I lost my job over two years ago, and have applied for over 4,000 HR (Human Resources) opportunities, with 97 interviews, and I am still unemployed. I’ve updated my resume to an ATS format (Applicant Tracking System) to meet the current job search filters implemented by recruiters who use ATS platforms. I am still being rejected with an automated message saying, “Thank you but No Thank You.” I have an MBA in HR Management. Can you tell me why I am not being hired? I’ve attached a copy of my original resume and a copy of the ATS formatted resume for your review. Thank you for your time and attention. I’ve been following your “Ask the Headhunter” newsletter for at least 10 years. I would like your expert advice on handling the current job search market. I look forward to hearing from you.

Nick’s Reply

job-search addictionSorry, I don’t review resumes, ATS-formatted or otherwise. It’s not my intent to berate or ridicule you but you do, after all, work in HR. How can you not know how the ATS game is played? The house wins, you lose. The house is the Employment System — ATS vendors and the job boards (and any employers that use ATSes). The rest of us are the gamblers.

The job-search addiction

This gambling addiction is pernicious because that’s how job boards and ATSes are designed! ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Indeed and their ilk don’t make the big money when you get a job. They make the big money when you don’t get a job and when employers don’t fill jobs because then everyone keeps coming back to place another bet (or 3,000)!

The fundamental technology underlying the job-board and ATS ripoff is illustrated by another addictive con: dating apps.

Jobs and dating: It’s all a gambling addiction

Consider these clips from recent NPR news items about the “applicant tracking systems” used for dating:

“If you’ve ever done online dating, you know that it can be exhausting — the endless swiping, the conversations that go nowhere, the weird interactions where it feels like somebody is just on a different planet than you… Not to mention the emotional roller coaster of really vibing with somebody on the app and then getting to the date and it’s just nothing. Nothing there. It can make you want to stop dating entirely.” [How to ditch the apps and date offline]

Sound familiar? Endless applications, interviews that go nowhere, weird interactions where it seems the interviewer is on another planet… and the emotional roller coaster when you really think you found a match and BAM! you get ghosted.

It’s all the same gambling addiction. While job seekers haven’t really fought back legally, people seeking romance have:

“The popular dating apps Tinder, Hinge and the League hook users with the promise of seemingly endless romantic matches in order to push people to pay money to continue their compulsive behavior, according to a federal lawsuit filed in San Francisco on Wednesday.” [Maker of Tinder, Hinge sued over ‘addictive’ dating apps that put profits over love]

Addictive features & corporate profits

The parallels to the big job boards and ATSes are startling:

“While Hinge’s advertising slogan boasts that it is “designed to be deleted,” the lawsuit claims Match Group’s dating apps are really designed to turn users into “addicts” who do not find true love and instead keep purchasing subscriptions and other paid perks to keep the publicly traded company’s revenue flowing.”

Addicted to a dating app? (How about a job-hunting app? Is there a difference?) The complaint filed by six plaintiffs from several states claims:

“Match Group has violated state and federal consumer protection, false advertising and defective design laws… Harnessing powerful technologies and hidden algorithms, Match intentionally designs the platforms with addictive, game-like design features, which lock users into a perpetually pay-to-play loop that prioritizes corporate profits over its marketing promises and customers’ relationship goals”

That’s why you’re not getting hired – or finding love

Sound familiar? What exactly triggered you to keep submitting applications after the first thousand? After 3,000? Doing the same thing 4,000 times sure seems like an addiction to me! And, as with the dating apps, at the heart of the ATSes are… algorithms seemingly designed to suck you into believing there’s a proverbial brown pony underneath all that…crap. And you — and millions like you — keep coming back to look some more!


You’re applying to thousands of jobs, you’ve done 97 interviews, you have a keyword resume that’s supposed to play nice with the ATSes and you’re still not hired. And you ask me why you are not being hired?

That’s why you’re not getting hired.

What works

As an HR pro, you should know none of that stuff works. Now you know you’re also getting ripped off. As an Ask The Headhunter newsletter reader, you should know that on Ask The Headhunter we discuss what doesn’t work and what does every week. I know this can be hard to see when you’re so close to it.

Here’s my advice on handling the current job-search market. And there’s no A.I. or any algorithm that went into writing these articles. This is what works.

Library Vaction beats the Internet when job hunting

Job search success stories

How to get a job: Don’t write a resume

Drop the resume script: Be the wired candidate

The key to good networking

You mean doing it online doesn’t work?

A number of years ago I did a news segment with PBS News. If you watch it, check the date. Nothing has changed materially between then and now. It’s time for a Congressional investigation.

Is applying for Jobs Online Not an Effective Way to Find Work?

Dating apps, job-search addiction — it’s all the same algorithms

In How to ditch the apps and date offline NPR offers the advice of a relationship expert to help wean the addicted from their poison. Take a few minutes to read it. The parallels to job search make it painfully obvious that the addictions are fundamentally the same — and so is the cure. It starts off like this:

“There is another option. It may not seem like it, but you can meet people to date in person.”

Sound familiar?

When the system is broken, you can’t use the system. You have to go meet people you want to work with — in person! I wish you the best. But, please — if you do get a job in HR, do something to stop addicting people to the algorithms!

What’s wrong with the dominant systems we depend on to match people to jobs? Do they serve us effectively, or are we just addicted to them without much care for how well they work?

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  1. My one comment would be to not let “in person” get in the way of “meet people.” If I took up every “let’s get together for coffee/lunch/whatever” request I got, that would leave below zero hours a week for sleep, family time – or work! A 15-minute phone or video talk can accomplish a lot, without the “overhead” of driving to and from the meet.

    • @Dave: Point taken. But the question posed was based on what’s clearly a passive approach to a job search. I emphasized “in person” because in this admittedly extreme situation (4,000 applications, 97 interview, 0 offers?) I think the job seeker needs to get off their duff and start making the job search as personal as possible!

  2. This person has had over 100 interviews but has not landed a job. This tells me he/she is not interviewing well or is not turning the interview into an official offer. Even if they are meeting people, if they are not nailing the interview, the point is moot. They are not communicating the confidence or skills that they are a great fit for the role and company. Sounds like some interview coaching is in order.

    • @Kelly: That’s probably part of the problem. But when interviews all come from blind applications, it’s very likely the job seeker has created no meaningful edge for themselves. My guess is those interviews were of the screening variety, not the “we think you’re a serious candidate” variety.

      The job seeker should review interview skills and possibly get help. But with 4,000 applications done, I think the first order of business is fixing the approach to any job opportunity.

  3. This is another good example of the definition of insanity “Doing the same thing over & over & expecting different results.

    It seems like the person should have gotten an inkling somewhere between 500 & 1000 times, that going down that road wasn’t bearing results.

    I wish I’d kept an article I read years ago. It discussed a study of how unemployed job hunters spent their time. If I recall actual job hunting related time was something like 20%. 1 day of a 5 day work week. It reason tested with what I was seeing. And I suspect it amounted to mostly spending a days time banging out applications. which as this week’s newsletter points out, doesn’t work that well.

    And which is why it’s said job hunting is a full time job. Time consuming research, network building and working that network, helping & teaming up with others, prudent and tactically playing the game with well targets applications and follow up. This is not easy nor done quickly, but compared to heaving reams of digital resumes into the IT wind…slow & steady will win the race.

    And I noticed one thing the writer didn’t mention in all, amid the thousands of applications and the interviews…nary a mention of any kind of follow up.

    I recently read a book that offers similar insights into the job seeking games people and employers play. “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. The author does not examine job hunting, but I think one will see the parallels.

    • @Don: Reminds me of the age-old instruction given by all “experts” to job seekers.

      When you wake up in the morning, before you do anything else, while still in your jammies, address, stamp and mail out 20 of your resumes to 20 employers.

      Then you’ll have the satisfaction of having done it — all day long!

  4. Most of your stuff is very, very good. But this article is really powerful. I’m retired but I will certainly keep this in mind when speaking with folks I care about who are looking for a job. Thanks again and keep up the good work!!

    • @Albert: Thanks for your kind words! I have a special fondness for folks that are retired but keep reading and participating!

  5. HR is a REALLY hard nut to crack right now (because it’s broken and “captured” in the same way many of our federal agencies are). I have had a similar experience in recent years despite being well connected and having a great resume/employers. It may be tempting to attribute the lackluster results, in part, to poor interviewing skills but I honestly don’t think that is the case.

    While I don’t want to project too much, this person maybe be facing some of the same challenges.

    1) Ex: Being Experienced means that you are forced to go for Director/Sr Director level or higher roles. Going for less than Director requires you to report to a less experienced person that never feels comfortable with someone with more experience reporting to them. When interviewing the person will refer to your resume and say “wow you have a lot of experience” –that is the tip off. From here it’s an uphill battle even if what you have to offer is an EXACT match for what they claim to be looking for.

    2) HR when its good is always farming talent. So there are often many internal candidates primed and ready for the role you are applying for.

    3) The quality of HR, especially at small biotech/tech companies has been lowered. Often leaders will hire someone with less experience who will learn on the job and cost less. I know this because I am on an HR listserv and observe the questions being asked in the group of 2000+ all day. Many have “Head o HR or Director titles ….and looking for a lot of “support”.

    4) I am seeing all kind of mismatched role titles and reporting lines. As costs are being cut many companies are using HR as a “Catch All”. One role even had the “Head of HR” reporting to the a “Chief of Staff” with very little experience.

    My best interviews often come from those with a history of working with GE. While I have not actually worked at GE myself, I like to keep these colleagues close. They are always generous with introductions and referrals. IF someone has worked with GE in the past (or a handful of others higher caliber orgs), I know with greater certainty they will be a pleasure to work with.

    Sending best wishes to my HR colleague. Don’t despair and stick with the true professionals as much as possible. To often, they aren’t in HR.

    • I worked for GE Consumer Finance for 10 years. Thanks for the complement! It is true we ex GE colleagues do help each other out. And I am a pleasure to work with. The GE corporate culture was amazing and has served me well.