Thursday, November 4, 2010

Not Getting Responses to E-Mail Job Applications?

At Israemploy, the most common complaint that I receive is that candidates don't get responses to their email employment applications. There are two aspects to this concern:
  • Not sure that the email application was delivered
  • Can't understand why they didn't get to the next step of the recruitment process
The first point is more of a logistics issue. I used to think that it was trivial for employers to have automatic responses to email job applications acknowledging receipt. Now though, after getting this question so often from job seekers, I wish that all companies would implement some form of automatic receipt of the application, to give peace of mind to candidates (and those that work at Internet job sites). Generally though, the simple response is that if you did not get an error message in response to your application, then you can be confident that your email was delivered as intended.

The more interesting question is what becomes of your email job application once it arrives. The motivation of the second question above is: I feel that I am perfect for the job as described – why am I not getting invited for an interview? This is one of the most critical yet difficult pieces of information to ascertain.

I have been fortunate enough in my role at Israemploy to gain access to H/R decision makers at employers, giving me insights into what is going on behind the scenes, and how decisions are being made regarding whom to move forward with in the recruitment process.

Here are some things I have learned that will hopefully shed some light on this subject. Not all of this will make for pleasant reading, but understanding the reality of the situation is always critical, even if it is not how you wish it to be:

  • I have lost count of the amount of applications that I have received with no indication of which job is being applied for. I, and most other employers/placement companies, have many job openings at the same time, and if it is not immediately evident which job you are suited for, then usually I will lose interest and move on to the next application.

  • If there is no cover letter, or it doesn't do a good job of introducing your CV, and I have plenty of other candidates, then there is a good chance that I will invest my time in reading someone else's CV. Use your cover letter to convince the employer that it is worth their while to read your CV.

    • A corollary to the cover letter explanation is that I am not in favor of including important points in your cover letter that are NOT in your CV as well. The objective of the cover letter is to get someone to read your CV; the goal of the CV is to get called for an interview. Yet, and this may sound contradictory, you absolutely can not be sure that the person that is reading your CV has read your cover letter, or at least read it within a short enough period of time previously that they actually remember its contents. The CV must be considered a stand-alone document, and all of the points you wish to emphasize need to be contained within the confines of this document.

  • Sometimes, after the employer decides to advertise a position, there is a subsequent decision to stop or freeze the process. Unfortunately, this is not so rare.

  • Another situation that occurs is when a company belatedly decides to fill a role with an internal candidate. Again, this does regularly occur in large companies.

  • Do you really meet the job requirements:

    • I have found that many people that are shocked that they are not getting invited to interviews don't even meet the listed job requirements as published by the employer. Now, there is nothing wrong with applying for a job if you don't meet all of the requirements, as sometimes what the company lists falls more into the category of nice-to-have rather than required. However, at a minimum, if there are one or more items in a job listing which are designated as required and you don't have them, it doesn't make a lot of sense to apply, and it certainly isn't warranted for you to feel slighted afterwards when not hearing from the company.

    • If a company receives a large quantity of applications from qualified candidates, then meeting the listed job requirements may not be enough. At this point, since the employer needs to reduce the field to a manageable amount of people to invite to interview, they will eliminate from consideration those that meet the requirements, but are still perceived as less capable than others that also applied.

    • Sometimes there are unwritten job requirements, including age limits or maximum distance from the employer. I have heard some companies say that they won't hire anyone older than 40, and others that won't take someone younger than 30. From the strict sense, this is illegal, but this is not particularly relevant. Companies are cognizant of their current workforce make-up, and one of the factors when choosing a new employee is how that person will fit in. A related point is that businesses that have had poor previous experience hiring a person that lives 50+ kilometers away may well not consider new applicants that live far from them, independent of what the average commute time is for people that live outside of Israel

  • The candidate arrives late in the recruitment process. Employers oftentimes do not remove their job listings even when they have a short-list of candidates for interview. The faster you can get your application in, the better your chances to receive serious consideration.
For a person applying to jobs they find on Internet sites, a 5-10% response rate (a response for every 10-20 applications) is considered good. Using Internet job sites to apply for jobs is a must in the 21st century, as it is easy and people absolutely do get interviews and jobs that originate from such services. However, for those that are serious about getting access to a larger amount of job opportunities and increasing their success rate (and getting more clarity of their status), combining Internet sites with other job search techniques, especially including networking, is the single most effective step a job seeker can take to improve their interview hit rate.


  1. Ron, Thanks for the such a great article! My husband recently fell into that unwritten restrictions category and it was devastating.

    After months of applications and dozens of interviews, he was asked if he'd be able to start the next day if they decided on hiring him (via a recruiter). He assumed this meant he had the job and replied in the affirmative that he would speak with his current employer and work it out...

    He didn't receive a call later that day, or even the next day. So while sitting in grid lock he phoned the recruiter and learned that the company decided to pass because 1) he's 50+ and 2) he lives over the green line and they'd prefer a candidate (although they hadn't made a hiring decision yet) who could quickly jump on a bus in Tel Aviv and be at the office in 10 to 15 minutes.

    The moral of the story: give as little personal information as possible during the interview, and express interest in the job but don't appear too anxious (desperate).

  2. Thanks for the great post - it's good to see this issue being addressed. What I find particularly distressing is when a job ad I've applied for with no response keeps being reposted for months afterward. This would seem to indicate that the position is still unfilled, so why am I being ignored? I'm speaking about positions that I am qualified for (according to the ad), in the right location for, and by any standard not too young or old for. Even positions that can't be getting too many responses, because they explicitly require a degree in a less commonly studied field. I have to wonder if a lot of these ads are serious, or some sort of practical joke.

    I know some companies will keep an ad up even when they have no open positions, just so they can maintain a database of people to call up if/when they do have a vacancy in the future. I say this is false advertising and a waste of applicants' time, and job sites should bar or penalize companies caught doing it.

    To make matters worse, I often can't even contact the company directly to ask what's going on, because the identity of the company is not given in the ad. There should be some sort of accountability on the part of these employers - if they're going to ignore serious, qualified applicants, they shouldn't be able to remain anonymous as well. If they insist on anonymity, they should have to treat applicants with some decency and at least send them a reply. Applying for jobs online is great in theory, but most of the time it seems like I'm spending time on CVs, cover letters, and even long, obnoxious questionnaires only to have them disappear down a black hole.

  3. In theory getting an error message back should tell you if you made an error in the email address. However, there appear to be a couple of flaws in this assertion:

    1. The most likely scenario in which you would get an error message is if the domain name does not match any existing domain.

    2. If a domain is configured to send a message saying that you sent the email to an invalid address that would help, but more and more email servers are being configured to never send those kinds of messages, especially externally. This functionality has been, is currently being, abused to spam people or commit DDOS attacks. That means that even if the address does not exist, you may never know it.

    3. At smaller companies an administrator might have a catch-all address, which means that everything going to an otherwise invalid address would go to him. Depending on his responsibilities he may not notice the email for many months, or longer.

    4. Assuming you sent the email to a valid address you may have sent it to the wrong address. If a company is big enough a slight transposition of letters might send the email to a totally unrelated part of the company.

    5. Assuming you have sent the email to the correct email address there could be other issues that prevented the email from being delivered, such as a full mailbox, misconfigured spam traps, etc.

    6. I had a case wherein I applied for a job using the company's HR page, which had a form for uploading a resume for a specific position, which should have sent the resume to the right person. Unfortunately that portion of the website's backend was being redone, so that functionality was silently failing. Some prodding of the webmaster got the resume sent to the correct place. (I would not try this with a large company, but this place was small enough to make it seem worthwhile.)

    It seems to me that a lack of an automated response is not a good indicator of the resume being received by the correct party.

  4. Tehillah, putting aside your husband's age, why doesn't he look for a job (relatively) near home? Do you expect the company to pay his travel expenses and wait for him to get to work when they need him quickly?

  5. Here is an example of where an email can be received at a company and not be read...

    Emails were left unread for 4 years because senders left a dot (.) out of the email address but the address without the dot existed but was not being monitored.

    Even an auto reply would not give comfort here. Nothing short of a response from a real person would confirm the receipt, but that is not going to happen

  6. I would like to suggest that everyone have his/her CV professionally translated into Hebrew. If the ad is in Hebrew and does not specify an English CV, then it is wise to send it in Hebrew. Let's say the person at the other end (and who is this person anyway who gets the emails) gets 50 responses and two are English and the rest are in Hebrew. Which ones probably will fall to the bottom of the pile? Another concern of mine is that the last emails sent go to the top of the email inbox, which means that I am somewhat hesitant to send out the email when the job is first posted. I just wonder if they go from the top down and take the first 25 or so, or from the bottom up?

    Let's face it, we weren't offered Entrepreneurship 101 and our parents only wanted us to get degrees to work for others. I for one am thinking about selling my Tel Aviv apartment (with a parking space) and buying a kiosk. What a sacrifice to live in the land of Milk and Honey, especially at my age....