Is timing really everything in your job search?

Kaitlin Madden, CareerBuilder Writer

  • Email

People always talk about timing: "He was the right guy at the right time, so we got married." "I timed my investment perfectly -- right before the stock took off." "The timing was right and we sold our house in less than a month."

Job searching is no exception. It's common to hear people say that they're waiting to start their job search until the holidays are over or the kids are back in school, or that they'll follow up with a recruiter only after a certain amount of time has passed. But while timing is important in a job search, is it really everything?

According to our job search experts, the answer is yes – and no. Here are the answers to some common questions about timing and your job search.

1. Should I wait until it's no longer the busy season/the holidays/the end of the quarter?

While hiring can reflect the cyclical nature of business, there's no point in waiting until you think you have the timing right to begin or amp up your search.

"Sometimes job seekers psych themselves out of looking because they convince themselves it's a 'slow' time and everyone is on vacation and no one will get back to them," says Vicki Salemi, career expert and author of "Big Career in the Big City." "Or, they may think, 'Nah, I'll wait to interview until busy season is over, because what if they're too busy to interview me?' There's no right and wrong time to interview, and I cringe when job seekers try to play the odds. The time is now. If you see an opportunity that interests you, go for it.''

Plus, there are advantages to applying during both the ebbs and flows of the business cycle. If you apply during a traditionally slow hiring period, like during the holidays, you'll probably face less competition. On the other hand, if you apply during busy season or at the beginning of a new quarter, there might be more job openings.

2. If I see a new job posting that I'm interested in, should I send my résumé right away or wait a few days until the recruiter is no longer inundated with initial applications?

In this case, timing often does matter. Get your résumé together, write a tailored, company-specific cover letter and get that application in.

"The fact is that recruiters often will be recruiting for 20 to 40 positions at a time," says Chris Forman, CEO of StartWire, a networking website for job seekers. "Once a job is open for three or four days, the recruiter or human resources specialist will review the applicant pool and determine if they have enough candidates to proceed. If they do, oftentimes they will stop reviewing new candidates and interview the qualified candidates they already have in the hopper. This is not always the case, of course, but it does happen a fair amount of the time. That's why being 'Johnny on the spot' when a job is opened is always a best practice."

3. What's the best time of day to go in for an interview?

"I advise my clients to always try to interview in the morning or late afternoon if possible," says Barry Cohen, university employment coordinator at The City University of New York. "[It's like the sayings go:] 'Many a man has gone to jail because of a hungry judge,' or 'Hunger is the father of anger.'"

That said, if you land an interview, and the interviewer says he is only available at noon on Thursday, agree to be there at noon on Thursday. Proposing a "better" time just to increase the odds that timing will be in your favor will delay the interview process and might annoy the interviewer.

4. When should I follow up after an interview?

Your first follow-up should always be an emailed thank-you note sent within 24 hours of your interview. After that, it gets a little trickier.

"One of the key interview questions a candidate should ask is, 'When can I expect to hear from you? Is it all right if I contact you if I don't hear from you by then?'" Cohen says. If you forgot to ask that question in your interview, or you got an ambiguous answer, "wait six business days," he advises.

In terms of time of day? "There's no cookie-cutter response, " Salemi says. "But I always recommend following up first thing in the morning before the manager becomes inundated with daily emails, calls and meetings. Or you can follow up at night so hopefully they respond the next morning."

Cohen agrees with Salemi's timing, but for a different reason. "The best time to reach a hiring manager is between 5:15 p.m. and 6 p.m. or 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., thus avoiding the 'gatekeeper' or 'screener.' Chances are that most hiring managers are at their desk before 9 a.m. and generally tend to stay beyond 5 p.m. to wrap up."

Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.

Last Updated: 02/05/2011 - 3:39 PM


Article Reprints
Permission must be obtained from CareerBuilder.com to reprint any of its articles. Please send a request to reprints@careerbuilder.com.