The HR Resume Black Hole: Why You Don’t Hear Back After Submitting Your Resume…

by Alan Collins

Do you know what black holes are?

According to scientists, black holes exist throughout our galaxy and solar system.

They travel through space and “suck” up and destroy everything they come in contact with.

Yes, everything.

The hole itself has a gravitational pull so strong that it will swallow small planets, whole asteroids and anything else in its path.  And once something is inside the hole, it can’t escape and it’ll never be seen or heard from ever again!

Scary stuff.

That said, have you ever applied online or at a company website for an HR position you thought you were absolutely perfect for…only to never hear back from the employer?

Guess what?  Chances are your HR resume was sucked into the resume “black hole” and it died.

What is the resume black hole?

You may know it quite well, especially if your HR specialty is recruiting or talent acquisition.  It goes by the name of…The Applicant Tracking System (or ATS).  

95% of large organizations (including almost all Fortune 500 companies) and 50% of mid-sized organizations employ Applicant Tracking Systems to streamline their hiring processes.

An ATS will digitize your resume and store in it’s applicant data base with thousands of others.

While stored, most systems will then do absolutely nothing with your resume unless it is needed by a recruiter or a hiring manager for a specific HR position.

And, if there’s no available and relevant job, it can sit in that data base for years and literally never be seen or read by an actual human being at any point during that time.

Obviously, this is not good news for you.

ATSs are the graveyard where 99% of most HR resumes are buried.

Before discussing what you can do about this, let me touch on…

Why ATS’s are used in the first place?

C’mon, you and both know why.

It’s because the number of resumes most organizations receive is overwhelming.

When I worked at PepsiCo, we received 90,000 resumes a month…and 14% of them were for Human Resources positions!

And we were far from unique. Google recently reported that they average 75,000 resumes a week at their corporate headquarters.  I would surmise nearly all large companies with 1,000 or more employees are buried up to their eyeballs in resumes.

What makes this situation even worse is that, according to a LinkedIn study, only 15% of the people sending in resumes are actually qualified for the positions they’re applying for. That means 85% of them are considered rubbish by hiring authorities, executive recruiters and resume screeners – which they are well aware of.

And that’s why companies welcome the help of the ATS technology to help them sift through the trash to identify the few jewels worthy of their time and effort.

That said…

How do you avoid the black hole?

Lots of ways.

But let me give you the MOST important one.

It requires using…KEYWORDS.

The ATS will analyze the words in your resume and compare them to the KEYWORDS in the position description (or the keywords verbally described by the hiring manager).

The more keywords on your resume that match the HR position, the better your chances are of escaping the ATS black hole and then possibly getting contacted.

For example, for an HR role requiring collaborative labor relations experience, the important resume keywords could be:

Likewise, for an Organization Development Director’s job working with Sales, the keywords they’re looking for could be:

Of course, zero or very few matched keywords mean your resume won’t get a second read by the recruiter or hiring authority.

And no second read means you’re out of luck!

Here’s the point: Your resume must not only be pleasing to human eyes, but it should also be robot-friendly for Applicant Tracking Systems which utilize keywords for screening.

This means you must ensure that you’re applying for a specific HR position where the keywords are clear…and you have customized your resume to match them.  

Read the above sentence again…and don’t fight it.  It’s crucial.

Otherwise, your resume WILL fall into the black hole.

And you’ll never hear back from the employer.


(P.S. Again, this is just ONE approach — there are many others.  Obviously you can sidestep all this by having a sponsor inside the organization who can vouch for you.  But if you don’t, you’re at the mercy of keywords.)


For additional thoughts about this piece, share them below by clicking HERE. 

Want more suggestions for avoiding the resume black hole and getting your HR resume read and acted on?  Then check out FREE EXCERPTS from:  HR RESUME SECRETS:  How to Create An Irresistible Human Resources Resume That Will Open Doors, Wow Hiring Managers & Get You Interviews! by CLICKING HERE.

About the Author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling HR books including HR RESUME SECRETS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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14 Responses to “The HR Resume Black Hole: Why You Don’t Hear Back After Submitting Your Resume…”

  1. Lana El Moustrah Says:

    Very good advice to read. Thank you Alan.

  2. Big D Says:

    Good advice as usual from Alan. In some ways, the ATS is the worst thing that ever happened in the world of recruiting. True recruiting is a lost skill in most organizations. The advent of the ATS has brought about recruiters that are no longer proactive, don’t build networks, don’t know how to effectively phone screen nor are timely in their hiring. It is easy and mostly ineffective to hide behind one’s computer and try to match resumes with keywords.This is reactive not proactive recruiting. I managed several TA Functions with 3 Fortune 100 organizations and we trained our staff to be proactive. For example, when we hired someone, during their first week on the job ,a TA team member would sit down with them and obtain contact information for key members of their network for potential hires. This is the list that would be first used when seeking candidates for open jobs.This proactive approach is one key to selecting and hiring “A” talent.

    The skills needed for proactive recruiting are much more like an external search firm than are found internally. The effective recruiter in an internal and proactive TA function must be aggressive, know the competition, business savvy and have a sales personality. I submit that most internal recruiters lack these competencies.

    Companies think that recruiting by ATS saves money when I believe in many ways it does exactly the opposite. I can’t tell you how many qualified candidates are missed by the ATS , keyword searches. A proactive recruiting approach will expand the persons needed in the TA Function. The argument must be made to often skeptical Senior Management and eventually measured that the added headcount cost will lead to long-term savings ( i.e. shorter hiring cycle time, better and more productive hires, less turnover of new hires, etc. )

    The key to finding a great job in HR or any other specialty area is networking to the hiring manager.

  3. serkani Says:

    Hello Professor
    I crave stability and good luck in the new year.
    Thank you

  4. Alan Says:

    Big D,
    Extremely well articulated! I agree 1000%. Thanks for sharing your expertise and more importantly your insight on recruiting and ATS’s. Great added value.

  5. Anjana Says:

    Dear Alan,

    well guide line for the HR People who wants career to be stabilize . Thanks ! for sharing it with us.

  6. Brain Says:

    Thanks Allan I Learnt some very impotant facts that are really working in the morden technological recruitment.

  7. Kes Akpomedaye Says:

    Great Stuff Alan and All. I wish all organisations could read this and get proactive in their recruitment process. We will keep the advise on and also be involved in recruitment outside the ATS system hoping change will happen some day.

  8. Brenda Says:

    As a company who does recruiting and executive search, we thank you for NOT telling people to call the company to follow-up on the status of their resume and application, as so many experts do.

  9. Vincent S. Lum, SPHR Says:

    And if you haven’t used an ATS, an employer may not hire you to recruit.

  10. Heather Dykes, SPHR Says:

    Alan – right on-target with your advice but one question is still unanswered, for me at least. When sending your resume in to a big database, is it okay to use some formatting and save it as a PDF? Or should *only* a plain-text version or maybe rich-text formatting be used?

    In other words, if you have incorporated keywords from the job posting, can you still use bullet points and some bolding here and there? Or is that an absolute no-no for databases? Thanks!

  11. Alan Says:

    Heather, the easy answer is to do both. However, when sending to a big data base suggest sending a plain-text version of your resume. It increases your resume’s chances of being “read” electronically. -Alan

  12. Jane Says:

    Alan – how did you handle 90,000 incoming resumes a month, especially if 85% were not qualified for a posting? Or what about random applicants who apply for ‘any’ position? Does someone who puts no effort into a posting, as in fails to list the job they are applying for, or the city, or include a cover letter when the ad specifically asks for one really deserve a reply?

    I am an HR professional who would be criticized for failing to reply to 99.9% of people who apply to my company.

    Like Big D, my on boarding process along with ongoing internal communications about job openings serves to generate referrals accounting for 60% of new hires.

    But we do not have an ATS and this means that every resume is personally viewed by a live person in our small HR department. I understand the value in responding to all applicants, but it is honestly impossible for many HR departments like ours to do so. So what do we do?

    Hard working, intelligent and capable HR people are getting a bad wrap and often it is unjust. I would love some real, practical advise on to do manage this on top of everything else. Please!

  13. Alan Says:

    Hi Jane, agree 100%. It’s impossible to respond to thousands of resumes without an ATS. Nor should you be expected to. With an ATS, when people submit their resumes, they get an immediate auto-response message which in essence acknowledges their submission, indicates that it would be stored in our database and we’d be in contact with them if there was a match or further interest. That’s all. It’s all hands-free. All automated. My suggestion: look into an ATS, they come in all price points. Many small HR departments are using them these days and are indispensable. Hope this helps. Best, Alan.

  14. Sooze Says:

    Excellent information. Usually I apply for positions for which I know I am qualified. Most of the key words are covered in my resume or cover letter. Based on your article, however, it seems I may need to tweak my resume a bit to ensure that each job to which I submit a resume has a chance at being read. Thanks for the great information, Alan.