Regardless of the timing, the applicants who apply sooner rather than later have a better shot at getting an interview than those who apply after the interview process has already begin.
What's the best way find companies that have open positions? It depends what type of job you're looking for, but there are ways to get the newest job openings online and via email, as well as options for finding local companies who are hiring now.
Get Ready to Apply For Jobs
Before you start searching for jobs, get ready to job search. Create or update your resume, have a basic cover letter that you can customize for the jobs you are applying for ready, and have all the information you need to complete a job application at hand.
You don't want to miss out on a good opportunity because you're not ready to submit an application. Also, don't wait to apply. I know too many people who spent so much time deciding whether they should apply and writing and re-writing job application materials that, by the time they got their application in it was too late and the job was filled.
Job Search Engines
The job search engines not only let you find jobs fast, because they are searching many sources of job listings at once, they are also a good way to find jobs that are available immediately.
LinkUp.com, for example, searches for jobs directly on company websites. Once the job is no longer listed, it's removed from the site and won't show up in the search results.
US.jobs also posts jobs from company job boards, as well as from state job banks for all fifty states.
Jobsminer.com is a social network site job search engine that provides a way to find those jobs that are listed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and forums. Many companies promote current job openings on social networking sites, sometimes even before they are listed on job boards or company websites, so you'll be able find listings ahead of other candidates.
Job Search Alerts
Most job boards and many company websites and job search engines have options where you can get new job postings that match your interests sent to you as soon as they are listed.
For example, Indeed.com offers email job alerts and RSS feeds that delivers jobs to news readers. CareerBuilder.com users can set up job alerts to receive notifications about new job listings that include the keywords (company name or job title) that you list.
Apply Direct at Company Websites
If you know which companies you are interested in working for, you can go directly to the source and search for and apply for jobs online directly on many company websites. At most company sites, you can apply for all level positions online and your application will go directly into the company's application tracking system for considering. You'll find job postings in the "Careers" section of the site, which is often listed under "About Us" or "About the Company" on the front page of the company website.
In addition, many large companies are always hiring. Leading employers are continually accepting applications and filling job openings, because they are have so many employees there is always turnover and new jobs. Many of those companies are part of the DirectEmployers Association, a nonprofit HR consortium of leading global employers, which lists jobs and information listed by company on Us.jobs.
Ask Your Network
Networking, both in-person and online, is still the way the majority of job openings are filled. Let your friends and family know that you're seeking employment.
Also (carefully because you don't want your current employer to find out you're job searching) ask your connections on LinkedIn, and other contacts that you know you can safely tell you are looking for work, if they can let you know about any job listings that might be a good fit. You may be able to apply before the job is even posted. Here's more on job searching when you have a job for job seekers who are job hunting while employed.
If you're out of work, of course, tell everyone you know you are seeking employment. You don't know who may be able to help, unless you ask.
When you know that you want to work in your hometown or another specific location, take advantage of local job search resources. Many smaller companies list positions on Craigslist or the town Chamber of Commerce website, if it has a job board. Check the online help wanted ads for your local newspaper, as well.
If you're interested in a retail job, walk around town or the mall. You will see "Now Hiring" or "Help Wanted" signs in store windows, along with instructions on how to apply.