Why am I not getting called back for an interview? Blame it on the Applicant Tracking System.

So you see the perfect job!  You match the qualifications, have the background, industry experience and accomplishments.  You immediately fill out the online application and send off your resume and cover letter to the company outlining why you are their next rising star!

And then?




Not even a courtesy email saying your resume was received.


A good guess is that a living, breathing human being never actually saw your resume.

Not getting a response back from an employer is the number one frustration amongst job seekers according to the hundreds of job seekers I’ve surveyed.  According to a recent survey by Information Strategies Inc., publisher of Your HR Digest, an online newsletter, only 19% of hiring managers at small companies actually look at a majority of the résumés they receive, and 47% say they review just a few.

The rise in the use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) is the main reason why.

The Wall Street Journal writes this morning about the widespread use of computerized Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to screen resumes in their search for qualified job seekers.   You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Here’s basically how an ATS works: a corporate HR recruiter will program qualifying questions into corresponding fields that a job seeker is required to fill out on an online application.  A job seeker will then fill out the online application and the ATS will actively search for key words and phrases and then rank each applicant based on their responses.  In addition to the responses from the job seeker, the computer will also search for terms and words that are in the resumes and cover letters of the job seekers.

If you think that its not a fair process, you are not alone.  Even HR professional agree that they might be overlooking the best candidates.  But think about a large company: they are receiving literally millions of resumes per-year to fill perhaps only 50,000 openings.  Even with a large staff of HR recruiters, there’s simply not enough time to go through each resume.  On a smaller scale, a small business might have to wade through hundreds of resumes for one position.

For this reason, job seekers have to take control of the process by understanding how an ATS works and using that knowledge to better position their resume to get a higher ranking.

Customize each of your resumes sent to an employer in order to conform to the widespread use of Applicant Tracking Systems.  Search for keywords and phrases in the job posting and match your relevant skills, experiences and past jobs to the job you are applying.  Don’t be shy!  Use the EXACT phrases and words they are using in the job posting.  You are not trying to ‘trick’ the ATS, you are conforming the language that best describes you and fits the words and phrases they are specifically looking for.



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5 responses to “Why am I not getting called back for an interview? Blame it on the Applicant Tracking System.

  1. Richard

    Who really has time to customize a resume for each job?

    I apply for about 1000 jobs every week using one standard resume and cover letter. Once in a while – for a position closely matching my background – I may add a couple of lines in the cover letter pointing out relevant qualifications.

    I am already spending far more than 40 hours per week applying for jobs. There is no way I can justify the time necessary to rewrite my resume in language conforming to each specific job description.

    • Kendy

      1,000 resumes a week!? With the same letter and resume? Perhaps it’s no surprise that you’re not hearing back from people. If your materials are that generic, you’re certainly not going to stand out to anyone in HR. Not trying to be rude, and I totally understand the desire to blanket the world with your resumes, but I would think maybe cutting down your number of applications and spending more time on them might be more fruitful.

  2. j

    Wow Richard, sounds like you are wasting a lot of time. You should consider applying for jobs that fit your qualifications AND interests. Any employer big or small wants to hire someone with energy and even passion for what they will be doing. You’re probably be better off seeking and finding want ads that fit you and applying to those only, rather than carpeting HR inboxes with a canned resume and cover letter.

    As a hiring manager at a small business, if it isn’t clear that you read the want ad from your cover letter, you are automatically out of the running. You must say something distinctly related to the company, our business, and the want ad.

  3. Julie

    Wow Richard, I can understand your frustration, but perhaps it’s time to recognize that this approach is NOT working for you. It sounds like a similar ‘numbers game’ approach that some people take to online dating! ie. if you just send a message to hundreds, even thousands of people, then hopefully someone – ANYONE – will respond. That’s not going to get you the job ( or for daters, the partner) that you really want.

    Last month, after a few frustrating months trying to find a job with no response, I hired a career coach to help me update my resume, cover letter and my focus. So far, this month, based on selectively choosing jobs and companies that appeal to me, and tailoring my letter, resume and approach to suit each one, I am getting a 100% response rate with phone calls, interest AND interviews…. Last month I had zero. I am still waiting on an offer, and it is possible that at least 1, if not 3 offers may come my way this week…it’s certainly helped my confidence and optimism, and hopefully, soon my ideal job will land… it’s just a matter of days now.
    Good luck.

  4. I spend a significant amount of time crafting my cover letter and resume for each application, and use the key words and phrases included in the job description. Nevertheless, I rarely get even an automated response back from the employer with a “yes,” “no” or “maybe.”

    As a former HR manager used to reviewing scores of applications the old-fashioned way, I rarely failed to at least acknowledge an application with a “got your resume and we’ll get back to you” email. Once the decision was made, I emailed the losing applicants and let them know we chose someone else.

    Now, with the widespread use of applicant tracking systems, I’m lucky if I even get a rejection email from 5% of my applications. In the ATS black hole, no one can hear you scream.

    Many employers using ATS are missing out on the best talent, because highly qualified individuals aren’t going to play that game. It says a lot about a company if they don’t choose to take a more active role in evaluating talent, and don’t treat applicants with respect. The best candidates will network themselves into a better company.

    Perhaps someday lazy organizations will realize that hiring decisions are the most critical choices a company makes.

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