does a quick rejection indicate that a human never saw my application materials?

A reader writes:

I recently applied with a tailored resume and detailed cover letter to a company I was really excited about, but within one day I received a rejection email. I know technically I was not the perfect candidate (I’m a recent science Ph.D. grad trying to move into entry level energy/science business), so I understand being rejected.

However, now that I think about the rapid rejection, I’m beginning to wonder if a person ever saw my application or if I was just rejected immediately by a resume screening bot program. I had already talked with an acquaintance at the company to gain insight about the position and tailor my application materials. Do you think it would be wasting everyone’s time to further tailor my resume and cover letter and ask my friend to forward it to a real person to make sure someone actually considers my application? I never seem to hear back from any jobs I’m applying to, and I’m wondering if my lack of interviews is me not being or presenting myself as a qualified candidate or I’m getting screened in all these online applications before anyone actually sees my resume.

The fact that the rejection came after one day doesn’t indicate that a human didn’t look at your materials; usually if you’re going to be rejected in the first stage of screening, the person who makes that decision makes it in less than a minute from a quick scan of your materials. Most places still don’t send out the rejection note instantly, because it feels rude to reject people so quickly, but tons of rejection decisions — as opposed to notifications — are made in about 30 seconds, if not less.

I know everyone wants to believe that employers are carefully considering their applications, perhaps mulling them over for a while, but when you do a lot of hiring, it’s really easy to very quickly identify applications that aren’t quite right — or simply aren’t as right as some of the others.

Since you’d already talked to your friend about the role, I’d forward him your materials with a note that you received a quick rejection, and ask her if she’d be willing to give you any feedback on what you can do to be a stronger candidate for roles like this one in the future.

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*

    “I know everyone wants to believe that employers are carefully considering their applications”

    I think we want to believe that because of the BS that gets put in the rejection notice, such as “after careful consideration of your application…”

    It seems disingenuous that that kind of phrasing is put into the rejection notices and then we’re at fault for believing it. Frankly, I don’t care what they put it in those notices, it all translates to “no.” However, some people do get really sensitive to what’s in those rejections, even if it’s just a form letter. There was a post/comment from someone just the other day on that subject.

    1. Courtney*

      Honestly, I’m at the point where I consider a simple confirmation or even a rejection (even if it is canned) is more satisfying than just never hearing from someone ever.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        I prefer nothing over canned. I see the canned response and think, “wow, I didn’t even warrant a quick phone conversation. I suck.”

        With nothing, I get a little false hope. It’s better for my psyche.

        1. Stephanie*

          Oof, I’d hate a phone call. I’d get all excited if I saw a 213 area code pop up in the caller ID and had just interviewed for a job in LA. And then it’d hurt more if the call wasn’t “Yeah, we’re extending you an offer.” I would appreciate that the manager did take time out to notify me, but I’d prefer email over a phone call. I’d struggle to respond diplomatically and graciously (not like I’d curse out the manager or demand she change her mind, I’d just choke out a “Thanks. It was nice learning about the Business Intelligence role at Teapots, Inc.” and hang up.)

        2. fposte*

          You want a rejection phone call just for sending in an application? Or are you meaning after an interview? (I still think email’s better in both cases, but I can’t imagine finding the time to telephone everybody who’s applied to us.)

          1. GrumpyBoss*

            Oh no, not a rejection call – just a basic phone screen. When I’m hiring I know my HR team screens about 9-10 for every 1 they send me.

            If I’m rejected without even getting a basic screen phone call from HR, I get very depressed.

            1. fposte*

              Ah, okay, it’s not about the mode of communication, it’s about not moving on to the next round. That I get :-).

          2. Anx*

            I know for me I never expect anything other than an automated response, but getting even a form email after an interview is a rarity in my experience.

        3. Joey*

          Suck usually isn’t the thought. It’s usually they’re looking for someone who doesn’t need a whole lotta training. That’s not suck that’s either too different or too green

        4. Elizibithica*

          Aint’ nobody got time fo dat! Seriously though, managers are often too busy to eat lunch, and have a zillion things going at once. They don’t have time to call you and hold your hand over being rejected. If it’s not making them look good, they aren’t interested.

          Might sound harsh, but at least the automation lets you know you didn’t get it so you can move on.

      2. Michelle*

        I totally agree. It’s not the confirmation of receipt or rejection that bothers me. It’s the lack of any response–no confirmation they received my application and no rejection. I usually have to find out the job was filled by stalking Linkedin, Google, or Twitter. The waiting for no response is the worst, and you feel pigeonholed into following up just to make sure they got your materials. I haven’t had this issue with online applications through a career portal. It’s the cover letters and resumes that are asked to be sent directly to someone’s e-mail that is the problem. My career path is in publishing/journalism, so 95% of the time I have to send things to a specific editor at a publication. It’s frustrating to not hear back, even if it is a rejection.

        1. Veronica*

          Michelle, I think the journalism world is extra bad at following up (and they’re the great communicators!) A few years ago I had three interviews with a large publishing firm in Iowa–they publish dozens of magazines–and then heard nothing. After a few weeks, I called to see what was going on, and the person I had interviewed with said, “Oh, didn’t anyone call you? We hired someone for that position.” I don’t mind not hearing anything if I haven’t had an interview, but once you’re pulled into the interviewing process, you deserve SOMETHING…an email, a letter, a phone call.

    2. Chriama*

      Do you think people really believe that? I think everyone knows it’s just politeness. Like telling someone you like their hair when you see they got a haircut. You might not even care what it looks like, but they do so you acknowledge it.

      However, when someone is thinking with their emotions — and job seeking is quite emotionally fraught — they tend to search for meaning.

    3. Artemesia*

      It is not untrue that ‘we have received many well qualified applicants’ and ‘careful consideration of your application’ are lies. If you had ever done much hiring you would be aware that it doesn’t take a long time to ‘carefully consider’ an application. When you know what you are looking for, you know it when you see it and it is easy to sort the stack of 100 or so into 3 piles very quickly — the largest pile is always those that are clearly not what you want. I think people who send the rejection notice out very quickly are to be commended. I once ran a long search that yielded about 200 applicants and was not allowed to reject until the final hire had been made. This left people hanging for months. The next time we did a similar search, I insisted that those immediately discarded be immediately notified. We kept the semi-finalists and finalists hanging until the final offer had been made and accepted.

    4. Anx*

      There are lot of polite ways to send a rejection letter without any sense of false hope. When I get one that says I am a qualified candidate or encourage me try again, am I crazy to assume they mean that and I should apply to another opening?

      1. Chriama*

        No. If you didn’t make it to an interview you probably can’t ask for feedback, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try again. I don’t think the point of the rejection letter is to give you hope or tell you never to apply again. It’s just to give closure.

  2. BRR*

    I hope this isn’t too off topic but for those people more directly involved in the hiring process, how prevalent is the use of computer screening programs?

    1. HM in Atlanta*

      Even in companies where we were hiring thousands of people each year, no one was screened at the application level with a computer screening program. When we would consider them, we would run a test to see how many of our pre-qualified candidates would get through the screen. Usually it missed way too many. This brought the second main problem – validity. If you’re going to use a computer program as a screening tool, and you have compliance requirements in recruiting, it has to be validated somehow.

      However, if the application is asking yes/no questions about experience or skill, those are easy to validate for compliance purposes, and I have seen those used to screen out people without the base qualifications.

    2. Judy*

      I’m not sure how prevalent using computer screening programs, but I do know that many places, the HR screens against the requirements, unless the managers push back.

      I have an odd background, with mechanical engineering and software engineering degrees. Most jobs I apply for require electrical engineering or computer science or equivalent. I know at my current company, getting a resume to the hiring manager was the only way he saw it, even though I applied online also. He did start pushing back to see all the applicants for the job after I was hired, since my resume never made it through the HR screen.

    3. Joey*

      I use software. I won’t even get your résumé if you don’t meet the minimum quals. If you do your résumé will be scored based on my preferred quals. If I have 5 preferreds and you only have 4 you’ll get an 80%. I typically start looking at the 100% resumes and work backwards.

      1. Chriama*

        How does that work? Does the software scan for keywords in a resume or is it based on screening questions?

        1. Joey*

          Questions I devise. Most answer them honestly, but if their résumés don’t align with their answers they’ve just wasted everyone’s time.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Whoa, that would terrify me to do. Do you worry about missing the person who’s an 80% but unusually fantastic in favor of the “decent but not fantastic” people who are 95%?

        1. Joey*

          Nah, I only use it as a guide. I’ve hired people that were 30%. Its just that theres usually people who on paper look better at the top and less so at the bottom. But of course a great résumé doesn’t mean you’ll get a great candidate. It’s no different than if you had an assistant sort them for you based on some criteria. You probably wouldn’t totally trust that she made the right call on every résumé, but it would probably be helpful.

    4. CAA*

      Depends what you mean by screening. Most systems that I’ve used (at small and medium companies) just collect and index data. There’s usually no automatic screening or scoring, but I know more expensive systems can do that sort of thing.

      My typical process for a mid to senior level hire where I don’t have an internal recruiter assigned by HR:
      – search the existing candidate base as many different ways as I can think of and see what comes out
      – quickly eyeball each search result, tagging the ones I want to read in more detail
      – read tagged resumes / cover letters and refine the candidate list
      – send emails to promising candidates asking if still interested in us and briefly describing new position — usually, this turns out to be 3 to 10 people and about half will get back to me with a yes/no, the other half will not respond
      – do a gut check and guess whether I’ve already found the candidate I’ll want to hire and post the job if not
      – if the job is posted, read new resumes daily — these will be people who applied to this specific job, I’m not searching other managers’ candidates at this point, though other managers will forward along the ones they think are likely to interest me, and I’ll do the same for them
      – continue phone screens / interviews until I decide to make an offer
      – wait for offer to be accepted
      – remove the posted job from our website
      – send out rejections to everyone who applied for the posted job and didn’t get hired

      1. Joey*

        That’s weird to me-emailing candidates on the initial contact. Email as a first contact feels spammy to me. I always call, identify who I am and ask if they have a minute to talk. Maybe I’m just old fashioned though.

        1. AB Normal*

          Oh, I’d hate to be called as a first contact — fortunately in all my recent jobs the initial contact was via email. I think you *are* old fashioned :-).

          1. Felicia*

            I hate being called on first contact too – a phone call is unexpected and you have to react immediately where an email you have time to consider a response. Also being asked if i have a minute to talk makes me panic and say yes. Because technically I do have a minute to talk, but that doesn’t mean i’m prepared to talk about a job I don’t even remember. Also the tendency of many employers to do impromptu phone interviews makes me hate this more.

              1. RecruiterM*

                My manager is pushing us to call to a good candidate right away, but I am pushing back because I always hated getting unscheduled calls when I was working in IT.
                She recommends calling at 8:30 in the morning, and she does get good results, but I would not even pick up a call from an unknown number at this time of the day!
                So I guess everybody is different, and there are no universal methods and global preferences.

        2. Chriama*

          I would actually prefer email. I don’t always answer my phone, especially because it’s usually someone telling me I won a free cruise. Sometimes I’ll answer it but I only have a cell phone so odds are I’m out somewhere and not really in the frame of mind to talk to a potential enployer. I like email because it’s asynchronous and you’re not on the spot to drop everything and but on your game face. Planned phone calls are ok though.

        3. CAA*

          Yes, if you’re recruiting software developers that’s definitely old fashioned! It’s been at least 10 years, probably longer, since my first contact with a future employer was by phone.

          For a current applicant, I do the old-fashioned thing anyway and call. It’s very rare to reach a real person on an initial phone call, so I have a standard message that explains I want to setup a phone screening for the position they applied to, gives my phone number and says I’ll also email them. Every single person responds to the email rather than calling me back.

          For a cold contact (someone who applied to a different position between 1 and 6 months ago), I email first as above. Calling first doesn’t change the response rate and I just have to leave a longer message because there’s more to explain.

          1. Joey*

            I’d agree with that. Cold contact is email first.

            But my experience with phone is different. Most people answer or call back quickly.

  3. chewbecca*

    I was once rejected for a job within a matter of hours. Since I had to apply through Taleo, I just figured there was something it didn’t like and threw me out. I find it frustrating that they don’t allow for elaboration on certain things.

    For example – I was let go from my previous job. It was due to fit issues and not performance-related, but you don’t any way to explain that. Or that I had to mark “Some college” under education because while I have 4 years of college, I had to leave for medical reasons and haven’t finished my degree.

    Damn you, Taleo! *shakes fist*

    1. OriginalYup*

      I was once rejected *minutes* after submitting the online application. I spent about an hour completing this insanely detailed application that wanted to know to everything about me down to the molecular level. I hit submit, saved the confirm page, and saw a new email pop up on my phone. It was a automated rejection from that application.

      I’m 99% sure it was one question that kicked me out. They’d asked for 5-7 years experience in something and my answer was 6 years. I would bet cash money that the system was programmed to reject anything that wasn’t number 7 or greater.

      1. Cruciatus*

        I was once rejected within seconds! I’m sure it had to be from one of the supplemental questions that wasn’t even that big of a deal–something like what happened to you. I hit “send” and saw something in my email–I just assumed it was a confirmation regarding my application submission. Nope, said that I wasn’t qualified enough and that was that. So, between 5-10 seconds at most.

      2. Stephanie*

        I would bet cash money that the system was programmed to reject anything that wasn’t number 7 or greater.

        Oh yeah, I’ve had that happen. I finished an application that rejected me as soon as I hit submit because I had like four years’ experience total instead of five years’ experience.

      3. Jeff A.*

        I just clicked over here from Feedly to leave this same comment! I think the most frustrating/humiliating part was that it had taken me over an hour to tailor my cover letter and navigate through multiple pages of the electronic application, and I was rejected in less than 20 minutes.

        1. the gold digger*

          Which is why if I were programming that site, I would include at least a 24-hour delay for any rejection emails. Just a little thing to make people feel like their time was not completely wasted.

      4. CTO*

        My worst experience was the time that I filled out an online application, uploaded a customized resume and cover letter, and then got to the supplemental questions. One of them asked me if I spoke Vietnamese (not a common language in my area). I answered no and then was automatically rejected on the next page of the application–they didn’t even wait to send an email!

        There was never a language requirement/preference stated ANYWHERE in the job posting. If it had been, I never would’ve wasted an hour applying because I don’t know even a single word of Vietnamese.

      5. Anonypants*

        Not that I agree with the use of nitpicky filtering software, but you’d think they’d be programmed to wait at least a couple days before sending a rejection e-mail.

        1. Chriama*

          I think part of the reason they suck is the design is based on the *paying* user, even though far more applicants will be using it than employees, but employees will be using it more extensively.

      6. Geoff R.*

        I had a similar experience, except my rejection arrived 40 minutes after the application was submitted. Given that I submitted the application at 8PM on a Sunday night, I’m almost 100% sure that a real person never set eyes on it.

    2. SPT*

      chewbecca, me too – I was let go for fit and have since wished on many occasions for a “but let me explain!” field. I’ve also received at least one computer-generated rejection email very soon after applying; if I’m remembering correctly, in one case it was about 30 minutes. My sympathies!

      I’ve found lately that if I don’t have a personal connection who can get my resume to a recruiter or any known human being in the company, I often don’t bother applying. Those HR black holes are incredibly frustrating.

    3. JB*

      I don’t understand your complaint about having to mark “some college.” That is used to indicate that you went to college but did not finish your degree, which is accurate, from what you said. What would you like to say instead?

      I do agree with you that not being to explain being let go does create an inaccurate description of why you left, and it would be better if those kinds of things could be explained.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          4 years or 1 day. Doesn’t change the fact that you don’t have a degree and that is apparently a requirement for the job.

          Lots of things to hate about Taleo. This doesn’t seem to be one.

          1. Anonsie*

            If those things are equivalent to the hiring manager, sure. But it’s often not. And if you’re in your last semester of college and looking for a job, you get tossed in the “no degree” pile, which is just dumb.

      1. chewbecca*

        “Some college” can mean anything between one semester to one course missing to qualify for your degree. It’s a pretty broad range. I want to emphasize that I’m not looking down on people who only have one semester of college, but there’s a huge difference between only attending one semester and attending for 4 years.

        1. Dan*

          I work in a field where degrees matter. To the point where there’s a huge difference between having a degree and not having a degree. In my field, there’s no difference between “one semester” and “four years but no degree.”

          For some reason, I really, really like to procrastinate actually finishing the last requirement of a degree. To the point where it takes me *years* to dot the i and cross the t. But I’m always “one class short” while I procrastinating.

          Trust me, your life will be much better if you get the darned piece of paper. While the difference between one semester of college and “four years, no degree” means a lot to you, it doesn’t to most decision makers. And in this market, there’s no shortage of qualified applicants who actually have the degree.

          1. fposte*

            I’m with you on that, though I’m wondering if maybe the job posting didn’t specify that the degree was a requirement, so chewbecca got rejected for not having a qualification she hadn’t been told she needed.

            1. Dan*

              Sometimes “need” doesn’t become apparent until after resumes come flooding in. In my field, where “PhD preferred” frequently appears in job postings, do I *need* it? If the competition all has it, then yes.

          2. chewbecca*

            Oh, I totally agree. I’m fully aware that my options are limited because I haven’t finished my degree yet. I try to be realistic about the jobs I apply for, because I know my lack of degree is hurting my options. I plan on finishing, mostly because it’ll level the playing field and also partially because I’m a little embarrassed that I couldn’t/haven’t finished.

            I’m entry-level right now, so I’m looking for jobs that are one step up from there -which are mostly admin jobs. I generally only apply for jobs that say ‘degree preferred’ or ‘degree or X years of experience’. I have a wide range of experience, but you’re right. Going up against people who have a degree is like taking a knife to a gun fight.

            1. Chriama*

              Depending on how close you are to your opponent, I think sometimes you may have the advantage ;)
              I don’t really remember much about that Mythbuster’s episode…

            2. Joey*

              Small companies my friend. Or as you mentioned orgs that say something in the requirements about subbing experience. You’d also be surprised at the number of high paying jobs that don’t care about education.

              1. Dan*

                Yeah, but you have to get there first. I work with people who make six figures with no college degree. But they have 15+years in a particular fed job that doesn’t require formal education.

                It’s really, really hard to break into something with no experience *and* no degree.

                1. Joey*

                  Yeah there’s definitely no easy path. Either you pay your dues in school or gaining experience.

                  Depends. Lots of high paying fields aren’t hard to break into. It’s just that it takes time to work your way into a high paying job within that field

      2. OriginalYup*

        Adding to what Anonsie and chewbacca said: the differences between “some college, expelled after 2 semesters, no plans to go back” versus “some college, am currently enrolled and halfway through” versus “some college, am one week away from completing final credits for undergraduate degree” would probably influence the hiring manager’s yes/no decision to consider an application, which means that the option as worded isn’t clear enough for anyone’s needs.

        1. JB*

          It wouldn’t for me because an applicant’s finishing the degree gives me some extra information about someone that would be important to me, but I can see how in a lot of fields it could make a difference to the manager. I stand by my opinion that, unlike the “let go” question, it doesn’t necessarily create a mistaken impression–unfortunately saying you were let go almost always triggers a belief or suspicion that you were fired for performance issues. “Some college,” however, whatever the reason for not completing it, is a correct statement. But although it’s not inaccurate, it does omit information that might make a difference to a hiring manager.

          1. Cat*

            But there should be space for an expected graduation date – if the applicant is going to have a degree by the time the job starts, that’s relevant.

            1. AnonyMouse*

              Agreed, a lot of seniors start looking before graduation and would then be putting down “some college” on the application when in reality it will be “bachelor’s degree” or what have you by the start date.

              1. Stephanie*

                Yeah, I started looking at the beginning of my senior year and there usually was a spot for “expected graduation.” To be fair, most of the roles I applied to were new grad roles were the company knew applicants’ degrees would be in progress.

    4. mess*

      Same here and it was also Taleo! I hate Taleo. We use it at my current company and are shopping around for a new solution. It’s obnoxious and hard to use on both ends, if that makes you feel any better (I know, it doesn’t make me feel better either).

      1. Dan*

        I hate me some Taleo as well. I just filled out a bunch of apps at two different companies, both who use Taleo. At one, the interface was so bad that it looked like a Kindergartner designed it. They also decided that they wanted you to account for all jobs within the last ten years, and account for any periods of unemployment greater than one month.

        And by “account,” List a person, there phone number, and written address so that they can be contacted to vouch for your whereabouts. (Field required.) Like I keep in touch with anybody from 7 years back who remembers what I was doing for six weeks between jobs.

      2. Anx*

        Taleo is so bad for so many reasons, but the worst of them is that it constantly forgets my username and password. Constantly.

    5. Anonsie*

      I remember once getting a personal rejection from an actual person at like 7:40am the morning after I’d applied, which was like… I imagined someone getting up and getting to work, opening my application first thing, and then just immediately going “oh nuh-uh girl” and shooting back a big fat no. Somehow the image was funny enough to make it sting a little less?

      1. Stephanie*

        I had a particularly disastrous interview once where I got an automated rejection 20 minutes after I left. It was almost like the hiring manager left the interview like “Holy crap, we need to reject this girl immediately. To Taleo, stat!”

        1. Chriama*

          You make it sound funny but I would feel pretty awful. It’s like, you couldn’t even wait for my thank you email?

          1. Stephanie*

            I can laugh about it now because it’s been about three years. But at the time, it was kind of a blow to the chest. Job sounded interesting, but the hiring manager was such an ass during the interview that I may have dodged a bullet. It was one of those situations where I had A and B skills for the job (when the posting wanted A, B, and C) and the interviewer proceeded to berate me for not having C and was worried about my ability to do the job since I didn’t have C. I saw the job interviewed for reposted (as well as the hiring manager’s job) so it sounds like there may have been some internal issues.

            I was meeting my friend for lunch afterwards and checked my email right beforehand. I was like “I just got a rejection.” “Wait, to the job you just interviewed for? Wow.”

          2. Chriama*

            I hate that. I’ve gotten a rejection when I was out with friends and I wished I hadn’t checked my email, because now I had to be miserable in public instead of being able to go home and cry.

            On the flip side, there was one job where I kept dragging the process out even after I’d decided I didn’t really want the job, and I wasn’t good about following up. But, I don’t think they were either because at like 3 different times in the process I would check in and he said he’d left me a voicemail, and I never got a single one! I was worried he would think I was lying, but now looking back I think it’s weird that they didn’t return my follow up emails (because of course I wasn’t going to call).

    6. Kate*

      My current organization uses Taleo. I applied through the website, heard nothing for five weeks, moved on. Then I got an email from someone I knew here saying she’d showed my resume to the hiring manager and he wanted to talk to me. Now I’ve been here a year and am going for a promotion. So yeah, Taleo sucks.

  4. Jubilance*

    One of the many reasons why I detest Taleo or other systems that don’t allow for zero flexibility or nuance.

    I was once screened out of a position I was specifically told to apply for by the hiring manager because the software & recruiter were looking for a specific term.

    1. Joey*

      Well there’s an argument we’ve had as it related to minimums. Basically if you have minimums and don’t adhere to them they’re really not minimums are they? And if you hire someone below minimums its hard to argue legally that they are qualified if its challenged.

      1. Chriama*

        I think her point was more about the ambiguity of language. Like, if they’re looking for a master’s in social work (MSW) and she has an MS in social work (depending on how university’s name their degree progams). I think the nicest thing to do if you have hard requirements is
        a) be very explicit in the job posting
        b) have the screening questionnaire at the beginning of the application and reject the unqualified folks before they have to do all the work of filling out their job history

        1. Joey*

          There’s an easy way around that “or related” is what all of my job specs say. There are really very few jobs that have absolute education requirements except as it pertains to licenses. Most of the time requirin a specific degree doesn’t make sense.

      2. Lora*

        Often it’s not a matter of minimums though. “HPLC” instead of “chromatography,” “NMR” instead of “structural chemistry/biology,” “object-oriented language” instead of “Perl, Java and Ruby”. If you put every synonym or related term into your resume for some jobs, your resume would end up as ten pages of keywords. Which is just silly.

        1. Ezri*

          I’m not a fan of any program that does text screening – as a developer, I’ve learned that writing software that can adequately look for terms is a nightmare. There are too many ways to say things in the English language. I’d be really interested in seeing how these resume-scanners work – if they are graders that are double-checked by a human, as Joey suggested, then that’s probably alright. But I can just bet some companies plug their requirements in and never bother to look at what the software throws out. :(

      3. Jubilance*

        In my case, I had experience in Dark Chocolate Teapot Making and the requirement was written as “Milk Chocolate Teapot Making experience required”. Anyone in the field, including the hiring manager who told me to apply, knows that the requirement is about making chocolate teapots, but the flavor (dark or milk chocolate) doesn’t matter. A recruiter with zero experience in the field didn’t, and thus set up the requirements to be overly restrictive when they didn’t need to be.

        1. Joey*

          I have that happen too. But the manager has a responsibility to make sure the recruiter understands what she’s screening for to. I would never trust a recruiter that didn’t understand what I’m lookin for.

  5. Suz*

    As someone who’s hired many scientists in my career, I’d say the problem is more likely that you’re being eliminated because you have a PhD and are applying for entry level positions.

    1. BRR*

      I’ve seen this a lot. People don’t want to hire applicants with a PhD because they’re worried they’ll be bored or they will leave for teaching job or they have been in the academic bubble too long etc.

    2. Lora*


      It’s a looooong story outside the scope of a blog comment, but the market for fresh STEM PhDs is downright painful at the moment, including in every “alternate” career you can think of. It’s just really really hard.

      1. Dan*

        Unfortunately, I work in a subset of stem where many jobs I apply for (I have an MS, which is usually the lowest requirement) have the little “PhD preferred” next to it.

        1. Lora*

          Very true, and I don’t envy you. For the jobs I had offers from fresh out of grad school, I’m pretty sure that in 2014 my CV would have gone to the circular file. Only the oil/gas folks seem to be doing really well.

          1. Dan*

            I work in a rather niche field, so I’m able to hold down good jobs because I bring in a lot of subject matter expertise in addition to the academics.

            The trouble is “branching out” into different domains, where the theory they get into really leans towards PhDs.

            It’s a good thing I like what I do, and “branching out” is more of a curiosity than a necessity.

      2. JC*

        I wouldn’t blanket say that the market is awful for all STEM PhD grads, in all types of careers; it depends on the job. I got my STEM PhD 5 years ago and am on my second job, and never had trouble finding a job. The kinds of jobs I’ve had have been the “PhD preferred” ones, but they were also very far outside of my grad school area of research. There are some areas where people who know about data are very much in demand, and newly minted STEM PhDs can often be competitive for these kinds of jobs.

    3. Mander*

      I cling to the hope that this explains my problems in finding a job, at least in part. Besides my academic background I also have a fair amount of experience in admin type roles but I’ve had zero luck in the job market, even though I very explicitly explain my reasons for applying for any given job that has nothing to do with my PhD. Lately I’ve been going on the assumption that I am being screened out as over-educated before anyone ever even looks at my cover letter. As someone who suffers from Impostor Syndrome, for my own sanity I have been going with this rather than my natural inclination to believe that I have nothing to offer any employer!

  6. some1*

    I used to send rejections at a previous job. Not for jobs, but for people wishing to publish content with us. I wasn’t the Reviewer/Rejecter, just the messenger.

    I had IT set up an email account that couldn’t be replied to because of abusive responses I got. Lots of name-calling towards me and my mom, and the accusations of not reviewing the submission well enough were very common.

    1. KarenT*

      That was my responsibility in one of my first publishing roles as well. It was impressive the list of names that I was called. A co-worker who was also doing this and I had a binder where we’d print out the worst ones and read them for a laugh whenever we were having a bad day.

  7. Laura L*

    This isn’t exactly related to the OP question, but since I’ve also had the experience of leaving academic science, and remember well how frustrating the search was for my first non-academic job, I wanted to share a book title that really helped me: “Put Your Science to Work: The Take-Charge Career Guide for Scientists” by Peter Fiske. It’s written for MS and PhD-level scientists transitioning from the academic setting to non-academic jobs. I’ve found it enormously helpful. Good luck!

  8. No More Labwork*

    Hi Everyone, OP here. All of your fellow rejection stories make me feel a little better. If yall have any suggestions on how to move out of academia, I’d really appreciate it.

    1. Lora*

      Umm, it will help me to know where you want to move, and what field you are currently in. You said “energy,” does that mean oil/gas? Green energy? Solar panels? Fermentation or algae for oil/gas substitutes? Long life battery technology?

      My generic advice would be to start with a small startup company. They don’t mind getting people fresh out of academia so much. Big monster companies tend to want multiple postdocs and/or Ivy League or near-Ivy credentials.

      1. No More Labwork*

        I would be willing to move pretty much anywhere warmer than the upper Midwest. And for the energy aspect, I’m pretty flexible. I’ve applied to big oil, talked to a few startups who weren’t currently hiring, and applied and talked to solar people. Essentially, I would like to work on clean energy and energy efficiency in some capacity in some place warmer than Chicago. I’m trying to keep my options open, but I’m having a hard time networking since I want to move out of state and finding relevant positions I can apply for.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          What kind of role are you looking for? I might think about government positions focusing on energy, sustainable development, or the environment, which might then help you transition over to industry roles if you’d prefer those. This might also be a seriously good time to do informational interviews—contact somebody in the field and see if she’ll speak with you about what employers look for and how people get hired.

          This is not my field, but there seems to be a lot of wind and solar development in the Texas/Oklahoma/New Mexico area, which is definitely warmer than Chicago.

          1. No More Labwork*

            Yeah, I didn’t get past the phone interview for a government agency I was really interested in. I need to keep looking though. I would like to go into solar, but finding a non-engineering position with no business background is difficult.

        2. Stephanie*

          There’s solar out here in Arizona. With the climate here, you’d think the state would be covered in solar panels, but solar’s getting a lot of resistance from the more traditional utility companies.

        3. Hillary*

          What’s your specialty? Engineering? Hardware? Software? Stats? Modeling?

          There are some very interesting changes coming in the transportation fuel world. Gain, Clean Energy and their competitors are all trying to capture first mover advantage on natural gas, not to mention the old fashioned diesel companies. The big trucking companies need people to do modeling/forecasts for energy and the manufacturers all need engineers.

          I know one company probably hiring in the marketing/modeling/analytics arena, but they’re based in a Green Bay.

          1. No More Labwork*

            My real problem is that I have no relevant specialty or specific skills. All I have are the generic reading, writing, analytical and organizational skills. (For my degree I worked on inorganic energy materials.) A lot of energy companies, especially wind and solar want engineers, which I am not qualified for at all. I cant do software or programming either :/ I’ve taken some business classes because I find them interesting and relevant, but I want to leave my “true” specialty behind.

    2. RR*

      I am not a science person, but as someone who has often been a hiring manager reviewing applications from individuals also trying to make the transition from academic work into our field, I would really stress the need for a strong cover letter. You mention that you specially tailored yours, so likely have this covered, but if an applicant doesn’t really make it clear that they understand our business (and that it *is* a business), and doesn’t clearly articulate how their skills are directly applicable to our needs, I am not going to want to interview you.

    3. Fabulously Anonymous*

      Have you checked out the Chronicle for Higher Education? I believe they have some articles with tips and strategies.

  9. Stephanie*

    I applied for a role at a F50 company and got an email from its Taleo system like “An update has been made to your status for this position. Please log in to see your updated status.” Keep in mind, my materials had just gone into the Taleo black hole with no further follow-up. I didn’t bother because I seriously doubted I’d log in like “Surprise! There’s a job offer in here!”

    1. Dan*

      I don’t understand why they just can’t email you the actual status change. What are they worried about, that someone is hacking into emails and they’ll have exposure from a “privacy” breach? It takes more than a job rejection for a lawsuit.

      1. Stephanie*

        Well, it was Target Corporate, so maybe they were still reeling from the data breach. (Although, if the hackers are hiring and offer benefits and will keep me out of jail…)

        1. some1*

          Nope. I live in the Twin Cities and have friends who work or applied there. That’s how they reject people who don’t make the phone interview/interview. Interview rejections get the Do Not Reply rejection that says “Sorry, no feedback”

      2. Ezri*

        Sometimes a business group gets really attached to a new software and tries to get the most out of it, even if that means some task is more complicated (such as routing all application statuses through the program instead of using emails). Sometimes it’s just simpler to set that up for whoever does it, or it was set up that way initially and no one bothered to change it.

    2. Chriama*

      Haha it could be that the position was suspended but you’re still being considered. I think it’s probably just a really lazy approach to form emails, where it would be the same for people who got the job or were invited for an interview, except they would also have been contacted by the hiring manager.

  10. Ivy*

    If you use your friend to forward your application please be very clear that you already received a rejection letter, so that your friends knows to address this upfront

    I once tried to help a friend of a friend, coached him a bit and passed his resume to the right person, whereupon I heard he had already applied through the general channels (even though I told him to hold off that) and has been rejected. In our company referrals are treated differently from general applications and I would have got him an interview for sure – and if I had at least known he had applied I would have gone through a different person and positioned things right.

  11. Joey*

    Oh and to the Op,

    Please don’t rewrite your résumé and resubmit it after you’ve been rejected. That comes across as if you aren’t sure where your strengths are, aren’t sure what the job is, need a 2nd try to give your best work……it’s not good any way you spin it.

    1. No More Labwork*

      Yeah, I haven’t resubmitted for that position, but do you think if I wait a few months and apply for something else, I could try again?

  12. Chriama*

    What’s the ethical stance on answering the application according to questions it should be answering, but isn’t? For example, if you were let go from your job but not for performance or egregious behaviour, do you answer no to the question “were you fired from this job”? Or what about leaving that short term job 9 years ago off the application that wants 10 years’ work history? Or you’re a week and 2 final exams away from graduating? Do you put that you have the degree or not?

    1. Cat*

      I feel like the rule is “would the employer think this is deceptive if it was later clarified.” So based on that I’d say:

      1) You have to say yes (but if it uses the word “fired,” layoffs are different).

      2) Maybe – it depends on whether you think they’re just going for work history or if they are actually asking for a comprehensive work history; context governs here.

      3) Put that you have it. Add “expected graduation date” on your resume.

  13. Milos*

    Sadly, a good percentage of employers don’t look at applications carefully enough nor do they have qualified people reviewing them. By making quick calls they are doing a disservice to both the applicants and themselves as they may have just passed on an amazing candidate because they couldn’t be bothered to read carefully.

    1. Artemesia*

      That may be. I would be leery of having an HR person screen for the kinds of professional positions I have usually hired for. We had HR screen for support staff but not for professional staff. But seriously, it does not take long at all to review an applicant when you know what you want. We had lots of applicants for high level jobs who imagined that their experience, although it was not what we wanted, was ‘just as good’. But we really did know what we wanted and it was fairly complex and somewhat difficult to find since we were frankly expecting more than we were willing to pay for. It didn’t take more than a minute or two to review and discard most applicants as not being even in our ballpark. For the top pile, and second pile, we always had additional people review before deciding whom to phone screen and then bring in for interviews. But that initial screen can go quite quickly.

    2. Joey*

      blaming the employer for not spending enough time to recognize how good you are?

      That’s like blaming the customer for not buying what you were trying to sell.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I agree with this. I hire for roles that require excellent communication skills and judgment. If a candidate can’t write a clear, convincing resume and cover letter, the candidate is showing me that he won’t be able to write briefs or presentations either. The application doesn’t need to be brilliant, but inappropriate or hard-to-read materials tell me a LOT about the person’s fit for the job.

    3. fposte*

      I pass on amazing candidates with some frequency–not because I couldn’t be bothered to read carefully, but because I hired a different amazing candidate.

      1. Anonymous This Once*

        This. There is more than one amazing candidate. You don’t have to interview every last one of them to get one of them. You also don’t have to be fair to all of them, or spend a disproportionate amount of time finding all of them, or turn over every stone to be sure you’ve assessed each and every possibility of one. You can find one, and hire them. Sorry to the other 11, but that’s how it goes.

        And that goes double if you are indeed amazing…but your application materials weren’t.

    4. Legal mind*

      I agree, and despite the defensiveness here, if you search the internet, your complaint is a common one. I spend my day reading documents. I find the claims that any document can be read carefully in a 30 seconds to a minute funny. Unfortunately, this mind set is not likely to change. It is just a problem you have to accept as part of the process.

    5. Legally minded*

      I agree.

      If you search online, your complaint is a common one. In fact, the more critical HR execs admit it is a problem. However, it is not going to change.

  14. NK*

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned this (unless I accidentally skipped it), amid all the hate on automated systems – if you have a friend who works for the company, apply through them first!!! You will probably have to fill out the automated system later, but at that point it’s basically a formality. Giving your resume to a friend to pass on to the right people virtually guarantees at least a cursory scan of your materials by an actual human who has some say in the process. How much more than that depends on how close your friend is to the hiring team and what they say about you, but if you have any kind of in at the company, by all means, apply through them!

    1. Legally minded*

      Not everyone has those contacts and, in fact from a racial angle, is one of the reasons people of color are less likely to get a chance at a job.

      1. NK*

        But the OP said he has a friend at the company, so it applies in this situation. And I disagree that the other angle is a good reason to not use contacts you have.

  15. voluptuousfire*

    I once got a rejection email at 9:00 on a Monday morning. I had applied for the job late Friday afternoon and was surprised I got a rejection so early. They also sent me the rejection via the email that LinkedIn sent them with my application. They hit reply and changed it to my email address and typed up the rejection email. The timing coupled with the really half-assed way they rejected me left me with a really bad impression. It was like “wow, we hate her! Let’s ruin her day by rejecting her first thing Monday morning and doing it in a really lazy, dismissive way! :evil, maniacal laughter:”

    Recently I received a letter rejecting me from a position because they had an overwhelming response to their posting and due to that, they were not able to take my candidacy any further. Uh, ok? Am I being rejected because you had too many applications and you decided to reject me without reading my resume ? It was definitely confusing.

  16. Stevie Wonders*

    I suspect many of these notifications are automatic, because several times I’ve been contacted by companies that rejected me. And for smaller companies not using ATS, a few times I’ve scored interviews by reapplying after an initial rejection. So I always ignore rejections and press ahead.

    In the good old days before email, the rejection form letters I occasionally received were just as inspiring as the rejection emails sent today. With a tone generally along the lines of: ‘Do you really think we would hire your sorry ass? Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Well, you are a silly thing.’

    But hey, at least it confirmed they got my application. Nowadays you often don’t get that much.

  17. LL*

    I had the exact same experience with a summer internship program I applied to. I was excited about the company and put in a good deal of effort tailoring my resume, but got an automated rejection email within a couple of hours. I honestly doubt that any human being looked at my application. I met all the objective qualifications (graduation date, major, GPA) so my best guess is that I was automatically filtered out, but I have no idea by what criteria. In my opinion, it’s frustrating and quite unreasonable on HR’s part if companies are filtering resumes by objective criteria that aren’t explicitly stated in the “Job Requirements” because it’s simply wasting the time of the applicants.

  18. Andy*

    as an engineer I decided to work in recruiting as a part time work student job. You will be surprised how these sociology majors make decisions. one girl who recruits in finance kept on typing VBA skills as DBA and it was quite hilarious and no one in the team even knew what VBA is. they are not aware of the market and they pass CVs with typos and reject within a matter of seconds. therefore, I would advise everyone to directly talk to hiring managers as teh recruiters are highly unskilled to decipher the job requirements. they even taught me what ctrl+a is on my first day of job *face palm! hahaha its a joke honestly

  19. Miss Displaced*

    Just had this happen. Filled out lengthy application on a Sunday evening. Was rejected by the system at precisely 8am Monday morning. That was a 12 hour delay (maybe less considering time zones). I highly doubt a real person looked at it.

  20. Talha*

    I would like to post my experience with Ford Motor Company here. Little bit about me, I have a master’s degree with ~6 months of work experience. I think I have applied to 6 or 7 entry-level positions (all requiring only a bachelor’s degree with 0-3 months of experience) by now. For all of these applications, I got a prompt email response within 10 minutes of submissions citing “…we do not find sufficient alignment between your qualifications and this opening.”.

    In my opinion I am more than qualified for all of the jobs I have applied to but I suspect that the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software they use is really bad at identifying my key skills, education and experience. I recently had my resume passed through one of these stupid pieces of code and was shocked to find out that the core competency it linked me with was not even close to my actual experience. It really bothers me how big companies, even Fortune 500 ones, are missing out on so many qualified candidates just because a poorly-written computer program weeds out their CVs before they even make it to HR.

    Anyway, I did get some good news eventually last week. Because even though I had been previously rejected by ATS, I got a call from the hiring manager about one of the positions and did a phone interview. My guess is there either weren’t many people who applied for that particular opening, or the software couldn’t deliver the minimum number of applications to HR and they decided to personally go through all of the applications.

    Bottom line: I understand the need for ATS, but as it stands, I think it is doing more harm than good to both the applicants and the companies by failing to deliver on what it’s made to do.

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