can I apply for jobs now if I’m not available for many months?

A reader writes:

I’m in a bit of a job search conundrum that I was wondering if you could help me out with. I landed a year-long paid internship at my alma mater after I graduated last May. The position is great, but it was designed to be a springboard of sorts for recent graduates — they essentially want to prepare the intern to move on to grad school or more advanced work in the field after the employment time is up, and as a result my contract is only through next September. I could technically stay for another year, but it would be basically doing the same thing for the same pay and I am looking to move on (my boss knows this and is supportive).

I procrastinated a lot last year on the job search thing and would like to get a head start this year, especially since I’m looking to move out of the area. But since I will be employed through September at least, I have a couple questions on how to go about this.

1. Is it a bad idea to apply now to listed postings if I’m not immediately available? Should I make some sort of explanation or excuse in my cover letter (ie., “I’m worth waiting for!” or something)?

2. People have suggested that I just send a cold resume and cover letter to companies I’m interested in working for (ie., “I’m not available until September and technically you don’t have any job openings but I’m awesome and will do anything you want so keep me in mind!”). Good idea or bad idea? /how does one go about doing this correctly?

3. Do I just have to wait a little longer before starting this process? I just hate seeing so many great positions I’d be interested in working fly by me…

This is really tricky. Most employers (not all, particularly not larger ones, but most) are looking for people to start relatively soon, and usually won’t want to push the start date beyond a month from when the offer is made and accepted. Sometimes there’s some wiggle room of a few weeks beyond that, but you’re talking about looking nine months ahead of time, and it’s really unlikely that you’re going to find an employer willing to wait nine months for an opening they wanted to fill now.

But unfortunately, it’s not as simple as saying “so don’t start looking until July or August.”  For one thing, hiring processes take some time — often months. You could apply for a job in March and not get an offer until August. But other processes are faster — you could apply for a job in March and get an offer before April. It just depends on the employer, and it’s very hard to tell from the outside if they’re fast or slow.

Because of that, one option is to talk to your manager and find out how rigid your September ending date is, given the near impossibility of timing your job search precisely right. You might find out that it’s no big deal if you ended up leaving a month or two early. (Or you might find out that yes, it is a big deal — so make sure you’re genuinely asking, not implying that you’re intending to leave early.)  You could also ask about extending your position beyond September without committing to another full year, which would give you a buffer instead of tying you into one specific month.

In any case, I wouldn’t start looking nine months in advance; it’s just going to be too far off. And you can’t typically do the “I’m worth waiting for” thing when you’re a year out of school — to be truly worth waiting for (in an employer’s eyes, at least) you need to have a really impressive track record, and people don’t generally have that until they’re at more senior levels.

Now, as for your question about approaching companies cold, as opposed to in response to a particular opening, one advantage of doing that in your situation is that you might hear things back like, “We might be hiring for an X in the summer” and then you can note that and get back in touch with them closer to that time. But I’d rely on it being more of an information-gathering mission than something likely to produce job offers for months down the road, unless you truly have a highly unusual and in-demand skill set.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. anth

    One place that you could apply now is any federal jobs. That hiring process takes FOR-EVER. Also, many large research/policy organizations typically take a long time to run through the hiring process and their HR depts are used to recruiting entry level staff and may be more responsive to this type of applicant.
    Granted, I don’t know what field the OP is in…

    1. Tanya

      Came here to say that. I started a term federal position last July and I’ve gotten e-mails saying that I’ve been referred for other positions that I applied to last February. I’ve already restarted my search even though I anticipate I’ll be in this position another 6-7 months. On the off chance they need someone immediately I just don’t interview.

  2. aaron

    Depending on what you’re interested in doing/your major, it’s possible employers are in the middle of hiring college grads now, and even though you’re a year out of college, many are likely willing to consider you as a recent grad (especially because you’re currently still working at the university).

    So while cold-calling 9 months early wouldn’t be that productive, if you’re looking for something to do now, you could for companies that have programs to hire college grads, as these start earlier.

  3. lindsay

    You can start on other productive things related to a job search like doing informational interviews with the companies you’d be interested in or networking with others in your field. I previously did AmeriCorps and spent the whole year building a network to make my job transition easier – I found a job only after a month of being unemployed.

  4. Joey

    It might be a good idea to call any large companies you’re interested to ask for suggestions. Lots of companies fiscal years being in October so they usually know before hand how that might affect hiring around that time. Some will likely be able to give you a general idea of when so start looking.

  5. LLA

    Dear Alison, do you have any postings about the interview question: Did you apply to another similar Company?
    Thanks!!

  6. jmkenrick

    Some larger companies (Google comes to mind) offer jobs/programs aimed at recent grads, and they’ll start hiring for those positions several months in advance, with the start date shortly after graduation. I don’t know if you’d qualify (since you’ve already been working a year) but it might be worth looking into.

    1. SP

      I agree with this. In my industry (engineering/aerospace) new grad programs are generally used for anyone with less than 18 months of experience. They are generally willing to hire in advance. Nine months is a stretch, but you might want to try to sync up with the college recruiting cycle.

      This is more likely to work at big companies than smaller ones.

  7. Mike C.

    AaM’s advice here is sound, but I take a different view of the situation.

    Right now, your resume, cover letter and interviewing skills aren’t the best they can be, and that’s ok. It takes several drafts of these documents to start getting hits, and then a few interviews before you land something. For most folks, the job search is taking some months (mine took over a year!), so I would start applying now just so I could get into practice of quickly customizing resumes and letters and if you get any hits some interviews.

    Now unless you’re natural at these skills (and maybe you are, but this is for the benefit of folks like me who aren’t) you aren’t going to get interviews right away. Even if you do, there’s going to be a ton of competition for the positions. But you’re going to be honing those skills and when you’re ready to jump into a job you’ll have a much better resume/cover letter than you have now, and you’ll be way more comfortable during the interview process.

    Now let’s say you are a rock star getting offers left and right. If the employer can’t wait for you to finish school, there are plenty of other folks who can fill the position, and you’ll still be getting those offers once you graduate. And it’s not like you’re wasting anyone’s time here – after all you aren’t hiding the fact that it’s going to be a while.

    If that sort of thing doesn’t sit right with you, then write the resumes and cover letters anyway as practice and focus on informational interviews. The key here is that when bills need to get paid, you need to be able to jump on a job listing as soon as you see it with an effective representation of yourself and your skills and experience.

    1. Anonymous

      While I agree that it’s great to have practice, from an employer stand point I would be frustrated if I interviewd a candidate and offered them a position only to find out that they weren’t available because of another contract (as I believe OP is finishing up a work contract, not school). I realize you’re not obligated in any way to take a job just because it’s offered, but depending on your industry this could backfire.

      For example: I work in non-profit and the non-profit community in my city is very small so it’s not uncommon for us to shop around names of candidates with contacts in other organizations to see if they have any information. If I found out a candidate wouldn’t be available for 9 months I probably wouldn’t interview them, and if I found this information out after completing the interview process it would sour me towards that candidate for future opportunities.

      I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re going to use this approach make sure you’re up-front about when you’re available to start at the begining of the process so that companies with short hiring processes or who are looking for someone to start immediately don’t waste their time.

      Another alternative if you’re looking for practice would be to contact people who are hiring and ask if they would give you a mock-interview for the position, or look over your resume, and provide you with feedback. I did this several times before I finished school and found that many employers are open and enthusiastic about helping out young professionals.

      1. Mike C.

        First off, your alternatives are great ideas in their own right. All of those ideas certainly fulfill the idea of practice and are great for candidates. I would also add not to be afraid of resume writing services if they have good reviews. I did this as well and the change in response was incredible. A first draft got me an interview and the final got me a job.

        Anyway…

        I agree that the candidate should be upfront on this issue, but why would finding out about it during the interview seem like a waste and sour you to the candidate themselves for future opportunities? Unless your job listing says something along the lines of “must be able to start within such and such date”, or the candidate lies to you, I’m not sure how they aren’t wasting your time. And if you find out they aren’t right for you why hold it against them when in the future when they might be?

        Again, this might be a industry/culture thing. I’ve had experience in the pharma and am currently in aerospace and the start date issue was always discussed in the initial call screen.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’d say it’s totally fine to wait to bring it up until the phone screen … but if it’s one of those weird places that doesn’t bother with phone screens and moves straight to calling you in for an in-person interview, I’d ask about it before coming in.

        2. Anonymous

          To clarify…I was saying that if it reached the point where a candidate received an offer but had not mentioned they would be unavailable it would be frustrating. I also think that before going in for an interview (I’ve actually never had a job that does phone screens, they just interview right away) it should be mentioned. If the company isn’t interested in hiring someone who can’t start for a while and that person isn’t upfront about it they’ve wasted the interviewers time and taken an interview spot from someone else. In this case, 9 months is a long time to wait for a candidate. If the time period was shorter I would say it’s fine to bring it up in an interview.

          Basically, I would find it inconsiderate for a candidate to use up an interviewers time without discussing their limited availability up-front.

          1. KellyK

            I think that’s reasonable. I think it’s a good thing to mention in the phone interview if there is one, or prior to the interview if there’s not, if you can’t start within the next month or two. Some employers do require long notice periods and you’re looking at relocating, so I would think anything under two months can wait until the interview, because it’s more on par with what other candidates’ availability will be.

  8. HDL

    Wow, I have been dealing with almost this exact question! I’m a little further along in my career than the OP and I have the added complexity of coordinating with my husband for the whole thing. My thoughts so far have been in line with Anth’s and Mike’s because I am looking mostly at federal science jobs. Out of the applications I’ve sent so far, I haven’t had a single request for further information and only a handful of rejections (many have just disappeared into the Neitherworld). I wondered if my distant home address had something to do with that so lately I’ve been more careful to address the issues of travel and relocation in my cover letters. No help so far, but maybe as I get more practice in the crafting of letters and I get closer to my potential starting date (June or later) I will have more luck. I have also done a few informational interviews, from which I learned many useful things. Mainly, that there are fewer and fewer positions of the kind that interest me coming open and just getting a foot in the door with an internship or contract job is often the best way to go. Good luck, OP, I hope you find the right job for you on a hiring schedule you can work with!

    1. Holly

      Just wanted to say as someone who works in a Federal Science job…keep looking and applying as things open up, but don’t be discouraged by the lack of followup. Most agencies are on a hiring freeze right now, or at the very least under intense scrutiny before posting a position. In this political climate, I would also consider non-Fed positions as well, because I don’t see things changing anytime soon. My agency actually started laying people off this week (mostly Admin positions, but positions none-the-less).

  9. Tara

    HDL- Military Spouse? Sorry just assuming. I am a military spouse and I KNOW my husbands relocation date. I have been actively appying for jobs since August even though we dont relocate until March. I just recently, December, started receiving phone calls and interviews , so I would think the timing may need to be just right also. I never mentioned in my cover letters my relocation date, and when employers asked why I was applying from so far away, I explained that my “husbands job” (I never mention his military service, I feel that this scares many employers away because they know I will only be there temporarily) is relocating us to the area AND gave them the schpeel about timing. Regardless, I believe the poster who commented on “practice” hit the nail on the head. The calls and interviews I have recieved have been really good practice for me in interview, and writing, especially in a job market like this which is completely different from any I have ever applied in.

    1. HDL

      Not military, but I see the parallels! I am a scientist going from academia to the federal sector (hopefully). Husband is in the financial industrty, but he is not ready to actively look for a new position because in his field, hiring decisions can happen very quickly. We want to move back to our home state to be closer to extended family but we can’t sell our condo until June. That’s because we bought our first home during the time of the tax incentive – we have to live in the condo for three years or we have to pay back $8,000. I sure hope I start getting some calls and interviews so I can practice more than just my cover letters!

  10. Anonymous

    Academia is another area where hiring takes a long time in general (even for non-faculty position) and having a start date of Sept. or whenever the Fall semester starts is often workable.

  11. Rachel

    I like other people’s comments about using this time to gain job search skills. The only thing worse than people calling about jobs is people calling about jobs when they’re not even able to work.

  12. Joe

    One other note that I don’t see mentioned here: A lot of schools (especially larger universities) have job fairs and the like for graduating students, and many of them will also allow recent grads to take part in those events. Those typically happen several months before graduation, so companies recruiting there would come with the expectation that you wouldn’t start for a few months. It might be worth finding out if your alma mater has events like this. And even if they don’t, they might have a career services office that can help out with job hunting for recent grads.

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