should I apply to businesses that aren’t hiring?

A reader writes:

I was hoping you might be able to help me finally put to bed a long-running argument between me and my mother about the proper way to find a job. For almost as long as I’ve been job hunting, she has insisted that it’s a good idea to apply to places that aren’t actively hiring, just on the chance that they might begin hiring and pull your application off the stack.

This advice has never really sat well with me. I find applying for jobs fairly stressful, and my gut instinct has always been that it’s a waste of time and effort applying to places that aren’t actually hiring. At best, you would give a future hiring manager that many more outdated applications to sift through once a position actually opens up.

Am I in the right here, or does my mom know something I don’t? And if I am in the right, can you give me some arguments to help shut her down the next time she decides this is an argument we need to have again? I’ve been job searching again for the last few weeks, and it’s been going well, but I can tell she gets annoyed whenever I mention that there aren’t many new job listings in a given day. (For context, we’re sheltering together after my school closed down the dorms following Covid-19.)

There are some fields that operate this way—usually very small businesses—but most don’t.

Most places advertise their job vacancies if they want outside applicants. If they don’t post a job opening, it’s generally because they plan to hire internally or from their existing network, and the chances of you being the perfect fit for a job you don’t know about and which they haven’t described to you are pretty slim. And many companies, especially larger ones, aren’t even set up to accept applications that aren’t directed to a specific and current job opening.

And that stack of applications that your mom is picturing employers turning to when a position does open up? It usually doesn’t happen that way. Employers do keep applications on file because of record-keeping requirements, but it’s relatively uncommon for them to hunt through old applications for candidates rather than just advertising when a job opens up, especially if those candidates hadn’t applied for a specific role in the first place. Some employers will do it! But most don’t. You see it more frequently when someone has an unusual or hard-to-find skill set, in which case an employer will be more motivated to make sure they remember you the next time they need that skill… but if you’re not in that category, your chances are much lower.

Now, this doesn’t mean that your mom’s strategy never works. Occasionally it does! That’s why you’ll sometimes hear reports of people who found jobs this way. And if there’s a company that you’d really love to work for where you feel your qualifications would be especially well suited, by all means, go ahead and try it. But it shouldn’t be a major focus of your job search, because most of the time it’s just not going to pay off.

What’s more, on the relatively rare occasions that it does pay off, it’s often because the place that hires you doesn’t have great hiring practices: They’re going for what’s easiest—an application they already have—rather than ensuring that they’re hiring the best person for the job. That can be a sign of other problems; do you want to work with colleagues who were all hired because their applications were close by? That’s not always the case, of course. But it’s true enough of the time that it’s worth factoring into your approach.

It’s worth noting, though, that your mom didn’t make this advice up out of nowhere. It’s been floating out there for a while—in part, I believe, because it helps people feel like they have more control in their job searches. Career counselors and job search coaches want to be able to suggest strategies other than “respond to job postings” and this provides something else to recommend… despite the fact that the payoff is low.

But again, if you want to contact a handful of companies that aren’t hiring as a supplement to your main job search strategies, go for it. It won’t hurt you and, who knows, maybe you’ll happen to email at the perfect time with the perfect skill set. But you’re better off putting the majority of your time and energy into applying for jobs that you know for sure exist and are hiring.

First published on

{ 101 comments… read them below }

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      “Amateur Hour is an advice column for people who are new to the professional world and are figuring out how work even… works.”

    1. sacados*

      It definitely is — if only because it’s not going to actively annoy the employers. It’s likely to be utterly pointless, but it won’t hurt OP in any way.

  1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

    Alison has offered this advice to other letter writers in similar situations: it also might be helpful to speak with your mom about her expectations and hopes for you while you’re living at home. It’s a pandemic! But that also means that money might be tight or maybe she’s just stressing, but as a parent, the kvetching and advicing make so much sense. You probably won’t be able to convince her that her advice is bad even without a pandemic recession, but she will feel heard. (Note: this is simply because you live with her. Otherwise independent people with interfering moms don’t have this issue.)

    1. HoHumDrum*

      Yeah, talking to mom is a good call. When I was unemployed after college my mom had a way of assuming the fact that I didn’t have a job was because I wasn’t trying hard enough/lacked gumption and she would give advice on this vein. I realized eventually that what it really was is that she couldn’t make sense of a world where I could work so hard and make good grades and still not find any opportunities. I think she found it painful to realize some of the “rules” that had boosted her to success were no longer in play and her kids were still struggling in ways she thought we would be able to bypass due to her success in overcoming *her* struggles. It was emotionally easier for her brain to go “Well obviously a qualified and capable person can’t possibly still be underemployed, I bet she’s just not motivated enough, I better push her.” Realizing that on my end helped a lot with our relationship, made it a lot easier to weigh her job advice without all the emotional baggage.

      Good luck LW! I hope you can find some resolution with your mom.

  2. Alex*

    I suspect your mom did more of her job searching in the days when you literally sent your cover letter and resume in an envelope, or maybe directly emailed a document, directly to a human person.

    I’m having a tough time even envisioning how you’d blindly apply to where I work. I mean the literal act of applying–how on earth would you know the person to whom you should send your materials? There’d be no way to know who did hiring and who would just delete your application, and 99.99% of people where I work would just think “Huh. Weird. Delete.” upon receiving such a thing. The people who actually do hiring deal only with the application system, not with individual emails (or, god forbid, paper!).

    Places that don’t have application systems might be open to this method, but if a company has an application system in place, they did it *because* they don’t want to deal with individual emailed applications, not because they’re secretly hoping the best people will circumvent their system. And nowadays even medium sized businesses seem to have application systems.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      That’s right. There is no “stack of resumes.” There are pdf’s and doc’s that are submitted for a specific job opening, are attached to them, and once that job is filled, everything is put into an electronic folder and the company moves on. Have a new job open? Do another post and then the process repeats.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Can we stop with the out-of-touch older generation discussions on here? If the OP is in college, OP’s mom could realistically be 45 or 65 without too much variation from typical childbearing ages.

      My son is a 2020 college grad. I’ve applied to jobs via ATS my entire career. I would never imagine hand-carrying a paper resume to a business in my industry, and I have never mailed a paper resume. I’m not an idiot. OTOH, forming a legitimate, non-job-seeking connection with an existing employee of a business that may not have an advertised opening is not a bad way to position yourself for a job when they do need someone. That person could be a hiring manager who is thinking about adding a position that is not online yet. I agree with Alison that it shouldn’t be the primary job hunting approach, but it’s not unheard of to be successful that way.

      Further, my husband is a small business owner. Prospective employees (electricians) find his company name online and call him or email him to ask if he’s hiring. He’s so small that this is completely legit. He hasn’t had a successful connection to one of those people yet, but anyone he has hired or is thinking about hiring has been word of mouth, not advertised.

      1. Clisby*

        I’m 67, and my 18-year-old has just started college.

        I remember applying blindly for jobs because there was no way to know whether a company was hiring, unless they happened to have advertised in a newspaper or professional publication.

        That’s not what I’d advise my kids now, unless it was for a summer/seasonal job – like, if you want to go work for a local restaurant or retail store or the like – sure, just stop by and apply.

      2. Chinook*

        What AnotherAlison said. Most of my life, random sending my resumes to companies would not have worked. But, there were two times when it did:
        1. I lived in a small town and applied at small businesses. Online applications are unusual because everybody knows where the place they want to work is or a person working there.
        2. Large fabrication company in an industrial park where almost every company has “now hiring” signs on their fences that show which job openings they have. This is in a boom/bust area and I saw our floor supervisor hire someone on the spot who walked in with the right experience when there were no openings because experienced welders are hard to find. It is important to note, though, that I would not have been successful if I had done this for the receptionist position, though I was asked to drop my resume off in person (to ensure that I had a way to get to the work site and understood how far out it was).

      3. Anon for today*

        Yeah, not many industries encourage “cold calling” types of applications. The only large-scale industry I can think of is advertising and you’re looking to be hired on as a creative. Some agency websites encourage you to “pitch” yourself for a junior creative role, but that’s not the norm (nor are those jobs well paying, lol).

      4. nonegiven*

        My dad quit a job in the 60s on the day before Good Friday. He came home and told mom to get a month’s pay out of savings, he’s surely have a job by then. Friday he was walking down the street downtown and ran into a guy he knew. He got a job to start on Monday.

      5. Small biz*

        Another small (5 employees) business owner here who welcomes out of the blue applications, but only from people with a genuine interest in my niche industry. The company is small enough that we don’t have the resources to use larger recruiting systems. One of my best employees just kind of fell in my lap when she asked for an info meeting to learn more about it. She was such a strong potential candidate that I offered her a job after our meeting. That was 4 years ago.

      6. Smaller potatoes*

        Another small (5 employees) business owner here who welcomes out of the blue applications, but only from people with a genuine interest in my niche industry. The company is small enough that we don’t have the resources to use larger recruiting systems. One of my best employees just kind of fell in my lap when she asked for an info meeting to learn more about it. She was such a strong potential candidate that I offered her a job after our meeting. That was 4 years ago.

      7. jojo*

        This. It actually depends also, on what kind of area you live in. I live in a semi small town. Most positions do not get advertised because yhey do not to be overwhelmed by applicants. Word of mouth. Dropping off a paper resume could work. They also advertise in the paper or job boards with no company name and a PO box to send resumes to.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s not unusual to have corporate recruiters’ information (at least an email) listed on the careers page – all of ours are listed and identified with the hiring area they are responsible for. I have never asked, but I assume they do get unsolicited resumes because of it. Some other organizations even note that they have no positions open but will accept resumes (no idea if those are actually looked at or go straight to the circular bin).

      My recruiter will contact me if they come across a resume that is a match with a typically harder-to-fill position as well, but I think those usually come in via another open position hiring process – I had a very good candidate apply for an administrative assistant position earlier this year, and HR pulled it, sent it to me, opened the position I would want them in, and then asked if the candidate would be interested in my role instead of the admin. They were, and they’re wonderful.

      I also know that my recruiter also has a small file of resumes from prior positions where the candidate was strong but just barely edged out by an even stronger candidate and will contact those folks when another suitable position opens up. Often, they have gotten a job and are no longer available, but it’s worth a shot. I got very, very lucky to pick one of those folks up about a month and half ago because they’d not yet found a permanent job and were still temping. I don’t know that she keeps unsolicited resumes in that bucket – most of those are people who’ve already been through some sort of screening and possibly an interview.

    4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      ” maybe directly emailed a document, directly to a human person.”
      This is not that rare, even today. An ATS or generic mailbox may be more common, but it’s not rare to email people.

    5. Data Bear*

      OP could tell their mother that in a great many cases, it’s just straight-up not possible to follow her advice.

      I work for a company that’s large but not huge (a bit over a thousand employees). All hiring has to go through HR, HR will not accept applications except through the job application system, and the system requires you to apply to a specific open position. There’s simply no way to send your resume in blind to “add it to the stack.”

      And the reason why it’s set up that way is to prevent nepotism, favoritism, and conflicts of interest. The system prevents you from applying directly to hiring managers because that also prevents hiring managers from hiring friends and relatives to do important work they’re not qualified for.

      Plus, as Alison said, unless you have a very unusual skill, for jobs that want qualified applicants and not just a warm body, it’s very unlikely that anyone is going to poke through the “stack of applications” because that’s not how you get a good pool of candidates.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘And the reason why it’s set up that way is to prevent nepotism, favoritism, and conflicts of interest. The system prevents you from applying directly to hiring managers because that also prevents hiring managers from hiring friends and relatives to do important work they’re not qualified for.’

        All excellent reasons, and there’s another one: compliance. If a government contractor – a lot of ’em are – directs you to apply on their career page, they actually can’t accept a paper resume or application. Many non-contractor employers also use this as a best practice. In addition to the good reasons above, also because it’s cumbersome and inefficient to rely on a paper process. If you’re bored witless and need something to do, go here:

  3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Won’t help, unlikely to hurt. As long as your expectations have flatlined, there are worse ways to waste an hour.

  4. Knope knope knope*

    Since Allison mentions large companies, I’ll give a plug for reaching out to internal recruiters. You probably won’t hear about from most of them. But as someone who isn’t that old (I think? 35), I can at least attest to the one time my skills and resume lined up with a roll that was not yet posted, and the path of my career was changed forever.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yeah, I know of a few highly successful companies that are always looking for good employees. Internal recruiters will often have the inside scoop on upcoming openings, and sometimes will even open a side door to the regular requisition to hire process for the right candidate. The latter is more common for high demand skillsets.

    2. Valentine Wiggin*

      That’s how I got my current job. I had a surprise move to an unfamiliar area, so I essentially “cold called” the internal recruiter. They hadn’t yet posted the job but were happy to take my application. I’ve been there for almost 7 years now.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I got a job by sending a speculative application. I got the impression that there were always open positions, and in fact there was a high turnover of employees. Still, it was one of those roles where I learnt a lot.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      You struck lucky. A lot of people point to luck in their careers, simply being in the right place at the right time. Job hunters are just desperate for that lucky break and need to find ways of making it happen. Sending out unsolicited CVs is one of those ways.
      I remember a teacher rage-quitting after a dispute with the headmistress, and literally minutes after she had stormed out, another woman walked in to hand over her CV. As an experienced teacher, she was hired on the spot. And yes, as Alison says, when hiring happens like that it is often a sign that the hiring process is not very good, and neither are many other business practices. I have enough tales from that place to give you all a heart attack, no one left unscathed!

  5. Proofin' Amy*

    I know that some ad agencies have a link to apply for jobs even when there’s nothing open, just in case they have a need. I’ve filled in that application for various places. I’ve never heard back from any of them.

    1. Anon for today*

      Yeah, my husband’s in advertising and some of those agency ads want you to pitch yourself to them. He’s always suspicious that they’re just looking for cheap content ideas for a client.

  6. Lady Heather*

    I don’t know how it is in the US (or wherever OP lives), but in my corner of Europe, it’s not unusual to see something like “We don’t have any vacancies, but we’re always interested in receiving CVs!” on the webside of mid- and large-sized employers.
    I do think it’s generally assumed that you only apply if you can fairly assume you’ll be qualified for something that opens up frequently – so an IT worker would apply to an IT company and a custodian would apply to a cleaning company, the IT worker wouldn’t send their resume to a cleaning company hoping to do their IT, and a custodian wouldn’t apply to an IT company to clean their desks.

    1. Lynn*

      I recently started looking into immigrating to New Zealand for ~reasons~ and this advice was echoed by their government website on a page about one of the types of visas! Definitely a situation where it’s probably good to know your industry and cultural norms.

    2. Nanani*

      That does happen in certain fields, especially those where freelancing is common.
      But, there is a big difference between “we’re always building our list of freelancers so we can reach out quickly when there’s a big project on the horizon” and the kind of thing LWs mom is describing.

      1. Eliza*

        Yeah, I do a lot of freelance work with a tech startup that’s pretty much always interested in hearing from potentially qualified people, but even if they’re interested, it could be months or years before any actual work materializes, so it’s still not the best strategy if you need a job right now.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes, this is far more common among freelancers. At the agency we’d get CVs all the time. I mostly just binned them because we had a great pool of freelancers. Occasionally I’d reply to one, if I happened to need a skill we didn’t have or was under-represented in the pool. I can’t say that it ever really worked out well. The best translators were to be found on the translator websites, with a polished profile and sample translations, and I could search for somebody to fit my need at my leisure.

    3. Sasha*

      It’s very very industry-specific, and location specific. It’s rare for jobs to be formally advertised in my husband’s sector – they are usually filled by word of mouth/networks. So all of his jobs have been obtained by emailing hiring managers directly, or tapping up his network.

      In my sector, jobs have to be externally advertised for a set number of days. Even then, if people know I’m looking, they often come back to me when a job is available, so making that first contact and getting your face known is really important, even if there is no job at that current time.

  7. Kat*

    My teenage daughter is looking for job and although she hasn’t had any luck (shes 16 with no work experience) when she’s reached out to small, local businesses for the most part they do tell her to send a resume even if they are not actively hiring. She tends to contact them via instagram and at least gets responses right away. These are like ice cream shops, bookstores, bakeries, etc so very small staffs so I agree with Alison that it might be worth sending unsolicited applications to this sort of place. But probably not a good use of your time to send a resume to, like, Chipotle or Raging Waters when they are not actively hiring.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I think jobs like retail and fast food are, in many cases, either (1) always taking applications, or (2) always actually hiring. Especially the larger ones.

      1. Mel_05*

        Yeah, my husband runs a restaurant. Even if they’re not actively hiring, they’ll probably take your application, because they might be hiring tomorrow.

        1. Clisby*

          That’s how it is where I live – Charleston, SC. Food & beverage is always hiring (or at least, always considering hiring). I think they assume applicants know that, and will show up to apply. I don’t mean for jobs like executive chef, but hosts, servers, cooks, etc. – sure.

    2. Anon for this*

      I think this is worthwhile: back when I was an aquatics supervisor, we were often continuously hiring, which meant we’d hire anyone who was decently qualified who came along. If we were short-staffed the job would be posted, but if we were near capacity we’d be hiring only from inquiries or referrals of current employees. When we switched to an ATS, if this happened we’d have to have HR post a job specifically for this person to apply to, or we’d just leave the requisition perma-open and only get back to people whose resumes were a fit in scale with our need. (So someone who wasn’t certified might get a call in June when we’re staring down the barrel of an understaffed summer, but in November we might only call the elementary school gym teacher with coaching experience who’s interested in teaching advanced level lessons.)

    3. Laura*

      That was my take away is that OP is looking at retail/food positions. That’s a space where they might not be hiring that day but if she applies and they have an opening on Friday, she may get the call.

  8. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I think one of the best things that a person can do in this bizarro job market is to start identifying your targets … and your niche … and then steadily start joining public conversations about the target employers, the target market, and the sorts of things that you know about the thing you want to do.

    It’s about joining the conversation. And one way we can do that through social media. Create your job seeker persona if you need to separate accounts on things that aren’t LinkedIn, but get out there and get involved. This means thoughtful and conversation-deepening comments. It means following people and companies who are of interest to you. It is not a magic thing. This is not advice to work at a soda fountain in Hollywood because that’s where you’ll be discovered. This is advice to start your research in a way where people have an opportunity to see what you’re doing, and where you have an opportunity to overhear conversations about trends and projects and maybe be able to in that precious moment gently interrupt and ask, “hey, that sounds interesting, how could I get involved?”

    Do your applications. But spend an hour pretending that you’ve earned a badge and a lanyard at a great big virtual trade show or convention all about your target career.

    1. AnNina*

      I think it is a good advice to “join the conversation” and get your name out there. If THAT’S what you want to do: stay in touch with people in your field, join the conversation, find and build up new information etc.

      But personally I don’t think that’s a good job-hunting strategy. At least it’s not very efficient use of resources.

  9. Cephalopod R Us*

    Yes, feels like gumption advice (one of the days, my grandfather’s “get a job” advice will be relevant enough to share).

    That said, depending on your field, an informational interview might be helpful. Not to get you a job, but to build a network of contacts. My line of work comes with a lot of vocational awe (“this is my dream job” etc. in interviews, though I don’t have the heart to correct them that museums are SO IFFY), so I try to respond to inquiries and make time for those who are interested in the work. I also remember people I like and pass their contact info whenever I can, with the caveat that I cannot ensure them a job but am happy to help them meet others in this work. I am less likely to try and help network if I just receive a resume and an inquiry about open positions. More likely to help if someone is very clearly just looking to network with no expectation that I’ll throw them an open position (that doesn’t exist). Museum and archive workers tend to be very altruistic and the field is very small and insular, so again, it really depends on what you are looking to do. I cannot speak for anything outside of the museum/archive sector.

    One last note is that there are museums who are going broke WHILST ALSO creating glamour positions because someone got in touch with the director/deputy director and finagled their way in. Don’t be that person.

  10. Salad Daisy*

    About 5 years ago when I was collecting unemployment in Massachusetts, the unemployment folks ran a report of all applicable businesses in my local (rural) area and I was told to apply to them. One of them was a machine shop that a man was operating out of his garage. In order to continue to collect unemployment, I had to send this man a resume and follow up. He had no idea what was going on. I think I ended up sending about 100 blind resumes and received 4 responses, none of which leading to an interview. Luckily, the company that had laid me off called me back in, at more money, and the manager who had terminated me was perp walked out the door!

    1. irene adler*

      Many years ago a friend was laid off. She immediately mailed (postal mailed) her resume to every biotech business in town (there were many). As luck would have it, one company was in deep trouble regulation-wise and her resume was their answer. They were just about to post the job.
      So they brought her in to talk, and hired her.
      She’s still there today.
      But there were no other responses to her mass mailing.
      Honestly, I cringe at the thought of applying when there’s no job posting as it just makes for more work for someone.

    1. BusyBee*

      It took me a while to realize that my mom, while a very accomplished professional, is still my mom and completely incapable of viewing me objectively. So while she manages a large team in a competitive field and has tons of knowledge, her advice regarding my own job search is just not applicable. Because she thinks I’m great and smart and funny and wonderful, and therefore people should give me any title I want and a giant sack of money. Which is really nice, but, again, I can’t listen to anything she says. The ego boost is nice sometimes, I guess :)

      1. allathian*

        It could be worse, though, I’m thinking about being forced to listen to parental “advice” when the parent in question thinks you’re (general you) a loser who’ll never amount to anything. Thankfully my parents are sensible people who trust me to deal with my life as I see fit… At least, they do now. I applied to multiple jobs before I got this one, and it was actually an ad in the paper that my mom found for me. (Government job, and 15 years ago it was still mandatory to advertise government jobs in the big newpapers here.)

    2. Lynn*

      To be fair, I think that’s the nature of needing advice: if the parent were giving advice that were so prima facie valid that the child accepted the advice and it was successful, they wouldn’t then be writing to AAM.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        +1 There are parent who give good advice, we just only see the ones who aren’t. No one’s writing to AAM to share the spot-on advice their dad gave them about getting a job; they’re looking to have an outside expert tell their pushy parent they’re wrong. :)

        I would never take job advice from my mom – if I had, I’d still be in a dead-end job making less than half of what I do now and working longer hours. I do take career advice from one of her close-in-age siblings, who knows my area and gets modern hiring.

      2. Paperwhite*

        Yeah, what we see is influenced by survivorship bias. The people who get sufficiently quality advice from their parents don’t then need to bring it to AAM for dissection and refutation.

        1. Tabby*

          I never take advice from my mother — she literally doesn’t understand that the world isn’t the same as it was when she was working.

          She freaked out over me cutting my hair — still does, in fact — because she thinks I won’t get hired with short or no hair. She thinks I won’t get hired because I have multiple piercings and tattoos. I have had these for much of my working career, and have usually gotten hired with them SHOWING. She doesn’t realize that I never just blindly send resumes; I check out the company and find out their policies beforehand; the dog daycare even said in their ad that funny hair, piercings, and tattoos are welcome, and this was borne out in the glassdoor reviews.

          I finally had to tell her outright to stop trying to interfere, because she wasn’t helping me one iota. I’m sure this hurt her feelings, but I finally got to a point where I just couldn’t stand to have her stressing me further. Of course, she can’t resist the occasional, “Are you sure that will be okay at work?”

          And then I pull out the company pics, where one of the managers has hair that is red and orange, and she has tattoos from the neck down, plenty of them visible. And piercings. Like… mom. Stop. We’re in a different world, now, and I for one am not going back to pretending to be conservative. I am also working on getting my own company together; if a person doesn’t want to hire me because I’m too punk, I’d rather know sooner than later. And it’s not like my tattoos cannot be hidden, if I choose to. And I can remove my piercings. Few people even look askance at my bald head these days, except the very conservative Christian types, and I honestly avoid them. It’s fine.

  11. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

    One thing to bear in mind is that when you speculatively send things off you can’t really tailor your CV and cover letter – which could be a drawback in some circumstances (eg. where your generic CV/resume emphasises llama grooming with minimal llama walking and was already on file but role itself involves mainly llama walking with some minimal llama grooming).

    Best of luck with search.

  12. Malarkey01*

    I feel like this advice wasn’t geared to the more part time minimum wage retail/food service/hospitality jobs that the LW might be looking at (since she’s still in a dorm and this has been Moms advice for every time she tried to work assuming that’s high school related).

    Applying for retail here has always been going in and filling out an application and when they have an opening (which for a lot of places is monthly), they grab the stack and start going through it. I’ve rarely seen anyone post actual job openings other than a poster in the window that says Help Wanted and a few social media posts.

    1. Me*

      I was thinking this and you’re the first I’ve read that said it. This is very true. She appears to still be a college student so it’s unlikely she’s looking for or even has any relevant experience for a true career position.

      If this is the case, then yeah she absolutely needs to do some legwork and application filling out.

    2. Reba*

      Smaller retailers, certainly popping in can still be the norm. I did this ten years ago at a specialty retailer. However, for national chains, it seems to all be online and paper applications are rare. Like, even if you go to the store to apply, you will be directed to a computer terminal.

      My most recent experiences in that area also involved doing a big psychometric (is that the right word?) test, ugh ugh ugh.

    3. squidarms*

      Yeah, I got every job I had in college by walking into small stores near campus and asking if they were hiring. It probably wouldn’t work with larger chains, but for service jobs in small local businesses, it sometimes does.

  13. BemmyLover*

    Just a note: here in SE Wisconsin several of the major companies allow job seekers to submit their resumes and request job alerts when positions that match their skill sets open up. I always tell young people to investigate the companies they would like to work for and see if that option is available. Also, rather than waiting for job board postings its useful to pick your target companies and regularly check the postings on their website. They are frequently more accurate and timely than those which appear on Dice, or Monster.

  14. Random Commenter*

    Do you have to have the argument? Can you just agree to disagree and move on? I doubt that you’ll able to convince her.

    I don’t think there’s a problem with applying to places that haven’t posting, but that time would probably be better spent applying somewhere with open positions.

    1. Nanani*

      If they live together and mom is asking for receipts on applications, then no probably not.
      LW may actually need to convince mom to stop asking to see their Sent Mail folder full of resume bombs, or whatever they’re envisioning.

  15. Mel_05*

    This kind of gumption advice is so stressful that I always rejoice when it turns out to be based on a myth or the too-distant past.

    At my current job, I actually saw their table at a job fair. They asked for a resume even though they weren’t hiring for the job I wanted at the moment. They said they might be soon.

    And they were! The new listing appeared a couple weeks later. But they never contacted me. I had to apply online with everyone else, because people don’t keep stacks of resumes around. It probably never even made it to the right person.

  16. Laufey*

    Just to clarify, Alison and commentariat, this is *not* the same things (at least as I understand it) as sending your resume and a quick note to people you know *well* at companies that aren’t hiring (for example, former coworkers with good rapport, mentors from a previous job). With OP’s situation being more like cold calling vs letting your network know you’re on the market. Is that an accurate view?

  17. DG*

    I agree it’s a waste of time to submit an application to a company that’s not actively hiring. That said, it *is* valuable to network with people at companies that fit your job search parameters but aren’t hiring at the moment. Reaching out to alumni of your university, friends-of-friends, second degree connections, etc. who are doing work in your desired field for informational interviews is super helpful.

    Best case scenario: you’ll click with someone and they’ll think of you when a role does open up, or they can connect you with others in the field who may be hiring. Worst case scenario: you’ve learned something about the field and can provide smarter answers or ask better questions during your next interview with another employer.

  18. Guacamole Bob*

    The places I’ve seen where this is a promising way to job search have all been smallish (~20-100 person) firms that do professional services type work – law, various types of consulting, etc. Some firms are always looking at least a little bit and have some flexibility about their hiring (junior versus mid-level versus senior). If they have enough work they’ll be able to bill the person’s time to clients and make the finances work out. Or, sometimes they’re willing to move things around to make it work out for a really promising candidate.

    Many of these firms will have information about this kind of rolling recruiting on their website.

    Where it wouldn’t work: my current government agency, where no one can ever hire outside a formal job listing.

    1. Me*

      Yes to this with government! We periodically get emails from people looking for jobs and I always wonder who gave them the advice to cold contact a government agency. All we do is nicely refer them to the jobs board.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        In my government role I do sometimes get networking-type requests from job seekers, and if they’re a promising candidate we’ll remember them and include them when we email out job listings to our networks when we do have openings. So it’s not a total waste of time, but may not produce an actual job to apply to for months.

        1. jojo*

          Government jobs often require you to go through the state employment agency. Often the contract requires that hire a certain percent of local people. US government, not state government.

    2. Not playing your game anymore*

      Well yes and no. I work for state government and yes there has to be a position to apply for but we do have a class of “open continuous” positions that are always accepting applications. These are jobs that we hire a lot of and are always interested in finding people to fill. I’ve seen things like snow plow driver, security guard, grounds keeper, prison guard, and I’d be willing to bet contact tracer might be in this class right now. I know our HR people run unsolicited resumes that they get against these posts and send them on to the hiring authorities if they see a possible match.

  19. Raine*

    My first job out of college (circa 2004) was actually acquired this way…sort of. I’d attended a job fair several months earlier and submitted my resume to the company, yes. But shortly thereafter I ended up shadowing at the company for a day (through a program at my school), and during that day I sat down with one of the higher ups and he pulled my resume from the job fair stack and we went over it together. Then, six months later when they needed to hire someone, my resume was right on top and I was the first one he called – not because he remembered me, but because that’s where my resume was.

    It wasn’t a bad job, and it was a good start in that field! But boy howdy, did I feel like I cheated.

    1. It's ALL Subjective*

      The cards were stacked in your favor for once… enjoy it. More often than not, they won’t be. I got my internship blindly emailing HR pleading my case. I did that all over the area I was in, and one place replied back. It was around the same time (2004), so I don’t know if that would work now.

  20. It's ALL Subjective*

    FWIW, this has worked for me in very entry-level roles (specifically an internship). But it was exactly as Allison described. The person filling the role wanted to have his roster for future semesters planned out, HR sent him the email I sent to them, and when everything was combined with my prior work experience from admin roles, I was a good fit.

    The company did end up hiring me after my internship ended. But this was also 16 years ago (oh my!), so what worked then really may not work now.

  21. Bookworm*

    It can possibly work that way: I “accidentally” applied to work at a bookstore not long before I graduated college. I say “accidentally” because they weren’t hiring at that particular time but would in the near future and I just came by at a time when it was quiet (end of the semester so students were studying). Wore jeans, had no preparation, I had gone in to ask about how to apply (this was years ago).

    I think it can also work if you happen to know someone there and you have a connection that can keep your stuff on file. But that’s rare and it’s never a guarantee anyway.

    I get where you’re coming from about the stress and all that. Good luck!

  22. Probably Nerdy*

    I’m a “millennial” and here is how I got all of my jobs:
    1st job – blind emails to people off a list of local firms
    2nd job – blind email to someone I didn’t know but that I wanted to work for
    3rd job – resume to recruiter at job fair
    4th job – blind email to list of contacts that a friend gave me.

    75% of my jobs were to places that “weren’t (officially) hiring”. I don’t know if I am doing it wrong or if I have just been extraordinarily lucky but I totally tell people to just send a resume, it never hurts.

  23. I did that*

    I actually did this and was successful. I wanted to move from a PR agency to working in-house at a start-up. I researched start-ups in my town and found a handful that I was really interested in. I emailed about 5-10 companies my resume, along with a very short email explaining my background and my career goals. One of the companies actually brought me in to talk and offered me a job. The company was planning to hire two part-time interns, but instead decided to create an entry level position for me. I worked there for 3 years and it was a great experience!

    I know my result is rare. 80% of the companies never responded to my initial email. However, if you have a specific industry or company you are really interested in, it doesn’t hurt to try.

  24. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

    Well, it can and has gotten people hired in our ~ 200 person company. HR does take a glance and unrequested submissions and does, if there is a compelling reason, forward to a manager or managers that she thinks might be interested.

    Successful matches I have seen have started with an outstanding cover letter coupled with somewhat unique, relevant experience, a clear understanding of who our company is, and were sprinkled with luck that an interested manager had either an unpublished job opening or the room in the budget to create a job.

    So in our world not impossible but rare.

  25. Jessica Z*

    As a counter to most of the comments…I got my first professional job in 2009, graduated college in 2008. I couldn’t find a job as hard as I tried. Looked for 8 months. I had no connections, was living in a city away from where I went to school and there was a recession. I applied to listed jobs online all the time and received zero interest. Getting desperate, I snail mailed copies of my resume and tailored cover letters to 10 offices (elected officials and news orgs) saying I’d take any job in their office, but was simply looking for a shot. I got four interviews out of the 10 and ended up getting my first job. I don’t think my experience is the norm but it can happen.

  26. Asenath*

    I think applying without an advertised job to apply for was more common in the past than it is now. I think years ago when I was starting out, some employers with a lot of turnover did keep unsolicited applications on file and dip into them instead of advertising when they needed someone, but that doesn’t seem to be an approach that’s used much now. Some, fairly recently, specified in their ads that you had to apply for each job they were advertising; they did NOT keep applications on file. An exception would be somewhere like a former employer, which had a category of jobs they’d advertise every 6 or 12 months, stating that applicants should just send in one application, and they’d choose from that pool for anything that came up in the next 6 or 12 months. Again, though, this was for short-term or seasonal type work where you’d expect a lot of turnover. The vast majority of their hiring, for longer term contract work or even permanent work, didn’t operate that way. You applied for a specific job when and only when it was advertised. So – I think it might work, if you were lucky and if you were applying for the kind of high-turnover work in which it is to the employer’s advantage to find someone quickly, maybe from a pool of applicants. But I don’t think most places work that way, particularly not if you are looking for a more steady job.

  27. Just another lurker*

    I did this when I started my professional career in 2003. It actually worked, but I also spent 8 months looking at the names of random tiny nonprofits and sending in my skinny resume. It was a measure of my desperation that I did it and I was lucky enough to get a good boss and a decent first job out of it, although I didn’t realize how lucky at the time.

  28. Anon for this*

    At my organization, I cannot take your resume at all. I’m not supposed to touch a physical copy and if you email it to me, I have to delete it without looking at it. Everything has to go through our ATS, and we can’t look at anything outside of it because it could lead to someone suing us for some reason. (My organization is very, very scared of being sued and goes to enormous lengths to avoid anything that could lead to a lawsuit.)

    So, obviously, your mileage may vary, but at an organization like mine you will have 0% chance of landing a job that way and if you keep doing it, you will be blacklisted from any job.

  29. aubrey*

    Agree that this only works in some industries and with some businesses, and even then it’s hit or miss. If you happen to contact a company right when they’re thinking of hiring, it could work out for you! At my former small startup we had someone contact us noticing we had launched something new and asking if we needed new developers, and we did interview that person because we were just thinking maybe we need to hire. But if the timing hadn’t been right, there’s no way we would have kept the resume and remembered to look at it later.

  30. anon73*

    As long as you have realistic expectations about the chances of this working (as in slim to none), it can’t hurt. Even submitting your resume to job openings online often don’t lead to anything (not saying never, but it pays to know someone connected to the company). It’s more about WHO you know than WHAT you know.

  31. Elizabeth West*

    I’ve seen a few companies whose career pages say something like, “Don’t see the role you’re looking for? Shoot us a resume anyway!” but I can count them on one hand. I agree with Asenath’s comment above; this may have been common in the past but it doesn’t seem like much of a thing anymore.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Yes, exactly. From what I’ve seen, this isn’t a thing particular to certain industries. It seems to be a thing for a handful of specific companies. So, I’d say if OP goes to the employer’s website and it says something like that, sure, go ahead with the open-ended application for no position in particular. But if the employer doesn’t give any indication that this is A Thing with them, it’s most logical to assume it is not and don’t bother.

  32. Funeral service worker*

    A lot of funeral homes are small businesses and/or family owned, and word of mouth hiring isn’t uncommon, so we get people dropping off resumes in person on a semi-regular basis. The timing has never worked out so far for any of them, but I’m sure it works out for people at least occasionally. If the timing was good it’d probably at least get you an interview here, anyway.

  33. funkydonut*

    I know AAM is always pretty office/business focused, but this question and the comments are one where it really shows. There are other industries where the mom’s advice makes more sense. For instance, the restaurant industry – especially small businesses vs chains – is one where you absolutely drop off a paper resume to sit in a pile until the next time one of the cooks or dishwashers or bussers no call/no shows and they need to hire someone ASAP.
    Sure, some restaurant jobs are posted on indeed or monster dot com to be filtered through an ATS, but they’re usually the ones working for applebee’s or olive garden.

  34. Khatul Madame*

    Sure, go ahead and apply to businesses that aren’t hiring, include a pain letter, and offer to work for free for the first 3 months (or years) to prove your worth. Better yet, show up in person with your resume and the aforementioned pain letter.
    If you are invited to an interview, walk to the location, preferably in bad weather, wearing old, falling-apart shoes. You will be late, but it’s OK. This is a guaranteed path to being hired.
    Did I miss anything?

  35. NeonFireworks*

    I’ve worked for two small public-facing businesses in my time, and saw one person try this in each place. There was no room for additional hiring in either case – one business was about to fold, and the other just wouldn’t need an additional employee for several more years – but I remember in one case the business owner was impressed by the gesture!

    I also attended a “cold calling” workshop at some point partway through 2003. I am so, so glad I never had to follow up and try that!

  36. This One Here*

    A different take on apply at places that aren’t hiring:

    From my offspring who was cooking at a high-end restaurant (one that is still dark) until March, I know that people in the service industry in our area share the names of restaurants that aren’t hiring, but will accept one’s application. This, however, is because unemployment insurance started requiring laid-off workers to apply for X amount of jobs to still get their UI. (My offspring has applied for a mixture, “real” applications and “we’ll take them” applications, and will likely start a new job soon.)

  37. CastIrony*

    At the advice of careerstep dot com, where I did my medical administrative assistant course, I dropped of my application to almost every dental/medical practice in my small town. Imagine my surprise where I got an interview for an urgent care center. Unfortunately, I didn’t get hired. *shrug*

    I wish I read this post then. I agree that just applying to job postings is best.

  38. Black Horse Dancing*

    For all the people suggesting no one uses paper applications or mail in anymore, that’s not true. I work in a small town and even the up to date/larger companies still accept paper resumes/applications by mail. Our local paper ads will list the mailing address and sometimes an email as well but mailing in a cover letter and resume is very common. Our public sector jobs are usually by mail/drop off as well.

  39. babblemouth*

    Some anecdata from me: I work for a fairly famous brand that tends to attract a lot of young grads. I hire interns in my team. I figured we probably get a lot of unsolicited applications so I asked HR if I could look through these before publishing an ad to save a lot of the hiring work. They didn’t have a process, and all unsolicited applications were dumped in the same folder without any kind of classification, deleted after a couple months. We’re a large enough company that I would have had to sift through 1000+ CVs to find the ones relevant to the positions I was hiring for. If HR had a bit of a system, it would have been easier, but it would massively increase *their* workload.
    So very often, your unsolicited application will just fall in a black hole. If HR at a company does have a system, they’ll likely call it out on their careers/jobs pages, and then go for it. But otherwise, you’re likely wasting your time.

  40. Roeslein*

    Well, my last two jobs weren’t advertised, so there’s that. My first strategy when relocating is actually to look up the companies that seem to be doing the most interesting work in my field and apply with them regardless of whether they have jobs advertised or not, but that’s because I have a niche / unique skillset in a subfield and area where hiring is notoriously challenging, so many companies will try to get talent when they can. Some won’t, and that’s fine. Caveat is that my field is fairly small (so it’s at least one person there would either know me, or know someone who does) and has a lot of small companies which tend to be more flexible. But I would also only reach out if I felt I was such a good fit for the specific organisation and its clients that they might decide to open up a role for me. I can’t imagine doing this as a new grad, which sounds like it might be the OP’s situation since they mention school.

  41. TotallyAwry*

    I used to think it was a waste of time to apply to a place without an opening, but my dad just got a job this way. After being laid off during the pandemic, he sent his resume to a company he liked and as luck would have it, the person who was currently in his position was planning on retiring at the end of the year and the company was excited to have someone who could shadow him for the remainder of his time here. It is important to note though that my dad is in a fairly specialized field (commissioning engineer), so I don’t know if this experience would be typical.

  42. Minerva*

    Many places I have applied have a profile you can set up on the system. I know at least one (large us employer) will search profiles when jobs open up, and several others have alerts that will email you new postings you can write a cover letter and apply to. I’ve also been called based on old applications for new postings, large places with internal recruiters that look for people then wait for the right openings.

    I wouldn’t be so hard on mom here.

  43. Outlier*

    I got my first job this way.

    After college, I applied to everywhere that seemed like a good fit.

    Then, I started going through the yellow pages (yes, this dates me) and applying to companies that specialized in my degree. I was using a fancy electric typewriter so I could personalize each cover letter with only a little bit of manual effort.

    I was hired by a very small, family owned business. I was the first non-family member hired. I made it easy for them.

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