short answer Saturday: job search edition

It’s short answer Saturday: six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

Should I respond to application acknowledgement emails?

Occasionally, I will receive an email from the organization I apply to that says, “We have received your email, we’ll contact you if we like you…” Since this only happens every once in a while, I get this urge to respond to them because I am so excited they actually acknowledged that I applied for a position. Would this make me seem desperate? I would say something such as, “Thank you for your email. I am very interested in this opportunity and hope to hear from you soon…” Or if I don’t reply, would that make me seem uninterested?

No real impact either way. Well, I suppose there may sometimes be a slight positive impact from responding enthusiastically, but it’s very minimal. (On the other hand, though, even the chance of slight positive impact is something, which may make it worth doing.)

Is it better to email or fax applications?

When both an e-mail address and a fax number is given as an option to respond to a job ad, which method is more effective? I had done the e-mail method most of the time for the convenience of the hiring manager but when I started faxing the resumes, the employers e-mailed me to acknowledge that it was received. So, which is more effective in the long run?

There are always exceptions, but in general email is better. Lots of companies keep everything electronically, so getting something by fax (or postal mail) requires extra time to integrate it with their files. It’s also harder to forward a resume that arrives by fax (to colleagues for input, etc.). And frankly, fax feels a little old-school at this point. I would wonder why someone chose fax rather than email; it seems a bit out-of-touch with technology.

Is it better to respond to a job ad immediately or wait a few days?

Is it better to respond to an ad right away and run the chance of being lost in the shuffle or hold off a day or two in hopes of standing out? I’ve been told that waiting gives the impression you really aren’t that eager.

There’s no good answer to this because different employers handle applications differently:  The good ones review every application they get and contact the best ones, and how early or late you applied has no bearing. But there are plenty of bad hirers out there too, and among those, some call the first five qualified applicants they receive, and ignore everyone who comes in after that. And some let applications pile up and then call the first five on the top of their stack. So there’s no way of knowing what will be best for any given employer, unless you have insider information about how they operate.

Two things I can say for sure, though: (1) Apply as soon as you know you’re interested, because if you wait, you may miss the window of opportunity entirely. (For all you know, they’re near the end of their hiring process.)  That said … (2) Anyone who tells you that applying a few days after the ad goes up gives the impression that you aren’t very enthusiastic doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Most job-seekers aren’t looking at ads every single day, and any employer who assumes that they are or should be is delusional.

Including mailing address at top of emailed cover letter

Every example cover letter I’ve ever seen uses a business letter heading that includes both your and your prospective employer’s mailing address.  I’m preparing to apply for positions in research labs at large universities, all of which require that you copy and paste your cover letter into a box on the HR web site.  Using the first 8 or so lines for addresses seems like a ridiculous holdover from the days when people actually mailed things.

In the age of the Internet, when you don’t know the name of the person who will be reading your cover letter let alone their address, what’s the proper formatting for this kind of thing?

That’s the correct format for a letter you’re printing out and mailing. It is not the correct format for an email. With email, your first line is the salutation — “Dear ____.”  You don’t need to start with the date, their address, or your address.

Employer calling references more than once

I am currently in a temporary position for a company that I have been trying to get back to for quite a while.  I have progressed quite well in the interview process for an administrative position; three interviews and reference checks by the hiring manager (a director for whom I would be providing support).  I received notice today that the Executive Director of the division (whom I would also support) wants to schedule phone calls with two of my references.  They are within the company and I have good relationships with both, so in this instance it really isn’t a big deal.  I’ve given them the heads up to expect the call to schedule the calls.  I’m a little concerned, though, that if my references were not internal or if I wasn’t in regular contact with them, they could really get annoyed. Wouldn’t you expect everyone’s questions to be incorporated into one round of reference checks? Aside from the fact that this seems really inefficient, isn’t it just kind of weird?

It’s a little strange. There are three possibilities here:

1. They always do this, which would be pretty weird.

2. They’re unorganized and didn’t communicate well with each other about who would be handling reference checks. In fact, it’s possible that the executive director doesn’t even realize that the hiring manager already called your references. Or she knows but doesn’t care because she’s for some reason committed to doing them herself — because she doesn’t think the hiring manager does them effectively, or because she’s a control freak, or something else entirely. Who knows.

3. There’s a specific issue that the executive director is wondering about, which the hiring manager didn’t probe in her own reference calls, and they’re not comfortable moving forward until they hear your references speak about it.

I was rejected, offered feedback, and then ignored

I recently applied for a job and got two phone interviews. Unfortunately, I did not get the job. However, the manager emailed me saying that I was a “front runner” if there was a similar opening in the future. He also asked me if I wanted any feedback or had any questions. I emailed him back thanking him for the time and asked for feedback. The manager then proceeded to email me back asking if I would be available for a phone call on some future date. The day passed and he did not call me. Should I write a follow-up email asking why? Does this happen a lot?

It was generous for the hiring manager to offer feedback and even more so to schedule an actual phone call in which to give it, which implies that he’s willing to give you something substantive, which often isn’t the case. I wouldn’t write an email asking why he missed the call (that’s a little accusatory when he was offering you a favor), but I would send an email saying you figured that something must have come up but that you’d still appreciate any feedback he can give, at his convenience. Reiterate your appreciation for his willingness. Good luck!

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimberlee*

    Great post!
    1. I suppose it still isn’t really a downside, but every email acknowledgement of an application I’ve ever gotten has been an automatic reply, and most of those don’t have inboxes or at least are never checked.
    2. Honestly, I stopped putting business addresses and my address at the top of cover letters long ago, because it’s such a waste of space! I can see if you’re in a position where knowing that proper etiquette is important, that you should do it then, but it seriously takes up like a quarter of a page on a document that people get mad if it goes over a page. I think its silly.

    Otherwise, I totally agree with AAM!

  2. Allison*

    Thanks for answering my question! It’s surprising how many sources recommend emailing a cover letter that looks exactly like a mailed cover letter (including my college’s career center). As Kimberlee mentions, I’m feeling the pressure to know how these things are supposed to work, but at the same time find them intensely silly.

  3. Jojo*

    I keep the address on my cover letter and resume since I am looking for a job not far from home. With the current job market, I think even where you live (in proximity to the office) makes a difference in the screening process.

  4. thelogos*

    Well, to pick at nits…there were two parts to the question 4, what wasn’t addressed, was the salutation part. I assume it’s the old clunky: “To Whom this may concern,” bit, yes?

  5. GrayHairedChick*

    I want to comment on your answer about responding to a job ad immediately or waiting a few days.

    You wrote:

    “There’s no good answer to this because different employers handle applications differently: The good ones review every application they get and contact the best ones, and how early or late you applied has no bearing. But there are plenty of bad hirers out there too, and among those, some call the first five qualified applicants they receive, and ignore everyone who comes in after that. ”

    The company I work for is family run and all the executive staff is related (and none of them have management background or training to run a business). Their policy is to look at the first 20 resumes received and try to hire from that. If they can’t find an adequate candidate, then they’ll look at the next 20 resumes. They’ve always done it that way, and frankly, their standards are quite low, so they usually do pick someone from the first group of 20.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Aggghhh, I do not like that! They shouldn’t want just “adequate” or even “good” employees — they should want great ones, and thus they should look at the widest pool possible!

  6. Amy*

    On the first question, about responding to an acknowledgement email…
    A lot of times it’s an automated message sent via the company’s ATS. If that’s the case, responding may not do you any good because it’s most likely not an email that is monitored. Usually if that’s the case it will say something to that effect, though. If not, go for it – can’t hurt (unless you get stalkerish about it and keep emailing over and over incessantly)…

  7. Anonymous*

    As a hiring manager, I don’t mind if people reply to the automated message, even if it’s just a ‘I look forward to hearing from you!’ Ours specifically states that we will get back to you IF we are interested in moving forward with your application. Guys, I know it’s frustrating, but if you don’t hear back when the reply says ‘we will contact you IF we are interested in moving forward with your app’, then it’s probably best to move on. But if you’re really keen for the position, following up once, via email, is ok, and won’t bother any reasonable hiring manager. However, following up by phone, leaving a voicemail and waiting 1 hour before calling back and leaving another voicemail, following up on your last voicemail, and email and application (that you submitted twice) will. make. me. crazy. Please don’t – it’s disruptive, and we already informed you that if we are interested, we’ll be in touch – we have not been in touch, so…sorry. It’s so frustrating for the applicant, I know, but it is seriously frustrating for the hiring manager trying to sift through a bunch of over/under qualified applications, trying to find someone who will fit just right, without having over/under qualified applicants calling to ask why they have not heard back from us yet – and then being thoroughly insulted when told that we have better suited applicants. Job searching is competitive – if not this job, you’ll win the race for another one, try not to annoy the people who may end up making that final decision in the long run…rant over, now back to sifting the myriad of applications I’ve received this afternoon.

  8. Smithy*

    “Is it better to respond to a job ad immediately or wait a few days?”

    I’m in the UK.
    I generally look at the ‘Reed’ job site for vacancies. This site shows the number of people who have clicked through and applied for each vacancy.
    Last summer there was an advertisement for a receptionist, in London. Perfectly nice job – usual requirements and average money.
    There were well over 1,000 applicants. I wish I had kept a screen shot of the advertisement.
    Whilst I do not condone HR managers who do not scrutinise each application and select the best in a systematic fashion, I do have some sympathy with those who just grab the first dozen or so and ignore the rest.
    I have just gone onto the site ( and the first two jobs on the Admin section (London) have 259 and 383 applicants each. They were both advertised today. I do not envy the recruiters.
    If the vacancy has been on the site for more than a day, in my experience it is not worth applying.

  9. megano*

    For question number 1, I’ve been getting more personal emails from individuals telling me they’ve received my materials. I generally reply back to those thanking them. I figure that if they are going to be courteous enough to let me know my emails aren’t going into the void, I should do the same, and it doesn’t hurt to be cheerful and enthusiastic. Once. By email.

    For question 4, I’ve been doing the whole mailing address (when it’s given) and thinking it was kind of silly, but I assumed it was still the necessary format! Thanks AAM for addressing this. Now I can stop doing it and not worry. I did think Jojo’s comment was interesting, though–I can see where it would make a difference if you want to make sure hiring managers know you’re local.

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