Why Ghosting is a Two-Way Street, and How Companies Can Avoid This

published11 months ago
6 min read

If you haven’t heard of the term “ghosting,” I can tell you that it doesn’t have anything to do with Halloween, despite today’s date. Ghosting refers to the practice of abruptly cutting off communication with someone, without any warning and with no apparent reason. Although the term originated in the world of online dating, it’s now found its way into other aspects of people’s lives, including the workplace.

In fact, we’ve heard a lot over the past few years about job seekers ghosting employers. Some candidates may disappear early on in the process, after an initial job screen or interview. Others are taking it a step further — for example, accepting an offer and then never being heard from again, or even not showing up for their first day of work.

Although candidate ghosting is by no means a new phenomenon, it’s more common now than it was before the pandemic. Research from Indeed finds that 76% of businesses have been ghosted within the past year, with candidates most likely to do so because they’ve received a more attractive job offer or they’ve heard negative feedback about their prospective employer.

Of course, part of this can be chalked up to the tight labor market. Right now there are 1.7 job openings for every unemployed worker, which means that employees have all the bargaining power. And if workers feel like they won’t be treated well, or they’ll just be cogs in a machine — a common sentiment among frontline staff and those in service industries — they may not hesitate to disappear without warning.

Many experts believe that the rise of ghosting is also linked to the increase in remote working brought on the pandemic. For a remote applicant, it can feel easy to justify ghosting an employer when they’re unlikely to ever cross paths again with someone from the company. It’s part of the much broader problems around disconnectedness and poor digital communication practices that are plaguing remote workplaces across the globe.

But although candidate ghosting can be enormously problematic for businesses, we have to remember that workplace ghosting is actually a two-way street. In fact, Indeed found that 77% of job seekers have been ghosted by a prospective employer since the onset of the pandemic, with 10% reporting that an employer ghosted them even after a verbal job offer was made. Similar research from Greenhouse discovered that more than 75% of job seekers have been ghosted after an interview.

This may seem surprising, given everything we’ve been hearing about how much companies are struggling to fill roles. It could be that fears of a possible recession have shifted some of the power back to employers, at least for the time being. However, one journalist contends that the increase in ghosting among employers is simply the continuation of a trajectory that was in place prior to the pandemic.

No matter the reason behind this trend, it’s a huge mistake for employers to ghost job seekers. That’s because a poor candidate experience hurts your business in ways you may not even be aware of. When candidates don’t hear back from you, they’re more likely to never apply for a job again, complain about your company to their peers, and shop at a competitor. They’re also more likely to spread the word about their experience online — and if potential clients or job seekers can easily uncover this information, they may think twice about working with (or for) your company.

I know several people who’ve been ghosted by employers, and it’s discouraging no matter how far along you are in the hiring process. But I understand that candidate ghosting is immensely frustrating for employers too, especially amidst the ongoing talent shortage. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to decrease this practice, both among job seekers and also among your HR teams. Here are three ideas to keep in mind.

1. Show genuine interest in candidates — and common courtesy

Although it’s easy to think of people who ghost as rude and inconsiderate, an applicant’s decision to abruptly disappear might actually boil down to how they were treated during the hiring process. So ask yourself: Do your company’s recruiters treat candidates as real people, or do they act like job seekers are dispensable? Is there a spirit of transparency and openness, or are applicants left in the dark for the most part?

If candidate ghosting is a problem at your organization, then it’s likely that workers aren’t getting that personal, human touch from your hiring team. In fact, Greenhouse’s study found that 60% of job hunters are unimpressed with the current recruiting experience, partly due to slow recruiter response times and follow-ups, unprepared and late interviews, and you guessed it — ghosting.

Their report accurately concludes that applicants will be quick to move on if they’re treated rudely, and they might not feel obligated to give you any notice when they do so. That’s why it’s critical that your HR teams are skilled at creating real connections with people and fostering a sense of trust and relatability. This means showing sincere interest in candidates, and as I’ll discuss next, providing information to them in a timely and considerate manner.

2. Keep the lines of communication open

This one is simple, but effective — if you want job candidates to stay engaged, it’s up to you to keep in contact with them about where they stand, how far along they are in the hiring process, and when they’ll hear from you next. How you reach out depends on many factors, but whether you call, text, or send an e-mail, there’s simply no excuse for not following up with someone, especially if they’ve advanced to the later stages of the hiring process.

To ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page, it’s a good idea to put formal procedures in place around communication. For example, you might decide to send a standard follow-up note to every applicant, a more personal letter after the first interview, and a detailed feedback note to candidates who make it farther along in the process. In fact, over 70% of job seekers say they want feedback on an interview, and more than 60% said that receiving this feedback, even if they did not get a job offer, would make them more inclined to apply to that company in the future.

Another thing to remember is that in today’s tight labor market, job hunters won’t wait long to hear from you. Almost 58% of people expect to hear back from companies in one week or less regarding their initial application, and they expect more frequent communication as they get farther along. Keep in mind that the best candidates are usually pursuing multiple job leads, and if you drag your feet, they could get snapped up by one of your competitors.

3. Leverage technology to simplify your communications

In the recruiting world, technology is very much a two-edged sword. It’s certainly allowed employers to cast a much wider net during the hiring process, which is essential in today’s increasingly boundaryless workplace. But it’s also meant that recruiters may need to sift through dozens (or even hundreds) of applicants for every role.

I know it can be overwhelming for recruiters to respond to everyone in these situations, but it’s important to remember that hearing something from an employer really does make a difference to people. When job seekers feel like they’re just “throwing resumes into the void,” it can leave them feeling hopeless and depressed, and it could even cause them to withdraw from the labor force entirely.

Thankfully, with all of the advanced technologies that are on the market now, there’s really no reason (or excuse) to leave people hanging. E-mail automation tools have come a long way — today’s programs allow you personalize e-mails, automatically follow-up with candidates at every step in the hiring process, and send reminders about upcoming interviews or next steps. This can make things much easier for recruiters, especially in the early stages of communicating with multiple applicants.

You can help move the needle on ghosting

Whether it’s employers or job seekers doing the ghosting, it’s an unpleasant practice, and one that we should all strive to do away with. But even if your company is doing everything right, the reality is that you’ll probably always deal with candidate ghosting in some capacity. And while you’ll never be able to fully control how people behave, you can take steps to create a better candidate experience and eliminate any ghosting practices among your own HR teams. And that can go a long way toward helping your company attract and retain the best talent.

Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on this topic!

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