application deadlines are misleading you

Posts this week will include some reprints of older posts that I still love. This post 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.

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. Just a Reader*

    I think it’s always best to apply ASAP. I got my job by applying for a different one as soon as it was posted.

    The one I ended up getting wasn’t posted when I originally applied, but I was interviewed for it before it was made public, and was the first candidate in the door. They looked at a lot of candidates but I was able to make an impression due to being early.

  2. ChristineH*

    The other thing about deadlines that are a bit far off is that it increases my bad habit of sitting on a job of interest and finding ways to talk myself out of applying. lol.

  3. Theguvnah*

    This just happened to me (on the hiring side) – the nonprofit job site where my org posts things defaults to a one-month posting. So I truly did have my finalists and then received 1-2 strong resumes that would have qualified for an interview if they had come in earlier, but didn’t quite reach the bar my finalists had set.

    I felt bad but also felt like – what took you so long? My field is small enough that good jobs get circulated quickly on listserves and the like, so I 100% agree with AAM’s opinion here!

    it’s like voting: apply early and often :)

    1. fposte*

      Since Mike C. hasn’t weighed in yet, I’ll be the one to note that you’re expecting people to realize that your ad doesn’t mean what it says, which isn’t really fair. I mean, you get to do what you want, but you can’t really be “what took you so long?” for people who took long because you told them they could.

      1. Theguvnah*

        My ad actually doesn’t specify an end date – the website it is posted on allows me to purchase a minimum of a 30-day posting.

        I’m more referring to the fact that jobs in my field get spread like wildfire (since there aren’t that many) so it benefits people to apply asap.

  4. Parfait*

    This happened to me recently. I applied at least a week before the posted deadline for an internal position (which I’d been encouraged to apply for by the hiring manager), but they’d already done their interviews and selected someone. Lesson learned! Procrastination is the thief of more than just your own time.

    1. Catherine*

      Yep. I lost what could have been a really awesome job this way. They interviewed me because I was a strong candidate, but had already made an offer to another person. I was interviewed before he accepted, so they were seeing if he was going to take it or not. But I should have applied the minute I saw it – instead, I sat on it for a few weeks of vacillation about getting a new job and staying in my current (sucky) job, which didn’t suck as bad at the time but is now sucking in the utmost.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    If you’re trolling job boards, like those through a school or state career center, I’ve found it’s best to look at them at LEAST every day, even if they don’t seem to post often. I sent something late because I skipped a couple of days, and missed my chance.

  6. brendapie*

    Yesterday I applied to a job that was posted Friday afternoon and now I’m stressing out. The position is at a very high profile organization so I’m quite sure many people saw the position open and that many of them applied. I interviewed for the same position a year ago and I hope my application doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Since I had interviewed with them before, I was worried about coming across as too eager by applying too soon after the position was posted.

    From my experience at a college campus, I was part of the hiring process for a student position and my manager cut off applications after a certain amount. So even though the position was listed as open on the job website, we printed out what we felt was a sufficient number of applications and started looking for suitable candidates. It was just too time consuming to go through every application.

  7. brendapie*

    I agree. I had a number of issues with him and he definitely had a “I can’t be bothered by this” attitude. I felt bad because the position was highly coveted and entry level and I was constantly asked if we had any openings. We did look through around 250-300ish applications in one sitting (very long night) so at the time I felt like we gave consideration to a good number of people.

    Years now, and as a job applicant myself, I feel different about the situation!

  8. JessB*

    Absolutely! I applied for (one of) my dream job at the beginning of the year, when the post had been up for two weeks and still had a week to run. But I got an autoreject immediately! I contacted them to ask (politely, respectfully) why, and was told that they had already had over 100 applicants for one position and that they had 4 interview slots to fill.

    I completely appreciated their time constraints, but I was kicking myself for not putting in the effort sooner. I would have been great at the job, but with over 100 applicants before me I can totally understand that they would already have come across people equally, if not more qualified. Just my bad luck, but a good lesson to learn.

  9. Rana*

    One more for the “academic hiring works differently” file. If the position announcement is for a full-time faculty position, those deadlines are real. They won’t even start looking at application packets until that deadline passes. For tenure-track jobs, that’s usually some point in the fall (so that the committee has time to review applications before the first big conference, usually held around New Year’s). For shorter-term hires (like one-year positions and leave replacements) it’s more typically in the spring, since the process is shorter, since less is at stake.

    Of course, for part-time adjunct positions, it’s rolling expressions of interest, and it’s entirely possible that you can be called the night before a course begins to see if you might be willing to teach it (this is not a normal situation, but it does happen, as my husband found out just this week!).

    I have no idea if this also applies to academic staff positions; I rather doubt it.

    1. Rana*

      This is all driven by the logic of the academic semester/term system; since people are hired to teach for a term, and leaving in the middle of one for anything other than a major, life-changing emergency is unthinkable – really, if you do that, you will be on everyone’s blacklist for a very long time – there’s no reason to have rolling hires. Even if you offer them the job in January, they won’t – and if currently teaching, can’t – start work until the summer at the earliest.

      1. TW*

        I work in a research area that hires mostly academic people and my husband is forever amazed that you can accept a job in December that you will not be starting until the next August.

        In that same vein I hate when an applicant starts calling me weeks before the deadline asking if we have started yet even though the ad clearly states when application review will begin.

  10. Laura*

    I completely agree with this post. I found out about the job that I currently hold on an internet job site. The close date that my employer listed online for sending in resumes ended up being completely inaccurate. Since my employer received so many resumes for the position, they closed the application process early. Actually, I ended up receiving my job offer a full week before the displayed close date. If I would have procrastinated and waited to submit my resume and cover letter right before the listed close date, I would have been out of a job. That is why it is really important to submit your application/resume as soon as a position is listed.

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