So, you reach out to the hiring manager to inquire about the status of your application. And he tells you that, while you’re not moving forward, he’s going to “keep your resume on file.”
“Great!” You say to yourself, “My resume is on file!”
And then you think: “Wait, does anyone use filing cabinets anymore? Did he print my application out and put in a folder? Does he have a file folder labeled ‘Perfect Applicants for Future Roles?’” That seems unlikely.
So now you’re wondering what that oft-quoted phrase really means. Well, here are honest translations based on your particular situation.
Translation 1: “We Like You, Just Not for This”
Sometimes hiring managers really do like a candidate, but know she’s not the right person for the role. Maybe someone else is more qualified. Or, perhaps the applicant came off as super-personable and the interviewer thinks she’d be better for a client-facing role coming up in a few months.
In other words, this translation usually applies to candidates who actually progressed in the job process. You should have had at least one interview—that you think went well—before you read into it this way. Another sign: Often, the note will include additional lines about being in touch in the future (maybe including some specifics or accompanying a LinkedIn invitation) or verbiage about how nice it was meeting you.
If you’re feeling good about the process up to that point, consider using this advice to reach back out.
Translation 2: “This Role Was Never Really Open”
Muse writer Lily Zhang explains that one time when candidates get overlooked—through no fault of their own—is when a search is perfunctory and there was an internal candidate the entire time.
In this instance, “We’ll keep your resume on file,” doesn’t mean exactly what it did above; because frankly, the interviewer might not have invested the time to really get to know and like you. Heck, she may have been mentally multitasking while reading your cover letter, because she already knew that John from marketing was a shoo-in.
However, should you apply to a different role at the company in the future, she wants you to know that you can mention you’ve already been in touch (and get brownie points for longstanding interest). This translation often applies to you when the email is pretty much a form note, but still cordial.
Translation 3: “Leave Me Alone, Please”
Some people follow up aggressively and the hiring manager just wants to give them something that will make them stop harassing him. You know who you are: You asked him to confirm receipt of your application, and he did (which is fine). But then, you checked in three days later and he told you the process was rolling and still open. And you’ve checked in every three days since to inquire how the process is going and if you’re still a viable candidate.
At this point, the other person is trying to pacify you—and make you go away. If he ignores your emails, you might start sending emails to confirm if his email account is still active. If he tells you didn’t get the role, you might write back asking why. So, he tells you that you’re not a fit but your resume is on file as an attempt to have the last word. (Because surely you wouldn’t pester someone considering you for future opportunities!)
You can usually tell if this translation applies when it’s the only line in the email (beyond salutations). In other words, if someone says he’s keeping your resume on file, but there’s no indication of when or how you might stay in touch, it’s safe to assume that he’s nicknamed his trash can “the file.”
Part of going through a job search process is understanding that sometimes hiring managers use form lines that save them time (and hopefully save you some heartache). While I can’t promise you for sure that your contact doesn’t use a hard copy filing system for applications, I can say there’s a pretty good chance that when you hear, “We’ll keep your resume on file,” it translates to one of the lines above.