not heard back on job application

Why Have I Not Heard Back On My Job Applications?

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One of the most common reasons for job applicants not to not hear back from employers, is because they tend to upload documents that are incompatible with the automated tracking systems (ATS) used by many companies to assess submissions. Not all artificial intelligence tools used in the recruitment process are as smart as you might be led to believe.

How To Get Your Resume Read When Applying For A Job

There’s the legendary story about an investment banker who before heading to a meeting, divides a pile of job applications on his desk into two and throws one set in the bin, unread. When his co-worker asks what he is doing, the banker replies that those job applicants seem unlucky and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to work for the firm, as unlucky people will lose it money.

Times (fortunately for recruiters) have changed. Paper applications are no more, so the waste paper basket is now avoids unread CVs where instead a mouse click can bin applicants with less drama. For less of a guilty conscience, a bot can be installed to decide who the unlucky job applicants are. “Wait a minute!” I hear recruiters say, “They are not binned randomly, we use highly intelligent AI software to select the best candidates for the position then shortlist them for human review.” Or rather that’s what the salespeople of the ATS software told them to believe.

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The idea sounds great but the reality tends to be different and the unlucky jobseekers are often still exactly that. Roughly the same proportion of cover letters and job applications that the banker binned will also remain unread by the ATS software, predominantly due to technical incompatibility issues with what is submitted.

So it is hardly surprising that after a while, the majority of seasoned job applicants submit their job applications with little expectation of hearing anything back. Of course it would be justified to question why, in these days of advanced technology, can it be so difficult, to simply send an email informing the applicant when they are removed from the process. Obviously it is the polite thing to do.

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Leaving applicants in the dark generally backfires badly on employers. Job applicants starting a job search are generally estimated to spend about 3 to 4 hours on each well crafted job application with cover letter and if they don’t even get sent a rejection email for their effort, it creates a hatred towards the hiring firm and even its products or services. What begins as enthusiasm searching for a fresh start quickly turns to a depressing chore of trying to beat software to get a foot in the door.

The behaviour of the job seeker therefore changes as a consequence. Applicants will reduce the time spent on each application and instead they move towards a more generic quantity not quality approach applying for roles both above and below their level, in the hope that something, anything, stirs a reaction and get through to a human.


It is far more satisfying to have applied to 15 jobs in a day than 3 and with less time invested in each application, the level of care and attention shared between the job seeker and employer are perceived to be more in line. This then leaves the recruiters exasperated as to why they receive so many applications from unsuitable applicants, seem overwhelmed and unable to reply to even a small portion of them, and so call back the software salesman and pay for more automated filters and add more superfluous ‘requirements’ (such as paid memberships to industry groups) to their job descriptions. Round and round it goes.

So why are so many recruitment firms and HR departments still getting it so badly wrong? It’s simpler than ever to deal with big data and keep applicants informed how they are, or aren’t progressing in the process. It’s not just SMEs, we’re referring to some of the largest blue chip organisations on the planet that conduct appalling online recruitment processes. So many still cling to that awful outdated line from the 20th century that marks out the worst, “If you haven’t heard back within X weeks then consider your application unsuccessful.” Seriously? So it really should come as no surprise that with the strong job market that currently exists employees are treating employers with very little respect. When jobs in Dubai were few and far between, employers treated job applicants with complacency. Now the tables have turned.

Companies should be able to understand the bigger picture and take into consideration the fact that applicants may have one or more offers on the table from other firms. This is perhaps nowhere more critical than the graduate recruitment scene where first steps are taken towards careers and roles are accepted prematurely or rejected often due to a lack of updates from alternative employers. Once those graduates become managers and directors, are they likely to rush to do business with the firms that were too complacent or incompetent to keep them informed? Grudges last a long time.

What is Going Wrong?

As mentioned, one significant problem is reliance on software that isn’t really up to the job. Many software developers would have you believe that their systems involve sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning capability, yet most don’t and some can be tripped up by something as simple as the style of font chosen or the file format the applicant submits. Did you know that recent research by MMC Ventures showed 40% of self proclaimed AI start-ups actually have no AI functionality at all?

Technology can be useful but job applicants now need to think like programmers to understand where the system weaknesses are, then play the game accordingly. Usually this means thinking in a more idiotic way than you’re used to doing. The basic approach of one of these program’s logic might be for instance, if the job description contains these 5 keywords but the application cover letter does not contain the 5 keywords then scrap that application. A candidate that spends three hours on their job application will think this is an idiotic way to be assessed but these are the hoops applicants now have to jump through.

Several recruiters have informed us that if the number of years from the first job listed on a cv to the date of the present one is too many, then they are ‘set aside’ by the software. So having very some early job years on your cv might from your schools days might be depriving you of a human assessment while on the other end of the scale, perhaps those summer internship years might help you hit the sweet spot if you are lacking the sought after number of years’ experience.

What To Avoid In Cover Letters and Job Applications?

Do not submit your application in a complex file format like pdf, even if it the employer says it is an acceptable format. It’s often a fast track into the recycle bin for most as plenty of ATS software just isn’t able to analysing it. Basic optical content readers (OCR) can only extract random symbols from flashy-looking pdfs. Plain TXT format is deemed the safest option with Word files coming in a close second (even Microsoft has some difficulties auto-extracting Word CVs accurately), also forget other lesser know formats like Open Office, Apple Pages and the like too.

Do not add tables or fancy background graphic templates to your CV or to your job application cover letter to make them stand out, unless you are putting them into someone’s actual hand. It might look great to a human but this too can cause errors at the software scanning stage which is likely to get you side-lined before your design attempt ever gets the chance to grace a real pair of eyeballs.

Avoid serif fonts like Times New Roman. Many of these automated systems cannot read serif fonts. Sans-serif fonts like Arial or Calibri are a safer alternative. The serifs, which are the fancy corners to letters confuse some ocular scanning systems.

Bullet points? Try not to use anything other than a dot and to be extra safe simple hyphen might be the safest bet.

Also lose any header and footer sections too as these only complicate issues for simpleton software.

What Are The Things Job Applicants Should Be Doing?

Fill up your CV with as many matching words as the job title contains as possible. These systems are mostly glorified keyword counters which decide whether to push you through to the next stage. At you can store up to six versions of your CV for this reason. Every submission of your CV to a role should be fine tuned with this in mind, not just the cover note, although you equally want to get as many keywords as possible into that too.

However once your application has made it past the machine stage, you still need it to look and read well and for the text appear natural to a human, so you have to balance it out, avoid adding lists of matching words out of context. Some enterprising individuals add key word lists in white font, so that only the machines can find them.

Machine Interviews For Job Applicants

Unfortunately it is not just CV tracking software hoops you need to jump through. Quite often if you are lucky enough to get past that level in the computer game hiring process, your next round may take you to a recorded video interview. Questions will be displayed on screen and facial recognition software will then try and rate your facial expression and tone of voice as you answer. Are you confused, bored or angry? It will then decide if you might be a good fit or not for an employer who chose that they wanted a ‘happy’ employee in the software settings.

jobs application process

A lot of people’s natural facial expressions may appear grumpy or disinterested to a piece of computer software at no fault of their own. You might have to again think of the software as a child or baby when talking to it, be aware you facial muscle movements are being recorded and analysed, potentially blocking you from getting the job. Feeling put off yet? We feel your pain. Workers in HR and recruitment are big fans of these tools which means they are not going to disappear any time soon. It cuts their workload and let’s be honest their culpability if the wrong person is hired, ‘The machine said they were good, here’s the report.’

Overall the number of applications for each role have increased dramatically as accessibility and ease of applying online has increased. The other side to that coin is that each application is then relatively less valuable. Recruiters then look to cut the number of applicants down by insisting on superfluous requirements, post graduate qualifications for roles which would never need them, in turn creating demand for questionable institutions to invent easy to buy certificates to match them in return.

However the best companies do not ignore anyone willing to dedicate a significant part of their life to working in their service. They ensure that all applicants are kept well informed and none left in the dark. Accomplishing that is now easier than ever before, so there is really no longer any excuse for the, “If you don’t hear back…” line still offered by industry laggards.

What About Jobs In Dubai?

At we help pick up a bit of the slack. If employers handle their application process on our system we make it incredibly easy for them to change the status assigned to each applicant. When they do we send out an alert to the applicant on their behalf. If the employer marks the position filled, we also let everyone who applied know, so they can stop guessing and get on with finding suitable jobs in Dubai.

Last Updated March 2024


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