Also, in general, if you've applied and haven't heard anything back by the end of the week, it's probably safe to cross them off your list. If it turns out they are a dinosaur that takes longer to get back to you - then their response simply gives you another option, or perhaps your first option. It's really not that big of a deal overall.
This is where the problem starts. People (who are most likely comfortably employed) rationalize to themselves about the mindset that the applicant should have and then they act according to how they believe the applicant should be reacting to the communication breakdown.
When planning and developing a strategy for applying for work, the nagging unknowns can be a significant hindrance. A thoughtful organization would take this into account.
And as has been alluded to in other comments, automation of the process of properly dismissing unwanted candidates is an investment. One that surely has a large effect on goodwill and company culture.
Most interviewees will send a ping after a few days anyway, and eventually somebody will have to respond anyway, but it is a one-off action, rather than something that can be woven into the interview process.
Also, telling interviewee why they failed helps them to improve. How can they improve without that feedback?
I think the stories about effort required to look at applicants is a load of hooey and is an excuse to make HR departments and managers seem busy. It's very hard for for me to believe that a hiring manager has to eyeball a resume for more than a minute to see if the candidate goes in the "maybe" pile or the "no" pile, and no more than 5 minutes to take a good look at each resume in the "maybe" pile and continue to subdivide from there (each division would take more time to look at the meat of the resume). I seriously doubt even huge organizations like Google have humans look at hundreds of resumes for a single position.
The absence of reply is human nature: No matter how nice you put it, you're actively rejecting them, and that's a hard thing to do. When you think about all the times you've been rejected it's usually by being ignored whether it be a friend not picking up the phone, a girl not replying to the message you sent her on the dating site, or by an employee who pretends to not hear you. Yes, it's painful at times, but much less painful than a verbal "I don't want to talk to you."
The other aspect is that by replying it initiates (or continues) an interaction. HR employees or hiring managers would like to say "thanks but no thanks" but then the applicant will want to argue, make their case, beg, or in the worst situation get angry.
Another reason they don't send replies is because they want to keep their options open. Sometimes their first pick declines the offer and it would be very awkward for them to send the letter and then come back and make you an offer, or even more awkward if the number one pick accepts, they send out the letters, then the number one pick backs out.
Companies should send the "thanks but no thanks" replies to everyone that the hiring company has responded to and they should send them from a "no reply" type address where replies are blackholed or deleted.
On a side note: With the explosion of technology HR is no longer qualified to screen technical resumes. For almost every other profession it's easy to see who's qualified and who's not, but when you have a group of non-technical people dealing with thousands of technical terms and buzzwords they aren't qualified to make the decisions, and if they're simply matching keywords then they're an obstacle to the process and can be replaced by machines. Yes, calling for machines to replace humans isn't pretty but in this day and age it's the way the world works and people in HR need to up their game.
> Also, in general, if you've applied and haven't heard anything back by the end of the week, it's probably safe to cross them off your list.
I send em and forget em, it's much less stress that way.
The only time you should actively pursue a position is when you have a direct line to the decision maker or their boss. Recruiters are powerless because they can't ask for updates too often and are at the mercy of the hiring company. Good luck getting someone in HR on the phone directly to make your case. It's even harder to find out the name of the hiring manager when you're applying at a megacorp.
Find the decision maker if you want to pitch directly or to follow up, but if you can't, just spray and pray.
I've been on the hiring side and have spent time with hundreds of resumes and it can take days. Especially in times of economic woe where you tend to get a lot more qualified applicants.
Even with strong well defined hiring characteristics anything past the first couple of passes takes time - or is arbitrary/probability driven.
Let's take your strategy with 250 applicants (and I've way larger numbers on occasion);
* 250 - 1m per resume into yes/no. Let's be generous and say that cuts out 150. At your one minute per-resume that's over 4.1 hours gone already. (I can tell you that 1m is a hopelessly optimistic number. 1m for the people who totally suck. 2-5mins minimum to deal with the amazing number of really quite talented people who completely suck at communicating those skills in a resume.)
* 100 left - at 5m per resume. That's another 8.3 hours gone (and again 5m is way optimistic for a vaguely deep look). Let's say that cuts it down to 25.
* 25 - deep look. That's time spent googling, poking at their track history. Discussing pros and cons with team. That's at least 10m per resume. Another 4.1 hours minimum.
... so thats more than sixteen hours doing nothing but reading and reviewing resumes. Which translates, once you take doing actual work around that, screen breaks, lunch, etc. into probably nearly three days of actual time. For time estimates which are, in my experience, optimistic...
Not that this is an excuse for not getting in touch after a 'no'. If you're getting hundreds of applications you set up a process that can deal with hundreds of applications - but the selection process itself can and does take time and effort. It's damn hard and, in my experience anyway, technical folk foul it up just as much - if not more than - HR professionals.