Stop! How Applying Before the Deadline Is Killing Your Job Application

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“When is a deadline not really a deadline? When it is on a job application,” I told a recent transitioning military coaching client. “As a job seeker, you must be first to apply. If you apply at the deadline, or slightly before the deadline, you might as well not apply at all.”

“That makes no sense,” he said, giving me that skin-peeling look senior military members all seem to develop over time. “Why would they establish a deadline if they don’t intend to use it?”

I felt like Seaman Timmy with all my skin flapping around my ankles. Suddenly the policy made no sense to me, either. Why do job seekers actually need to be the first to apply for an open position?

While I’ve heard experts at LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Monster and Jobscan advise job seekers to be the first to apply, I thought it was just to make sure people knew the company had that handy-dandy alert tool. Besides, being early always sounds like a good idea. And I’ve heard of recruiters so swamped with applications that they close the requisition early. “Apply first” is an obviously good strategy, yeah?

Perfectionists Need Not Apply

Then again, these are the same experts telling job seekers to closely match the resume to the job listing. They are the ones harping about how you should check and recheck your application for spelling and grammar mistakes. That stuff takes time -- all the time right up to the deadline. Wouldn’t they rather have the resume perfect than first?

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I went straight to the experts at the Sea-Air-Space convention near Washington, D.C., last week to find out. Hosted by the Navy League, Sea-Air-Space is the largest convention of maritime defense contractors, military members and leadership in the United States. It is also a great place to talk to recruiters from defense talent acquisition teams about spouse and veteran job seekers.

It turns out that being first to apply is not just a strategy; it is a necessity brought on by the recruiting process. Due to the sheer number of applicants, every resume is not given the same amount of attention, no matter how perfect it is.

How the Application Process Works for Veterans

While each company is slightly different, it is standard in the industry for some kind of applicant tracking system to knock out the unqualified. Sometimes, this is done with the qualifications listed in the “requirement” section. Sometimes, it is done with a series of questions you need to answer about the job at the time you apply.

Then your application goes to a recruiter at a big company or a hiring manager at a mid-sized company. At a small company, the vice president, president or CEO of the company might be doing the recruiting as well as the hiring. This individual typically identifies four or five applicants to interview first.

Qualified vs. Best Qualified Applicants

As job seekers, we hear this kind of thing and think the recruiter is looking for the four or five best qualified applicants to interview first. Nope. Recruiters are looking for the first to qualify.

This is shocking for us in the military world. Why wouldn’t employers seek out the best qualified? Why would they settle for (possibly) less? It turns out that it is an efficiency to seek the first, not the best.

“It is not my only req [job requisition],” one recruiter told me. “I have dozens to do this week.”

“Not enough time in the world,” another agreed.

Once the recruiter has identified the top four candidates, the recruiter sends those off to the hiring manager. If the candidates don’t work out, the recruiter can reach back and pluck out the next four candidates. This is why a job may show that it is still open for applications when a candidate has already been interviewed and offered the job, but is not yet an employee.

Also, the recruiters want me to tell you if you submit a resume and get an immediate rejection, this is not a reflection on your qualifications. Instead, it is usually the sign that the requisition is closed or that there is an internal candidate.

How to Beat the “First to Apply” Rule

1. Set up your alerts.

The whole process seems frustrating, but now you know why applying online rarely works. Luckily, there are two ways around it for us. The first is to play the game like an expert. Set up your alerts and notifications.

2. Network into the job.

The other way to get your resume to be looked at is to go through your network before the job is ever posted, especially if you are looking for a job paying more than six figures. Start with our networking master class and be sure to check out the new rules of networking for military members.

Networking is different for the military community. It isn’t about making cold calls. It’s about reconnecting existing work relationships. Often, when veterans or spouses are talking to past work friends about their post-military life, the friend offers to help.

They will tell you that if you find a job on the company website and want to apply, that they will be happy to submit it for you through the company referral tool. Take them up on this offer. Getting your resume to the recruiter this way will not guarantee that you will be hired, but it usually guarantees that it will be looked at closely. Sometimes, that is all you will need to make it into an interview.

Now that you know the deadline on a job listing is not really a deadline, you can make a different strategy. Network first. Apply first. Finish first. Because the best-paying jobs and the most meaningful jobs do not get awarded on merit alone, they are given to those who learn to play the game.

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