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How to Unghost Your Software Engineer Job Application

By Brett Fazio

Whether you’re applying for full-time software engineering jobs or software engineering internships, the resume review is the first step in the application process. It’s at this stage that the company evaluates your projects, skills, prior experience, and education to decide if they want to move ahead with interviews.

For a lot of people, this is where the process starts — and also where it ends. Resume “ghosting” is a common situation where the company rejects your resume but never sends you an email back. A lot of people may see this as a rejection and think of ending their process here, but I actually see this as a silver lining.

If you get a formal rejection after you submit your resume, you’re done. There’s really nothing left for you to do to continue with your application. But if you get ghosted, you enter a NULL state of sorts. You’ve never officially been rejected (as far as you know), but your application is no longer being pursued.

While it is more work than just accepting a rejection, you should pursue this further. It could mean — and has meant for me — the difference between never hearing back and getting an offer.

What Is the First Step I Should Take After Getting Ghosted?

As I said, there is no cause for concern here. The path you are taking has just changed from the straightforward wait to hear back to a more deliberate, hands-on search.

The very first thing you should do is see if there is a company representative who works with your university. Their job is to help you succeed in the interview process. Reach out to career services and ask if one exists.

Once you have your email address, send an email along these lines:

Hi ___,

I attend University of __ and applied to ___ recently and didn’t hear back. I was wondering what the status of my application was? I really want to move forward in the process with ___ as I think the work there is amazing and I’m a good fit for the role.

Thank you!

In this email, you are expressing interest in the company to your university representative and letting them know that you have already applied and would like to continue. I know many people who have used this exact strategy, and it works great.

Attaching your resume is key if you feel you have a good one that was overlooked. If you have a killer resume but never even heard back, it’s likely that no one looked at it. By attaching it here, you can guarantee at least a short look, which might be all you need.

I Don’t Have a University Representative

The key here is to not get caught up in any setbacks and keep pushing forward. If you don’t have a university representative, that's no big deal at all. I go to a public university that lacks representatives at most companies and I have never found that it’s held me back much.

What you want to do now is get in touch with a recruiter — preferably a university recruiter or a recruiter specific to the role you applied for (i.e. intern recruiter, etc.). You should reach out to them however you can. LinkedIn is fine. Email is better.

Once you get in contact with them, send them a very similar email to the one above explaining that you already applied, are expressing interest, giving contact information, and your resume. However, in this email, you may want to talk your resume up a little bit more in the body of the email. Recruiters deal with thousands of people, and unlike your university representative, they already have a lot of candidates they are tracking and have no preference for your school. So you want to be as nice and straightforward as possible.

Once you send out this email, give it a week or two. This strategy works wonders, as you are getting a real recruiter to give your resume a look. If it looks promising, they could fast-forward you to a technical interview. And if they do, you’ve successfully transformed your status from NULL to Under consideration.

I Can’t Find a Recruiter

While I would press you to try to use one of the two strategies above, there are still some options that remain — though none of them are likely as effective. I’ll quickly go through some of the ones I think are key.

Find an employee who will give you the time of day

Most employees at these companies are extremely busy with their work and don’t have time to deal with university students asking for their help. So try to find someone you know (possibly an intern) or a full-time employee who is an alumnus of your school and talk to them about a possible referral or entry into the interview process.

Attend company events at your school

Though likely extremely packed, sometimes these company events have a link or form you can fill out that lets the recruiters know you attended and have interest in the company. Fill that out. Sometimes you can also leave your resume in a pile or leave it with a recruiter. Try to do that if you can.

In the COVID era, a lot of companies aren’t going to campuses anymore, so they are hosting web series. I’d still try to attend these, as they may provide the same benefits.

Attend a career fair or virtual career fair even if you’ve already applied

A career fair is an underrated way to get your application pushed up to the front. I know many students who even went to career fairs and walked out with offers. So even if you’ve already applied, don’t be ashamed to go to their booth and express interest again.

Attend a hackathon

Many companies send company representatives to hackathons, and that is a great environment in which to engage with them. Let them know about your pending application and that you would like to move forward.

I’ve Done All of That But Still Haven’t Gotten a Response

If you’ve gone through all of that with a single company and still can’t get an interview, it’s probably safe to assume that they don’t see you as a potential employee at this moment.

Move on to another company that might be more interested in engaging with you and your application. And just remember to not get too down on any rejections and resume ghosts. It happens to all of us — and all you need is one opportunity.

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