Every now and then when I receive messages from recruiters about positions that I'm actually suitable for and may consider applying I become pretty indecisive about what should I respond (i.e. am I actually interested in the job, do I want to start working there, spend some time gathering more information about the company, etc.). This results in pretty slow response times on my end (i.e. 3-4 and at times even more days) which seems pretty unprofessional to me and is probably leaving bad impression. What should I do in these cases? Something I've tried is simply writing to the recruiter that I need some time to think and I will contact them if needed, but I'm not really sure if that's any better than not responding for a while and then coming up with a final decision. Any thoughts?

Basically, as strange as it sounds, the more exciting I find a given opportunity, the slower I am to respond to the person who send it to me. (which is probably just on the contrary to what the other side might think)

  • "Something I've tried is simply writing to the recruiter that I need some time to think" - instead of "need some time to think", request some more information from them. That puts the ball back in their court, as it were. Maybe they'll tell you something you needed to know in your decision process. – Brandin Feb 19 '16 at 9:31
  • I tend to batch my responses - i.e. deal with unsolicited recruitment efforts all at once, and no more than once a week. Most recently, I got back to someone on their 3rd contact, which had arrived at 2 week intervals. But I'm not actively looking, and I prefer to take time to research any company that approaches me. – Arlie Stephens Feb 19 '16 at 17:51

Respond as soon as possible. There is no point in delaying a response (or application to a job opening) unless you need some time to polish your resume. Incidentally, this is why you should always keep your resume fairly current.

Some companies do close submissions once their candidate pool is large enough but smart hiring managers won't refuse to consider a candidate who looks like an excellent match but there's little point in waiting unnecessarily. If your field is highly competitive, your profile doesn't stand out or you're desperate for a job then it makes sense to respond/apply as soon as possible.

If you're asking about what's "professional", if you're being cold called by a recruiter I'd suggest that a week or so would be typical. If time is of the essence then the recruiter will mention that. Good employees are often busy employees and recruiters know that: there's no stigma involved with responding "late", unless you're talking several weeks. In that case you'd need to acknowledge the delay and be prepared for the position being filled or applications being closed, but you have nothing to lose by checking.

As an aside, I'd say you're doing too much work. If the position seems interesting and matches your profile then you can just fire off a simple reply to the recruiter asking for more information. Often they'll be scarce with details in their initial contact and will have a more in-depth job description they can send you. Some will want to call you instead and that's also normal. First calls like that should not be considered formal interviews so you don't need to prepare for them. The recruiter will just explain some of the aspects of the position and might ask about your experience or work history to see if they match. If you're still interested in the position after that extra information, then you can start researching the company and formally apply as a candidate. This has the advantage of quickly putting you on the recruiter's radar so you don't risk missing out on time-sensitive opportunities.

To quote Alison Green who I previously quoted in my answer to a related question:

Apply as soon as you have time to do it well, and don’t worry about the timing.

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    I agree, reply asap, you don't have to commit to anything – Kilisi Feb 19 '16 at 9:53

I would not consider 3 to 4 days (even a week) as overly unprofessional. After all you are searching for a new job in your spare time. And you have to distribute that time over many other tasks as well. If it takes longer than you want you could start your delayed reply with a small apology about being busy, but this is really not neccessary. After all the relationship to your recruiter is bidirectional: You want a job from them, but they also want you to get one (provision and head bonus and stuff).

It may help if you think about what you want beforehand. Be sure about what you want to acheive with your next career step. The next thing to consider is that you don't sign a contract just by replying to your recruiter if you are interested or not. You can look at the job after you expressed interest and step back later if you think it does not suit you.

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I've always been told, and gone by the simple rule:

Respond to anything received in the morning by that afternoon, and anything in the afternoon by the following morning. If you get something on a Friday afternoon, the best time to respond is Sunday night, as it will be near or at the top of their email inbox when they get in on Monday. Time is of the essence as job orders do have closing dates for applications.

If it's a form letter, that starts "Dear John Smith, I came across your resume in our database and I think I have an opportunity that may match your skills and background" then a week is not unprofessional.

But more important than timing is that your response is well thought-out, well written and worded.

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