does it mean anything if an employer says they’ll keep me in their “talent pipeline”?

A reader writes:

I recently did a set of interviews with a huge company, and then submitted a resume to another big company. Both recruiters gave me the usual “thanks, but…”, but in both cases I was told they’d “talent pipeline” me, as the current roles were not what they deemed to be a strong match with my background.

Now, my question is, is this talent pipeline a real thing? Or just a runaround way to reject me? If it’s real, what are my chances of them actually contacting me in the future? I really want to hold out for these companies, as career-wise I’d be in company heaven, but geeze louise, a gal can’t hold out forever!

No, you absolutely should not hold out for these companies. That doesn’t mean that they’re not sincere; they very well might be. It just means that there are zeros promises here.

“We’ll keep your resume on file for other openings” or “we’ll track you in our talent pipeline” or any other version of this statement can be a real thing, or it can be boilerplate that they include to soften a rejection.

In some cases, it really does mean, “We think you’re great and would love to find a way to work with you, and we’re going to actively keep you in mind.” But even when it means that, there’s zero guarantee that it will ever actually happen. There might not be any openings that you’re the right fit for, and even if there are, someone else might still be better.

So you absolutely should not under any circumstances “hold out” for these companies. You should continue to actively job search, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do get back in touch.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. MissDisplaced

    I’ve rarely found that companies keep your resume on file, and this is typically just a nice way of saying “thanks, but no thanks.” But don’t take it personally! And by all means if you see other openings with these companies apply again as it really IS unlikely they will remember you (especially the case with large companies). Good luck!

    1. Thomas W

      My company keeps them, but only looks through them when things get really desperate. It’s easy to forget them — and separate departments may never think to look through old resumes to find applicants from other departments. Definitely agree with the advice not to hold out for them. Just wait for other roles you’re qualified for and apply again.

    2. Meg Murry

      I agree, definitely re-apply to new openings that seem to be a good fit for you, and mention in your cover letter that you applied and interviewed before – include dates, position you interviewed for and who you interviewed with. That way you might get to skip a phone screening or very basic initial interview and go right to the next round if you are a good fit.

      If you were given any contact information that is directly to a person (and not a generic like “HR @ company or hiring @ company ), you should email that person as well when you apply to the new position to let them know that you applied for the new position and remind them that you interviewed in the past and that you’d still like an opportunity to be part of their company.

      1. OP

        Thanks for the tip! I was in touch with recruiters for both companies (and have their emails), so I’ll be sure to keep that in mind when writing the cover letter if/when I re-apply!

  2. Helen

    Something I don’t get–a couple times I had interviews that went incredibly well and made me think I might get the job. Then, I wouldn’t get it, but the HR person would say what a tough choice it was, that they loved me and would keep me in mind for future opportunities. But then I see other similar job openings at the same company, and they never actually reach out to me about those other jobs. What gives?

    1. fposte

      Ah, verbiage. It could be they just meant they really liked you; it could mean that they would have reached out to you for some positions but not the one they posted; it could mean they would keep you in mind so they’d recognize you if you applied again in future. Basically, I would never assume that I wouldn’t need to reapply.

    2. MK

      It could be that they didn’t mean it. It could be that they meant it at the time, but then forgot about it. It’s not odd that they might be very enthusiastic about you after a great interview, but less so as time passes.

    3. KH

      I suspect you’d only get a callback if you have some very rare and hard to find skill, such as Japanese – Polish bilingual teapot materials engineer with experience in Chinese import/exporting). When you apply for a job, your resume and your profile are stored in an applicant tracking system that most companies use these days. The recruiters will search against keywords and if your resume is in the system, they may decide to call you back. But why bother, when they are getting new applications flooding in for every new job posting?

      If you are interested in the company, put a reminder in your calendar to check their job postings every few weeks (or set up a highly customized alert on a third party site like Glassdoor) and apply again then.

  3. Artemesia

    I would assume this is a flat rejection unless they take active steps. Here is how this looked for my daughter when she was told they were impressed and would keep her in mind. they first invited here to their Christmas party. Afterwards they met with her over coffee and told her they had some things in the pipeline that MIGHT result in opportunities. They told her they had a contract coming up that they would need help with that she would be perfect for and they would hire her if it came through; they did that. They then told her that if business picked up they might have a full time position in the summer; business picked up and they hired her full time and she still works there. The key to ‘keep you in mind’ is that they met with her off and on and followed up with contract jobs.

    I would assume that a ‘keep your resume on file’ means ‘you will never hear from us again so if you are actually interested, then follow up when new jobs are posted, or perhaps follow up in a few months. Probably they will wonder who you are when you do this.

    1. fposte

      I also think they might not necessarily know at the moment if it’s a flat rejection or the start of something else, and that this language hedges their bets. Sometimes when I keep somebody in mind I unexpectedly have a job opening, and sometimes I never get the opening–or it takes long enough that I want to start new anyway.

  4. It Might Be

    HR people often meet a lot of candidates for many different roles. “Keeping you in mind” is a term often used but might be more realistic if they said “we see you as a good candidate and would consider you for a role better suited to your experience/education *but* you need to stay in touch to remind us who you are, that you are still interested in working here etc.”

    You interviwed with 2 organizations you were interested in working for so it is realistic for you to remember them; plus this is something you want and are focussed on. The HR interviewers will interview a lot more people than that, see a lot of resumes, deal with internal applications and all for several different jobs. As much as they might see you as a candidate in future it is up to you to keep yourself in front of them as an interested candidate. Set up a plan to do this that is on the right side “I am interested” taking care to avoid overdoing it.

  5. JMegan

    On the other hand, I have on two occasions gotten job offers where I was the second choice, after the first choice didn’t work out for some reason. So it does happen. But yeah, definitely not something to hold out for, because most of the time the first choice works out just fine.

    Keep looking for other opportunities – maybe one will come up that you’ll like even better!

    1. AnotherTeacher

      Agreed. This has happened for me once, but I wouldn’t hold out for future jobs hoping it happens again.

  6. jennie

    We have an electronic applicant tracking system, so the “talent pipeline” is a real thing that’s actually a searchable database of resumes where you can type in a keyword/phrase/skill/location and see all resumes that contain it. Any person who applies for any job is automatically in the talent pipeline and could conceivably be contacted in the future for other jobs. We do search the database, but mainly for hard to find skills, languages, etc.

    Alison is right though, when you hear that phrase as a candidate it could mean they plan to contact you in the future or it could just be a polite brush-off.

  7. Anonymous Educator

    I’m really baffled by this question.

    Even if you assume the best-case scenario (they’re being 100% sincere with you, and being in the “talent pipeline” means they may contact you about another position), why would you ever hold out for that possibility?

    You have no idea whether it’ll happen or not. Maybe that other position may never come about. Does “hold out” mean you aren’t actively applying for other jobs? I wouldn’t recommend that strategy.

  8. JCC

    You may just be a commodity, but at least they consider you to be valuable crude (perhaps a fine West Texas Intermediate?) worth harvesting for their pipeline in the future. :-) A compliment, really, although of course not binding in any way. I’d leave it at that.

  9. Jennifer

    I think it boils down to “if we remember you, maybe, but realistically, we probably won’t remember you.” Take it as “that’s a nice thought,” but that’s all.

  10. Austin

    I’d take it as an open invitation to reach out to the recruiters DIRECTLY if/when you apply to future postings.

  11. Dominic

    I went for an interview and it turned out to be a good one. After 3 weeks I get a reply that they regretfully cannot recruit me for the time being and have kept me as a back up candidate? Can you please suggest me what does this signify in terms of me getting a job in the near future. Also when should I send them an email for an opening in the company

  12. Fatima

    I understand completely why companies have to do this. Been to this for several times in the past. But somehow it help me move forward over time.

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