deadline. Which means it displays a deadline with zero real-life meaning to the employer.

  3. My 2 Cents

    I found a great job listing last year and knew the deadline, so I spent the time polishing my resume (with the help of AAM) and really nailing the cover letter. Got it all done and checked back over the ad one final time only to realize that the deadline had actually passed a few days before. I already had everything done so I thought “what the hell, might as well apply”. I got the job.

  4. My 2 Cents

    In my current job I am HR, so I receive all of the incoming job applicants. For the ones we are receiving now for an open position it’s definitely paying to get you applications in early. My “yes” pile from the first week is much bigger than the “yes” pile from the second week because it takes more now to blow me away. The first week people were not competing against anyone but the second and third week or competing against the weeks before them, so it’s harder for them to rise to the top. This may not be fair, but it’s just the way it is.

      1. My 2 Cents

        I will once I am done going through all of the applications before we interview. I’ll go through the complete “Yes” stack and see if I want to take some out now that I’ve seen the entire pool.

  5. Ali

    I recently applied to a job that only had an application timeframe of one week. After reading here, I thought it might be because they already knew who they wanted to hire and were just doing it for show. But I’m hoping they call anyway since like Alison said, you can’t know from the outside.

    1. Rachel

      When I see a week timeline I usually assume they’re dummy openings for someone who has been offered a job under a government contract or similar legal situation. I was in that position once working in a federally run biology lab. My boss decided to hire me but as it was a government position he was legally required to list the position to other candidates (who, in reality, had no chance, because the point was to add me to the payroll, not look for a new lab person). If I see a week opening with an incredibly specific description (“The ideal candidate will have study abroad experience in Nigeria and Ecuador, be fluent in Icelandic and an expert at spinning angora,”) I’m even more convinced, because my boss did that to try to discourage people from wasting their time. I’ll still apply if I think I’m qualified, but I don’t really expect to hear anything back.

  6. TotesMaGoats

    It’s never going to hurt you to apply early and it might hurt to apply right up against the deadline so common sense says apply as soon as you see it.

  7. AdjunctForNow

    While looking for my academic job, I got a ton of first-round interviews at conferences in October and November. All of the applications said they were due December 1, but waiting would have meant missing out on their chance to informally meet me before then.

    1. College Career Counselor

      For administrative positions, the phrasing is usually:

      “position open until filled” and/or “Review of applications begins X Date.” (occasionally, you’ll see something like “applications received by x date will receive primary consideration”)

      I’ve taken “review begins” to mean the drop-dead date to get your application in. But I think higher ed administration is more likely to consider EVERYthing that makes it in by the deadline (and occasionally after if you’re a stellar candidate).

  8. Somedude

    How long should someone wait after a closing deadline to follow up and find out whether any decisions have been made?

    1. Bryan

      In general, if they want you they will contact you and this goes for any stage in the process. If you have interviewed haven’t heard back and have another offer or something then it is ok to reach out and say, “I have gotten an offer but you’re my number 1 choice.”

    2. Catbertismyhero

      Generally, if you are applying through an automated system, you will get a reply telling you that they will contact you if they want to interview you. If you don’t hear anything, then they are not interested.

  9. Parfait

    This bit me once. I applied just before the deadline, but they had already identified who they wanted to hire. I was shocked that they had already completed interviewing before the deadline; I assumed they wouldn’t even start to interview until afterward.

    Lesson learned!

  10. Anonymous

    Well, this is bad news for me, thanks for letting your readers know. I am applying to a lot of positions, so I usually prioritize which to do next by the deadlines. Maybe from now on I should prioritize based on which positions I want the most, and if I miss a closer deadline because I’m applying for a more-desired, but more-distant-deadline position first, then that is preferrable?

    What about big state universities that post “best consideration dates” and have hiring committees for staff positions? I applied for a communications coordinator position at a state university, and a committee of I think 8-10 people looked at my resume before deciding to bring me in for an interview. I went through 2 rounds (1/2 day each) of interviews and was one of their top 3 candidates, but did not end up getting the job. I want to apply for another similar position at that university, any thoughts as to whether hiring committees would look at applications before the “best consideration date”? And if there is a hiring committee, would HR weed out any applications before sending them along, or would the hiring committee review all of the applications?

    1. fposte

      I think that varies from institution to institution. When I’ve been on a hiring committee at ours, we see all the applications, even the incomplete ones–as far as I can tell HR doesn’t touch them, they just handle the settings on the application interface.

      Individually speaking, I look at applications whenever it’s convenient to me after they come in; I don’t wait until some significant date and then force myself through a pile. There may be informal communications, but I don’t think the committee is likely to meet earlier, though.

      1. College Career Counselor

        HR may screen out the ones that don’t meet the minimum requirements (but as a search committee chair, I’ve had to go through that pile to make sure something didn’t get inadvertently mis-sorted). Same as you, I try to look at the applications, make comments, notes, etc. on qualifications before the committee meets. In my experience, the committee may meet early to go through a portion of the submitted applications (particularly if there are a lot), but they’ll also look at everything that comes in by the deadline.

        1. fposte

          They sure didn’t screen those out for mine :-). If it went into the system for this job, we saw it. We even saw a blank application that was eventually removed.

  11. Clara

    This is so depressing! I was going to work on an application this weekend for position with Monday listed as it’s deadline–should I not even bother??

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Of course you should still bother. I’m explaining to you that there can be more to this than meets the eye, but that you’ll never get considered if you apply close to the deadline.

  12. LittleT

    Well this is slightly depressing, but as others have pointed out, I shouldn’t be surprised by this.

    Yes, the early bird gets the worm and in ideal situations, you apply asap. But sometimes you’re not even aware of the job posting until they’re a week or 2 into the process and then the deadline is only a few days away.

    Additionally, there have been times when I’ve needed an extra few days or a week to psych myself up, do a self-pep talk & convince myself that I *can* do the job and apply for it.

  13. JMegan

    Just for the exception that proves the rule – government and other taxpayer-funded organizations don’t usually operate like this. Everywhere I’ve worked, they won’t look at any applications until after the deadline has passed, and then they look at them all together.

    So it doesn’t matter if you applied ten minutes after the posting, or ten minutes before the deadline, your resume still goes in the same screening pile. The flip side, of course, is that if you apply ten minutes *after* the deadline, you’re going to be SOL.

    I expect the thinking behind this is that it improves transparency – everyone is getting the exact same treatment, and no special favours to those who apply late.

  14. kas

    I always wait until the last minute unless it’s a position I’m really excited about. I know I shouldn’t but I always end up putting them off to apply to ones with a closer deadline, or I get lazy. I have like 3 jobs to apply to expiring Monday that I’ve had sitting around for like 3 weeks. Never doing that again now ..

  15. HR Manager

    This is very good advice. We often times post jobs on a job board that automatically lists the job for 30 days, however the hiring manager wants to fill the position as soon as possible. We might collect resumes for one week and then start calling for interviews. This doesn’t necessarily mean that applying later keeps you out of the running, especially if you are a strong candidate, but it helps to apply early. However, I do flag strong resumes that I think might be a good fit for an opening that I know is coming up in the near future.

  16. Canadian Controller

    Just want to chime in that I posted a position on my association’s jobs site last Wednesday afternoon and the posting has an expiry date two months from now. I have 40 resumes and 5 interviews set up for next week. Sure, I’ll keep looking at resumes as they come in and set up more interviews, but they have to be pretty spot-on with the requirements at this point.

  17. Beebs

    I once saw a posting that was just posted that day, a Friday, with a deadline a month away. I worked on my application over the weekend and sent it Sunday evening. Monday afternoon I was called to interview on Tuesday. By that Friday they had filled the position. Entire process for them was one week, so much for the month long timeline and the people who thought they had 3 more weeks to apply.

  18. BGenuine

    I’ve seen some job postings that show a deadline that is 6-12 months away… anyone have any insight as to what’s going on there? Is it just an arbitrary date so they can look on a rolling basis as Alison suggested?

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