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You apply for a job. You hear nothing. Here's what to do next

Frustrated woman
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Rarely has there been more competition for top talent.

The unemployment rate in the U.S. is the lowest it's been in decades, at 3.7 percent. Many employers have struggled to fill jobs, and there has even been news of candidates "ghosting" employers – dropping out of the interview process without notice or any further communication — when they find a better job.

But the more common situation is that applicants are ghosted by companies. They apply for a job and never hear anything in response, not even a rejection. In the U.S., companies are generally not legally obligated to deliver bad news to job candidates, so many don't.

They also don't provide feedback, because it could open the company up to a legal risk if it shows that they decided against a candidate for discriminatory reasons protected by law such as race, gender or disability.

Hiring can be a lengthy process, and rejecting 99 candidates is much more work than accepting one. But a consistently poor hiring process that leaves applicants hanging can cause companies to lose out on the best talent and even damage perception of their brand.

Here's what companies can do differently to keep applicants in the loop, and how job seekers can know that it's time to cut their losses.

What companies can do differently

There are many ways that technology can make the hiring process easier for both HR professionals and applicants.

Only about half of all companies get back to the candidates they're not planning to interview, Natalia Baryshnikova, director of product management on the enterprise product team at SmartRecruiters, tells CNBC Make It.

"Technology has defaults, one change is in the default option," Baryshnikova says. She said that SmartRecruiters changed the default on its technology from "reject without a note" to "reject with a note," so that candidates will know they're no longer involved in the process.

Companies can also use technology as a reminder to prioritize rejections. For the company, rejections are less urgent than hiring. But for a candidate, they are a top priority. "There are companies out there that get back to 100 percent of candidates, but they are not yet common," Baryshnikova says.

How one company is trying to help

WayUp was founded to make the process of applying for a job simpler.

"The No. 1 complaint from candidates we've heard, from college students and recent grads especially, is that their application goes into a black hole," Liz Wessel, co-founder and CEO of WayUp, a platform that connects college students and recent graduates with employers, tells CNBC Make It.

WayUp attempts to increase transparency in hiring by helping companies source and screen applicants, and by giving applicants feedback based on soft skills. They also let applicants know if they have advanced to the next round of interviewing within 24 hours.

Wessel says that in addition to creating a better experience for applicants, WayUp's system helps companies address bias during the resume-screening processes. Resumes are assessed for hard skills up front, then each applicant participates in a phone screening before their application is passed to an employer. This ensures that no qualified candidate is passed over because their resume is different from the typical hire at an organization – something that can happen in a company that uses computers instead of people to scan resumes.

"The companies we work with see twice as many minorities getting to offer letter," Wessel said.

When you can safely assume that no news is bad news

First, if you do feel that you're being ghosted by a company after sending in a job application, don't despair. No news could be good news, so don't assume right off the bat that silence means you didn't get the job.

Hiring takes time, especially if you're applying for roles where multiple people could be hired, which is common in entry-level positions. It's possible that an HR team is working through hundreds or even thousands of resumes, and they might not have gotten to yours yet. It is not unheard of to hear back about next steps months after submitting an initial application.

If you don't like waiting, you have a few options. Some companies have application tracking in their HR systems, so you can always check to see if the job you've applied for has that and if there's been an update to the status of your application.

Otherwise, if you haven't heard anything, Wessel said that the only way to be sure that you aren't still in the running for the job is to determine if the position has started. Some companies will publish their calendar timelines for certain jobs and programs, so check that information to see if your resume could still be in review.

"If that's the case and the deadline has passed," Wessel says, it's safe to say you didn't get the job.

And finally, if you're still unclear on the status of your application, she says there's no problem with emailing a recruiter and asking outright.

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