A survey conducted by Sussex based creative marketing company PMW found that out of 231 people questioned, over half had applied for at least one job in 2020. And out of them, one third received absolutely zero response from the employer.

Sadly, according to marketing commercial director, Gina Hollands, this radio silence from companies who are recruiting appears to be a growing trend.

“It seems that almost everyone we interview comments on the lack of responsiveness from employees and is pleasantly surprised to find that we get back to everyone.

“Although COVID has no doubt made this situation worse due to the increased numbers of job seekers, it was happening way before then. It’s common courtesy to respond to people, even if you’re turning them down. With automation now, it isn’t difficult to let people know where they stand, and people would rather learn they’ve been rejected than be left in limbo.”

Christina Murphy from Sussex knows this all too well. She’s been looking for a job for over six months and is yet to secure an interview, despite applying for jobs that pay just 10% of her previous wage.

“I’m looking to return to the work force now my son is older,” says Christina. “In my previous job I was in charge of an entire insurance team for a blue-chip company. As I’ve been out of the loop for a while, I have accepted that I’m unlikely to be able to re-enter the work force on the kind of salary I was on, so am applying for much lower paid roles. I’m still waiting to hear back from a school dinner lady position I applied for weeks ago, as well as a junior insurance clerk role. The application for that took me three hours, and I am yet to receive any kind of response.”

Christina’s experience is unfortunately not at all unusual. Until the lockdown, Tamara Nasser had her own successful company, running kids’ clubs. Realising her business was unsustainable due to COVID, she closed down and started looking for work in early summer 2020.

“I was applying for up to 20 jobs a day for a period of six months. I’ve never been out of work before over the last 20 years, since I began working at 16 years old. I was, however, realistic about the opportunities that would be available in the current climate, and the roles I applied for included waitress, cleaner and shop assistant.

“All together, I applied for hundreds of positions, and only received responses from approximately a quarter of them.”

This shameful response rate is despite Tamara holding a first-class design degree and having 12 years’ experience in the events and communications industry.

Tamara’s story has a happy end, thankfully, and she has just started work as communications officer for Worthing homeless charity, Turning Tides.

For many others, however, the soul-destroying experience of job hunting and being continuously ignored, goes on.

So, why is it now considered the norm to ignore applicants–so much so that a growing number of companies seem to deem it acceptable?

“I think digitalisation has a lot to do with it,” says Gina. “It’s an impersonal process so the employer may feel disengaged with the applicant. That shouldn’t be an excuse, but it is one possible reason.

“Another could be the behaviour displayed by some candidates, which might be ruining things for others and making the employer less likely to feel inclined to communicate. You may be surprised how many people don’t bother turning up for their interview (around one in four) with no prior warning. An additional 15% cancel by email with less than an hour’s notice. The most common reason given is ‘a family emergency’. If you want to avoid a family emergency, don’t set up an interview–it seems your chances of experiencing one will be heightened!”

However, there are things applicants can do to increase the chance of receiving a response. Here are the top five tips from PMW’s hiring team:

  1. Only apply for a job if you fit the criteria
    If the applicant doesn’t have the skills or qualifications the job description asks for, or they’re not in the right location, then they shouldn’t waste their time or the employer’s time by applying. They won’t get the position and most likely won’t get a reply either. But then, if they’re a time waster, do they really deserve one?
  2. Submit what the job advert asks for
    If asked to send a cover letter, then do so. If asked to list relevant skills, do that too. If an applicant doesn’t even attempt to make a decent application, the employer will think of them as careless and lazy. Why would they bother replying to someone who can’t be bothered to even apply properly?
  3. Tailor a CV according to the job role
    Blanket-sending a CV in the hope of getting lucky will not win anyone any fans, and nor will it earn a response. Most employers will start by scanning a CV for mentions of keywords. E.g. if applying for a job of social media manager, but there’s no mention of social media in a CV, guess what will happen? That’s right. Nothing.
  4. Follow up
    It is perfectly acceptable–and often seen as a positive–for an applicant to follow up if they haven’t heard anything after applying and the closing date is nigh. Consider doing this by phone rather than email. If the company hasn’t responded to a first email, why would they be likely to respond to a second?
  5. Make it easy for the employer
    Faced with hundreds of applicants, an employer is less likely to get back to an applicant if they’ve made it difficult for them. Not providing contact details in a clear and obvious place, for instance, isn’t going to win anyone any favours. Nor is a CV that’s longer than two pages and requires wading through. Keep it clean, clear and relevant!

If an applicant has done everything right, and they still haven’t responded, perhaps it says something about the company’s ethics. Consider it a lucky escape!

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.