The Résumé Black Hole

Many job seekers today will tell you that the most frustrating part of the job search is after they hit "send" and their resumes are sent out into application oblivion -- never to be seen again.

It's the common perception of the resume black hole -- a place where, instead of stars and planets, resumes and cover letters are just floating around, waiting to get sucked back to Earth and into a hiring manager's hands.

Matthew McMahon, partner at McMahon Partners LLC, an executive search firm, says the ease of online job boards is a double-edged sword for candidates. While they can see what's available and apply to what interests them, the little time and monetary cost also causes them to apply to anything and everything.

"The resulting volume ensures that some candidates might be lost in the shuffle. If a recruiter posts an attractive job, she might get a few hundred responses. There's a chance that the recruiter won't get through every response," McMahon says.

So what happens to your application materials when you apply for a job online? Who sees your resume? Better yet, who doesn't? Why can't someone acknowledge your application? And, most importantly, what can you do to ensure that your résumé doesn't fall into cyberspace?

McMahon and Caitrin O'Sullivan, public relations coordinator at iCIMS, a leading software-as-a-service provider, answer all of your burning resume black-hole questions.

Does a black hole really exist?

McMahon: It depends entirely on the company. The main culprits, in my opinion, are volume and the abilities of the people who read your resume. Usually the resume goes to a gatekeeper of some sort, typically someone within HR. If the gatekeeper is experienced with the field for which she is recruiting, she'll have an idea what she is looking for. The danger in this process, however, exists when one person has to screen resumes for too many departments. There just isn't a way for that person to speak every language they need to. That person will usually rely solely on keywords and will miss things.

For example, we had a client that had a fully-automated applicant tracking system. Candidates would submit a resume to a posting and the ATS would import it automatically to the database. Internal recruiters would then mine the database against current openings using keyword searches. What that meant, ultimately, was that there was no guarantee that submitted resumes would be viewed by a human at any point.

Where do resumes go after I hit send?

O'Sullivan: Large, enterprise-sized organizations may be receiving hundreds of applications per day, which virtually no one could manually acknowledge one by one with individualized e-mails. There is a plethora of applicant tracking systems available today. The majority of these ATS come equipped with comprehensive candidate relationship management tools. These CRM tools enable automated messages to be sent to all candidates alerting them of their status within the review process and also acknowledging receipt of the application or resume. This eliminates the "black-hole effect" of the job seeking process. Assuming an organization is leveraging an ATS, a candidate's resume and job application should automatically be stored in a central database with an individual candidate profile.

Please describe an ATS system

O'Sullivan: An applicant tracking system is a software application designed to help organizations recruit employees more efficiently. Its primary function is to automate and streamline the recruitment process. It can also be leveraged for such tasks as posting job openings to corporate Web sites and job boards, screening and ranking resumes, or generating mass communication, such as rejection notices or interview requests to candidates. ATS also provides the ability to track applicant statuses per job and enables users to streamline and automate application tracking with online employment applications, electronic candidate and recruiting forms, and configurable applicant flow reports and metrics.

Resumes that are "accepted" through an ATS go into the same place as resumes that are rejected; it's just that different actions are taken on them. Resumes that do not meet requirements are denoted as part of the group that will receive rejection letters; applicants that are deemed an appropriate fit will be designated to a group that will receive an automated message alerting them of their status and scheduling a forward looking appointment, whether it is phone, first or second round interviews. Many organizations even go directly to these resumes that were at one point rejected to fill other positions at the organization that might be a better match.

Why don't hiring managers and recruiters let applicants know their application was received?

O'Sullivan: If an organization, especially a medium or large one, were not leveraging an applicant tracking system, it's difficult for job seekers to understand the magnitude of applications flooding recruiters/HR managers' desks, especially during a period of high unemployment. Just visually scanning through all of these resumes can take hours upon hours of manpower. To have to communicate with every one of those applicants on top of that would be a truly formidable task.

What are five ways a job seeker can avoid the "black hole"?

1. Don't apply to jobs for which you are not qualified and don't send resumes to the same recruiter over and over again. "Recruiters are doing this for their livelihood. If they have your resume and think that there is a chance that you'll get hired for one of their jobs, they'll respond -- usually right away," McMahon says.

2. Customize your resume. "Read the description and take your best guess at what the employer is seeking. Move relevant experience to the top of each section of your resume. Use clear language that mirrors the language in the 'qualifications' section of the posting," McMahon says.

3. Use your cover e-mail to address obvious disqualifiers. "Make it hard for the screener to disregard you. If you're in Florida and the job is in Alaska, mention that you went to school in Alaska and yearn to return," McMahon says. "Better yet, put the address of your aunt in Juneau on the resume and mention that you are moving there in three weeks."

4. Keywords, keywords, keywords. "We can't say this enough. You have to tailor your resume to each job description. Using the same keywords and phrases used in a job description, and repeating them as frequently as possible in yourresume -- while remaining logical -- will make the ATS rank you as a higher and better match for this job," O'Sullivan says. "Many ATS weigh more heavily when those keywords appear at the top of your resume, because it indicates you're currently or very recently enacting those key terms."

5. Keep it simple. "Don't include graphics, logos or pictures. Also, don't try to get fancy with text boxes, headers or footers. While resume-parsing tools are a great resource and save hours upon hours of manual data entry, they can't always parse text boxes, headers or footers with 100 percent accuracy," O'Sullivan says. "It's best to avoid the risk and leave out these features altogether. Furthermore, almost all ATS will strip down resumes into their most basic format, text only. So don't stress over font or color -- it ultimately doesn't matter."

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Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow her on Twitter:

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