an online job application rejected me before I even finished filling it out

A reader writes:

I just finished filling out a job application online. I hadn’t updated my resume yet, so I clicked on “save and go to next page.” I answered every question and I can assure you that I am highly qualified. But as soon as I clicked on the “finish and save” button, the site generated a message saying they would not hire me. Why? Can you help me on this one?

This happens when an application system is programmed to automatically reject people without a particular qualification. That could be anything — a particular degree, number of years of experience in the industry, willingness to relocate, who knows.

Sometimes this makes sense, like when it’s directly tied to a qualification that’s truly a requirement.

Other times, it’s a bad system — such as one that rejects people because they have a masters rather than a bachelors in the subject they’re looking for (this is really a thing that happens, which is ridiculous) or one that rejects people over things that aren’t true requirements and which a human could exercise better judgment on.

{ 145 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    Yeah, I’ve had this happen, usually for not having the required number of years of experience. It sucks, especially if it the quibble is over four vs. five years of experience. All you can do is move on. :(

    1. Audiophile*

      I’ve seen this a lot with colleges. But usually, I get the notice after I submit, not hitting “finish and save.”

      1. SevenSixOne*

        I’ve gotten kicked out of online applications before I complete them, and I’ve gotten the form rejection less than a minute after I (spend an hour or more slogging through the repetitive, invasive, and repetitive process to) submit them. I don’t know which sucks harder.

          1. yeah, that*

            PeopleAdmin. It should have a little graphic on it that says “Powered by Applicants’ Tears.” I don’t know why it’s so popular in higher ed.

  2. Ash (the other one)*

    I really wish companies would do away with the online apps — they don’t allow for nuance, which often is critical. The federal government’s is the worse, but I won’t hijak the thread with my rant there…

    1. PEBCAK*

      If they are getting more than enough applications that *do* pass the filter, though, there’s not much of a downside.

      1. Ash (the other one)*

        I disagree — someone might only have, say, 4 years of experience rather than 5 but be a perfect fit otherwise. I say this as someone who has been on both sides of hiring. I think getting a more detailed read of someone by way of reviewing resume and cover letter is much more important than an arbitrary screen.

        1. fposte*

          But for most places, they’re getting perfect fit applicants *with* five years, or pretty darn good applicants who aren’t far enough from perfect to justify the labor hours to do it differently. Purple squirrel jobs really aren’t that common, and they’re less likely to be subject to these kinds of forms. For most jobs, people will get plenty of applicants that suit them this way.

          It’s not my kind of hiring and I’m glad we don’t do it, but aside from egregious stupidity of the kind Turanga Leela mentions below, it most does work out okay for the employers. It’s the applicants who get screwed.

          1. Anx*

            I agree.

            I think that many companies get by just fine with the ATS they use, especially in retail or main-employers-in-town.

            It really is that applicant with 22 months of experience instead of 2 years may not have beat out the applicant with 26 months in the interview stage, the company would do fine with either hire, and one person has access a position where the other one will likely have a very difficult time getting those extra two months if 2 years in the rejection threshold for the main employer for a certain job.

          2. Green*

            They’re also biased towards thinking they’re fine because they don’t know that they’re missing candidates they would perhaps otherwise hire. I’ve applied for jobs where I lacked a “Key Word” experience or the exact number of years they put in the ad but still got the jobs (i.e., one job asked for 7 years; i had 2 1/2, but I still got it because they just lowered the title a rung). Particularly for exec-level jobs, that’s really short-sighted considering they put into recruiting candidates…

            1. fposte*

              Sure, but that doesn’t mean they can’t tell if their hires are okay, any more than you have to work for every organization to know if you job is okay or date every person to know if your partner suits you.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not necessarily looking for the best applicants, though. I’m looking to find really good applicants in an efficient matter.

          If an employer isn’t finding good applicants, then absolutely, yes, reconsider the hiring process (and the pay, of course). But for most hiring, maximizing is a waste of resources; satisficing is a better approach for the business. Sure, longer hiring windows, broader advertising, a mandatory 15 minutes on every application, etc., may get me a better shot at the absolutely perfect candidate, but it’s not likely that the absolutely perfect candidate is going bring more value than the time saved by a more efficient hiring process that gets me really good applicants who do a really good job.

          Even when I’m reading resumes and cover letters, the process isn’t that lovingly hand-tooled–I toss stuff immediately upon noting min quals aren’t met all the time. This just makes that fact more in your face.

          1. fposte*

            To clarify–I think that online application screens are too often buggy and I wouldn’t like to entrust hiring completely to them (and fortunately I don’t have to). But immediate cuts for applicants who don’t meet min quals (which is what I first thought had happened to the OP, but now I’m not sure)? I’m totally in favor of that. I just do it with my special human eyes, and I don’t notify them of rejection on the spot.

          2. BRR*

            I’m all for tossing after a 3 second initial scan. I just don’t trust ATS to do it for me based on a question when I know there is sometimes an explanation.

          3. snuck*

            “Even when I’m reading resumes and cover letters, the process isn’t that lovingly hand-tooled–I toss stuff immediately upon noting min quals aren’t met all the time. This just makes that fact more in your face.”


            I usually toss/ed into the reject pile more than half of the applications for any one position (unless there were only a few to choose from) simply based on first glance stuff… Spelt my name wrong? Gone (it’s in the job add, and my name is unusual enough that you’d look twice). Don’t have the basic qualifications… gone. Used weird colours and distracting fonts and perfumed paper for a professional technical role? Probably gone. Document formatting screwed up (and you printed it and sent it to me!)? Gone. No cover letter/only a resume? Gone (not going to introduce yourself to me…??! gone!). Late? Gone. Recruiter got it wrong the last four times? Probably gone if there’s a single thing out of line (and keep asking for a new recruiter rep).

            The system is just doing what a quick sorter would do in the first place. The difference is it’s doing it right up front to the applicant at the time of applying – it’s abrupt and soulless to do this, but probably more fair in the long run (and means Alison gets less “Do I ring them???”questions). It’s removed the perception of grace/hope from the process… in other systems a person might think “Well I have X and Y but not P… I’m sure they’ll see the value in that”and apply, wasting everyone’s time. (I understand that sometimes X and Y but no P isn’t a deal breaker, but for these employers it obviously is.) If the employer is going to be that ridged in their requirements then being upfront is more than fair, it’s honest.

            1. snuck*

              I do sometimes wonder though… at the cost of building and maintaining that software vs the cost of employing a simple entry level HR person who could (with some support/guidance) do the same resume shuffle, with a lot more skill in a short period of time. Computer software doesn’t have dynamic learning… a good HR entry level person will… and while it’s not a glamour job shuffling huge piles of resumes it’s a good step in for a person starting out – it’s amazing how much you learn about the world of work from resumes

              1. danielle*

                At that point you’re just trading out computer error for human error, though, and you’re also paying benefits and salary for the human part.

                Coming from someone who still manually sifts through resumes for up to 10 positions at a time (estimated ~300 resumes/week), along with a number of other HR duties, a system that could screen out retail/HS degree applicants from a high-level sales job would be great and save me an obscene amount of time every week. Those who are getting tossed out for jobs they’re sure they’re qualified for are either a) not representing their skills appropriately, or b) applying for jobs where the HR team sucks and can’t ask the right questions with the ATS to pull in the right candidates. It’s not the ATS that sucks, it’s the human behind it telling it what to screen out.

                1. Maria*

                  We are implementing an ATS now and frankly are all ecstatically anticipating the time savings for multiple employees. We can then repurpose the employees for other services to our current employees. We were spending way too much time pushing paper.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        Huge potential downside. My favorite was an employer I knew who initially set the application system to reject applicants unless they had been in the top quarter of their law school class. This meant that the system rejected students whose law schools didn’t rank… which meant that for a while, they were auto-rejecting students from the most competitive, prestigious schools in the country.

        You can argue that competitive law schools aren’t better, and I would mostly agree with you, but this is still not a good way to run an application system.

        1. BRR*

          Not electronic, but I heard from a professor who was saying students from the university’s public admin program weren’t getting interviewed for city jobs even though city hiring managers were asking professors to tell students to apply. Finally one of the professors asked why they were asking for applicants and then never interviewing them. Turns out the job description read “degree in Urban Studies, Public Policy, or similar.” Well the HR person doing the initial screening was tossing all the resumes since they had degrees in Public Administration.

        2. Green*

          I doubt the kind of employer who thinks that higher-ranked law schools aren’t better is also the kind of employer to reject bottom 75% of the class at each school.

          These blanket auto-rejects are ridiculous; I would wager that nearly every single employer would take someone in the 27th percentile at Yale (or rough equivalent in non-ranked) over the 24th percentile at the Abraham Lincoln Online School of Law. Almost all law firms with GPA cut-offs base their cut-offs on the particular school and the competitiveness of the pool of students there. (3.3 is the cut-off at Columbia, 3.7 is the cut-off at State School) That’s why people are better than these computer systems. People may recognize that the person misses the GPA cut-off by 0.01 but that their dad is a Supreme Court Justice; or that they miss the GPA cut-off slightly but have a PhD and work experience in the hard sciences (which is a patent law booyah!).

    2. Dan*

      Online is fine, I’d hate to have to submit hard copy application materials.

      Frankly, online apps aren’t any worse than a recruiter/screener with no background in the subject. If the hiring manager says, “give me resumes with at least five years of experience *only*”, an ignorant/uneducated/uninformed recruiter is going to do the same thing that a computer does.

      The difficult thing is that folks are trying to quantify subjective things and not do it well. Let’s face it — five years experience is a useless number on its face — what they’re really doing is using that as a proxy for other skills, and not being clear what those skills are.

      These days, when I do phone screens/go on interviews, I actually ask the interviewer a few questions to gauge their background, and therefore level of expertise with the subject matter. They get answers that are calibrated to the level of expertise the interviewer has with my specific field.

      I work in natural language processing and computational linguistics, a lot of the big drivers in the field these days are analyzing twitter tweets, and customer feedback from surveys or sites such as yelp or trip advisor. The growth areas in customer feedback aren’t “on a scale of 1-5, how do you rate X?” but in letting people tell you what they want to say.

      Tying that back to this topic, eventually they should be moving away from Taleo and what not, allowing you to submit your resume and cover letter, and the back end systems should be smart enough to figure out whether or not you pass the smell test enough to make it to a recruiter, without making you have to game the system.

      The downside is that these systems take a bit of effort to calibrate correctly.

      1. Ash (the other one)*

        We receive our resumes and cover letters through an online content management system. I agree, no hard copies. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be an “application”

      2. James M.*

        It sounds like your company could produce a product that analyses a job application and yields a rough profile of the applicant. Matching applicant profiles with those of your company’s most successful employees would be a much better filter than some poorly worded checkbox.

    3. Adam*

      I love technology, but in so many ways it seems like it hasn’t made our lives better so much as it has just made them more complicated.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I very much prefer an online application to a paper application, but so many online application systems are designed in a ridiculous way that’s far too rigid. My first choice will always be to email my resume and cover letter to the hiring manager.

      1. Suzanne*

        “…but so many online application systems are designed in a ridiculous way that’s far too rigid.” Amen! I had one that asked for my high school GPA. Right.

    1. Clever Name*

      Heh. I’ve gotten insta-rejections too. From government jobs, I believe. I’m sure I didn’t answer at least one of the questions in the right manner to get my application moved forward. Oh well.

      1. Graciosa*

        I have a relative who received a formal rejection from the government more than a year after he started the job (for which he had been heavily recruited). He and his boss got a chuckle out of it before it hit the circular file.

  3. NickelandDime*

    I’ve encountered this. It is very frustrating. I hope it didn’t take you too long to fill out the application. Sorry!

  4. Sascha*

    The application system at my university flags applicants as “does not meet qualifications” if people don’t answer the questionnaire satisfactorily (4 vs 5 years of experience, bachelor’s vs masters, etc – stuff like Alison described!). However it doesn’t outright reject the applicant, I still can view the person and make the final judgement call if I want to interview them. And I have – and I’ve made some great hires from this pool of supposedly unqualified people. Most of the time they aren’t truly unqualified, they just misunderstood the questions or answered too modestly.

    1. Mmmmmm...... fudge*

      At the university to which I applied last night, they just flat-out rejected my application because I didn’t meet all of the required qualifications to a tee (i.e. my degree was not in PR/communications).

  5. LizNYC*

    Nothing is more aggravating than online job application programs. Especially when you have to fill in every.single.item regardless of whether it’s relevant or not (haven’t been in high school for 15 years, so why do you need their address and phone number???).

    Sorry you wasted your time with this company.

      1. Tau*

        I have a bachelor’s, Master’s and a PhD. AND YET.

        (This is a serious peeve of mine because I went to high school in a foreign country under a very different system getting a very different qualification, so I end up having to do this long spiel about what my results actually mean and how they translate to A-Levels and it is just so. Incredibly. Unnecessary.)

      2. Anx*

        At least that one I can sort of see as being answerable.

        Why, oh why, do I have to give you my high school major?

        1. ChelseaNH*

          When did high schools start having majors?

          I made up for it by having a double major in college. Try fitting that in your average online application.

          1. Anx*

            I don’t think they do.

            But I’ve encountered many paper and some online applications that carry over the same fields from the college sections. At least on paper you can just leave it blank.

          2. Treena*

            Lots of speciality high schools have majors, like IB programs. If you went to regular high school, you put “General Studies” in the major field. I learned that in one of my high school classes, maybe Personal Finance?

        2. RP*

          I have a very unusual Master Degree and half the time an online job application has a drop down menu for the major and no option to write it in. I have to pick something ‘close’* enough and then explain some place else in the application. I really wonder what they *expect* people to do; pretend they don’t have a Masters at all because you haven’t heard of it?

          *Scare quotes because even the closest thing implies something drastically different.

          1. Anx*

            I have a post bac certificate in a field where the certificate qualified me to test for my license. You’d think they’d make it easy to include a post-bac cert, right? Wrong!

      3. snuck*

        How does this work for overseas applicants? People who move to the states from another country?

        I know I’ve never had a GPA from highschool! I can give a TEE score, but in the intervening 20yrs this has moved to a TER and ATR and something else score… and in another state it’d be a different system… it’s completely pointless except for uni admission.

  6. Retail Lifer*

    At the very end of an online app, after you’ve completed everything else, there are often a handful of seemingly redundant questions (Are you over 18? Do you possess a current certification for X?) If you answer any of these wrong, you’ll be rejected. It doesn’t matter if you can make up for one slight deficiency with applicable education and experience. Those are the most basic screening questions and if you answered yes when they wanted no, you’re eliminated. Not cool, of course, but I think that’s what might have happened. If the online system kicked you out before you even had a chance to review your answers, which it sounds like it might have, that’s especially unfair.

    1. Chriama*

      If any of those screening questions are dealbreakers, shouldn’t they be at the beginning of the application? What a waste of time.

      1. BeenThere*

        I couldn’t agree more, I had this happen to me so many times!!! Most recently a position was advertised to be remote, however if you clicked no to the willing to relocate option you were instantly rejected :/

      2. Anx*

        There is one employer near me that is courteous enough to do this.
        Another one included them AFTER THE PERSONALITY TEST.

  7. Training Manager*

    I had something very similar happen to me once – however it took a day to be rejected. The odd thing is that 2 months later I was called and interviewed for the position, then subsequently hired. At the welcome dinner with HR I showed them my “rejection” email (after I verified that, yes. I was officially hired) and they were quite embarrassed. It turns out they had an intern reviewing positions and they were being too literal as Alison described above. I had 10 years experience and the position said 5 :).

    1. RP*

      It turns out they had an intern reviewing positions

      No. BOO.

      Hopefully they don’t make interns do that any more.

    2. Jessa*

      Wait I thought interns were not supposed to be doing stuff that benefits the company more than the intern? That’s just not on.

      1. Sarahnova*

        That’s only for unpaid internships. You can get paid interns to do anything you like (within reason and the law!).

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m going to advise something I don’t think I’ve ever advised before: contact the company and complain.

    At this point, there’s a 99% chance you’re not going to get the job so you’re not harming your chances here — chances that were non-existent to begin with.  If you write it like you wrote this letter, you’ll come off sounding more like you want them to be aware of a problem rather than being bitter.  There’s a helpful tone, which works to your advantage, so feel free to add a few more explanatory sentences.

    This company is seriously hurting itself by using a system that eliminates people before they’ve even submitted an application.  Someone higher up needs to know.

    1. fposte*

      I think it makes sense to contact them if you got rejected for having a master’s and not a bachelor’s and hoped you could draw somebody’s attention to the viability of yoru candidacy, but just to complain that the system rejected you too quickly when you didn’t meet requirements? That doesn’t seem like an actionable communication, and it also sounds like what you’d be looking for is a delay in the autobot–which doesn’t get you anything good either.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        The OP didn’t have a chance to _submit_ the application. As in not completed and signed.

        That’s not a fair shot.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But they don’t owe you a complete shot at it (or even a fair one). If they know they want to reject people who don’t answer X to a particular question, that’s okay for them to do (and actually more considerate than letting you waste your time).

        2. fposte*

          Do you mean like a glitch? I don’t think there was a glitch. The application was submitted, just not in its entirety; the submitted part included information that demonstrated the applicant didn’t meet min quals.

          I do find it kind of creepy, because it makes the process not only very mechanical but very obviously mechanical. But even when people do hiring, many cutting decisions are made mechanically . Assuming a decent screening algorithm (the spherical cow of hiring?), this is something the OP would be rejected for later if not now, and without necessarily getting any more of her resume read.

          1. BeenThere*

            I’ve discovered some of these applications don’t do any duplicate checking, so you can resubmit and change you answers to the suspected deal breaker questions *IF* you think not it’s barring you for a good reason.

            1. fposte*

              That’s what people are suggesting below. And I didn’t realize before the OP might have been saying the application was kicked out for being incomplete because it finalized before she could attach her resume–in that case, I’d definitely at least try to resubmit with the resume attached.

          2. Engineer Girl*

            Unless the incomplete part defaulted to “no”. Then the app software would reject for not having the right experience. Yes, I’ve seen things programmed like this before.

        3. RobM*

          Well they kinda did.

          I don’t condone this approach, I would never use it, but ultimately it’s up to me if I want 5 years experience to consider a candidate and won’t accept 4.5 years. That’s absolutely my loss as already discussed here, but its also my choice as the employer.

          Less controversially, if the job requires someone who can drive then what’s the point of continuing the application process for someone who cannot drive? The sooner a rejection is sent the surely the better that is for everyone concerned.

    2. HappyWriter*

      I don’t know that I would frame it as a “hey, I wanted to let you know you have a problem” sort of thing, but it might be worth asking if things went awry because you tried to skip over the resume part and go back to it. I was wondering if, while you thought you could save different sections and go back, the system didn’t/doesn’t work that way, so it might have automatically rejected you because it didn’t find a resume in the submission. If there’s contact info for the company in the job posting, I might send them my cover letter and resume and explain the trouble you had with the online system (in a humble way).

      1. fposte*

        I think a query like that would be fine.

        Actually, I may have misunderstood the situation–if the issue was that moving to the next page finalized her application before she got the chance to append her resume and she got kicked out for not having a resume, that’s definitely worth a query. But I still wouldn’t submit it as a complaint.

        1. HappyWriter*

          That’s how I read it (largely based on the “I hadn’t updated my resume yet, so I clicked on ‘save and go to next page'” comment) – but I agree that it’s a bit difficult to tell from the letter as written.

    3. CM*

      I wonder if it would be okay to just e-mail the hiring manager, if you have their contact information, with your resume and cover letter and an explanation that you’re not sure why you were automatically rejected, but you do meet the qualifications that they set out in their job description.

  9. Jen*

    I’ve actually seen systems set up to reject *everyone* – usually when the person who used to know how it works has left, the recruiters don’t know how to find applicants once they’re in the system, or some new legislation or policy has come out that dictates how they need to handle applications (and they’re not sure how to deal with it – by rejecting all apps, they then don’t have to).

    This doesn’t mean they aren’t finding candidates another way – it’s just usually through agencies or referrals.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I know of an automated system that rejected 435 applicants out of 435 applicants.  Turns out the employer required applicants to have held a particular job title except that job title was specific to the hiring company!  Think 1995 Toyota Camry engineer instead of engineer.

      Funny thing is, the company just threw its hands up and said no one was qualified.  A consultant was the only person who thought to check the automated program’s screening requirements.

      1. Sascha*

        Ugh, I hate that. My manager nearly missed out on a great hire because of a detail like that. The applicant had 5 years admin experience in the software application we supported, except it was rebranded for her field. Exact same application, different name. I figured it out by googling the application. But even if it wasn’t the same thing, she still had technical aptitude, and my manager wanted EXACT experience. But he listened to me and we ended up with an awesome employee who is still with us and totally kicks butt. :)

      2. Suzanne*

        “… the company just threw its hands up and said no one was qualified.” Honestly, I think companies do this a lot more than many of us realize. It’s easier to whine about lack of qualified workers than it is to actually do the hard work it might take to find them.

  10. Sabrina*

    Oh and one time I got rejected for a job I was currently doing as a temp. They wanted to hire me on full time and asked me to fill out a formal application to “get me in the system.” And then I got an automated rejection noticed saying basically that I wasn’t qualified to do the job I was doing.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      When my university went to electronic applicant screening, there were no-telling-how-many people who would not even qualify for their own jobs if asked to go through that system, many of whom had been doing great work for years. I’m glad I got my job when I did, because I don’t know if, at the time, I would have made it through the screening process.

    2. Anx*

      I had something similar happen to me in a volunteer position.

      I am so glad I got my job last fall. They just switched over to ATS and I don’t think I’d ever have a shot at this job without a cover letter, resume, and the opportunity to drop those things off (they left early from a job fair and I missed them; I didn’t just show up with them).

    3. Sara*

      My friend, who was a cashier at a fancy chain grocery store for many years, left the position to do something else. Eventually she left the job doing something else and was looking for a part-time job while attending graduate school. She applied to be a cashier at the same fancy chain grocery store and was rejected for not having the required experience for the position. (Actually, I think this was probably a human screener thinking that she wouldn’t stay long before pursuing something more in line with her education and non-cashier experience, rather than an ATS goof up, but it’s still kind of amusing.)

  11. mee too*

    Having been on both sides of this as well I have seen quite a few people get rejected for a mistaken answer. If you accidntly pick the wrong thing from the pull down menu. Like “no” to the did you graduate from high school question. Too high of a salary range is an automitic knock out for a lot of places too. You could try applying again. Use a different emaill address and answer the questions slightly differently and see what happens.

    1. Ilf*

      +1 to applicants choosing an incorrect answer. I have seen so many times people who answered that yes, they required a visa to work in US, just because they answered yes to the previous 4 questions.
      In some systems you can withdraw, edit and resubmit your application. Try that and review all your answers.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I somehow missed the ticky box for “You may contact this employer” on the employer I’d worked for longest. (Honestly, I’m not even sure I missed it and that it didn’t just glitch or deselect the X when I accidentally did a keystroke somewhere else on the form.) The interviewer asked me really angrily why I didn’t want them contacting this employer. I had no idea what she was talking about; she seemed skeptical when I said it must have been a mistake. There were other signs during the interview that I didn’t really want this job, but it stunk.

    2. Anx*

      Of course these systems are also often glitchy or time out unreasonably fast and otherwise can be difficult to fill out even for otherwise computer literate people.

      I did that exact same thing when my computer froze up once. I clicked that I didn’t graduate high school and I got shut out from the application and couldn’t reapply.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        For a long time, having an application time out on the City of Boston website would mean you couldn’t apply for any city job on that computer again for weeks. It was infuriating.

    3. LizM*

      While I agree that glitches are frustrating, attention to detail when filling out online forms is important. In my current position, I work with a lot of spreadsheets and forms, and one wrong mark can create a cascade of problems that can eat up hours of an employee’s time fixing.

      To me, hitting the wrong button on a pull down menu is similar to having a typo in your resume – probably an innocent mistake, but a legit reason to reject someone if attention to detail is a skill you need. Applicants need to ensure that they’re paying close attention to the accuracy of their application whether it’s a traditional resume or an online form.

  12. LadyMountaineer*

    I had this happen for a local government job that I applied to. They wanted a bachelor’s degree in “natural science” and I have a degree in chemistry but because the application rejected any input other than “natural science” I had to call them. It was an awkward convo of “but my degree is in chemistry which *is* a natural science!”

    I eventually got the job.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I don’t know many people with degrees in “natural science,” so I wonder how many applicants either called or gave up because the system wouldn’t accept their degree in chemistry or biology or something.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Natural Science is Chemistry and/or Physics at a liberal arts college. I have an English Language and Literature degree with a minor in Natural Science.

        I normally just check BA in English if that’s all the automated system allows.

        1. hermit crab*

          Interesting, I’ve never heard of that before! At my liberal arts college we got degrees in specific sciences, so you would get a BA in biology or whatever.

          I have, however, run into situations where the only things that counted as “science” were biology, chemistry, and physics, so tough luck if you have a hydrology degree or something.

        2. Melissa*

          Not every one – I went to an LAC that granted degrees in individual natural sciences (biology, chemistry, biochemistry, environmental science, etc.)

      2. Nanani*

        That is exactly what my degree is in (the physics side)! Didn’t realise schools other than mine used it, usually I explain in more detail where possible.

    2. Anx*

      I sometimes worry about my B.S. degree. I have a B.S. in biological sciences. At my school, “biology” was a B.A. degree. So at my school there was a real difference between bio sci and biology.

      I have wondered if biological sciences ever had me screened out, but I don’t think so. Here’s hoping it hasn’t!

  13. Relosa*

    I was blacklisted out of a company I used to work for that has several locations nationwide – one time I submitted an application for a site I had not yet been to, and I knew something was up when the system asked me if I’d be okay doing another task since I’d worked in X department the year before – at the site I’d never been to. So it didn’t automatically reject me, but it certainly raised red flags.

    I hate when you have to go through the stupid personality tests that are always the same – but I get rejected only after I get through the test, sometimes. Couldn’t you have ended my suffering 27 minutes prior?!

  14. Ad Astra*

    I’m sure companies/HR departments who set up automatic rejections believe they’re doing so out of necessity, but I have to wonder if it does more harm than good.

    Other than, say, a specific certification that’s absolutely necessary in order to do the job, it can be hard to quantify experience. Maybe most of your strong candidates will have 5 years’ experience in teapot assembly, but it’s possible that someone with 4 years of better, more intensive experience in teapot assembly would be just as qualified — and heck, she could be a better cultural fit, or maybe she has some expertise in spout design, which was on your “preferred but not required” list. It makes sense to have a human at least thumb through the applications before rejecting someone.

    Of course, I’ve never worked in an industry where you have so many applications for a position that you can’t sort through them by hand.

    1. snuck*

      I’ve routinely sorted over 200 applications by hand… it’s easily possible.

      For retail roles in large corporates I can see it being an issue – Target or Coles or similar… but even then… they have rolling constant application processes for most positions and just pull from the existing list.

      Some things are auto-reject – criminal records, visa status, certain professional quals (nursing!) etc. But saying X years of experience is a very subjective thing and not going to be measurable by a computer. What if they’ve got five years but they were part time, or casual, entry level, vs three years full time in technical specialist… or they were doing it as part of a mass team approach vs on their own, at one stage only of the teapot construction vs overseeing the entire production process.

    2. Another HRPro*

      For some companies you can easily get a thousand applicants for a job posting very quickly. In those cases you have to find ways to thin out the applicant pool and simple requirements are an easy and defendable way of doing this. I understand why this may not seem fair to individuals looking for a job, but the reality is for some positions there are just too many applicants to review them all by hand or to be flexible on requirements.

  15. Mike C.*

    Yeah, mixing up your social security number and your expected salary tends to do this.

    1. hermit crab*

      Ha! This one made me crack up.

      I once caught myself trying to enter one of our commonly used conference call numbers as my SSN. I kept wondering why the number of digits was off…

  16. Lucky*

    One major-and-growing tech company in my area ends its online application with the standard demographic questions. Except the question re: veteran status gives the options “I am a 1) disabled veteran; 2) recently separated veteran; or 3) other protected veteran (explain below).”

    There is *no* option for “not a veteran.”

    1. Sadsack*

      I guess I would check “other” and then explain below that I’m not actually a veteran.

    2. Dr. Ruthless*

      I’ve seen that, but it’s a ticky box, and you can just leave it blank if you’re not a veteran. Do they have it required?

      1. Lucky*

        Yes, it was a ticky box – I had to tick one, so I said “other” and explained in the box (as Sadsack suggested.) But it really irks me each of the few times I’ve applied at this company that NO ONE in HR has noticed or taken any action. Do they just think they are particularly good at recruiting Other Protected Veterans?

    3. chmur*

      Federal contractors are actually required to ask this question at the point of application. However, it sounds like this company is handling it incorrectly. There are actually specific categories of protected veterans that the government is looking for, such as active duty or armed forces service medal veteran, which are not inclusive of all types of veterans and the form should specify that.

      The form should also include an option for not a protected veteran and choosing not to self identify.

      1. Lucky*

        Of course, yes, obviously. My point isn’t that there are no people who would be able to answer this question correctly as posed, but that the majority of people cannot answer it correctly.

  17. GoGoSarah*

    We just had this happen at our office (gov’t), hiring for a supervisor – 280+ applications and TWO got through the automated system.

  18. Mean Something*

    Echoing HappyWriter above–I can’t quite figure out your explanation “I hadn’t updated my resume yet, so I clicked on ‘save and go to next page.'” Do you mean that you missed a step where you were supposed to upload a resume, never got back to it, and think you were rejected for not providing a required piece of the application? Or am I just misunderstanding the significance of “I hadn’t updated my resume yet”?

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      That’s a good point. If that is what happened, I think you should just start over and apply again – if the system will let you.

  19. Apollo Warbucks*

    There really is no rhyme or reason to these things. The firm I used to work for has an international office in the U.S. and I applied for the exact same job there are I did on the UK and got rejected for not having the right skills.

    Don’t let it get you down and move on to the next job.

  20. Dr. Ruthless*

    When I was applying to a (state) government job, it wouldn’t accept my application.

    First, it wouldn’t accept it because I marked my location as a different city from where the job was located. (I was willing to move; it asked for my current city). I updated my city.

    Then it wouldn’t accept my application because I put a number greater than the minimum of the posted range as the salary I would accept. I.e., the range was $X to $2X, and I said I’d accept $1.5X, and it got rejected because it might pay less than that. I updated my salary request to $X.

    Then it wouldn’t accept my application because I didn’t have experience in the right field. Except, they were looking for an entry level (but with a high level of education). I marked 0 years of experience as a Teapot Financing Specialist, it wanted me to have 0 years of experience as a Teapot Financing, Other.

    I got the job. I moved to the other city. I got a salary at nearly $2X, and I got some some experience in Teapot Financing, Other.

  21. Cruciatus*

    I had one reject me a couple of months ago. I had worked on the cover letter FIRST, of course, and then had to answer the questions at the end of the application. It was something like: 1) do you have 5 years of clerical experience? 2) do you have less than 5 years of experience but have higher education experience? 3) do you have 2-3 years experience? 4) no experience?” I picked #2 because I thought it was the most truthful and not the wrong choice since I thought the higher education experience both as a student and an employee would be well taken (for a university job), but was rejected immediately anyway. I hit the back button and changed it to the 1st answer (which wasn’t a lie, I was really only off of the 5 years’ experience by a few months) and I later got called for a phone interview. I was surprised the back button worked but I had already spent all that time on the cover letter! …though weeks later and I’m still waiting to hear from them again anyway.

    1. BeenThere*

      I confess to having done similar things. I’m a programmer, I know how these things can wrong, I figure if it’s ever questioned I can point out that it’s pretty easy to click the wrong options now and then in these forms when there are so many questions to get through.

  22. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    I can’t imagine turning hiring over to an automated system like that, even for initial screening.

    Although I am always baffled when I post a job with a clear, big note that says, “If you don’t have X we cannot consider your application due to state regulations. Please do not take the time to apply”. We truly have no wiggle room on X. And so people apply anyway (okay – have a go at it just in case), but then follow up to express surprise that they weren’t interviewed and ask for feedback. I don’t have useful feedback for you, because I looked first to see if you had X, and since you don’t, I didn’t read the rest.

    1. Jessa*

      Actually that is feedback, and good feedback. “Applicant, we are required by law to only hire people with x. We put this on the job description clearly. You do not have x. So you were rejected.” Obviously a little politer, but inability to read a short job description is a serious issue. Especially if it clearly says x required by law/statute.

      The only other response to that is if y is actually equivalent to x and they have y (a foreign applicant who has degree y which when translated is actually degree x for instance.) In which case the cover letter or resume should clearly explain that y = x because in Timbuktu we have a different educational system. Foreign applicants as a rule should be ready to explain equivalences at the top of their application materials.

  23. Mmmmmm...... fudge*

    Just last night I applied for a job where they had a questionnaire. They asked if I had a degree in communications/PR/journalism. The answer is no (my degree is in another field), but I do have national-level experience in communications.

    Not good enough.

    They let me finish the application, but then the system decided that I was not qualified. Just because my degree was in a different field. Experience be darned.

    This was for a job at a University located in Central Michigan.

  24. Guy Incognito*

    I worked for a top tier consultancy firm and one of the senior partners told me a story about when he’d just become a partner (25+ years ago) when his mentor picked up the stack of cvs for the new graduates off his desk cut the stack in half and threw half of them in the bin. When asked why he’d done that he said and I quote “you wouldn’t want to employ someone who’s unlucky would you?” I don’t know how true the story is but it does make me laugh.

    Hiring can be so arbitrary try not to dwel on it.

  25. K*

    I’ve always wondered how many applications I’ve filled out got automatically rejected because I had to check “No, didn’t graduate from high school” because I skipped the last two years of high school and went straight to college.

      1. K*

        I did consider that, but was far too hypervigilant about lying to convince myself to do it. It’s in the past now, but thank you for your endorsement. :)

      2. Jessa*

        Surprisingly they do check. I almost lost a job because I forgot that my name change had happened in the middle of high school and not before (it’s been years and years, I graduated in 79 and my transcripts had my right name.) However, the records had not been changed in their system and I forgot to put the other name on the application. It’s just been that long my brain missed it. Stupid, but I finally dealt with it. But yes I was over 50 and their checkers insisted on calling the High School.

        A friend almost lost a position because the checker couldn’t get through the fact that they are a writer for a company and do not live/work in the area the company is located in. She kept asking when did you live in x city and had to be told more than 3 times that being a comic book writer does not require you to work in an office anymore. Also that this is a job that has been held concurrently with every other office job he’s had. You can, after all write after work/on weekends.

  26. Frustrating!*

    Yeah, things like this really annoy me. Before my current position, I had a friend let me know that there was an opening in her organization that I would be perfect for. She told me to apply through the system like normal, but to also send her my resume and cover letter so she could give them directly to her boss. The next day, I got an automated rejection notice from HR and let my friend know. She was stunned because I really had matched (if not exceeded) 99% of the qualifications listed. In any case, assuming that HR made a mistake, she said that she would still show my materials to her boss so that her boss could talk to HR.

    Anyways, long story short: her boss was away on vacation for a couple of weeks and by the time she got back to review my materials, HR had already moved forward on a candidate. Normally, I would’ve just moved on, but the boss (and the person who would’ve been my direct superior) were furious because they thought I was the ideal candidate and didn’t even have a chance to bring me in for an interview. I was SO frustrated.

    1. Jill of All Trades*

      What bizarre company is this that the hiring manager doesn’t get any input in the hiring process???

      1. SquirrelInMT*

        Exactly–who proceeds with interviews without consulting the hiring manager? If that person is on vacation, I would expect HR to be working on a short list, but in-person interviews should be delayed.

  27. Trix*

    Reader, I had the same thing happen to me when I applied to a mega insurance company. Six times. Each time the job I wanted was posted, I applied for it and within a week received a rejection letter telling me that my skill sets didn’t match what they needed for the job. Finally, I got sick of it. After rejection number six, I wrote back to the recruiter who had sent me the rejection e mail and pointed out to her that several former co-workers worked for Mega Insurance Company doing the job I’d applied for and I had the same background and experience as them. Furthermore, I knew that gluing Swarovski crystals on the chocolate teapots was a rather unusual skill in the chocolate teapot world, and I had five years of gluing Swarovski crystals on chocolate teapots. Somehow, someone read this and changed their mind about rejecting me and I actually got an offer for a phone interview shortly after. Not sure if this is helpful in your situation, but if you have something you think they might not be noticing, stick it under their nose! I hope this helps, and best of luck to you!!

  28. De Minimis*

    My graduate degree is in a completely different field from my undergrad degree, and is the field that is my current career. I’ve gotten to just saying “Yes” when they ask if I have a bachelor’s in the relevant field. I feel that a master’s degree is equivalent if not better, and I also had to take so many pre-req courses since I was starting from scratch that I basically have almost all of the coursework that someone with a bachelor’s would have anyway.

    I have been rejected immediately only once, and it was for a university. It seems like they’re the ones who do this the most.

  29. Suzanne*

    One of my former employers no longer exists. Try filling out an online app that won’t allow you to move on without filling in all the addresses & phone numbers, which you can’t do because they no longer exist. Fun times!

  30. Gallerina*

    I once applied through an online system that rejected you if you didn’t attend a university from a list of Around 20 on a drop down menu. Unfortunately someone forgot that people sometimes study outside of the US. I grew up in the UK and went to Oxford and there was no way to put that in and proceed with my application, so I had to pick a college and random in order to get through.

    When I was job hunting, often forms wouldn’t let you fill in anything that wasn’t a US address or phone number, which is a total pain when you’ve lived abroad.

  31. TheVet*

    My wish is that they’d (DC government, I’m talking to you) have you answer the pertinent questions before having you upload your resume and cover letter. There’s nothing worse than thinking you qualify for a job, prepping your resume and cover letter, uploading, answering their yes/no questions, only to scroll down and find that they want you to answer questions related to the position…and you see that you indeed do not qualify. So many ‘Incomplete’ applications. I don’t know if anyone at the agencies can see them, but it’s embarrassing if they can.


  32. Summer*

    Oh, I can add a story to this! I was once in a one-year, grant funded position at a large non-profit. My year was running out when another position opened up in a different department. I was encouraged to apply. I applied through the online system, marked that I currently work at the organization, and got the automated “thank you for applying, we will be in touch” email. I waited and waited, never heard anything. Not wanting to be obnoxious, I never mentioned my application to anyone. On my last day of work, I got called into the office of one of the higher-ups and was asked why I didn’t apply to the open position (which had just been filled). I was shocked, and explained that I DID apply, and had even got the email to prove it. Surprised, she checked the list of candidates, and I wasn’t on it. So she told me she’d look into it, because it was unacceptable that people weren’t getting through the system.

    A few days later, I got a call from HR telling me that my application got shunted to a different list because I was currently an employee. And nobody knew there was a separate internal applicants list. Somehow this had never come up! She apologized, but as they already hired somebody there was nothing they could do.

    More of a ‘human error’ story, but still the software could have been more clear! And I learned my lesson that sometimes following up can be a good thing – if I had mentioned to any of the higher-ups that I had applied, they would have looked for my application and I at least would have had an interview.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      I’ve made similar mistakes in the past. I don’t know why “speak up” can be such a hard lesson to learn.

  33. Miss M*

    I hate ones that require a SS Number because there is no encryption and no way to get around it.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      Agreed. I wish employers would think more carefully about what they ask on the application. There’s no reason they need to know your SSN unless they’ve hired you. The application is just too early in the process to ask that, and puts an unnecessary security burden on them to protect that data. Easier to just wait until you actually need to know to ask.

    2. Agreed*

      I’m fairly certain I just got rejected for refusing to enter this information on an application. (You could check ‘no’ and still submit it). Booted out for having a spine- at least that’s what it looks like. So incredibly frustrating. But I guess that makes it somewhere I wouldn’t have wanted to work anyway. Bureaucratic nonprofit. Go figure.

  34. Lauren*

    I had this happen to me once. I plugged in the wrong zipcode and the software picked up on that it was a town many states away and immediately rejected me (because I wasn’t a local candidate). I had to use a different email address in order to start over.

    1. Stephanie*

      Oh yeah, I’ve had that happen too. Software said I was further than a 100 mi radius from the job’s zip code. I went immediately to the rejection pile.

  35. _ism_*

    A hospital network’s system rejected every single application I submitted because of a technical difficulty/bad IT decision. The end of the application required a “signature,” requiring you to use the mouse to “draw your signature” in some kind of little-known and outdated plug-in box. The application did not tell you about having to install the plugin up front, and I didn’t have access to a computer of my own with permission to install things at that time.

    Expecting some sympathy, I called their HR/hiring department they said there was nothing they could do to recover my applications or accept my actual in person signature or anything. It was very unfortunate.

Comments are closed.