How Long Does It Take Before You Hear Back from a Job Application?

Here’s a question from my inbox, and it’s one we can ALL relate to. “I applied for a job that closed last week. I’m eager to hear back from them. I know it’s probably too soon, but what is a ‘reasonable’ amount of time before I should expect to hear something? And when should I – and how do I – follow up with them?

Let me take you behind the scenes of what’s probably happening to get you a better idea of when you might hear from them.

I’m going to use my current employer as an example because it’s the process I know best. Here are the parameters to keep in mind.

First I work in higher ed, which has its own notoriously slow timeline. Second, that means there’s often layers of red tape involved because we have department HR people, university-wide HR policies, etc. So these two factors vary wildly by sector (higher ed, corporate, etc.) and by who has the power to review applications, when, who is authorized to schedule interviews and when, etc.

But even with those being said, my team is relatively fast to hire someone. So while I don’t know the specifics of the person asking – the industry, the job type, the organization – my general process might help you all understand what’s happening.

First Stop: HR

Before I ever even get a list of applicants for an opening on my team, the applications go only to HR. HR is the only team that sees applications as they come in, and while I don’t know exactly what they do, I presume they screen out incomplete applications or ones that were not submitted by the deadline, because I don’t ever see those.

What I do know is that it can take around 3 business days before I get a list from them. Most of our job listings close on a Friday afternoon. So that means if I haven’t heard from HR by Wednesday lunch, I’m emailing them asking when I can expect my list.

So here’s one stumbling block. In my department, we have HR staff who are dedicated solely to hiring, but even they are swamped at certain times of year, and vacancies vary by need. Some are MUCH more higher-priority than others. In other departments, one HR person handles all hiring, terminations, payroll, benefits, and god knows what else. So depending on circumstances, this part may be lightning fast or it may take forever.

Second Stop: Hiring Committee’s Email

Around 3 business days after my posting closes, what I get is a list of all applications, along with explicit instructions on how to rank each application. Attached are all applications (not just those that HR has deemed strongest or most qualified).

It’s time for me to review them to see who I want to invite for phone interviews.

Parallel to that, other members of the hiring team (typically 3 team members where I work), are also reviewing the exact same pile of applications.

So again, there can be delays there. What if one of my hiring committee members (or me) is out on vacation or out sick when a position closes? We wait.

Consider the Timeline Factors

I set my own deadline for the hiring committee to complete their individual reviews because I believe that time is of the essence.

There are factors to consider here that vary widely. I manage a small team, and my team has a narrow and focused function. So one vacancy means that the rest of us have to carry extra workload until the new person is not only hired by up and running and contributing. That can be around 3 months before they start really contributing (after learning our process, software, the specific project(s) they’ll handle, etc.)! But it also means that we typically have a much smaller pile to review than more general types of work. It’s just the nature of the work; we do highly specialized work, so we don’t have as many applicants as other kinds of teams.

When I have a vacancy, I make it a priority to get those committee reviews done within 2 business days. I set a meeting for 2 business days away – Friday lunch – when we will gather as a team and discuss and compare our rankings to agree upon who we’ll interview.

But consider MY boss. They manage several teams. With widely disparate functions. And different visibilities and priorities. So if THEY have a vacancy, they might be forced to move even faster (to staff a high priority vacancy to keep basic services afloat). The corollary also applies though. If it’s not something that will sink the organization if it’s not done, they may not have TIME to get to the email from HR telling them here’s your pile of applications until late Friday – a full week after the position first closed. So they’re already 1 week plus before they even communicate to the hiring committee when they need to complete their review by. And for some of their openings, they will have, literally hundreds of applications to look through.

Back to HR

Once my committee has completed our review and agreed on which applicants to phone interview, I have to send to HR one singular agreed-upon list with rankings and explanations. That will happen right after our Friday lunch meeting. So I’ll send it by mid-Friday afternoon.

Once HR has reviewed it (again, I don’t know exactly what they do there) but only then do I get the green light to call and schedule phone interviews. Depending on when that is that I hear back (Friday at 5 pm? Not until Monday at 2 pm?), only then can I begin to make calls.

This is When You’ll Hear From Us

So even with my “slow” timeline and required levels of review, in the BEST of circumstances, if you were applying for a job on my team, you’d not hear from me until AT LEAST one business week plus a half day to hear from me. Meaning if it closed on Friday afternoon, you probably won’t hear any good news from me inviting you to a phone interview until at least Monday late morning.

If it helps, the typical timeline from the moment the job posting closes to the new person’s first day is about 8 weeks where I work.

I hope that at least sheds some light on a “typical” process and timeline. Now on to your next question.

When – and how – should I follow up on my application?

I don’t know on the when part. I’m no expert here. I advise you to google what might be best specific to that industry and employer. You’ll find some much better info on Glassdoor or similar sites. Not only does every sector differ; every employer’s process and timeline differs.

Should you? It’s perfectly fine to follow up a couple of weeks after the position closes. It’s important to NOT do some super annoying things, like:

  • Do NOT call too soon! Don’t call a couple of business days after your application went in. If there’s no deadline listed, don’t call before 2 weeks after the “review of applications will begin on…” date.
  • DON’T be nosy. Don’t ask something like “Have they started interviews?” Instead, ask something like “When can candidates expect to hear about next steps?”
  • DON’T make demands. Even if you’re lucky enough to be getting interview invitations simultaneously from other employers, that isn’t *their* problem. So don’t pull the “I kind of need to know because I’m interviewing at XYZ next week…”
  • And finally, DON’T ask more than a time or two. If you haven’t heard from me for a phone interview after a couple of weeks, it’s most likely because we’re either about to or have already started in-person interviews and you’re not under consideration.

Got a work question I can answer for you anonymously here on my blog? Email me!

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