Don't Let Spam Filters
Snatch Your Resume
On a recent Monday morning, Olga Ocon, an employment recruiter in Los
Altos, Calif., decided to sift through a folder containing e-mails
identified as spam. Tucked away among 756 ads for Viagra, cellphones and
loan-refinancing offers, which were all set to be deleted after a few days,
were eight résumés.
Every week, Ms. Ocon receives more spam, increasing the chances that she
could miss a good job candidate. "If it's in there, it's going to be harder
to dig out," she says. She suspects that one résumé
containing the phrases "four-time winner of sales awards" and "oversaw in
excess of $40,000,000 in sales" was caught by a program on her computer
that is designed to filter out e-mail containing money-making offers.
Jeffery Warner, who sent that résumé, also is troubled by
the effects of spam. "It's hindering employers that are looking for the
right people, and of course it's hurting the people that are out there
seeking jobs," he says. The 51-year-old former marketing manager in the
Dallas-Fort Worth area says his résumé has been identified as
spam several other times.
As companies have tightened e-mail filters in recent months to keep out
spam and a spate of damaging computer viruses, they also unintentionally
have blocked all sorts of legitimate e-mail. Few companies are talking
about it, but e-mails containing job seekers' résumés are
among the files commonly being deleted, according to recruiting-technology
"It seems to be a huge problem," says Mark Mehler, a principal of
CareerXroads, a recruiting-technology consulting firm in Kendall Park, N.J.
"People have been trained that if they put their résumé into
an e-mail, it gets through. Today, they might be stopped at the front
It is difficult to gauge just how widespread the problem is -- in some
cases neither companies nor job seekers are notified about e-mails that
simply are deleted by spam-filtering systems. Yet, since many employers now
advise applicants to send résumés via e-mail rather than the
post office, the issue is becoming a big headache for job seekers as well
Résumés, along with other legitimate e-mail, most commonly
are blocked when companies set spam and virus filters too high, according
to Dan Nadir, vice president of product management with FrontBridge
Technologies Inc., a Marina del Rey, Calif., company that provides
spam-filtering and virus-protection software. E-mail-filtering systems
typically scan the content of messages for particular words that are common
to spam. The mere presence of words such as "free," "expand," "trial,"
"mortgage," or exclamation points or colored backgrounds -- all of which
might be used by résumé writers -- could trigger some
filters, Mr. Nadir says.
FrontBridge's filtering technology contains 20,000 rules to keep out
unwanted e-mail. Messages containing attached files sent from unknown
addresses can be automatically deleted, for instance. Companies also can
block vast numbers of suspected spam senders whose addresses are on
"blacklists," or deflect all the mail from an Internet-service provider
known to be used by spammers.
This appears to have caused a problem for Elizabeth Michaud, a
48-year-old technical writer who tried to send her résumé to
Cadec Corp., a transportation-technology company in Londonderry, N.H. Ms.
Michaud says she received several error messages in response to e-mails and
worried that her résumé didn't reach the company. Cadec says
Ms. Michaud's résumé did in fact reach the company. But a
spokeswoman says e-mail from certain addresses is automatically set aside
and reviewed to determine if it is spam, which could have caused a delay.
"It's hard to say what caused those error messages," says the spokeswoman,
adding, "This is the first time this has ever come up."
Tim Bishop started to worry about spam filters after he e-mailed a
résumé in February. He was shocked to discover 30 minutes
after hitting the send button that a copy he sent to himself turned up in
his own spam folder. Today, Mr. Bishop, a 42-year-old president of a
software-development company in Berkeley, Calif., runs every
résumé and cover letter through three spam filters on his
computer before e-mailing them. "I figure if it passes those three filters,
it's probably OK," Mr. Bishop says.
In some cases, according to Mr. Mehler, résumés that get
through the front door disappear when e-mailed from one employee to another
-- such as when a manager wishes to alert another to the
résumé of a promising candidate. Job seekers who sign up to
receive e-mailed job announcements from companies may never receive them if
their own Internet-service provider blocks the information.
E-mail providers such as Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s Hotmail often
divert suspected spam into a special folder, which presents another
opportunity for job seekers to miss a communication from a company. About
two months ago, Adam Lasnik says he almost deleted a note that turned up in
his spam folder from a recruiter at a major high-technology company. "I
almost fainted when I saw the company line and signature," says Mr. Lasnik,
32, who was about to delete the message unopened. "I almost missed
interviewing with this company."
Résumés also can go astray when passed from recruiters and
job boards to hiring companies. Frank Heasley, chief executive of MedZilla
Inc., an online job board for biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical
professionals, says some résumés his company e-mails to
clients bounce back after being identified as spam. When notified of the
problem, clients usually ask to have the résumés re-sent, but
that isn't always possible, because they often already are deleted from
MedZilla's system. "We have to say, 'You know what, we don't have
them,' " Mr. Heasley says.
"Résumé-blasting" services that send out hundreds of
résumés at a time also may run afoul of spam-filtering
systems, say job seekers. In early March, Pam Balinski, 47, a former
director of marketing for a division of Eastman Kodak Co., paid $59.95 to
have a company send out 2,500 résumés for her. So far, she
has received about 200 responses, 30 of which said that her e-mail had been
identified -- and rejected -- as spam. "I guess these guys are getting so
much spam that they can't open up everything," Ms. Balinski says.
For several years, job seekers have been coached to include key words in
their résumés to get picked up by electronic systems within
companies that match résumés to particular job openings --
words denoting expertise, for example, or educational honors. Now,
résumé experts warn job seekers that a seemingly innocuous
word or phrase taken out of context might trigger spam filters.
Dylan Hunter, 34, of Northborough, Mass., notes on his
résumé that he received a master's degree in business
administration from Babson College, in Wellesley, Mass., in 1999 and
graduated magna cum laude. About three weeks ago, he sent his
résumé to a consumer packaged-goods company and received an
automated e-mail response that said his résumé had been
deleted because it contained a specific obscenity, which the response
detailed. Mr. Hunter changed "magna cum laude" to "with high honors,"
resubmitted the résumé and received an automated reply
thanking him for his interest in the company. "The unique thing was that it
actually told you what word it was bothered by," Mr. Hunter says. "I have
no idea how many times my résumé has gone straight to the
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--April 26, 2004