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IN THIS STORY
DID YOU KNOW...
- How to Bypass the Blocker
~ ~ ~

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 experts.

"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 door."

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 as companies.

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 circular file."

Email your comments to cjeditor@dowjones.com.

--April 26, 2004

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