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When Your Resume Falls Into The Big Black Hole

The Problem

You've sent your resume in response to a ad which matches your qualifications perfectly. Because the job listing requested you to submit your resume online, you don't know the name of the company or the person soliciting candidates. There's no way you can follow up to make sure the recruiter received your information. While you're working with blinders on, you're still confident the company will realize you are an ideal candidate and call or e-mail you immediately. A week, then two go by and you haven't heard a word. You grow increasingly frustrated and angry with the company's incompetence and rudeness in ignoring a person who's obviously perfect for the position.

After a while you put this particular experience behind you. Yet, you find yourself experiencing deja vu over and over again. Eventually you decide recruiters in general have no empathy whatsoever for job seekers. In fact, they take perverse pleasure in playing mind games with people desperately seeking employment. It's almost enough to make you contemplate starting your own business!

The No-Response Rationale

If you have lived the experience above, you are not alone. You have a right to feel discounted. However, it's unlikely you've been snubbed on purpose. There are a variety of reasons why recruiters don't follow up on every resume sent to them, even those candidates they think are a perfect match.

The first excuse is their volume of work. Like everyone employed by a lean, mean, stockholder-driven machine, human resources professionals are stretched incredibly thin. Many are doing the work of two or three people. They barely keep up with the demand for filling new positions, let alone attend to the needs of thousands of job seekers. Unfortunately, to them you are just a two-dimensional piece of paper, with or without the appropriate key words. Unless your resume and cover letter position you as the answer to their recruiting prayers, you will probably land in their computer database; a huge, generally-ignored box of candidates with potential, or their round file. They don't like this impersonal system any more than you do. They are people people, but they simply don't have time to contact everyone who sends them a resume.

Often resumes, especially unsolicited ones, go directly into a computer scanning system that translates and stores your hard copy in a format computers can read. When there is a job opening, the recruiter plugs the position's key words and phrases into the system and asks the computer to find the best resume matches. This automated system is a tremendously complicated obstacle course for your resume to traverse. Before it reaches the finish line and the coveted interview pile, it must:

  • Feed into the scanner easily

  • Be free of italics or underlining, which a scanner turns into gibberish

  • Have sufficient white space for the computer to read it

  • Contain the correct key words

  • Include enough of the right key words to beat the competition

  • Etc, etc, etc.....

In other words, if your resume isn't eye candy for the computer, you are defeated before you start. With thousands of resumes going into the system at large companies every week, a busy, picky computer is not any more likely to acknowledge you than its human counterpart.

A typical recruiter spends 10-20 seconds scanning the first page of each resume he receives. Unless he sees exactly the skills and experience he is looking for, he will pitch it. This means one-size-fits-all resumes and cover letters rarely make it through the screening process. If you aren't willing to tailor your response to focus on the employer's needs, you are unlikely to get a second glance.

Sometimes job seekers notice a company is advertising more than one position which fits their qualifications. They send only one resume, assuming recruiters will pass it around to ascertain the best fit. This doesn't generally happen. If your resume is rejected by one screener, it's very unlikely another recruiter will get a crack at it. If you are applying for three jobs, send three resumes.

The Solution

If you want to hear from every employer to whom you send a resume, make it easy for them. Try including a stamped, self-addressed post card with the following choices on the back:

-We will be calling you for an interview.

-We have nothing for you at this time, but we will keep your resume on file for other openings.

-Your background is not a good fit for any of our employment needs.

This novel approach exhibits such an exquisite understanding of the recruiter's time constraints, she is likely to respond out of pure gratitude and admiration. In fact, she might decide to interview you, even if your qualifications are only a pretty good match for the job.

The Blind Ad Rationale

Often companies choose to run an employment ad using a P.O. Box for responses because:

  • The person currently in the position doesn't know he's about to be replaced.

  • The human resources department doesn't want to add phone calls from unqualified candidates to their already impossible work load.

  • An executive search firm is soliciting potential candidates and will screen responses before selecting some of them to present to its client company.

  • A search firm or corporation is testing the water to survey available candidates for positions similar to the one described, making this a bogus ad.

The Solution

If the P.O. box is owned by a newspaper or on-line career center, you are out of luck. You'll just have to tailor your resume and cover letter and hope for a reply.

If it's a federal P.O. box, you can often get the name of the company using it, if you approach a postal employee with a touch of obsequious respect. Once you know the company, you can usually identify the head of H. R. While she might not be the person recruiting for the position, she may award you some points for perseverance and ingenuity and pass your resume along to the appropriate individual. At least you will stand out from the crowd in a positive, proactive way.

The Ultimate Solution

Any career planner will tell you that responding to employment ads is not the best way to use valuable job search time. Only a small percent of open positions are advertised. And even fewer are actually filled via the newspaper or the internet.

If you want to maximize your job seeking effort, spend most of your days networking with friends, colleagues and other professionals. With a consistent track record for filling 80-90 percent of available openings, networking is clearly a candidate's greatest resource for finding out about positions and landing offers. And, it has the added advantage of giving you a lot more control over your job search process than you have responding to ads, sending unsolicited resumes or counting on an executive recruiter to obtain a match for you. If you initiate and follow up on personal contacts, you will cut your waiting and wondering time to a minimum.

If you are determined to respond to ads, confine yourself to the ones listing an employer and contact person. Then research the organization and tailor the first paragraph of your cover letter to showcase your specific interest in the company. Using an individual's name gets your letter off to a much better start than, "To Whom It May Concern." And, you're able to call or e-mail this person to ascertain what's happening with your resume instead of sitting and hoping to hear from Mr. Anonymous.

Every situation has options. If the path you have chosen isn't working for you, try another. Life is too short to languish in job search limbo.

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