​Getting Feedback From Your Job Application – Why It Rarely Happens

I keep applying for jobs and getting no response…. And even if I do make the shortlist but don't actually get the job I rarely if ever get any feedback as to why I wasn't successful.

Sound familiar? There's probably nothing quite as discouraging in a job search as when you never hear back from job applications. Even worse is getting to the point of being interviewed but then deafening silence! When it happens repeatedly, one can certainly be forgiven for losing confidence and faith in one's qualifications and experience. However, there are a number of reasons why employers today typically don't provide job applicants with feedback, not even if you've made it onto the short list and been interviewed. 

Time is of the essence….

Most vacancies receive a flood of applications, and hiring managers are typically busy people at the best of times. They simply don't have the time to provide meaningful feedback, much less respond individually, to every single applicant. Nor do they want to get involved in possibly acrimonious discussions with unsuccessful applicants.

It's old news….

Job boards can be a notorious collection of old and already filled jobs. Either companies don't pull their vacancies down when they've been filled, or job boards have listed the vacancy without their knowledge. If you've applied for a job through such a job board, and the position has already been filled, your resume will almost certainly disappear into the resume black hole and you'll never hear anything more about it.

It's not what you write; it's how you write it….

Hiring managers have a tendency to take poorly written, generic resumes as an indication that the applicant A) is lazy B) isn't seriously committed to getting the job and/or C) doesn't particularly want to work for the company. Therefore, they don't feel inclined to waste their valuable time providing feedback. In other words, if you haven't 'bothered' tailoring your resume specifically for the job in question, don't expect the company to 'bother' responding.

Keywords are key….

Another reason you may not have received any feedback from your resume is because your application wasn't well enough 'crafted' for the position in question to get through the screening process. In many cases, these processes are automated. More specifically, screening programs look for keywords and key phrases. If your resume and covering letter don't contain any of these, they won't make the cut – this is the euphemistic 'resume black hole'. It means recruiting managers probably won't even see your application, much less provide any feedback.

The more you read, the more things you will know….

Always read the job description and job requirements thoroughly. If you don't, and you miss including pertinent information, your application may get past the initial automated screening if you've been clever about keywords but is unlikely to get past any subsequent 'human' screens. Again, you're very unlikely to receive any feedback if this is the case.

Those all-important qualifications….

You might think you're a perfect fit for the position but you haven't conveyed this in your resume and covering letter. Maybe they're looking for someone with a particular certification you don't have, or omitted to mention you have. Perhaps you lack, or didn't declare, certain skills or experience. Whatever the reason, the person reading your resume has determined you aren't right for the job. Legally though the company may not be able to tell you any of this, or at least not without potentially leaving themselves open to litigation. 

Better the devil you know….

We have talked about the value of networking as part of your job search in previous articles. In some cases, whilst a company may be legally required to advertise a vacancy (or they do it as a formality) the reality is they've already got someone in mind to fill it. It may be a current employee, it may be someone that comes personally recommended, or a candidate they've gotten to know via networking contacts. Either way, it's highly unlikely they'll tell you any of this so the simple and less legally implicating solution is to avoid giving any feedback at all.

It's (legally) complicated….

We've mentioned 'legal ramifications' several times already and this is undoubtedly a major reason why many companies won't give you much feedback about your job applications, even if you reach the interview stage. Providing feedback in today's increasingly libellous and litigatious world is a potential legal minefield! The risk of having it misconstrued / used to build a case around discrimination in the company's hiring process or even against the applicant personally, is too great. Therefore, lawyers generally advise companies not to enter into detailed conversations with unsuccessful job applicants.

The power of social media and keyboard warriors….

In addition to leaving themselves open to potential litigation, there's also the possibility that a rejected applicant will use social media to air their grievances about what they think is 'unfair feedback'. Most companies like to steer clear of attracting this type of negative publicity.

Speaking of social media….

We've mentioned in previous articles about the role social media and the Internet now play in job applications. A huge number of recruiters (around 70% according to many sources) now use these mediums to conduct background checks, verify your resume, and just generally check you out. If they see anything adverse, confronting, or potentially problematic they'll probably pass on you, even if you're the most qualified candidate on paper. Rarely will they provide feedback about this either because it could provide grounds for complaints about unfair or discriminatory hiring practices.

It's all about teamwork….

Recruitment is usually a team process and, unless there is one particular standout favourite with all team members, the final choice will often be a 'consensus' decision. Explaining to an unsuccessful candidate that s/he simply didn't gain 'the majority vote' and thus get the job is potentially fraught with complications that most hiring managers would prefer to avoid. Likewise, it's also difficult to tell someone that whilst X team member 'liked' them, Y team member didn't

It's your attitude, not your aptitude that determines your altitude….

This famous Zig Ziglar quote is often very appropriate when it comes to job applications and interviews. If, after attending a very promising interview, all you received was a short 'thanks but no thanks' note that left you wondering what you did 'wrong', chances are it was probably nothing tangible. It likely came down to a simple case of attitude or personality. Perhaps the interview panel felt another candidate was a better fit in this regard and would 'gel' better with the company's culture. Perhaps they answered the questions better, provided better examples or did a better job of "asking not what the company can do for them but illustrating what they can do for it." However, these types of intangibles are very difficult to provide impartial feedback around so most companies avoid doing so.

You've priced yourself out of the job….

In many countries, it isn't (yet) illegal for a prospective employer to ask job applicants about their salary history. Furthermore, if you're completing an online application this could be one of the mandatory questions you have to answer and it can be a case of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't'…. Damned if you're honest about your current or previous salary, particularly if it is/was higher than what this role pays as it could indicate you're overqualified, or out of their price range. Damned if you're not honest because this type of information is easy to verify and if you're caught out in a lie here don't be surprised if the assumption is that you're possibly lying about other pertinent details as well! However, few companies will provide feedback about this because in many jurisdictions it is illegal for someone's salary history to influence hiring decisions. Nor will they want to come right out and accuse you of lying! 

Realistically, in most industries companies are not legally obligated to provide feedback to their job applicants. However, surveys like the annual one done by The Talent Board show that companies who do take the time to do so are far more likely to foster good will than those who don't. For some companies, that's important so they will take the time to carefully help applicants with well-considered feedback.
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