The Secret Benefit of Applying to General Applicant Pools

3 min. read

Let’s say you come across a company you’d love to work for. They don’t have any jobs open for the type of role you’re looking for, but they do have a general application where you can submit your resume to be considered for future roles. Why not? You go for it.

And now you wait. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months, maybe forever. It can be a tricky sort of limbo to find yourself in as an applicant.

Whether you’ve applied to a general application before or are currently thinking about doing so, it can be helpful to know what’s happening behind the scenes on the employer’s side — and what you can expect.

We spoke with Jaclyn Jussif, the lead recruiter at edX, on the topic. Here’s what she had to say:

General Applicant Pools

Why Apply to a General Interest Application Pool?

At face value, it may not seem worthwhile to put your resume into a general application pool. Often, it can seem like a void from which your application may never surface.

But that isn’t always true. In fact, it can be a really smart move as a candidate. Jaclyn explains:

“It allows you to express interest in a company, especially if you’re not actively looking, so that your name is in their database.”

This way, when a relevant role does come up, your resume will be surfaced first by the recruiting team. “At edX, we have an application called ‘Any Opening,’ where any candidate who is interested in our company can apply to be considered when we have a relevant opening,” she shares.

A general application helps the company build a pipeline of candidates from which they can pull when a new job opens up. Even huge brands like Zappos use this strategy:

With your resume in a database, Jaclyn says it can be really easy for a recruiter to find you:

“Most modern recruiting software uses keyword matches. So if you have the right keywords for your desired role in your resume and cover letter, you will be considered for the job without having to do much legwork.”

If you’re just starting to think about switching jobs, getting your resume into the general application pool at various companies you’re interested in can help get your foot in the door.

If you’re not sure whether your application will be filed for later use, here are a few signals to be on the lookout for:

  • There is a “General Interest” or “Any Openings” category on the company’s website where you can submit an application.
  • If a particular job description uses language like, “We hire many candidates who fit this profile every year.”
  • If the role is very nonspecific (e.g. lacking a clear description of responsibilities, seniority, team, etc) or has a number in it (e.g. Analyst III). 

Understanding Where Your Application Goes

One of the first things candidates wonder when they submit a general application is whether it’s going into a black hole or is actually being read. In most cases, your application will go into the company’s application tracking system (ATS), and a recruiter will be alerted.

From here, there are three likely scenarios:

  1. Red Light: There isn’t a fit right now, so you’ll receive an email from the company (either automated or directly from a recruiter, depending on the volume of applications they receive) letting you know that there isn’t currently a fit, but they will save your application for future openings.
  2. Green Light: The company does have a role that’s a fit (perhaps they just haven’t posted it yet) and will reach out to schedule a phone interview.
  3. Yellow Light: Your background is so relevant and interesting that they will want to hop on the phone to discuss a potential fit with you.

At edX, Jaclyn explains that they have a monthly rotation where a different person looks at resumes that come in each month, and when there is a match for a current or upcoming role, they’ll send each team the appropriate resumes to review.

This is a common approach for smaller organizations, but if you’re applying to a larger organization that receives a high volume of applications, the recruiting team will conduct keyword matches against resumes in the database and send a list of resumes to various teams when they’re hiring. 

What To Expect Once You Apply

The process for a general interest application is naturally a bit slower than for an active position. However, you should at the least obtain confirmation from the company that your resume was received. “At edX, if it’s clear there isn’t a match for the candidate at the company now or in the future, we will let them know sooner rather than later so they can move on with their search,” says Jaclyn. “But if there is a match, we will get in touch right away.” She continues, “I’ll let them know I saw their resume come in and tell them about the roles we have, whether currently or in the near future.”

If an employer doesn't contact you after you submit your general application, you should be prepared to follow up — but without as much urgency and frequency as you would for an active position.

“It’s a nice gesture to follow up with a company’s recruiter(s) on LinkedIn letting them know that you applied because it shows interest,” says Jaclyn. “I like it when people reach out to me directly. It shows they did their research.” However, if you’re going to apply to a general interest category, it’s important to set your own expectations around the fact that you probably won’t hear back right away (or possibly ever) about an opening.

“Plan your search around positions that are more active if you’re actively looking,” advises Jaclyn. Getting your application into the ring can be a great strategy if you’re just starting off your job search. But if you’re looking to land a job in the next month or two, don’t pin your hopes on general interest applications panning out. 

How To Stand Out As a General Applicant

Especially if you’re applying to a larger organization that receives many applications, you want to put your best foot forward and make sure you can be easily found in their system. Jaclyn's advice:

“When applying to a general interest pool, you should include a cover letter that explains what you’re interested in working on and why you’re drawn to the company.”

This can be a great way for recruiters to quickly determine if you’re a match now or down the road. You may also want to include a quick summary in your resume. 

Diversify Your Job Application Strategy

While filling out a general application  may not bear fruit immediately, it can benefit you in a number of ways as you shape your career. If you have your eyes set on a few “dream” companies you’d like to work for, proactively getting in front of them is a great way to stay top of mind.

General applications are an easy way for passive and active candidates alike to be considered for all kinds of roles, and the more companies you can get in front of, the better your prospects will be in the long run.

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