Why the Recruiter Didn’t Call You Back

Technology pros often express their venom for both the overly-aggressive spamming recruiter and the recruiter that doesn’t call back. However, the group getting inundated with inquiries and the group not getting a response are probably mutually exclusive. Recruiters provide both groups with a reason to hate the industry.

Whether it is a lack of response to an application to a job posting or the absence of feedback after an interview, job seekers regularly, publicly, and often rightfully voice their displeasure about being left in the dark. It seems like a fairly minor expectation to assume that a recruiter will have both the decency and the 30 seconds required to at least send a quick email to let an applicant know that the resume doesn’t show the desired skills, or to inform an interviewee that he/she was not selected for hire. Candidates who take the time to interview have a right to know if they were not chosen, and hopefully will be given at least some explanation. Yet, based on the volume of complaints, it seems few recruiters extend this minimal courtesy.

After 15 years in the business, I have come to learn that most candidates are grateful to get some feedback on their approach, résumé content/format, or post-interview performance tips. Delivering the bad news about a potentially life-changing job offer is not an enviable task, and I can understand why junior level recruiters might be less comfortable in those calls. Once a recruiter makes several notifications, he/she should hopefully learn that it is best to try and extract at least one lesson for the candidate to take away for next time. Being a recruiter can require equal parts salesman, psychologist, and career coach on any given day.

Keep in mind that the only true benefit a recruiter receives by making these notifications is goodwill and reputation points with candidates, and there is a slight ‘cost’ with taking the time to make notifications (the opportunity cost of the time spent on a notification vs calling the next potential candidate). I have found that the goodwill earned is well worth the small time investment, and providing honest feedback will differentiate how candidates will rate their recruiter experience.

So why are recruiters not responding to your applications or resume, and why do they not provide feedback after interviews?

No response for an application or resume submission

Your approach made you seem like an arrogant jerk – Most applicants are professional and mention their qualifications or skills with some level of humility and maturity. Confidence is a rare asset in the software business, but recruiters are much less apt to respond to egomaniacs and candidates who are disrespectful. There will be other candidates that are easier to work with, so recruiters won’t waste too much time with candidates that seem immature.

You were grossly unqualified – Sadly, a down overall economy produces an extraordinarily high number of applicants that do not even remotely resemble the required or desired qualifications. Yes, recruiters get pummeled with unwanted email sometimes too. I doubt that a significant percentage of the recruiting industry’s harshest critics fall into this unqualified category, but there must be a few. Although I always try to contact all partially qualified applicants, anyone with no relevant professional or academic background will not get a reply.

You appeared qualified, but some detail makes your hire unlikely – Agency recruiting, and particularly contingency recruiting, is all about playing the odds. If there are a number of candidates for a position, some will stand out as the most likely to be hired while other applications may contain strong indicators of a much lower hiring possibility. Any perceived obstacles to hire or details that would make a hire less likely, such as unreasonable salary expectations, unclear work authorization or employment history, or a candidate’s mention of multiple current job offers could prevent a recruiter from responding. Unfortunately, the most qualified candidate can also be the least likely hire based on these external forces. I suspect many of those that criticize recruiters fall into this category, where the candidate can cite impressive credentials for the position but has some Achilles Heel in their candidacy that they do not see as an issue.

Location – If the recruiter’s client is in the middle of nowhere and an applicant claims to be open to opportunities worldwide, the odds are not very good that he/she will choose middle of nowhere over somewhere a bit more interesting. The recruiter is not only competing with many companies, but many more attractive locations. A candidate’s professed willingness to move does not change this view, as the likelihood of a candidate’s move is typically low if any local employment options are available. Likewise, if the candidate’s address indicates a long commute, recruiters may be less apt to respond. Candidates are usually very willing to relocate for very unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but most jobs don’t fall into that category.

The volume of applicants made notification impossible – Internal corporate recruiters are probably more likely to get an overwhelming response than their agency counterparts, but a large applicant pool may result in some submissions not even being reviewed. If no human even sees the application, it is unlikely you will get a personal response.

Your application contained a sloppy introduction or résumé – When an applicant cuts and pastes their introduction (today’s cover letter) and neglects to include the proper company name, it lets the recruiter know that this candidate is probably very active and at least slightly careless. Multiple spelling and grammatical errors will make recruiters question why they should invest time with a candidate who invested so little time and effort in their application. Getting a second set of eyes (such as a friend or a résumé review service) may help find the issue.

The job has been filled – One would hope a recruiter could quickly inform a job seeker that a position is no longer available, but if there are many applicants the process could become time consuming.

No response after an interview

The recruiter has no news to give you – Just as recruiters may feel they have little to gain by further contact with rejected candidates, hiring managers may decide their time is better spent on tasks other than explaining to recruiters why a candidate was not chosen. It is also not uncommon for recruiters to get radio silence from the companies they represent in specific situations. Managers and execs may be stumped on how (or if) to inform a recruiter about a potential hiring freeze, a funding issue, or management shakeups that could negatively impact their ability to get new hires on board. If the post-interview decision is a definite ‘no’, recruiters should find out quickly and be willing to share that news with candidates, but based on anecdotes it seems many recruiters completely ignore requests for feedback from rejected candidates.

The recruiter is waiting for the right moment (that may never come) – If an agency recruiter has multiple candidates interviewing for one position, it is in the recruiter’s best interest to keep the client’s top choices ‘warm’ for as long as possible, or at least until an offer is accepted. A recruiter will not want to tell you “Hey, you are actually my client’s third choice for the role, but our first choice is dragging her feet on accepting the offer, so just hang tight.” Hopefully your recruiter will provide at least some degree of transparency and insight, but don’t expect that from most.

Your poor interview performance damaged the recruiter’s relationship with the client company – This is thankfully quite rare, but unprofessional behavior in an interview will hurt the recruiter’s reputation and make a call from the recruiter unlikely (and probably unnecessary).

You didn’t follow-up or ask for feedback – Do not expect that a recruiter will contact you independently and unsolicited with interview feedback. Recruiters with a booming business may be relying on either your request for feedback or the incoming call/email from the client as a  workflow prompt to notify you (I rely on this prompt often), so be sure to contact the recruiter after the interview to assess how you did and to express interest in learning results. It looks professional and shows both initiative and interest when candidates contact recruiters after an interview to debrief, so make that a habit anyway.

If you are not hearing back from recruiters, take a look at your submissions to see if you may fall into one or more of these categories.  Continue to ask for feedback after interviews, as you are entitled to a timely answer.

If you found this post useful, you may find my ebook Job Tips For GEEKS: The Job Search even more helpful. Follow Job Tips For Geeks on FacebookTwitter, or Google+.

36 comments

  1. Pingback: Geek Reading May 8, 2013 | Regular Geek
  2. George Mason

    Good tips, I have a recruiter that sucks 3 interviews and I was always bypassed she got a bad attitude I wasted my time, money and effort for what, so they can make fun of me. Hope that one day when the tables are turned they get what they deserve fired from their jobs

  3. Random

    What about circumstances where you are beginning a job search, you contact a recruiter inquiring as to the state of the market (or to say you’re interested in working with them to find work), and the recruiter simply doesn’t follow up? Let’s assume this is NOT due to an unqualified/inexperienced candidate – it’s a recruiter who has placed you before and you are seeking positions commensurate with your qualifications and experience.

    • fecak

      That could be a number of things. Are you sure the recruiter is still in business? Maybe the recruiter just doesn’t have anything for your background and doesn’t want to waste your time. Could be any number of things. Keep in mind that recruiters don’t make any money if they don’t get you a job – so any time they spend with a candidate will be a waste of their time (in the short-term anyway) if they don’t have a client that will hire you.

      • Random

        Recruiter is still in business for sure. The question that I asked was basically to find out if there was anything that fit my background – is there stuff out there for me at this time or not? I have had a similar conversation with other recruiters and they have all responded, whether affirmative or negative. I don’t really see the advantage of not responding to such an inquiry (especially given that they have placed me before).

      • fecak

        There is absolutely no advantage to not responding in this situation unless the recruiter is absolutely sure that you provide no value to him/her. No value could mean the ability to place you in the foreseeable future, in addition to not seeing you as a potential client in the future, as well as not being a potential source for valuable information or leads in the future. You’d probably have to be fairly troubled for someone to not see you as at least one of the above.

  4. Bhakti

    I have very odd problem.
    First this recruiter contacted me first for a job opportunity.

    After a short interview (via email), he promised that he will give me the brief of the first project in the next 4 days.
    But he didn’t, I reminded him and he answered that he will do.

    So, I’ve waited for 10 days without any email just like he promised.
    I sent him another email, but this time he didn’t answer at all.

    I don’t understand about this recruiter, his first email was very nice.
    We agreed about the salary for this job. But why he doesn’t call me back?

    • fecak

      This sounds like the recruiter changed his mind about talking to you. If you received an email about a job, that same email may have gone to hundreds of other candidates. Perhaps the recruiter received 10 replies. He then would decide which of those candidates was most qualified and likely to accept a position, and would focus on that group of candidates.

      Most recruiters don’t want to hurt your feelings, so instead of telling you “I am going with somebody else”, they feel that it’s nicer to tell you nothing. My opinion is to be honest and tell candidates when they are not a fit, but most recruiters would rather not give negative feedback.

  5. Barb

    I had a job interview on Wednesday and I was told that there’s another candidate that the company will be seeing on Thursday around 6pm… my assumption was that I will get a phone call either with “yes” or “no” on Friday as the person who was interviewing was going away on holidays on Monday. I have asked for a feedback whatever this will be (even if it’s brutal lol). I had feedback straight after the interview that I have pulled it off and the interviewer loved me and I had all the right answers (this is how I have got to know that there another candidate following day) … but now it’s too quiet … I don’t want to call the agency because I feel I would sound needy when in fact I am not – I do have an employment …but this role could be a new way to climb up a career ladder for me – should I worry about this or forget that I had an interview …

    • fecak

      So the interview was last Thursday with the other candidate and it is now Monday, and the manager is going away today. I think it may be a bit early to give up hope that you may be getting a job offer. Calling the agency isn’t going to change anything, but you obviously will want to know an answer. Maybe contact the agency tomorrow to see if there was a final answer provided yet.

      There is no sense in worrying – that won’t help anything. Stay positive and hopefully it will work out for you. Good luck.

      • Barb

        thank you for a quick reply – I guess you are right… I had a phone call last evening to say that it’s looking positive and the agency is waiting for a “big fish” to sign the approvals off, but there was no indication whether I am in or not … positive doesn’t really explain where I am with things … and I am still waiting for big news. This company would be a Christmas wish coming alive so fingers crossed for a miracle:)

  6. bikeman

    lets face it recruiters are just salesmen, if you’re not of value to their next sale they don’t give a $hit about you. Common decency is not in their vocabulary. Recruiters, estate agents, double glazing salesmen – they are all just $hits.

    • fecak

      Recruiters are salesmen, no argument here. We “sell” jobs to people, and we market people to jobs. But to think that salesman don’t care about the quality of their product is a bit of a stretch. Why can’t recruiters be both salesmen and also care about candidates? The truth of it is, recruiters that don’t treat their candidates well won’t be in business for very long – you can make a living with a bad reputation. The better you treat your candidates, the more money you are likely to make (in the long run). Find a recruiter who has been doing it for a while, and you’ll find recruiters that care about their clients and candidates.

  7. Basil

    I have read more than one article about recruiter don’t call you back or whatever. I start to believe that recruiter playing a psychologic game as the unemployed peoples become so sensitive and so vulnerable, easy to drive them frustrated.
    as you are unemployed you have been cursed, till someone remove this curse. you have to struggle.
    sometime recruiter ask you to do a task and you do it perfectly especially programming, you know you have done it and they tell you this is not strong enough.
    I have seen this year lost of curse. and I don’t know when this will be removed.
    Hire process it is a big unfair game.

    • fecak

      I would say that the reasons listed here apply equally to both employed and unemployed candidates. I would agree that a job search for unemployed candidates can be more difficult, but that is typically after long-term unemployment. Someone who has been unemployed for a short period of time that has a reasonable explanation for the period of unemployment is no less attractive to a recruiter than someone who is employed, and I could make a strong argument that a recently unemployed candidate (via layoff usually) who is immediately available for hire is even more attractive than someone who is already employed (no possibility for counteroffer, more likely to accept a job, etc.).

  8. AASci

    I hope someone is still checking this comment thread haha.

    A recruiter contacted a former colleague looking for suggested candidates (the opening is unsolicited and not on any job boards) and I was referred to the recruiter. I sent my resume and cover letter in a short and direct email seeking to apply.

    It’s been a week and I’ve been ignored. I fit all the required qualifications and 90% of the desired hard skills. I mentioned in the title that I was referred by my colleague. I did everything correctly and STILL was ignored. Don’t I at least get an acknowledgement that they weren’t interested? I had an inside track and was extremely qualified for the job.

    • fecak

      That seems like a bit of a strange scenario if you were referred to the recruiter and then ignored. I’d contact the former colleague actually, find if he/she might help you in getting in touch with the recruiter. The recruiter may be more responsive to that, as if the recruiter ignores both you and your colleague it makes him/her look bad to two parties and your colleague would be less likely to refer friends to that recruiter in the future.

  9. Renaissance T

    Got an interview almost a month ago and I had contacted the recruiter twice however I didn’t receive anything from him. Is it worth it to wait for the recruiter to reply or should I send another email? Don’t want to come across as if I’m pestering him.

    • fecak

      If it’s been almost a month you can try him one more time. If he doesn’t reply, I’d recommend contacting one of the people you interviewed with and asking them for any feedback while letting them know that the recruiter hasn’t responded to your requests for feedback. Call out bad recruiter behavior. Good luck.

  10. Rachelle

    I have been contacted by a company that I am really interested to work for. We did a really quick phone interview. Which I felt went pretty well in my opinion.But then again I could be wrong. At the end of our conversation the recruiter said that I will be contacted if I was one of the selected candidates. So my question is: is that a a good thing? How long does is usually take recruiters to call back if they are truly interested in you? I just feel like if I nailed it, she would of ask me rigth then and there when can I come in for an interview. I am a bit confused…

    • fecak

      It’s not a bad thing, but I wouldn’t say it’s definitely a good thing either. Companies aren’t likely to give you a ‘no’ in person during an interview – they are not that likely to give a ‘yes’ either, but you’re more likely to get positive feedback than negative.

      The amount of time to get feedback can vary, so any number I give won’t be helpful. It depends on the number of candidates, the hiring process, etc.

  11. DT

    A recruiter contacted me about a job I applied for. After an initial call with him, I had a call with the hiring manager. Immediately after, she let the recruiter know she wanted me to speak with two of her colleagues. After each call, the recruiter wanted me to email him with how I thought the call went, plus a thank you note to that particular interviewer, which I did. The next step would be an in person interview. The recruiter said once the calls were done, they would let him know if they want me to come in and that HE WOULD LET ME KNOW EITHER WAY. The last call was 6 days ago and that was the last time I heard from him. Throughout the process he had been very communicative and responsive. After a couple of days I reached out to him asking if he received any feedback. Radio silence. Even though I think the calls all went well, I understand that I may not have been chosen for the next round, so why not just tell me? If he is still waiting to hear from the employer and has no news to report, why not spend 15 seconds to tell me? But silence? This is the reason I try to avoid external recruiters, but it seems it is the only way to get human eyes on my resume these days.

    • fecak

      Unfortunately your story isn’t all that unusual. Nobody likes giving bad news, but that is part of the recruiter’s job. The thing is, every minute a recruiter isn’t working with someone who might get the job is often considered a minute wasted – this is part of contingency recruiting’s philosophy. My theory was always that it is best to tell you, which helps both you and me (you might work with me again in the future). Recruiters that don’t give feedback are burning the bridge, as you are probably unlikely to work with them again.

  12. John James Falco III

    I just contacted a recruiter through a cold email on their website and I’ve never done this before. Assuming they email me or call me back, what’s the average turn around time for a recruiter if they like what they see? Note this is a holiday weekend.

    • fecak

      I’m sure that depends on the recruiter, but keep in mind that recruiters are well aware that strong candidates typically aren’t on the job market for a long time in competitive industries. If your resume appears to be something that will be appealing to the recruiter’s clients, you should hear something almost immediately.

      When I get incoming resumes (especially cold), that indicates an active job seeker who is somewhat aggressively pursuing new employment and that candidate has chosen me. These are good indicators that I might be able to make a fee, so I’m going to reply positively ASAP unless I don’t think I can help that candidate.

      You should hopefully get the courtesy of a “Sorry, I don’t think I can help you”, but based on how recruiters’ incentives are aligned you’re more likely to hear a positive answer quickly and a negative answer when time allows.

  13. Justin

    I was contacted by a recruiter for a full time job almost a month ago. I spoke with her for 30 minutes after that she conducted a phone interview with the hiring manager. The interview went well and
    After that there was a technical screening for 1 hour two weeks ago. I called her three days after the interview and she mentioned they may need another round and she will let me know about the next step. But didn’t hear from her for 4 days, then I sent an email again and she replied immediately saying let me check and let you know shortly. But didn’t respond. Do you have any clue what’s going on here?

    • fecak

      Perhaps the recruiter is having a hard time getting feedback on the interviews from hiring managers, or perhaps she doesn’t know how to tell you that you didn’t get the job. Neither is acceptable behavior – she should say she is having issues with feedback or that you didn’t get the job (or that they are still deciding).

  14. John

    Hi there,

    Excellent post! I was hoping to get some more insight on my current situation.

    Last Wednesday, I came on-site for the final round of interviews. After I completed them, the recruiter came in and notified me that feedback on 3/5 were great so far. The last 2 didn’t submit anything at that point. The recruiter then told me next steps and proceeded to divulge that they would be discussing me on Thursday at 6:00pm and I should expect a phone call at the very least on the same day to get an update. Assuming it goes well, offer should be sent Friday afternoon. Everything sounded great and I headed off.

    Thursday came around and I received no call.

    On Friday morning, I sent the recruiter an email asking for a status update and that I was still very interested in the position. No response.

    It’s not Monday and I’m curious how I should approach/proceed with this. Should I email her again? Also, what does this mean? Should I assume the worst? I would love to know what you think. Thanks for your help!

    • fecak

      I’ll do my best. I’d give her one more day. I wouldn’t assume the worst at this point, as there are hundreds of possible scenarios to explain a delay of a couple business days.

      Wait until Tuesday morning and email her then.

      • John

        Alright, I’ll do that.

        I agree that there are a bunch of things that could delay the decision. It just sucks that it wasn’t clearly conveyed to me. She has been pretty bad with email though so I’m not surprised, but she was very quick to put me through next steps when I passed the phone interview (got a call same day).

      • John

        I’m very tempted to send out another email today after lunch. Would I sound too needy / desperate if I do so?

  15. Brittany

    Great article!!

    I am hoping you can give me some insight into my situation. I’m not sure if I am worrying over nothing, over-exaggerating, etc. or if this is supposed to happen. So, I went through a recruiter for a job. She said there was a job that I may be qualified for, so she sent over my resume to the company to see if I can get an interview. I was able to get the interview, and close to an hour after after my interview, I received a call from her. I didnt pick up at first — I didnt realize my phone was still on silent (from interview) at the time until later on. 40 to 45 minutes later when I saw she called and left a message saying she wanted to see if interview was over with and how I thought it went, and she wanted me to call back. So, I called back — I called back and this lady answered, and she checked to see if she was available, but said she was on the phone and said she told her that she would call back. An hour later, I havent received her call back (it was weird since up until this point if she was on phone then I would get call back within 20 min), so I sent her an email just to tell her I received her call and I tried calling her (said time I tried calling her), and said what I thought about interview. Also said that if she needed to call me then she could still call me. Since then, its been a day and a half and she hasnt returned my call. So thats why I am wondering if she was supposed to (Im not sure if she was supposed to), or maybe its something else? I was hoping I didnt do anything to offend her, or whatever it was.

    • fecak

      You’re probably overthinking this. Recruiters will almost always want you to speak to them right after interviews to get your fresh feedback and gut reaction to the job, and ideally the recruiter will hear from you *before* they hear from the hiring company. That way, if the company calls the recruiter and says “we liked him/her, was it mutual?” the recruiter can answer.

      She may have just become busy. Give her 24 hours to return your email and then try again.

  16. totxtot

    I got an interview with a company and the interviewer is very happy about me. They ask me to discuss with the recruitor about the time to start working but after I called the recruitor, he didn’t reply me. The recruitor later told me the company said I don’t have too much expeirence. What should I do? The position is an entry level. I have one year experience but the recruitor send the resume to the company saying I have 3 years experience. I told the company I have expeirence but not 3 years. What can I do to convince the recruitor?

    • fecak

      Your time is almost always better used trying to find other opportunities in this situation. It’s pretty difficult to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ after an interview process, and unless there is significant new information to add I don’t think it’s worth your time to try.

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