what do application deadlines really mean?

A reader writes:

I’m confused about job closing dates. I recently saw a listing online for a position that was posted on the company’s website in February and was said to be posted until mid-April. This is a private company, so not one that is regulated by federal guidelines dictating how long the job should remain up.

I was interested in the job so I decided to apply, but I wonder if it was a waste of time. Even though the listing is still up, how likely is it that they haven’t started interviewing candidates a month in? When companies post a closing date to the job, do they typically consider every application submitted up to the closing date? I understand it is the absolute deadline for applying, but does a job’a closing date typically indicate anything else to jobseekers (such as “this is the date you can expect to hear from us by if we’re interested” or “this is when interviews will begin”)?

It totally varies by company.

Some companies are pretty rigid about not starting to interview people until the deadline. Others look at applications as they come in and interview people on a rolling basis and will make a hire if they find the perfect person ahead of the deadline, or will at least be much more selective about who they interview as time goes on (if they know they already have a couple of candidates who are really strong).

It can also vary depending on the type of position. Entry-level, low-skill jobs are more likely to be filled quickly, while more senior, harder-to-fill jobs can take months and months.

But there’s absolutely no way to know the outside what this particular company is doing. Given that, you should apply if you’re interested, even if it’s very close to the deadline.

However, you should also factor in what I wrote above and apply pretty quickly when you have the chance to do that — because the opposite of this is people who take the deadlines too literally and assume they’ll definitely have the same chance if they apply the day before the deadline as they would have a month earlier … or who are shocked when a posting comes down earlier than the listed deadline.

If you’re thinking that seems unfair, an application deadline isn’t meant to communicate “you will have exactly the same shot as everyone else as long as you apply before this date.” Generally, it really just means “we don’t think we’ll want to keep reviewing applications after this date, although who knows, maybe we will, and maybe we’ll stop earlier.”

{ 35 comments… read them below }

    1. Audiophile*

      Didn’t someone recently post in an open thread or maybe it was a regular reader question, about a job emailing them to say they couldn’t review their application because they’d met their threshold for applicants?

    2. hermit crab*

      And then there are apparently people who think last-minute applicants are all horrible procrastinators (as in the “Should you penalize job candidates who apply at the last minute?” post from a while back) — hopefully that is not too common, though!

      1. paul*

        That’s up there with not having enough flair on your vest. Grr.

        God forbid I didn’t see a listing well in advance of the closing date ya know?

  1. Big10Professor*

    There’s really never a good reason to wait to apply (beyond, like, two-three days to polish your application materials and make sure they’re your best).

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That’s true, but it’s also ok to apply if you only saw the posting recently and the deadline hasn’t passed. You should just recalibrate your expectations to know that the employer may have already reached their application threshold.

    2. So Very Anonymous*

      Well, I usually have a lot of things going on and so I tend to wait until closer to the deadline so that I can have my c.v. as up to date as possible. I’m waiting now to hear about something that, if it goes through, will be a major thing to include in cover letter/c.v., so I’m holding off on a couple of applications with later dates so that I can include this Very Exciting Thing if need be.

  2. LBK*

    Yeah…I would read nothing more explicit into an application deadline than “This is vaguely around the time we think we’re likely to probably stop looking at applications. Maybe.” It could really be anything from a true, rigid deadline and they won’t even touch applications until it passes to an unnecessarily required field on the hiring system that they just threw a date into arbitrarily and will never think about again.

    In general I’d say applying earlier is better but if the listing is still up, you lose nothing by still submitting an application. Worst thing that happens is you don’t get the job, which could’ve happened even if you applied 5 minutes after the posting went up.

    1. Kyrielle*

      If it’s a jobs board with an automated system, it could also be the date at which the listing automatically comes down if not manually removed.

      In which case, a company that plans to “accept applications until we have enough to interview, interview until we have enough we’re confident in our hire” and has no strong time frame is going to set it pessimistically, since if they don’t get good candidates they don’t want it to fall off of its own accord before they find someone.

      Which doesn’t mean they’ll still be hiring then.

      1. LBK*

        But it doesn’t mean they won’t be hiring by then, either. We’ve also had a few situations in my department where we didn’t find anyone we liked by the auto-takedown date so the listing got re-upped as soon as it came down – we most definitely had not stopped hiring by the deadline.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Oh, agreed! It’s not an argument against applying – it’s an argument against not delaying your application unduly because you have “lots of time” until the deadline.

          I got a very good job at one point applying a stretch position that had reposted twice.

          1. LBK*

            Gotcha – I’m following you now. Agreed that it’s not like a paper where you can write it any time up until the due date and it’s all the same.

  3. Non-profiteer*

    Perfectly illustrating the fact that if there is a company/org you want to work for, check their website often! And monitor the lists and aggregate sites very regularly! It might not hurt you to be a later applicant, but I think it can only help you to be an earlier applicant.

    1. Antilles*

      I think it can only help you to be an earlier applicant.
      Yeah, I’m trying to think of any potential downside to being an early applicant rather than waiting to apply and I can’t think of one. I guess maybe if you applied so far in advance of the deadline that you accepted a different job before the deadline even hit…but even then, you (a) have a job (yes!) and (b) just need to send a 2-minute call/email to politely withdraw your application and wish them luck.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Only if the job requirements are a little unrealistic and you don’t meet them. If they’re unrealistic against the market, after a while of getting people who kinda-sorta-but-not-quite meet them, expectations may begin to adjust (organically or due to a little research to figure out why that’s going on). Otherwise, I can’t think of an advantage to coming in later, either – maybe neutral in many cases, but not advantageous.

  4. Rincat*

    Sometimes companies will post the job in multiple places, with or without a deadline mentioned, and it just takes a while to remove the posting when they do reach their deadline, or hire someone. My university advertises on a few higher education networks and Indeed, and it takes a while to coordinate all of that.

  5. the other Emily*

    I also try to apply as early as possible after I have seen a job posting. But you lose nothing by applying even if the deadline is close or the posting has already been up for a while.

    Thank you for asking this question OP. I was confused by this too and I know many others who are also.

  6. yasmara*

    My husband is hiring for 2 positions right now & just had to re-open one of the positions because both of the top candidates turned down the job offer & they decided the 3rd wasn’t quite strong enough. It was actually one of those situations AAM warns about – neither of the 2 top candidates was living in the job area & in the end, neither actually wanted to move across the country. So this is why employers are leery of it! The candidate who did accept was part of the 2nd round of interviewees when the position was re-opened. So definitely keep an eye on companies where you’d like to work. The other position he’s hiring for is at a lower level & there’s no relocation offered so candidates have to be in this area already (or are moving here on their own with coincidental timing).

  7. Future Homesteader*

    You certainly never know! I got my current job by applying a week after it supposedly closed (it was a case where they clearly only had up recent postings, but this one was still up and they pretty clearly just hadn’t updated the date on the original PDF).

    1. Jade*

      Companies sometimes extend their deadlines if they didn’t get enough qualified candidates. I’ve seen this at two of the orgs I used to work for. Some of their positions would be reposted with a new deadline for *months* on end until they actually found someone.

      1. Gadfly*

        The ones that drive me crazy are new postings with old deadlines. I have to wonder if it was an accidental repost of position no longer open, or recycling an old posting without actually thinking/reading it.

  8. Coco*

    I learned this lesson firsthand last year. A job posting for my industry was emailed out to my uni cohort. I remembered reading advice on AAM that you should apply ASAP because you never know how quickly the employer will make a decision. So that night I wrote a cover letter, updated my resume, and applied. The next day I was contacted for an interview, and within a week I got the job. A couple weeks later I mentioned to a classmate that I got the job that was emailed out, and she looked unhappy and surprised and said, “I thought the application deadline was next month?” So apparently she had planned on applying too but figured she had plenty of time to do it.

  9. Amy in HR*

    Agreed. I specialize in recruiting with my company, and I can tell you that it definitely varies with us depending on who the hiring manager is – some will not even look at a resume until the position closes out online while others will start conducting interviews as soon as they see an applicant they like. My advice is if you see a position you like, don’t wait to apply. On my end, on that position’s last posting day (and usually before) I already have all the resumes reviewed and have started setting up interviews.

  10. Gene*

    A note here from the Civil Service front. Our application deadlines are exactly that, deadlines. If your application has a time stamp of 5:01 PM Pacific Time on the last day, it will be rejected. And we don’t even look at applications until after the deadline.

    1. Franzia Spritzer*

      Interesting, so close of business in your time zone, and not the end of the chronological day. Noted. Thanks!

      1. Anxa*

        I usually see actual times, since ‘close of business’ can vary. Although I do know that just because business is closed at 5 doesn’t mean a bunch of people haven’t left early for the day.

        That said, I do assume it’s the earlier of the ST or DT. I see a lot of of deadlines posted as EST even in April-September, but they sometimes mean EDT and just have a typo or don’t understand the difference.

    2. Lia*

      State university here, and same rules apply. Our postings close at midnight on the closing date, and you actually cannot apply past the deadline — the portal won’t accept an application.

      We do review applications prior to the closing date, but not formally — generally, no review until at least the day after the closing date.

    3. JustaTech*

      Question: if you had to guess, what’s the average turn around time on civil service job openings? Like, if the deadline was in mid- January, would you expect to be contacting applicants in January, mid-February, mid-March? I know Alison says to let go mentally, but I’d love to know if those jobs I applied to are filled or if someone might contact me months later.

  11. Chaordic One*

    When I worked in HR at Dysfunctional Teapots, Ltd. the deadlines were not really fixed. They were more of a suggestion and they were always on the lookout for a better candidate. (Given the low wages they paid, it was understandable that they had trouble attracting good candidates.)

    They were especially happy to consider female and minority candidates, way past the deadline, because, unsurprisingly, they had trouble attracting such people. (Commitment to diversity and inclusion and all that.)

    1. Gadfly*

      At OldJob there were a few positions they just were always hiring for on the assumption someone would be leaving soon enough, it was good to have a few candidates in the pipeline…

  12. gsa*

    I am completely and wholly confused..

    “what do application deadlines really mean?”

    The last time I had a deadline I met it.

    I will allow that I give false deadlines to people that don’t normally met their’s.

    And back to the OP, last time I was interested in doing something, I showed up early.

    1. LBK*

      The point is that a hiring deadline isn’t the same as, say, a project deadline, because everyone does hiring differently. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that you should just disregard it completely, but rather that you shouldn’t read anything specific into it. If you can still see the posting, just submit your application. The worst that happens is they tell you it’s too late – but as others have said above, sometimes the date is arbitrary and they’ll keep accepting applications past it, so it doesn’t hurt to try.

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