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For Job Seekers, the Black Hole Persists

By LAUREN WEBER

WSJ
Jun 22, 2015 10:14 am ET

Most of today’s online job applications still enter a black hole.

Frank N. Stein had a stellar resume—he was an Ivy League graduate, with stints as a corporate recruiter at Johnson & Johnson and Russell Reynolds, and his CV was loaded with the keywords needed to float to the top of today’s automated job- applicant software.

He was also not a real person, a fact noted at the bottom of his one-page resume.

Even so, recruiters at only two of the 100 companies where he applied for jobs read far enough to discover that Stein was a fiction designed to “mystery shop” the job-seeker experience. The ruse was created by recruiting consulting firm CareerXroads, according to a report released Monday.

What does that tell Mark Mehler, a founder of CareerXroads?

“Recruiters read the first three paragraphs of a resume,” he said. “That’s all the job seeker is going to get.” And that only counts those whose resumes pass through the automated keyword screening that winnows a set of applications from hundreds to a few dozen.

Every year, Kendall Park, N.J.-based CareerXroads submits a fake resume through the career websites of the companies on Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, to assess the recruiting practices of some of the most well- respected employers in the country, including Google Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Deloitte LLP.

The results are generally dismal, as they were again this year. Job seekers’ main complaint—that they shoot their applications into a black hole—was confirmed.

Out of the 100 companies, 64 never sent Stein any notification that he was not being considered for the job for which he had applied. Months after submitting his resume, he “was left hanging in the breeze,” said Mehler. Overwhelmingly in job seeker surveys, candidates tell CareerXroads “they just want to know, ‘am I in or out?’ They don’t want to keep chasing and wondering.”

Six of the employers followed up with Stein wanting to schedule interviews, two uncovered the ruse, and 28 eventually notified him that the position had been filled, or at least that he wasn’t in the running.

Worst of all, 28 is the highest number of companies extending that courtesy in the twelve years CareerXroads has conducted the Mystery Job Seeker survey.

There’s no excuse for those oversights, Mehler said, given that those communications can be automated easily in today’s applicant tracking systems, the software that stores job applications.

Most systems have the capacity to do this, but major corporations don’t use those features because they’re scared that opening the lines of communication will lead to lawsuits, too many phone calls to recruiters, and too many questions they can’t answer, he said.

There were bits of good news from Frank N. Stein’s experience. Nearly all employers now send an email acknowledging receipt of a job application. In addition, career websites are easier to navigate than in previous years, and employers have gotten better at streamlining the application so that it takes less time to complete – in most cases, 10 minutes or less.

Another pleasant surprise, according to Mehler: Stein had been unemployed by choice for a year (he had rejected six job offers as poor fits for him, then took a 6-month sabbatical to bicycle across the country), and still received interest from six of the 98 employers who thought he was a real person. “That’s huge,” said Mehler. “It shows that if you write a good resume and have great experience behind you, you can still find a job.”

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