does “we’ll keep your resume on file” really mean anything?

A reader writes:

In most of the jobs where I’ve been interviewed and rejected the rejection letter says something like “We will hold on to your resume and contact you if we ever have any jobs that meets your needs” or something like this. Is this just being polite or is it possible that some time down the road they will actually contact me with an offer?

Well, it’s highly unlikely they’ll contact you out of the blue with an offer. But they might contact you with an invitation to apply for another position.

That said, this statement has become part of the standard pablum that a lot of companies include in their rejection letters and, more often than not, has little meaning. On the other hand, some companies do mean it and do search previously submitted resumes looking for well-matched candidates when they have new openings.

So the answer is unsatisfying: Sometimes they mean it and sometimes they don’t.

(For what it’s worth, I think the phrase has become so meaningless that I’ve started saying this in the rejection letter I send to candidates who I think would be promising for the future, since I want them to know I really mean it: “We are keeping your materials on file and will notify you about future openings that seem like they might be a good fit. We only keep on file the materials of strong candidates, so please take this as an indicator of our interest in talking further with you in the future.”)

But either way, I would put them out of your mind and move on. If they do contact you in the future, let it be a pleasant surprise, rather than something you wait for (as it may never happen, no matter what their intentions).

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Recently I received a response from an employer stating they would keep my resume on file for THREE YEARS, which made me laugh.

    Either they disliked my resume so much that they were just trying to keep me from resending my resume to them, or they have a really unproductive policy. I can't imagine that contacting any applicant after three years would offer them any success. Surely even in this economy, in three years most applicants will have found employment elsewhere, and their qualifications and expectations will surely have changed.

    1. Anonymous*

      It’s required that employers keep applications for three years. We’ll keep your application on file is a nice way of saying I’ll be sure to use this as a litter box liner.

  2. Anonymous*

    In the last year I have hired 2 people that I first spoke to about positions over a year ago. One said that he decided to stay in his current position and was no longer looking. When an opportunity came around again, I reached out to him and he was ready to move. Another was a strong second choice for a job. When an internal promotion opened up the same position again, I contacted him. He had found another job, but HATED it, so he was excited about the chance. Both were very happy that I held on to their resumes, so it does happen sometimes. It's not always just being polite!

  3. Anonymous*

    This is exactly why lots of employers don't respond to applicants. Unless you're blunt (which can come off rude) people want to see somthing that's not there. It's kind of like when you go on a date and say "don't call me, I'll call you.". It's closure-it's meant to end the communications without saying "unless I'm desperate I won't call you." Most good employers have such an endless stream of great candidates they never have to sift through old resumes. And no, a few of you whining about not hearing anything is going to change that. frankly, I don't care if you badmouth my company to your friends. If I didn't hire you I probably wouldn't hire them either.

  4. Jacob Share*

    It's a white lie- it makes life easier for the person telling it, it can't be disproven by the recipient, and who knows, it might turn to be true in the end.

    So don't pay any attention to it.

  5. KellyK*

    I like AAM's reply. Sometimes it means something, sometimes it doesn't. Either way, you may as well move on. Maybe they don't call because they never look at old resumes, maybe they don't call because they have no openings. Or maybe they call and it's a moot point because you have another job.

    I have been rejected for jobs and then been called later about another position, so it does happen.

  6. Anonymous*

    There are various state and federal laws that require employers to hold onto resumes. Many include this line to be in compliance with those regulations.

  7. Amy*

    zThe OP didn't state whether it was an electronic or paper version of their resume. Paper resumes are a pain to go back through for future openings – it can be done but it's time consuming and cumbersome. If it was an electronic copy, you might stand a better chance – it's quick to run a search of a resume database or ATS and it's easy to sort the results. A lot of companies set it up as a "profile" where the candidate can log back in whenever they want to and update their info, etc. Many companies also allow you to enable a feature that generates an email to you when something relevant opens up. Keeping a resume on file can be a little bit of a two-way street if you do it right.

  8. Anonymous*

    OP here.
    I was asking this about a variety of resumes I'm submitted, some electronic, some on paper. This question wasn't is response to a particular rejection letter but a more general question.

  9. Michelle*

    The worst one I had was “you were unsuccesful for this position, and we have shredded your resume to protect your confidentiality”

  10. Anonymous*

    I wonder what the real business cost of rejecting a strong candidate is.

    For instance, with the current economy its not unusual for a job candidate to travel a very long (cross country) way for a face to face interview on their dime.. what if they aren’t selected? That kind of sting is way worse than a cross-town interview.

    If that person gets employment elsewhere in the same town and the company that didn’t hire them is bidding for a job, I’d put my money on the possibility that the jilted job-seeker would weigh in about that company’s unorthodox hiring practices if they were in a position to do so.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I don’t see it that way. Job candidates should know the job is never in the bag, no matter how strong they are or no matter if they travel at their own expense. There can always be another candidate who’s stronger, and it would be naive not to recognize that. If the person is going to be furious that they traveled on their own dime if they get rejected, they shouldn’t go.

      1. anonomus-man*

        Reminds me of a time when I responded to an sales ad claiming to be “easy-work”.

        They drove my car around to sell their merchandise, and they did’ nt pay me back one cent of the fuel cost. Did’nt pay me anything at that.

  11. Anonymous*

    I submitted a resume to railroad for a position that I was qualified for several years ago, was interviewed, was told that I was perfect for the job and then was told by human resources that I wasn’t going to be hired because I had a lapse in my employment history. The same position is available again and I would like to re-apply for it again but I don’t want to be rejected for the same reason, do you think that they still have my previous resume on file because I have altered my current resume to omit the history lapse, the original resume was submitted electronically.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Don’t know, but there’s no harm in trying. (I’m assuming that when you say you’ve altered your resume to omit the history lapse, you haven’t done so by fabricating dates, right?)

  12. CURIOUS*

    So finally A HUMAN BEING WITH FIRST AND LAST NAME HAS REPLIED TO MY APPLICATION !!!…Now…as per requirements on the ad, I felt I was a good match..but they thought different. be it; now, I am curious to know what it was that saw on my resume and cover letter as “not meeting current needs”..then is it wise to ask for feedback on both (resume and cover letter) from this person?

    1. Anonymous*

      Asking an employer why you aren’t a match or why you didn’t get the job puts the employer in an uncomfortable position. If they were to answer such questions and the applicant doesn’t like the answer it could open the door for lawsuits. My suggestion is to move on……

      This especially applies to candidates that have made it to the interview process.

  13. Anonymous*

    I’m confused on this one. Is this a highly sugarcoated response or genuine? I had the feeling that I had done well on the interviews but this just caught me offguard

    Dear ….,

    Thank you for your recent application and phone interview regarding the position of ….. at …… We certainly appreciate your interest in our firm.

    I want to inform you that we have offered the position to another applicant whom we think best meets our needs for the position. It was a difficult decision because a number of applicants, including you, were strong candidates. We would like to keep your application on file for the rest of this year in the event another position for which you are qualified becomes vacant. If that occurs, we will give your application strong consideration.

    Again, we thank you for your interest in …… We wish you continued success in your career endeavors.


  14. Emily*

    I sent a resume to a social service agency that I’m very familiar with and also know some of the current staff. At the time (two months ago) there was no opening, but last week one came up. I ran into the director at a meeting the other day and introduced myself, reminding him that I’d sent a resume earlier. He said he was going to pull up all those resumes. My question is, should I resend my resume and cover letter, or would that be overkill? I’m trying to find the balance here between initiative and just being a pest. Thanks!

  15. Marcus*

    So if you receive the form letter rejection stating “we believe you are a strong candidate BUT blah blah blah” what should you do next???

    Should I assume that I’m not what the company is looking for (no need to send further applications)? Or should I believe the form letter and continue to apply to other open positions within the company. I mean, they did say that they thought I was a strong candidate….OR should I wash my hands of it, never apply to other positions in the company, and accept a follow up communication as a pleasant surprise?

    I ask the questions because I feel a good job search is about focusing your energy where you can be successful. “Fish where the fish are.” If these letters are meant to let a candidate know that they are not welcome, then job seekers would be better served to spend their time elsewhere.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d assume it’s a form letter and they say that to everyone, strong or not. (Unless there’s something to indicate it was written personally.)

      However, that just means they’re rejecting you for that particular role, this time. It doesn’t mean they wouldn’t consider you for other roles, or even for this one if it’s open again in a year.

      1. Marcus*

        Would it be an effective use of my time to apply to other positions at the particular company, or am I most likely toast at the company? The letter was definitely generic, but it had a very positive tone.

  16. Anonymous*

    hi “Ask a manager”,
    I have recently been trying to get a great job in a very good company through a referral. I know this is not a very conventional approach. Met with the Head of department (one of the senior managers) where I was supposed to work, everything went smoothly well. He said that offer is still on the table, just have a quick look at some other functions within the company before making a decision and that Head of HR should get back to me very soon. After a month of emails, Head of HR meets up with me and apologises that he has been extremely busy and at the end of the meeting , he tells me that he does not guarantee anything and that he will now activate my CV. Now here i was confused. What did he mean by that? When the other guy said that the offer was on the table? I dont know, and my gut feeling is telling me something is not good.
    What are your thoughts on this?
    Thank you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like the HR person and the hiring manager aren’t on the same page. I’d contact the hiring manager who you talked to originally and explain what the HR person said, and ask him where things stand.

  17. Diana*

    Maybe they are just too lazy to sent your application back, because this is what they must do when they reject you. I never heard back from people who said that. Did not happen often to me though

  18. Anonymous*

    I have recently received an email saying that I was not successful but they would like to retain my details on file. Should I reply to this and what?

  19. sai*

    WHat would it mean if they say (on sending a thank you mail after knowing abt the rejection) ‘you are on our radar and hopefully we may work together some time soon’ – hiring manager

    Your CV is on our database and will contact you for a suitable vacancy in future – HR manager

    This was after 3 rounds of interviews so keen to know…

  20. Amanda*

    It means nothing. I don’t even know why companies say it. Just seems like a slap in the face to me.

  21. Jenn*

    What does it mean when the recruiter encourages you to keep applying for other jobs at the company? Or if you received a personal phone call rejecting you instead of a regular email?

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