Why HR’s Just Not That Into You


By J.T. O’Donnell

At least once each week, someone e-mails me complaining about HR. Usually, they are angry because a company didn’t bother to acknowledge they got their resume, or failed to call them after an interview. These same people are always shocked when I don’t commiserate with them. But you see, I’ve been on the HR side, so I know why you aren’t hearing from them.

Just like the book (and now the movie by the same name) that explains to women why “He’s Just Not that Into You” – HR shares some of the same reasons.

Why HR’s Just Not That Into You

1) They only pursue candidates they are really interested in AND when they are ready to hire them. They’ve got your e-mail and your phone number and they know how to use them both. So, if you haven’t heard from them it’s because A) they aren’t ready to hire for the position yet, or B) they aren’t choosing you. FYI – Some hiring processes take months to complete. Hence, you can come off looking really desperate and hurt your chances of getting hired if you impulsively start harassing HR about the job. Following up to let them know you are definitely interested in the position is one thing, but stalking them repeatedly is another.

2) You are not their main priority. Filling the job is just one of HR’s numerous responsibilities. Finding a job may be the main focus in your life, but to HR, you are just one item on a long to-do list.

3) They don’t have the time, money or desire to let every candidate down easy. These days, some HR people are receiving more than 1000 applications in less than a day of posting a job. That’s right – 1000+ cover letters and resumes to review. Imagine having to look at them all? That is one overwhelming and potentially unproductive process. Especially, when many people don’t tell the truth on their resumes or apply in spite of the fact that they are completely unqualified for the job. As a former HR person who has seen this first-hand, I can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than to go through piles of resumes, pick the ones that look the best on paper and then call and find out they aren’t what they portrayed. In fact, I’ve been told candidly by more than a few hiring managers that when they get inundated with resumes for an opening, they don’t bother to look at all the applications and seek referral candidates from the bunch instead. Just like in dating, HR is interested in the ‘hot’ applicant that comes highly recommended. (Tip: The single fastest way to get your resume to the top of the pile for consideration is a personal recommendation from a credible source.) Moreover, most companies are not equipped with the personnel and technology (nor want to spend the money to acquire them), just so they can send out personalized rejection e-mails to thousands of people. Their thought process on this is as follows: If you are in the job hunt, you understand the rules. Not everyone wins and you aren’t owed an explanation. In fact, trying to get one (ie. Calling or e-mailing to complain about not being chosen or that you weren’t informed you weren’t chosen) is the quickest way to be remembered as someone NEVER to hire.

To sum it up, the next time you want to complain about how inconsiderate HR is, why don’t you try to put yourself in their shoes and think of ways you can do a better job of attracting their attention and gaining their respect…that is, if you really want to? Let’s not forget this simple law of attraction: It takes two to tango. Thus, maybe it’s better to just move on and keep searching for the right job where you will be valued and appreciated for who you are. If they figure out they want you down the line – they’ll be back. Then, you can decide if you want them too.


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  1. J.T.,

    You’re assessment is far to generous to the HR folks out there. I’ve been dealing with HR from the other side of the table, as a hiring manager who needs to go through HR to get talent in the door, and I get the same lack of response and stonewalling to my e-mails as applicants looking to get hired. I’ve lost count of the number of great candidates that we’ve lost to competitors because HR can’t be bothered to contact them in a timely manner. Even after I’ve interviewed and approved the extension of an offer I find myself waiting weeks to get a response from HR only to find out that the candidate accepted an offer with a competitor because HR never replied to their e-mails or phone calls asking for an update.

    To all the HR generalists out there please know that every time you ignore an e-mail or refuse to return a phone call you are reinforcing the negative perception that the rest of us have of HR.

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  3. I can understand, I run a small IT company  and do recruitment for it, When you do not want to hire some one we tend to keep silent (no communication) obviously if you feel that that resume would be useful in future.
    But HR’s job is thought, after all managing people by people is difficult ask. Good post 

  4. If people are e-mailing every week don't you think they might have a point. No excuse not to acknowledge an application.It says we really do not care about anything but our own immediate self interests. How easy to e-mail an automated sorry reply, you can certainly add “Do not contact us about this”
    Gov and uni jobs always send automated replies. By such a small step your company could show they care about their image and put you ahead of the others that couldn't be bothered. Don't forget you are dealing with people NOT resources and if your company can't be bothered to set up a simple auto reply maybe they shouldn't be in business.

  5. I think it's all part of their job and no one should take stuff too personally.On the other hand though, i do believe HR 's know what there looking for so better not to set your hopes too high.If it's you they want, they give you priority and you 'll find yourself with the job when others who applied for the same position before you are overlooked.If you're not what they're looking for then move on! But I think HR's do genuinely care for employees and we can't live without them so they do deserve our respect and cooperation.

  6. # 2 really got me thinking…It's hard sometimes to put things in perspective, but as a college senior, my main priority right now is finding a job after graduation…but that doesn't mean it's the main priority of the HR dept in the company I'm applying at. It's easy to feel anxious and check your email 10 times a day for those replies from potential employers. If the responses don't come right away, it's easy to start to feel discouraged about getting an interview. I think it's important to remember to be patient!

  7. Excuse the expression… but “Hell, Yes!” The one and only thing I may disagree with is that HR folks don't have the desire to respond graciously. In my experience, recruiters are a kind, well-being bunch of folk. If it was up to them, they would find a job for (almost) everyone. The reality is: 1 job, 1000 applicants, 999 don't get the job. It takes time and money to communicate with candidates. Companies simply need to direct their budgets to front-end, customer value. And while efforts are made to be respectful and keep candidates informed, it is possible to meet candidates' expectations in this regard.

  8. I think this is a great post by J.T., I recently interviewed for a job and they told me they liked me but have been going through the first round of interviews with a lot of people and I would hear from them within a month. It's only been a couple weeks and I already am anxious. The temptation to harass or stalk the HR department is definitely there but this article was a good reminder why I should remain patient for a couple more weeks.

  9. “The single fastest way to get your resume to the top of the pile for consideration is a
    personal recommendation from a credible source.”

    In your opinion who qualifies as a credible source? Someone from within the company you are applying at? Or, Someone who worked at that company, but recently left on good terms?

    If neither, then who?

  10. Thank you for the wisdom, JT. We all sure need to understand the HR perspective…When it comes to post-selection notification, two companies do it right in San Antonio; H-E-B and Tesoro…but honestly, I wish I didn't know this! ha ha

    • Oh, Mark – I wish you didn't know that either! But you know what? The fact that you were willing to post two that did it right tells me the kind of person you are. Someone is going to be lucky to hire you with that kind of positive character.

      Let us know who gets smart and hires you, okay?

      Thanks for posting!

  11. I can relate to this article well from a recent experience. I am in the process of getting a summer internship and I had an interview about 3 and a half weeks ago. I felt that the interview went very well, and felt even more reassured when I got an e-mail back from a thank you not I sent that said, “It was a pleasure meeting with you too…you are all set…you will be hearing back from us soon”.

    A week went by with no response…2 weeks went by with no response…finally after 2 and a half weeks I became very anxious; almost to the point where I e-mailed or called the HR dept with a very angry message for them.

    Thankfully after nearly 3 weeks, I ran into the CFO whom I interviewed with. He shook my hand and appologized for the delay but reasured me that I was a stong candidate and will be hearing from them very soon. I felt a sense of relief. I guess patience does pay off in the end.

  12. You raise a great question Greg.

    I've heard from some sources that they prefer it if you submit your application online but I feel it might show you're willing to put in the extra effort if you complete it by hand . If you then take the extra effort to walk in on foot and approach someone politely and professionally, it seems like you might have the chance to give someone important a great first impression. But just like a guy, sometimes its difficult to figure out what they REALLY want!

    • Carly…I am an HR professional whose main priority is recruiting and coordinating hiring processes. We have a very “lean” office staff in HR, and it is stressful when a candidate shows up unannounced and wants to visit about their skills, strengths, etc.. I have a schedule, too, and it seems disrespectful to me to do that. By catching me off-guard, and usually in the middle of a busy day, they run the risk of giving me a bad impression. Now, I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised when that person ends up being really great and impresses me to the point of wanting to find an equally great position for them, but its still a risk. Email works very well for me, since I am hard to reach by phone. Then, I can focus on my own terms and in my own time, and allows me to find time to speak with that candidate when I DO have time to really listen to them. I was on the phone yesterday with a director, and a candidate called my other line 6 times in a row, without leaving a message. Then they called our main HR number, and had our assistant give me a message (while I was still on the phone). I called them and I have to say that I let them know, nicely, that I could see that they were trying to call, but that I had actually been on the other line that entire time. I think sometimes job seekers underestimate the number of candidates we deal with in a day, and the other work we have to do. I appreciate those folks who respect my time, and it ends up leaving a much stronger impression on me than if I feel that I am being stalked! There's always a fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness.

      • Karen, I hear where you are coming from. I really do. this is your job, but you have many things on your plate as well as all other HR professionals. And I agree that “6 times in a row” is completely out of line. I just have a question for when I do get that offer.

        Say you're unemployed and job hunting, you've got one or two jobs in your sites with a few back up plans. you interview with the first choices, but don't hear back from them for some time. the second choice offer comes in. now what?

        what is the proper etiquette when you get another offer that isn't the one you want. Do you let that 1st choice company know you might be going somewhere else? Do you take that other job for a week and then run if the better offer comes in? I feel as though my ethical subconscious is being pushed and pulled on this question.

        Example, last summer I had an interview with a company that would have employed me 40 hrs a week, I really wanted it, but I also needed to take a part time job. the part time hiring manager needed to know my hours of availability, and I couldn't give them anything. They said they really wanted to hire me, but needed my availability. because of the delay, waiting on the other job, the part time spot was filled, and then a week later, I was informed that I did not get the full time job.
        Should I have told the part time job that I was available anytime of the day any day of the week? please enlighten me!


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  13. Great post. Hard for people to hear sometimes, but it's better to know the truth than to swim around in self denial. I am not a recruiter but I do post jobs from time to time on various networks. The slew of unqualified people who contact me makes we want to run to the hills. I want to help, don't get me wrong! But I can see – just from those few experiences – why qualified candidates sometimes get lost in the shuffle . . .

  14. Great post. Hard for people to hear sometimes, but it's better to know the truth than to swim around in self denial. I am not a recruiter but I do post jobs from time to time on various networks. The slew of unqualified people who contact me makes we want to run to the hills. I want to help, don't get me wrong! But I can see – just from those few experiences – why qualified candidates sometimes get lost in the shuffle . . .

    • I hear you Tim, it's the folks that apply for jobs they aren't remotely a fit for that make it worse for the rest of the qualified folks. Even with all our technological advancements, the hiring process hasn't been all that simplified/improved. Especially, when it comes to the first-round selection.

  15. These days when you’re applying for a job, the majority (or all) of the application process is via the internet (website, e-mail). However, most HR departments still give you the chance to apply using old fashioned paper and envelope. J.T., do you think one option of submitting your application is better than the other? Should people do both?

    Better yet, what if I was applying for a job and I submitted my application in person. I would literally hand my resume and cover letter to the hiring manager or someone in HR. Do you think this would increase my chances of getting the position?

    • It’s really a sorry excuse when you decide that you do no hear back form HR because that is what they are there for right? I mean if you cannot find the right person or the perfect match for your job, then message them and let them know to search for something else better. It is not a , its a job search.

  16. I just want to single out the companies I know (though only one has done it to me personally) who have actually taken the time to interview candidates and never gotten around to sending a form letter that says “Thanks, but no thanks.”

    I get it, I didn't get the job, life is hard and that's that. I just don't like spending 90 minutes of my day talking with half a dozen of your staff and wandering around your building and given the final handshake with a “We'll be getting back to you later this week” and never hear another word. I took half a day off of work to get prepped and do this, so the least you could do for me is send me that form letter. This wasn't even a small company with little HR. It was a large organization who budget for form letters probably exceed my requested salary.

    I won't say who it was, but here it is, three years later, and I'm still hoping to get that phone call. Or letter. Or email. Or post-it note.

    What a great way to leave a positive impression on everyone you come in contact with.

    • I agree James – it doesn't leave a good impression. The good ones do understand that being respectful and making the effort to close the loop on the interview process, even if it ends with a 'no thank you,' shows their character. I just think in this day and age, all that has gone out the window. We are all pressed for time and money, HR is no different.

      I think you make a great point though. Perhaps, we should collect a list of the few companies what are doing rejection right? Anybody been turned down nicely lately? Let's at least give kudos to those companies who are trying to do the right thing. Post the story here.

      Better still, who is doing rejection wrong? Let's more stories like James'. And, if you want to be anonymous, e-mail me the name/your story and I'll re-post it for others without giving away who you are. Send it to info@careerealism.com

      • One company I interviewed with asked me to prepare a document outlining my approach to the position, based on multiple communications documents they sent for me to review. This was for a Director of Marketing position, with the job posting outlining salary for the position at around $100,000 per year.

        I spent a few days on the document, not doing other job hunting because I did believe there was an open position at the company, even though family & friends all said it's a shady request. But still, if there were an open position and they were honestly looking to hire, I definately wouldn't get the job if I refused to cooperate with their interview process.

        When I sent to document, I was excited and proud and couldn't wait to discuss my ideas with them and next steps. I received an email confirming they they received the deck, and they would follow up the next week. That call, email, letter, post-it never arrived.

        6 months later I went back to their website and it didn't look like they had added that position to their staff, and I went looking for them on the internet and to my surprise, they had implementing one of the ideas I gave them a few weeks after I had sent them.

        I think they had a the *bright* idea to post a high-paying job online to get in 10-15 (albeit unemployed) experts from around North America to put some time into brainstorming and give them fresh new ideas. For FREE. On the unemployed person's time, energy and cost.

        From a company that is in the green space, and states their entire company mission around looking out for consumers (from companies), I have to say I'm very disappointed that they would do something so shady like that.

  17. Thanks for the great advice JT. In the article you say that it is a good idea to follow up on an application without looking like you are stalking. I was wondering about how long you should wait until doing so and what to say exactly in following up without sounding too desperate?

    • Good question John.

      When applying to a job, wait 5 business days and then contact them by phone to inquire about where they are in the selection for interviews process. The exception would be if the ad specifically said 'no phone calls please' – in which case, you shouldn't call. That being said, a way to get around that is if you have a contact who knows someone at the company and could inquire on your behalf. For example, if you use your connections via Facebook or LinkedIn and find that someone you know knows someone at that firm, you could tell that contact that you've applied and see if they'd be willing to call in and get an idea of what is going on. What's nice about this is that if your friend feels comfortable referring you, they could also put in a good word on your behalf.

      As for interviews, most companies will tell you what the next steps will be and how long before they will make a final decision at the end of the interview. If they don't, you should ask! Simply say, “What are the next steps in the process and when do you hope to select a candidate by?” Now, what they say can go out the window, so, if you don't hear from them in the time frame they mention, by all means call and ask if they've chosen yet. Simply say you are very interested and wanted to stay on top of the process in the event there was anything else you could provide them regarding your candidacy. From there, I think you can follow up one more time, but not for at least 10 business days after your last follow up. And then, if you still haven't heard some kind of word, then it's safe to say you're not in the running.

      Anybody else have thoughts on this for John?

      • Love your article, J.T. Candidates need to understand it's not THEIR needs that matter when it comes to landing a job. I think younger applicants, especially, have a hard time with that.
        I'd like to add 2 points:
        1. Re: follow-up, people should know there is no hard-and-fast rule for determining when you're no longer in the running (i.e., 10 business days). After an interview and following up a couple of times (their response was always “We'll let you know as soon as a decision is made”) I'd long given up on the position… 3 months later, out of the blue, I was offered the job.
        2. People shouldn't judge an entire company/organization based on the action (or inaction) of one HR person. Every field has slackers. He/She may even be ignoring a company policy about how to notify applicants with respect and professionalism.
        Having said that, I think it's the exception rather than the rule… I agree with you, J.T., re: point #3… and advice to just keep searching!


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