“Thank you for your application, we’ve kept your details on file.” In a world full of ambiguities, the standard recruiter brush-off is an indecipherable uncertainty. What does it mean? Have you been lobbed into the long grass of good intentions? Will you get a call in six months? Never? And what can you do about it in the meantime?
Sadly, there’s no clear answer. The significance of an “on file” response varies by recruiter. Not all recruiters mean it. Even when they do mean it, they might not do anything about it.
Simon Nixon, managing director of investment banking and asset management search firm Carpenter Farraday, says he keeps all candidates’ CVs on file simply because Carpenter Farraday is a headhunting firm. By definition, headhunters only deal with candidates they think are good. “We don’t advertise jobs and our consultants might only fill 12-18 roles a year, but they’ll talk to hundreds of people in the process,” says Nixon. “It makes sense to retain those candidates’ details for the future.”
Contingency recruitment companies are a different matter. They might advertise hundreds of finance jobs and attract thousands of finance CVs, many of which may be of dubious calibre. For this reason, contingency recruiters are more likely to employ the 'on file' excuse just to make candidates go away.
Most contingency firms are genuine though. “When we say we’ll keep your details on file we mean it,” says Tom Stoddart at recruitment firm Eximius. Stoddart says being kept “on file” for finance roles is a function of the contemporary job market: “The opportunities out there are all very specific and banks are only interested in people who match what they want exactly. Just because we don’t have the right job for you right now, doesn’t mean that something won’t come up.”
Nonetheless, simply being “on file” is no guarantee that a recruiter will remember you when a job peculiarly suited to your profile manifests. Out of sight is out of mind, and this applies equally to being buried behind an SQL function.
For this reason, you should never treat being 'on file' as the final word. Recruiters have short memories. It helps to refresh them.
“If you’re dealing with a high volume contingency recruiter that has hundreds of jobs coming through the door, calling up is a reminder that you exist,” says Nixon. “It’s easy for recruiters to miss people on a large database.”
Don’t call too often though. When you’re 'on file' Stoddart says you need to be guided by the recruiters you’re working with: “Ask them how often you should stay in touch. Usually it makes sense to talk every two to three weeks.”
Logan Naidu, chief executive of recruitment firm Dartmouth Partners agrees: “When you’re told your CV’s on file, you need to take your lead from the recruiter you’re dealing with. If they advise you to stay in touch every now and then it makes no sense to call up every other day.”
“We’re sympathetic to good but desperate candidates who we keep on file,” says another recruiter. “But you don’t want to seem too stalky.”