Dear Matt: Do employers really look at applications submitted through their online system when they have job openings? I've applied for positions with companies online and they say they'll keep my résumé on file or in their database and will contact me if I meet their future needs. Does this ever happen?

Matt says: It's complicated, according to Steve Jewell, a Twin Cities-based recruiter and HR consultant. Many companies use what is called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) -- the online tool that collects and stores your résumé. Most postings in this tight market receive between 100-300 online applicants for each job, said Jewell.

Companies that have a highly sophisticated ATS have the ability to perform keyword searches on previously submitted résumés. Most recruiters that have such tools will look for résumés that closely match their job profile. But those searches are looking for best matches, filtering out those who don't meet those specific search requests. For example, if the job description asks for three or four years of accounting experience and you list, say, two years or five years, you are less likely to rank high on the skills matching section. The ATS conducts similar screening on categories such as education, years of experience, compensation, industry background or past employers, among others.

Larger organizations have recruiters that are responsible for sourcing and filling a large number of openings. In some situations, the case load can be almost unmanageable -- 30+ openings. If your skills do not very closely match their needs you are likely going to get the "thanks for applying, but ..." auto-response e-mail sent not by a person, but by the ATS. The obligatory response "we will retain your résumé and contact you should a more appropriate position become available" is a legal requirement for record retention (employers with more than 50 employees or that have federal contracts must do this for AAP/EEOC requirements) and a proverbial "save face" for the company.

What it all comes down to is this: referrals and networking are still the best way to get yourself noticed. Don't rely on a computer system that means your résumé may not ever reach a human being. It doesn't mean you shouldn't apply for jobs online -- you should -- but understanding how the system works will help you answer the question we've all asked from time to time: "Why is no one calling me back?"

Matt Krumrie is a Twin Cities freelance writer specializing in career advice.