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The Disrespected Auto Responder

By Peter Weddle,


One of the biggest complaints among recruiters these days is the torrent of unqualified applications generated by their job postings. Most recruiters have neither the time nor, frankly, the patience to wade through a huge pile that shouldn't even exist. What can you do if that's your situation? Tap a familiar tool that has been disrespected for far too long: the auto-responder in your applicant tracking system.

The tsunami of unqualified resumes has two causes, one a hardship and the other a blessing for job seekers.

•The hardship, of course, is the continuing scarcity of good jobs, meaning those that offer fulltime work with decent pay and benefits. That situation has forced millions of working men and women into unemployment or employment in part time or hourly jobs for which they are significantly overqualified.

•The blessing, on the other hand, is the ease with which applications can now be submitted online. That situation has caused millions of job seekers to adopt a new strategy best described as the lottery approach to job search. They believe that if they do something enough times, it will ultimately result in a good outcome.

What can you do to deal with the resulting flood?

First, be as specific as possible in describing job requirements in your job postings. As I've noted before, however, being detailed doesn't mean resorting to bureaucratic or other language that would put a brick to sleep. A job posting is an electronic sales brochure, and to be effective, it must be persuasive as well as detailed.

Second, make better use of a technology in which your organizations has likely already invested. In short, put your applicant tracking system auto-responder to better use. That will both reduce your application overload and enhance the return your organization achieves on its investment - an outcome that will make even the CFO smile.

An Underutilized Resource

According to the Source of Employment Survey I conduct with employers each year, almost ninety percent of the respondents say they use an auto-responder to acknowledge the receipt of applicant resumes. It is, however, an effort for which they get very little credit. The Source of Employment Survey also asks job seekers to describe their single, worst job search experience, and over ninety percent of them say it's the "resume black hole" - the lack of any response when they submit a resume to an employer.

For that reason, the first step in using the auto-responder to deal with application overload is to make sure applicants actually receive your messages. More often than not, the barrier that prevents job seekers from receiving those messages is the spam filter, so every job posting should now include a statement similar to the following: We at the XYZ Company are very appreciative of your interest in working for our organization and will acknowledge the receipt of your application. To ensure you receive our message, please add to your safe list.

Then, the message itself should be rewritten to include both an acknowledgement that the organization has received a person's resume and a qualifications prescreen of 2-3 questions. The text m the message might look like this: We at the XYZ Company have received your application and are very appreciative of your interest in working for our organization. To ensure that qualified applicants receive the consideration they deserve, we ask all applicants to respond to this message within the next 48 hours with their answers to the following two questions: (1) and (2).

The questions can require the applicant to confirm their credentials (e.g., years of experience, educational degrees, use of a specific tool or application) or to test their knowledge of key information or procedures required for successful job performance. Simply posing the questions will weed out a significant number of unqualified applicants who won't bother to respond, while the responses of the rest will enable you to determine who warrants consideration as a bona fide applicant. Even those who don't make the grade, however, should be notified of their status and encouraged to apply for other jobs in the future.

Application overload is a serious drain on the productivity and effectiveness of recruiters. There is a solution, however, and it's closer to home than most recruiters realize. The auto-responder that's embedded in their applicant tracking system can be used both to build an employer's brand with a well written message that is actually received and to deliver a qualifications pre-screen that quickly identifies who deserves further consideration.


Note from We offer an auto-response feature for jobs posted on the site; consider using this option to quickly and easily respond to all applicants. Log into your employer account and set-up an auto response message under ‘Manage Contacts’ > ‘Update Contact.’