Your Job Application’s Journey

Knowing what recruiters and hiring managers do with your resume at every step of the application will let you set expectations about if and when you will receive a response.

Job seekers often complain that potential employers more closely resemble black holes than functioning companies. Submitted resumes – even those addressed to specific managers and hand carried by contacts on the inside – often get no response.
Even after several stages of screening and in-person interviews, thank-you notes and inquiries, job seekers often find themselves in a dead zone where all communication ceases, despite their best efforts and best-laid plans.

What happened?

“The black hole is alive and well, and that’s really a shame,” said David A. Earle, lead researcher at, an analyst company that measures recruiting trends. “We’ve taken a fairly strident position that corporations that don’t change their way of doing things in this Internet-centric environment will start to encounter candidates that know they’re being treated well at Place A and badly at Place B, and that knowledge will start showing up in those companies’ recruiting.”

But a better understanding of the application process can help illuminate the black hole and help job seekers prepare for lack of response and abrupt replies they’re likely to encounter during the job search.

‘Odds are you’ll never know what happened’

Why aren’t recruiters more responsive? The No. One reason is the sheer volume of candidates, said Lindsay Olson, a partner and recruiter at Paradigm Staffing, a recruiting company that specializes in marketing and PR positions.

“We’re getting so many resumes these days and so many people will apply for a job that they’re not qualified for that it’s a big stretch for HR people or recruiters to get back in touch with every single person,” Olson said. “It’s unrealistic of a candidate to expect that. But very few companies even try; it’s not hard to set up an automated response that gives people some idea of what to expect from the process, but almost nobody does it.”

That refusal is a special kind of arrogance on the part of hiring companies, said Sally Haver, senior vice president of business development at The Ayers Group/Career Partners International, a recruiting company that specializes in career transitions and outplacement.

“What should you expect when you apply for a job? Neglect,” she said. “There are all kinds of things that happen behind the scenes, from someone being out sick to someone else realizing they didn’t do their due diligence to find an internal candidate to people on the inside lobbying for someone they’re championing. If you are passed over during all that, odds are you’ll never know what happened.”

Unexpected kinks in the process notwithstanding, every application goes through certain steps and an expected timeline. That doesn’t mean the process won’t get short-circuited, sidetracked or altered along the way, but understanding the typical flow of a job application can help an expectant applicant adjust his expectations.

1. Resume goes in …

Whether you’re responding to an ad on Ladders, a special-purpose job site, or working with a contact at the company who can hand-deliver your resume to the hiring manager, your resume and cover letter are going to be screened by someone. More often than not, it’s a third-party recruiter who gets paid only when a hire is made, and might not get hired again for presenting any but the absolutely most appropriate candidates – and not too many of them, Olson said.

“We might present three to the client, and we decide on those by sifting through resumes, doing initial interviews and asking extra questions about topics the client might want more information about than the resume says,” she said. “We try to get some kind of response out within 48 hours, at least acknowledging that we got your resume. Most companies don’t even do that.”

Next, most companies feed the resumes into an Applicant Tracking System database, Earle said, then use search keywords to match candidates to the job description and build a list of suitable candidates to interview. At this point, someone inside the company is finally looking at your resume; to get any further, your credentials must make a good impression the moment an HR screener or hiring manager sees them, Haver said.

“People have no attention spans; they have no time to read, so if you think you’re a good fit, list all their requirements down the left side of the paper and all the experiences you have that answer each one on the right side,” Haver said. “Show them how you match up on each point, and make it really short – less than one page.”

2. You’ve been picked

If you are one of the lucky ones to get a screening call, expect it to last about half an hour, be reasonably pleasant and leave you with very little idea whether you will progress to the next stage.

Recruiters are looking for how well a candidate communicates, how she comes across on the phone, and whether she’ll be a good match in personality and work expectations for the hiring manager. It’s a judgment call for the recruiter, Olson said.
“Even if you look like a very good candidate, that person is probably in the middle of screening a lot of candidates, so you might be the leading candidate when you hang up but not later on,” Olson said. “You should ask at the end of that conversation, ‘What’s the next step?’ and they might tell you they’ll send your name on to the client. But recruiters could have a lot of reasons for saying it but not doing it.”

Among those reasons: Better candidates might crop up, the recruiter might be trying to avoid giving a candidate bad news, or the hiring company might change the criteria for the job.

Ask at the end of the interview whether you’ll be passed on to the next step, but don’t expect always to know whether it will actually happen, Haver said. Your best bet is to call the recruiter back a few days or a week later to touch bases.

3. Presentation behind closed doors

The next stage is completely out of your control, so you should try to not worry about it, Haver said.

Once the screening interviews are finished, the recruiter or internal HR manager will present the top candidates to the hiring manager or managers. Usually that will happen within a day or two of completing the screening calls. Many companies require more than one decision-maker to sign off on hires or even which candidates to interview.

Recruiters present a candidate’s strengths to show where he matches the description laid out by the hiring manager and describes weak points such as the lack of proficiency in the particular software package the hiring company uses.

“With the number of candidates they have, hiring managers are incredibly picky,” Haver said. “If they lay out 10 requirements, they want 10 for 10, not nine out of 10.”

In most cases, it takes less than a week to get that signoff, and an indeterminate time to set up and conduct in-person interviews. If you haven’t heard from the recruiter or the company within a week or two, don’t count on hearing back, she said.

4. Audition and follow-up

From the hiring manager’s perspective, the interview and immediate aftermath can be like judging a children’s talent contest in a town where you know all the parents, Haver said.

“People inside are leaning on the hiring managers,” she said. “It’s unbelievable how much pressure some of them are getting from people who want to find a spot for their brother-in-law or friend who can’t pay the mortgage and needs a job, or someone inside. Everyone’s flagging their own candidate, so if you’re outside and don’t have a champion, it’s hard to stay at the top of the list.”

Still, as with the screening interview, cover your bases. Keep in touch with the hiring manager, if possible. If not, contact the HR manager or third-party recruiter. Send a thank-you note. Phone the recruiter a few days later to see how it goes, and about once a week thereafter. Any less, and you will lose touch; any more, and you will overstay your welcome.

“It’s perfectly fair to expect to know what’s going on and what you can expect, but it doesn’t always happen,” Olson said.
If you get no response at all, either to the interview or the thank-you and follow-up notes, that’s a bad sign; you should not expect to hear back about the job, Earle said. It’s possible hiring managers are having trouble coordinating, but more likely they’ve made a decision that doesn’t include you and don’t want to call to confirm it, Earle said.

One word of advice from Olson: Don’t go around the recruiter and call the hiring manager directly. “That’s a good way to get them annoyed and wanting to not work with you again,” Olson said.

And don’t call more than once a week or so to check, even if the ad is still up weeks or months after your interview.

Ads might be posted automatically to hundreds of job boards, or might go up as part of a longer-term contract with mass-market job sites, Earle said. Often the ads remain online long after the job was filled because the company’s ad buy required that it be listed for 30, 60 or 90 days – far longer than it might be valid.

“I’ve seen companies take six months to make a decision, though,” Olson said. “Not hearing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone. If they’re open with you and tell you why there’s a delay, go ahead and stick with it. But don’t stop looking for other things. “