Avoid the Resume Black Hole: How to Get Your Emailed Resume Noticed

WorkCoachCafeWe often email resumes in response to a job posting or send our resume to a networking contact, recruiter, or hiring manager.  That can be very effective, or it can be a waste of time and energy, depending on how well it is done and how good a fit the resume is for the opportunity.

Often people seem to assume that the person receiving the email has only one job posting open or will intuitively understand which job is being applied for. I’ve often seen email messages with subjects like: “Resume attached” “Your job posting” “Applying for your job” “Assistant job”  and even plain old “Attached.”

Too often those subject links can make the message look like spam or, worse, a malware-laden message, and may be deleted. Certainly they are often ignored because they put the burden on the recipient for figuring out why the message was sent and what it is about. 

Think about your own email usage. According to The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, people on average received 75 email messages a day in 2011. Anyone who posts a job online could easily receive100 additional messages a day from people responding to the posting – that’s 175 messages. That’s a lot of email to dig through!

If someone spent only 1 minute on each of those 175 messages, that’s nearly 3 hours spent on only scanning email. Not going to happen, is it? So, if they aren’t deleted, those messages sit in that inbox or other email folder waiting…

Email Is Both the Conduit and the Barrier

Unless someone applies for a job on a job board, most resumes are sent via email, and they end up sitting in someone’s INBOX or in an email folder somewhere on their computer.  Sometimes they are read immediately.  Often, they sit in that inbox or folder, possibly for days or weeks.

How does your message with your resume get found and read eventually?  The email software’s search function is frequently the tool used to sift through messages to find the appropriate applicants and resumes.

Few of us think about the email search function when we send our resumes (or other email) messages.

  • To be effective, our messages must be read.
  • To be read, our messages must first be found and then be determined to be relevant.
  • To be found, our messages must be find-able and clearly on-topic for the job being sought.

For Resume Impact, Email Must Be Effective

For the resume to be found, the subject of the email must be effective.  It must clearly communicate to the recipient the reason that the message should be opened.  So, the subject line is critical to the effectiveness of the message.  “Resume attached” and “Your job opening” don’t make the cut.

The person scanning the inbox or using the email search function is looking for specific words in the subject of a message.  Or, the email search function may also be used to find specific words in the content of the message. So, keep that in mind when you write your email message.

Since the email search function usually allows searching through only message subjects or through the text in the body of the message, cover both of those bases with your email message.

Keywords must be included in the subject of the message.

Often, searches focus on the subject lines of the messages because that is usually the quickest search to perform.

To be sure that your message appears in a search through message subjects, think about the keywords that would be relevant for an employer searching through all those email messages to find the ones from people applying for a specific job opening?

  • The job title used by the employer in the posting.
    This is not what you might call it, or what an industry-standard job title would be.  The name to use in your email is the name this employer has labeled this job.  Maybe the rest of the world calls the job “administrative assistant” – but this employer calls it “office admin support” or “admin assist.”
  • The job requisition number or other employer identifier assigned to the job posting.
    Often, job postings have some sort of identifier to separate them from other postings the same employer has open, even for small employers.   It might be the job title and location, but often it is a code that is included in the job description.
  • The location of the job (city and state).
    Particularly if there is no job requisition number, include the city and state, unless the employer has only a single location.
  • The word “resume.”
    Using the word “resume” highlights that the message is from someone who is interested in applying for a position.  Using the word “resume” also includes a very valuable keyword in the subject line.  This ensures that the message appears in search results even on a general search for resumes.

For example, Subj: Resume for Admin Assistant in Dispatch position, # 1570, in San Diego, CA

In this case, the job title of the job posting is “Admin Assistant in Dispatch.”  So, those words are exactly the words used in the email subject.

Include those same keywords in the body of the message, too.

The same important keywords, described above, that are included in the title of the message need to also be included in the body of the message as well.  This ensures that they are found if someone is searching through the email message as a whole, not just the subject.

In addition, since the email message is a form of cover letter for your resume, including the details of the job being applied for is helpful for the reader and, surprisingly, frequently omitted.  Including this information comes under the heading of “being easy to hire” in addition to leveraging the email search function.

Since you have more space in the body of the message, you have room to include more of your resume’s keywords, and, in fact, you can copy and paste your entire resume – or the most relevant portions of it – into the message below the “cover letter” introductory text at the top of your message.

Bottom Line: Go with the Probabilities

I think it’s more productive long-term to write your message with the email search function in mind.  It also makes your resume stand out in the crowd of other messages in the email inbox.  And, following these recommendations will make it clear to the recipient why the message was sent.  Particularly today, a clear and coherent subject and email message stand out from the crowd of relatively-clueless appearing responses to job postings.

For More on Effective Job Search:

Beating the Resume Black Hole: How to Use the Right Keywords on Your Resume

New Resume Black Holes: Applicant Tracking Systems

Avoid the Resume Black Hole: The Resume Customization Cheat Sheet

Applying for a Job: 5 Tips for Avoiding the Discard Pile

Why Submitting a Resume Isn’t Enough, and What You Can Do

Is Your Job Search Too Old Fashioned?

Why You Didn’t Get the Job: 10 Reasons You Can Control

Why Job Hunting Is So Hard, and How You Can Make It Easier

Be Easy to Hire. Don’t Make Them Think (Job-Hunt.org)

How to Work with Internal Recruiters

How to Work with External Recruiters


© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. Fantastic article. All too often I see very poorly submitted resumes.

    I have seen:

    1. Job applications with no resume
    2. Unprofessional email addresses
    3. Resumes saved as numbers, random words, and unrelated titles
    4. Emails with no text
    5. Emails with no subject line
    6. Subject lines that never address the job in question

    It is hard to get a response if you were not among the best responses. You run the risk of your email being neglected all together. Put time into your emails, it is the first step to getting that interview.

    • Thank you, Christopher!

      I’ve been on your side of the process, too, and it can be amazing to see what people submit.

      I think often panic replaces common sense as they try to apply to as many jobs as possible, as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, it’s not a “numbers game” where if you submit X number of resumes, you’ll eventually land a job. Not how it works.

      People stand out by offering quality – a careful, thoughtful response. Taking the time to do a quality job even in something as apparently minor (but SO important) as sending a resumes is a genuine differentiator these days.

      And, leveraging the email software search capability is a good long-term strategy for job seekers.


    • Great advice Christopher. Unfortunatley I have sumbitted hundreds of applications and followed all of your rules, and I was qualified for all of them. NONE have called. Now what? Eat my revolver?

      • Will,
        If you can figure out how to make it happen…meet with a resume writer or career coach and get a second opinion on your resume. For low cost or free events, check out this list of job search clubs…a 15 minute correction could improve your returns on applications.

        Hang in there and good luck!

        All the best,

  2. I always include my name (Admissions Coordinator – Nikki Lastname). Is this appropriate? Chris, your insight would be appreciated. Thanks

    • chandlee says:

      Hi Nikki,

      If you are applying for a job, there’s no need to have your current title in the follow-up email. That’s my take…

      Good luck and all the best,

    • Hi Nikki!

      I always put “Title of position applying for” — Evie LastName Application so I stand out more. 🙂 Hope this helps!

  3. NO I may have stated it wrong. I put the title of the position and my name in the subject line. I also add the job number if it’s on the posting

    • Hi Nikki,

      I don’t think that it hurts to have your name in the subject line, in case they are searching for you specifically.

      However, I think that more often they are searching on the job title, the job requisition number, the location, and/or the word “resume.” Hopefully, your email address includes a version of your name, too, which is where they will be most likely to look for it.


  4. I applied for a position on August 1st–I am waiting to follow up. My question is, would be okay to actually go into the office and introduce myself and hand the HR director my follow up letter? The office is literally 5 minutes up the street from where I currently work. Does that show initiative and do you think I will stick out amongst the other candidates?


    • Hi Mo!

      Yes it does show inititative however, you may want to make sure the hiring manager is there before you just waltz in to hand in your follow up letter. If you want to speak directly with that person, call ahead of time just to make she s/he is there. It may even be a nice gesture to call and say, “My name is _______ and I applied for _________ position. I was going to mail my follow up letter but I currently work at _________ and I am right up the street from your building so I thought I’d drop by and introduce my self and hand you my follow up letter.” See… simple! Good luck! I hope it all works out for you! 🙂

  5. I received the following email some time back regarding a future secretarial position: “I spoke with Ron and we are both in agreement that as soon as a secretarial position opens I will contact you.”

    Thank you for your continued interest and I will be in contact with you as soon as a position opens up.

    The open position is contingent upon a long term employee retiring. Last talks were sometime in September, which I know could change. However, I want to keep in touch with this company but don’t want to be considered a pest. My thought, since it has been a couple of months, was to send a note along with a JIST card. My problem is I am struggling with an opening sentence. I used to work for this company years back and know Ron from that time. Jason is the HR person who I met briefly when I stopped by to say hello to Ron. Jason is the person I plan to send the note to. Can you give me some examples of how to start for a position that I remain interested in when it becomes available? Thank you.

    • Hi Ashley,

      It sounds like you’ve already done quite a lot of networking and have strong relationships with the company. I recommend that you follow up in early September — ideally, the Tuesday after Labor Day if you are in the U.S.

      If you have a strong relationship with Ron, contact him instead of Jason to remind him of your continued interest…trust Ron first to follow-up as he says he will. (Don’t send a JIST card to him as he knows you already.)

      The reason for not working directly with HR on this one: HR is usually the office which initiates a search and which must insist that a company follows a hiring process to fill a position. If Ron can bring you in more quickly, that would be ideal for all concerned.

      In the interim, I’d encourage you to continue to keep your overall job search going and apply other places. Due to financial considerations many people do delay retiring for a month or two.

      Good luck and all the best,

  6. Please be sure that you attach your file! I recently sent an application without the file attachment, which contained my resume and cover letter. I re-sent it with the file, but that probably didn’t correct the negative impression that I had made.

    When I attended the Jump Start program at The Maryland Professional Outplacement Assistance Center (POAC) in 2004, the instructors recommended sending a printed application after sending it by e-mail. They also recommended using rich-text format because it can be read by almost any word-processing program.

    I always compose my cover letter and resume together in one Word document, with a page break between the two, and then convert it to a PDF file. (While working at a college bookstore, I was lucky to find Adobe Acrobat on sale for $25.) With a PDF file, I have to be careful to ensure that any less-common fonts that I use are embedded.

    Using less-common fonts can be a problem with Word or WordPerfect documents because not all versions and installations of these programs include the same set of fonts. Bullet points, which are part of a symbol font, can sometimes appear different on the employer’s screen. The instructors at POAC told of a case in which the bullet points on an applicant’s resume were rendered as puckered lips. I think, though, that software has probably advanced enough that such problems are less likely as long as the applicant is careful.

    Finally, I would consider that not all recipients of your e-mails are sitting in front of a Windows 7 machine with the latest version of Microsoft Word. Some small businesses and non-profits still use XP. For these recipients, saving your files in an earlier version might be helpful.

    This last thought leads to the following question. What if the employer is reading your e-mail on an iPad or Android tablet?

    • Cafe Patron,

      Thanks for weighing in. Agree with you that PDF is a good way to send documents. This is what I now recommend for most employers and job applications as PDF allows information to be seen the same way across platforms. This should ideally also read the same way on an iPad or Android tablet.

      Thanks again,

  7. Insightful and helpful post and comments here. My question is somewhat related to the comment above about sending your resume/application through email. Basically, I’m in the process of applying for a position as a probation officer, which is a multi-step process, starting with the initial online application that you submit to the “.gov” official state (SC, in my case, though I know other states use the same company to handle applicants) website, followed by the scheduling and taking of a sort of competency test that in my case is specific to the position. You have to then wait for your results, at which point they notify you by email whether or not you have passed ( I did), and they then send you the addresses of the specific county offices that you wish to request an interview with, and require that you send a paper copy of your transcript as well as a printed copy of the original submitted application. I’m assuming that along with the transcript and application, it would be wise to include my resume as well as a cover letter (?). I may be overthinking this, but I’m caught up on just what might be the best particular ettiquite or way to mail off all of this paperwork, maybe you had a suggestion? I mean, I guess I don’t really know if it would look good stuffing all of that paper into a regular envelope obviously. Like I said, I may be overthinking this, but I don’t want to let a seemingly small snafu cause me to miss out on an interview I guess. Sorry for the long comment! Would love to hear any suggestions if you think of it, thanks!

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