Ghosting is wrecking the hiring process

Careers  Communication
19 September, 2022

Employers and job-seekers both need to stop getting cold feet.

You may have heard of “ghosting” in the dating arena – but did you know this idea has also crossed over to the world of corporate hiring?

The Urban dictionary defines “ghosting” as: 

the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just ‘get the hint’ and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them [they’re] no longer interested. 

According to a recent survey by Indeed, the job aggregation site, ghosting has hit unprecedented levels on both sides of the recruitment aisle. After ruling out potential candidates during the hiring process, companies often cease all communication without sharing any feedback or a formal rejection. Job-seekers are left in limbo, wondering what went wrong and trying to repair their shattered self-confidence.

On the flipside, many job-seekers simply exit the hiring process midway, neglecting to communicate their decision or the reasoning behind it. Here, it is recruiters who are left puzzled as to what happened!

In both cases, ghosting creates needless ambiguity, confusion and ill-will among those on the receiving end. It leaves matters unresolved, often triggering resentment among “ghostees” that can last for years. It can also be a serious waste of time and money for everyone involved.

This week, my message focuses on the problematic practice of ghosting. Why it is on the rise? And how can we all do better – as employers, and as candidates?

The 2021 Indeed survey outlines the growing scope of this disturbing trend, with data from the previous year:

  • 28% of job-seekers ghosted an employer (up from 18% in 2019)
  • 76% of employers were ghosted by job-seekers
  • 77% of job-seekers were ghosted by a prospective employer (10% after a verbal offer was extended)
  • only 27% of employers did NOT ghost a job-seeker in the last year

Unfortunately ghosting has become par for the course in the hiring process. This wasn’t always the case, however, as Jack Kelly recalls in his Forbes article: 

When I first started recruiting 20-plus years ago, hiring managers and internal corporate human resources personnel were sure to offer feedback and guidance to job seekers. They felt that by staying in close communication, they could get a better feel for the candidate and offer helpful tips for them to succeed. 

Fast forward to the present, and it has all changed. A combination of deploying technology, an unfortunate rise in incivility…and the ease of applying to jobs has made the job search experience cold and impersonal – resulting in the sudden rise in ghosting.

Part of the reason is also sheer numbers. With the rise of LinkedIn and similar sites, recruiters now tend to get inundated by job applications, making it tough to respond to every applicant personally. This creates a perception of corporate thoughtlessness, making job-seekers feel that companies simply don’t care enough. What’s even worse is getting ghosted during an active hiring process – a whopping 93% of job-seekers have been through this, according to a LinkedIn poll.

In turn, job-seekers too start ghosting potential employers. The thought process becomes: “they don’t care about us, so we don’t owe them anything either”. Candidates may disappear during the interviewing or contracting stage. Some even accept the job offer, then simply fail to show up on Day 1!

In this way, the cycle becomes self-fulfilling: when you get ghosted, you’re more like to ghost someone else.

Another contributing factor could be the changing social norms around us. From political polarization to boycotting and “cancelling” people, we have become quicker than ever to disengage and cut ties. This has likely percolated into the work sphere as well. Faced with communicating bad news or having an uncomfortable conversation, many people find it easier to simply cut off contact.

A BBC article offers another possible reason for the ghosting spike: 

The loss of in-person interviews may also be a factor in ghosting by both parties. “It can sometimes be harder to build a rapport with someone virtually,” says Craig Freedberg, a regional director at recruitment firm Robert Half. “The emotional investment of travelling to meet someone for an in-person interview is difficult to replicate when you’re clicking on a calendar link from home, and it’s easier for employers to ghost when you’re losing that human, face-to-face element.

On the candidate side

Job-seekers need to look at two aspects: how to deal with getting ghosted, and why it’s important to avoid ghosting companies.

If you get ghosted during an active hiring process, here are three steps you can take: 

1. Don’t give up immediately.

Reach out to your point of contact via text/email to politely inquire about the status of your application. Remember, it’s possible that the hiring manager is extremely busy or unable to share concrete news due to internal delays. Your persistence may trigger an update, result in helpful feedback or even bring you back into the zone of consideration.

2. Know when to let it go.

If 2-3 follow-ups over as many weeks yield no response, bite the bullet and write off the role. It is likely that the company has found a more suitable candidate, or perhaps the opportunity itself has been eliminated. Keep in mind that you may never find out the precise reason why someone ghosted you, so try not to linger too long on the subject. Instead, move on to other opportunities.

3. Don’t take it personally.

It’s easier said than done, but do remember that getting ghosted is NOT a reflection on your competency or skills. Just revisit the numbers mentioned in the first part of this post – a vast majority of job-seekers have been through this unpleasant experience. You are far from alone!

As a candidate, it is also important not to ghost a potential employer. Disappearing during the hiring process signals carelessness and unreliability – potential red flags for recruitment managers, who tend to have long memories. Instead of ghosting a company and thus closing the door forever, go ahead and communicate your decision to them. The temporary discomfort is worth it in the long run.

On the employer side

As a hiring manager, you may be facing increased ghosting in the post-COVID era, even after the job offer has been accepted. An article published in the Wall Street Journal sheds light on some of the reasons behind this trend:

In posts on Twitter, workers offered all sorts of reasons for blowing off new jobs. They said they got better offers between when they were hired and when they were supposed to show up. They claimed they discovered the pay was lower or the hours or conditions different than what they were told. Some even complained that the hiring companies had previously ignored them after interviews or applications.

Some of these factors are obviously out of your control – for example, a candidate being offered a better position. But other causes can be proactively addressed. As a hiring manager, here are four steps you can take:

1. Be specific and transparent.

Be clear about the requirements of the position right from the start. Whether it is remuneration, hours or working conditions, share accurate details during your discussions with candidates. With so much information now available on the Internet, they will soon learn the reality anyway. If they feel deceived, they are more likely to vanish without a trace.

2. Improve turnaround times.

Try to complete the interviews and evaluation process quickly. If the process drags on, the candidate is likely to feel more uncertain. And they might start looking at other options.

3. Overcommunicate.

Stay in close touch with the candidate. Manage expectations if there are delays. Even after you have made the offer and the candidate has accepted, stay in close contact with them. Onboarding needs to start as soon as the candidate accepts!

4. Embrace the awkward.

It’s uncomfortable to tell someone that you will not be moving ahead with their application, especially if you’ve already had a few conversations with them. But it’s important to close the loop! If you’ve been guilty of ghosting in the recent past, you can still try to make it right. In a piece in the Harvard Business Review, Kristi DePaul shares the example of an email she sent to a “ghostee”: 

Hi [Name] – I’m so sorry to have left our last conversation hanging. You have probably landed an amazing job by now or are busy with other projects!

In any case, I wanted to apologize for dropping the ball on our communication, as I clearly did (the tough past year notwithstanding). And I’m also reaching out to see if you might still be interested in freelance work.

On the other side of the equation, hiring professionals can certainly make an effort to be more compassionate. The market remains uncertain, and applicants are often stressed and anxious. The further you go down the hiring process, the less acceptable it is to ghost a candidate. The simple courtesy of sharing a formal rejection note can eliminate confusion and prevent job-seekers from pinning their hopes on a role that is not in their future.

As we move forward into the post-COVID landscape, let us all try to bring a little empathy back into the world of hiring. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that small acts of kindness go a long way.


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