I hear it time and time again, from candidates, clients, and friends out in the trenches of the job-seeking world: "Why haven't I heard anything back from HR yet?"
In an age of modern technology and social media, we have this compulsion, this rooted unrealistic expectation that the information we seek be made available to us immediately. And often it is. But when it comes to HR and hiring, it’s a whole different ballgame. Hiring processes can last for weeks or months, and unfortunately a lack of response and feedback after submitting a resume or attending an interview often leaves candidates scratching their heads and wondering “What did I do wrong?”
As a former recruiter and liaison to the job-seeking world, I can tell you that the best way to avoid the stress of "not knowing" is to try to understand how HR works. And unfortunately, that often means having to be okay with simply not knowing. I worked on a recruiting contract a while back for a large company, and in cross-checking candidates in their database, I often found no notes in the system as to why a particular candidate was rejected for a job. The only logical conclusion is process of elimination — Thanks, but we decided to go with someone else.
This is incredibly frustrating for job seekers who diligently spend their hours and their dollars preparing for interviews, improving their writing skills and perfecting their resumes. And while the “wait and see” game is annoying on its own, another complaint is missing out on the opportunity to potentially improve their resume, cover letter, or interviewing skills by having access to that valuable hiring manager feedback. But oftentimes with the volume of resume submittals and candidates flowing through the pipelines, it's downright impossible for recruiters and hiring managers to respond to every candidate. This is especially of little consolation to candidates who either interviewed for the role, felt they were a fairly strong fit, or in some cases, were even told they'd be moving on to the next round. And then… nothing?
What goes on inside the HR office that often keeps highly qualified individuals from being noticed, being interviewed, and in some cases, being hired? Why would they tell you they're interested, or feel you have potential, and then leave you in the dust combing over your every word, trying to conclude where you went wrong? Every stage of the process has its own potential explanation. Here are a few I find to be the most common.
STAGE 1 SILENCE: THE APPLICATION PROCESS
You submitted a perfectly tailored resume and cover letter to a job for which you felt you were The Perfect Fit. Yet no response. The easiest answer here would be that you simply weren't qualified, or lacked certain core skills that recruiters were seeking in the form of keywords, accomplishments, or other phrases on your resume. But for those of you saying to yourself, "But I did have those things — in fact, I feel like I'm a perfect fit!" there are a few possibilities.
Your Resume Needs Work
A resume isn't just about having well-written, grammatically correct content. It's also about attractive layout and formatting, optimized readability, solid branding, and not cramming too much information on the page. All of the different sections should come together to convey a consistent branding message about what you bring to the table for a potential employer. Think of the resume essentially as the film trailer, not the full-length feature. Its job is to assert the basic information that a hiring manager needs, but also give a couple of well-branded, compelling conclusions around what makes you uniquely qualified against the next guy with a similar background, and prompt them to bring you in for an interview. Make sure that you have a strong, branded summary statement at the top, your skills, qualifications, accomplishments are clear, there are no holes in the chronology, and the formatting and layout is appropriate for the volume of information.
Your Cover Letter Lacks Connection
I cringe when I see people submitting a resume in the body of an email that has no information about who they are, what they're applying to, or what they have to offer. Your cover letter, whether it's a separate document or simply the body of your email, should give enough basic information to stir interest and compel your reader to continue on and read your resume. It's more than a formality — a cover letter is your opportunity to make the connection between the basic qualifications (skills, experience, etc.) in your resume and your personal and professional interest in the company at hand. Sure, you're qualified to do the job, but what truly interests you about being part of the organization and its goals?
STAGE 2 SILENCE: THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
You've been called in to interview, went through the process of meeting with everyone on the team, even the CEO, and with smiles and nods all around, you were feeling pretty good about your chances. Now a week has gone by, your follow-up email has been written, and still no response from the seemingly interested party. What happened?
They're Still Interviewing Candidates
Just because you haven't heard back immediately in regards to next steps doesn't necessarily mean you're out of the running. While it's generally good HR practice to keep candidates of interest "warm," meaning informed and in the loop about where the company is in the process, such communications sometimes fall through the cracks. The best way to deal with such a scenario is to send a friendly reminder to the primary contact whom you interviewed with, reasserting your interest, but also letting them know that you have another potential offer on the table, and since they're still your first choice, you wanted to keep them in the loop. Sometimes that's enough to light a fire you-know-where and get them moving without being redundant and pushy.
You Were Stronger on Paper Than in Person
It’s easy to get nervous in the interview process, which results in coming off too modestly at the very time when you should be aggressively (but professionally) selling yourself. Poor body language is another culprit here, as it's easy to send a confident, assertive message on paper and then become unaware of your nervous, non-verbal cues when sitting in front of the CEO. Pay attention to posture, eye contact, and other body language. Taking a moment to respond to questions is fine, but avoid filler words like "Um" and "Like.” Give off an air of confidence that you're truly the best fit for the job.
Culture Fit Was a Concern
Maintaining a strong and cohesive company culture is important, and those joining the organization need to fit well into that mold. This is a tough one to circumvent, and HR will never actually confront a candidate on this for fear of making them feel discriminated against. But understanding the company culture comes down to things like identifying with the mission and the values of the organization, having a synergy with the people you meet, even how you dress for the interview (too formal versus too casual). Research the company culture before you go in; talk to people who have worked there, look for photos of company events on Flickr, Facebook, or Pinterest, and get a sense for what they value as a collective team.
THE OFFER PROCESS
You’ve left an interview or had a follow up conversation with the indication that an offer letter or next steps toward and offer letter are on their way, only to hear nothing again. You've followed up three times over the course of two weeks, and now it's time to cut your losses. What happened?
A Last-Minute Candidate Stole the Show
Just when they think they're done with the hiring process and ready to move forward with making an offer, a star candidate jumps into the mix and wows the team with their resume. They bring them in last minute to interview, and unfortunately for you, they become the new frontrunner. In an ideal world, the organization will have enough tact to apologize and let you know that they enjoyed meeting you but decided to go with someone else. If they can't do that, perhaps they weren't your ideal choice in the first place.
There Was an Issue With Your References, Background Check, or Employment Verification
It's tempting to stretch the truth on your resume or salary history to better “fit” the requirements, but in the hiring process, honesty is always the best policy. Lying or forging information on a job application is absolutely grounds for rescinding a job offer, even after it's been handed to you. Keep it clean, keep it consistent, and double check all of your application forms for errors.
They Went With an Internal Referral
While it also warrants the company reaching out and letting the candidate in waiting know, it's not uncommon for an organization to change direction and make an offer to an internal candidate who decided last minute that they wanted to be considered. After all, it's cheaper to hire from within and retain an existing employee — they don't require as much training, and there's already a good indicator of their work ethic and how they will fit into the company culture.
The important thing to remember in any of these scenarios that oftentimes the situation is simply outside of your control. Your responsibility is in positioning yourself as best you can for success in your search, with well-branded tools (resume, cover letter), strong interviewing and communication skills, appropriate follow up, an understanding of your prospective employer and their culture, and the ability to clearly communicate and sell the skills, experience, and expertise that make you the best fit for the job. And in the event that you're left in the dust without explanation, always remain professional and never burn bridges. You never know what opportunities or crossed paths might present themselves in the future.
Dana Leavy-Detrick is founder, chief creative scribe and resume writer at Brooklyn Resume Studio, www.bklynresumestudio.com.