Ask Alexis | I Keep Submitting My Resume, but I Rarely Hear Back

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Dear Alexis,

As a nonprofit professional, I have to admit, I’m feeling frustrated. I am proactive in my search to the point of it actually feeling like a part-time job, but I’m tired of sending resumes and time consuming cover letters to employers who may not even read them. And those who do read each resume may never acknowledge the submission with a response (or a rejection).

I believe that it’s not the search or finding the best fit that frustrates job seekers most, it’s thinking you found the right job (using factors like past experience, location, and skill set) and then not receiving a response at all.

I’m not sure exactly what the question is here, but I’m frustrated and would really like to hear your perspective or any advice you may have on the matter.

Best,

Losing Patience

***

Dear Losing Patience,

Ugh. This can be one of the most discouraging parts of the job search. Sending your resume and cover letter off into the abyss can be frustrating, and the self-control required to not ping a hiring manager after they’ve gone silent can be hard to maintain.

Unfortunately, as nonprofit professionals, we have little control over the behavior of others. And as an occasional hiring manager myself, I can tell you from my firsthand experience that while responding to every applicant is absolutely a best practice and a standard that I always strive to maintain, hiring can quickly turn into a full-time job where even the best intentions get swallowed up in the balancing act required to manage a candidate search with all of our other day-to-day responsibilities. Remember, many hiring managers have other, full-time responsibilities that can’t be ignored during a candidate search, or any other item that may arise.

So the first thing that I’ll say, unsatisfying as this may be, is that we need to remember that hiring managers and HR employees are nonprofit professionals (just like us) with tons of work on their plate and only so many working hours in their day.

It’s also important to remember that occasionally, the reason for a delayed response is simply that the hiring manager is awaiting feedback or input from colleagues, or sign-off on whether they should schedule you for a phone screen. So don’t always allow yourself to assume the worst; it’s an unnecessary distraction that at the end of the day, does nothing to benefit you as a job seeker.

Now that we have agreed that moving forward we’ll all do our best to give just a bit of grace to hiring managers (and to ourselves), let’s figure out what you can do while you’re waiting to hear back.

When was the last time you gave your resume a refresh?

If you have sent along one or two applications that never received a response, it could just be bad timing, bad luck, or a million other things. However, if you’re finding that your applications rarely get a response, it’s time to consider what you can do to improve your chances moving forward.

Is your most relevant experience easy for a hiring manager to locate and skim through? Is your formatting current, or a bit outdated? Maybe you have a three-page resume that you can consolidate into just one or two pages? The point is that your current resume may not be working, so let’s figure out something that does!

Review your resume with an eye to each of the following categories and give yourself a score from one to five (one being the lowest):

Categories

  • Format
  • Order of experience (actual order on resume)
  • Relevance of experience (related to position for which you’re applying)
  • Length (total pages)
  • Brevity/clarity (for descriptions of previous experience)

Then, focus on each part of your resume that you have identified as a potential problem area. The more urgent categories are those that scored a one or a two. After you have addressed these items, move on to find ways to improve aspects of your resume that earned a three or a four. Once you have completed this audit, find a trusted friend, mentor, or colleague to go through the same scoring process on your resume. The goal here is to edit and revise until every category scores a five.

Pro Tip: Scored all fives? You’re not finished! You should be revisiting your resume every month or two for as long as you are searching for a job. Think of your resume as a living document rather than a necessary archive that gets dusted off only when absolutely necessary.

Are you customizing your materials for each role?

In short, if you’re not doing this, this may be your issue.

While it can be one of the more time consuming resume best practices, it’s still critical to your success that you’re making sure each time you apply for a job, you are tailoring your materials to that specific position.

One way to make this a bit more manageable is to set up templates for resumes and/or cover letters that fit into different categories (using a tool like Google Docs to save the master template as well as different versions), and then simply tailor the template from there.

If, for example, you are a grant writer looking for a new job in the nonprofit sector, you may want to organize resume and/or cover letter templates according to the following categories:

  • Full-time work applications
  • Freelance work applications
  • Development team roles
  • Communications team roles

Each template should act as a useful blueprint to inform your tailored resume for each individual application.

So, Losing Patience, there you have it. While I hate to punt it back over to you, the thing you have the most control of in this situation is how you process the feedback and use it to inform your path forward. The best thing that you can do is try to improve your chances of getting a response by reflecting on what you have been doing well, and what you may need to adjust.

***

Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org, and if we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I’ll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).

Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!

 

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As a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of nonprofit experience and 6 years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.
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Comments

    • Maggie
    • July 30, 2018
    Reply

    And one more thing: if you’re over age 60 (and particularly if you’re a woman), you may as well go apply at Target or Pier 1 and save yourself a lot of time and heartache. Because honey, you’ll NEVER hear back from anyone.

      • Sabrina
      • August 1, 2018
      Reply

      Mom my mother has been experiencing the same thing. It is incredibly unfair. There are so many smart women out there with great experience. You’d think a woman who has no child care issues or has to worry about snow days would be given a fair shot. It’s sickening. Well they get what they pay for. I’ll put my money on experience any time.

    • C H
    • July 31, 2018
    Reply

    Thank you to both Alex and Maggie:
    Alex first: so sorry, but your explanations (err, excuses) are NA
    Not Acceptable.
    To quote an old sage, ” you get back what you give out.” It’s simply NOT acceptable and it’s fully inexcusable to ignore replies from job applicant-especially when you represent a NFP org!

    I’ve been in your shoes, AND on the for-profit side. Get it! Your applicants who go unanswered will tell at least 10 people, who retell to 10 other people… Yes, some of those may take their donations elsewhere, so net net:
    With a “too busy to reply ” policy, you risk losing:
    A) great potential employees
    B) reputation
    C) existing and potential donors

    Maggie: yes, unless your res somehow disguises your age over 45, the truth is that you will most likely remain jobless.I am so sorry to say that you are spot on correct with your observation

    • Amy
    • August 1, 2018
    Reply

    You won’t get a response unless you know someone, or rather, unless someone knows you. No one cares about your resume until someone they know tells them your name.

    • Sabrina
    • August 1, 2018
    Reply

    I’d consider a whole new approach to highlighting skills that a sequential resume.

    I completely changed the format of my resume from a boring historical jobs listing to a skills based resume with a list of my previous jobs at the bottom. I’ve also been doing pro bono/volunteer work through Catchafire that is worth mentioning and have added that. I have gotten more 1st interviews with the non-traditional resume than the one my job coach insisted I use. And any referral I’ve gotten from the job coach panned out to nothing. So I am doing way better on my own.

    However I am at the point in my career where I want to do more and won’t go further until I develop those skills. So I made the choice to go back to school. I am not suggesting that to anyone, just mentioning as the next step for someone who is landing lots of interviews and no offers.

    • Grace
    • November 16, 2018
    Reply

    I sent a follow up email to an INGO where I have submitted multiple job applications with no response. I did not even get the standard auto response that refer you to their FAQs. Its just silence.

    A follow up email should indicate that the candidate is highly interested in working for that org (if multiple applications over time didn’t). Its better to send them a standard rejection email.

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