No reply to your resume? Here's why

By Anne Fisher, contributor

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: What is going on in HR departments at big companies these days? The last time I looked for a job, which admittedly was quite a while ago, if you submitted a resume and cover letter to HR, you at least got some kind of response (even if it was a form letter saying "no thanks").

That seems to have changed. I've been looking for work for almost a year now, since I lost my job as a brand manager at a mid-sized company, and it is incredibly frustrating. I've sent dozens of carefully crafted resumes to HR people, usually in response to specific ads on job boards or company websites, and it's like sending things into a black hole. I just hear nothing.

Are your other readers having this experience? How can I get these gatekeepers to respond to me, or if that's asking too much, how do I get past them? -- Just Joan

Dear J.J.: No doubt about it, what you're experiencing is awful. What's even worse (and, alas, quite common) is to have gotten as far as the interview stage, and had one meeting or even several that went swimmingly, so that your hopes are as high as can be, and then to hear...nothing.

It's hard to believe that people in a position to tell you yea or nay about a job are so insanely busy that they really don't have 30 seconds to dash off an e-mail telling you whether you've got a shot at it or not -- and small comfort to reflect that, if they're this rude to candidates, you wouldn't want to work there anyway.

But in defense of HR people, consider: They are overwhelmed. For one thing, at many companies, HR departments have suffered cutbacks right along with every other function: The average HR staff now numbers 9.2 employees, down from 13 in 2007, according to a recent poll by the Society for Human Resource Management. Any time headcount takes a 30% hit, you know the survivors are struggling.

Moreover, it's not that HR folks are unsympathetic to your plight. Plenty of them know firsthand what it's like to be unemployed for a painfully long time. SHRM did another survey, this time of HR professionals who'd been out of work (85% due to layoffs) in 2009, and found that of those who recently found a new job, 47% had been job hunting for six to 12 months, and another 27% had been looking for longer than a year. Among those who were still unemployed when SHRM conducted its poll, only 18% expected to find work within six months; 43% thought they'd have to search for a year or more.

The really disheartening part: Among those hired in 2009 after a lengthy search, almost half (49%) said they liked their new jobs less than the ones they had lost. The survey didn't ask why, but my guess would be overwork. HR departments are inundated with resumes, sometimes getting hundreds or even thousands for every available opening. Your carefully crafted resumes are buried somewhere in an ever-mounting pile, and HR staffers are hard-pressed to keep up, let alone give each candidate the kind of individual consideration that he or she deserves.

So how do you get around this? Vicki Barnett, head of a Denver career coaching firm called Make It Happen, says that, instead of sending resumes to HR, you should send them -- either on paper, electronically, or both -- to an executive at the company one or two levels above the hiring manager for the position you want. Granted, that person is likely to be extremely busy too, so he or she will delegate you to the person one or two steps down -- i.e. the one doing the actual hiring.

"Resumes travel down the food chain more easily than up," Barnett says. If the boss forwards your resume, a hiring manager is likely to give it a more thorough read than the 10 seconds HR may spend on it. After you've sent your resume, wait a few days, then follow up with a phone call to find out who has it and ask if you can schedule a meeting.

Obviously, there are still no guarantees you'll get hired, but bypassing HR gives you one big advantage, Barnett says: "Hiring managers have their 'wish lists,' but HR doesn't know what's on them, because what hiring managers really hope to find is often a combination of ineffable qualities that can be hard to spell out on paper."

HR people are usually just trying to match up keywords between your resume and the job description, Barnett adds -- and if you only have 12 out of the 15 keywords, you won't make it past that hurdle. Hiring managers, on the other hand, can look at a resume and read between the lines: "Even if your keywords don't match up precisely, you may have other experience or qualifications that would catch their eye."

Here's hoping.

Talkback: Do you usually get a reply when you send a resume? Do you expect to? If you're hiring, do you reply to all candidates who apply? Tell us on Facebook below. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.15 0.00 0.00%
Facebook Inc 58.94 0.00 0.00%
General Electric Co 26.56 0.00 0.00%
Cisco Systems Inc 23.19 -0.02 -0.09%
Micron Technology In... 23.91 0.00 0.00%
Data as of Apr 17
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,408.54 -16.31 -0.10%
Nasdaq 4,095.52 9.29 0.23%
S&P 500 1,864.85 2.54 0.14%
Treasuries 2.72 0.08 3.19%
Data as of 10:42pm ET


General Mills has scrapped a controversial change to its fine print that some read as eliminating customers' right to sue the company. More

Obamacare sign ups hit 8 million, though final enrollment remains to be seen. More

Office for iPad move is a symbolic victory for Nadella's Microsoft, but the company is still weighed down by many of the same old issues. More

Schwinn, Trek and Cannondale are all iconic American bicycle brands. But none of them are made in the United States. More

As Detroit moves closer to reaching a bankruptcy deal, retired civilian workers are poised to be left worse off than firemen and police officers. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.