By Larry Buhl
In the best of times, responding to a job listing can feel like sending your resume out to sea in a bottle. Sometimes you'll get an email or a phone call acknowledging your resume or application, but often you'll hear nothing at all.
If there is a resounding silence from your queries, keep looking and networking. But you can also do some sleuthing to give you a better chance of standing out next time. Recruiters and career experts agree that, if you didn't get an interview or phone call -- or even a thank-you email -- it may be due to at least one of six reasons.
1. They're Just Not That Into You
You're good, but someone else more closely met the qualifications. In a tight job market employers can usually get exactly the type of candidate they want. A polite "thanks, but no thanks" letter or email would be nice. But don't expect it these days.
2. They May Be Into You, As Soon As They Get to You
Companies receive so many submissions these days that they don't even have time to send out letters or confirmation emails. "I know a major software company that's taking more than three weeks just to send out acknowledgement notes, and some companies are spending months sifting through resumes for just one opening," workplace etiquette expert Sue Fox says.
3. They Would Have Been Into You If You Had Followed Directions
"Many job listings use the word 'must,' not 'it would be nice to,'" says Dave Opton, CEO and founder of ExecuNet. "If it says you must have experience in X, then tailor your resume to show that."
If you're answering a job listing, be sure you respond exactly the way the company wants. And be aware that if you're not applying for a specific job but rather sending out dozens or hundreds of form letters, your resume is likely to end up in companies' spam folders.
4. They Might Be Into You If You Apply for a More Appropriate Job
Independent recruiter Cheryl Ferguson says that many job seekers are overqualified, underqualified or otherwise just wrong. "If we need to fill a specific job, and you're not right for it, don't assume that we're going to find the right fit for you," she says. "A lot of times people send me resumes, and I want to ask, 'Did you even read the job description?'"
5. Your Presentation Could Use Some Work
"A lot of mistakes I see are a lack of cover letter, and a [resume objective] that is all wrong for the job opening," says Lindsay Olson, partner and recruiter at Paradigm Staffing. "Even worse are obviously mass emails where the candidates had no clue what they were applying for."
6. There Isn't Any Job
Sometimes, due to last-minute budget cuts, a position is eliminated before it's even filled. Other times, according to Olson, companies reel in resumes even when they know there isn't any opening. "Some companies want a big applicant pool because they think they may be hiring in the future," Olson says.
How can you learn what happened?
If you feel like your resume is out at sea, and you'd at least like confirmation that you're out of the running, there are things you can do.
- Contact the Company: Yes, the ad had a "no calls" warning, and there wasn't a name anyway. But if you're pretty sure you're right for the job, and you've heard nothing after a week, you can still call someone to find out if you're at least in the running. Try to find the hiring manager. HR is too busy, and they almost never want to hear from you.
"If you do follow up by phone, don't leave a voice mail," Opton says. "Early in the morning or after five you're more likely to reach a real person."
- But Don't Be a Pest: "If you've had an interview and sent your thank-you letter, wait a week to call," Fox says. One or two emails are OK, but three will probably look desperate, she adds. "And never, ever, show up at the company without an interview and demand to be seen. It will backfire."
- Reread the Job Posting: Did the resume you sent really fit the job requirements? Or were you hoping the company would find another job just for you? "I love it when a candidate has done the homework and already knows the company and the position," Ferguson says. "It makes it easier for both of us."
- Take a Look at Your Resume: Get a second and third opinion on your resume. Does it present you in the right light? Is it professionally formatted? Does it feature accomplishments, rather than merely job titles and dates?
- Step Up the Networking: "It's always best to network your way into a position," Opton says. "You'll get a lot more individual attention than someone responding to a job listing."