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The black hole of HR (e)mailboxes



How do we fix it…for everyone’s sake?

Okay, so this is somewhat of a pet-peeve of mine. It has to do with the lack of contact from people –or more specifically, companies.

First, let’s add a little context.

It’s not just me. I know a nice handful of people that have said, the most frustrating thing right now is the lack of contact with a perspective employer.

From the view of the applicant:
Did you get my email? I mean…I can’t call, I’ll look desperate. I shouldn’t call, you are basically begging people not to call about the job in the ad. I would apply again, but then I might not look like I am detail oriented. Maybe I’ll look like I’m just blindly sending resumes out. Maybe they wanted a Word document and not a PDF. Or was it the other way around? The job is still up on the site. Damn. I must not have what they are looking for. Maybe I need to be more aggressive? No. Everyone says be more aggressive…if I was the person on the other end of the emailbox, the last thing I need is another aggressive person. Sigh. Let’s look at the next job posting and move on.

We all understand the job market is not fantastic right now. We understand if you have one position open and 500 people apply for it, that possibly 400 of them weren’t even qualified to begin with. The very idea of contacting everyone to say “Thank you for submitting your resume…” or even an email blast “Sorry. No job for you!” (reference: Seinfeld “Soup Nazi”)…is it really that much to ask? It is if you need to reply to everyone individually.

Or is it?

In my past life, I created solutions for businesses using technology. Sometimes these were very complex, and sometimes these were simple. Often, the most useful things for people were really the things they already had at their fingertips. It’s just that no one ever bothered to ask them what they needed, or what might help them for daily tasks. THIS is for those of you out there in HR who are buried in email right now.

Part 1
Two things will save you: Folders and Rules. If you want to get crazy we can talk about groups/distribution lists later.

    • If you are using an email address like,, or something similar, you can move onto the next step. If you are using your personalized email address, I HIGHLY suggest you create a new email account just for resumes/applicants.
    • I implore you to take a few moments and look into using “rules” in your email client of choice. Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail, Thunderbird, Apple Mail, and others all have the ability to set rules. My number one suggestion to you would be: create a rule for all incoming email to auto reply with a message similar to this: “Thank you for applying at XYZ Company. We receive many resumes and we cannot individually reply to everyone. This email was auto-generated to let you know we received your email, but it in no way means we think you are awesome and should begin working here tomorrow. Please don’t call us. You will be contacted if you are a potential candidate. Thank you.”

You get the point. Nothing fancy, it just let’s people know you got it.

If you have ever used an “Out of office” auto-reply before, this is the same idea…but you set the message and you are obviously in the office.

Part 2
Okay, if that has not scared you off, I would like to offer a few other tips that might make things a little easier for you. We will start to get a little fancy here.

  • First, the easy part that most of you are likely doing already. Create a folder for each open position and name it something like “Position A”. Now you could simply move all of the emails into that folder individually, or you could have the computer do it for you.
  • This is NOT perfect, but it usually works very well. Most email clients, like the ones I previously mentioned, can read your email for you. This comes in handy for this very situation. If applicants put the job title in the subject line of the email, you can automatically file new email to a folder. Now, every message that comes in with “Blah blah blah Position A blah blah blah” will automatically go to folder Position A.
  • In rules, you can select “with subject” and then enter the text you want the rule to find. After that, it will ask you what you want to do with those emails, you pick the action “move message” and then select the folder Position A.
  • You can take this a step further if your email client allows for rules that search for “Position A” in the body of an email, or some even let you search for it in the attachments. If they put the title in their attached cover letter, the rule should find it.
  • Searching for lines of text is not flawless. I recommend moving all email that comes in that the previous rule misses, into a folder called “Unfiled”or “To be filed”. This is a catch-all folder that you want to monitor and clean up. You don’t have to do this, you can just use your inbox as your catch all folder too.

Part 3

Still not scared off? Awesome! This last list is just to give you some ideas on how far you can go without doing any “programming” or getting too technical. Dream big! Everyone has a different work style and companies have their own policies. This gives us many many different options for setting things up. For ease of explanation, I will use a method of how I might do this if I were in charge of the resume mailbox. Also, just a word of caution…always test your rules out by sending email to yourself from a different email address (work, personal, friend, etc).

  • In the job posting, encourage people to put the position title in the subject line.
  • In the job posting, encourage people applying to multiple positions to submit separate emails (one for each position).
  • Create parent folders called “Open positions”, “Closed positions”, and “To be filed”.
  • Create folders for each position available.
  • Put all job folders into each applicable parent folder.
  • Create rule 1: Reply to all inbound emails with a default message. (it is possible to customize this message for each job position, but that is a lesson for another day). Ignore all emails from (to prevent email loops).
  • Create rule 2: Filter and file all inbound emails based on job descriptions.
  • Review “To be filed” folder twice per day and move emails accordingly.
  • When a position has been filled, “close out” the folder (How?)
    1. Collect all email addresses from emails in folder for “Position A”.
    2. Set all addresses as a distribution list called “Position A”.
    3. Send closing email. BCC the distribution list “Position A” and BCC to announce the position has been filed. This email creates a marker for when you announced the position was closed. All additional incoming emails will show up after this email.
    4. Move folder to “Closed positions” folder.

Spending the small amount of time it would take to set up some of the basics here, would truly do your applicants a favor. The more steps you can take, the easier your workload becomes…and the more time you can spend reviewing those 100+ qualified applicants. It also gives the impression that your HR department, and the company itself is detail oriented, and considerate, just like the people you want to hire.

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