Ghosting in Recruitment: The unfortunate and never-ending trend

Odgers Interim USA Ghosting Recruitment

Glen Johnson, Partner at Odgers Interim, reflects on the unfortunate and never-ending trend of ghosting in the recruitment sector, the relationships and reputations that might get damaged as a result, and why open and honest communication will always be more beneficial than #ghosting someone.

Ghosting: The art of vanishing, missing dates, not showing up for interviews, not returning calls/texts/emails.

While it is not a new phenomenon, over the past few years ‘ghosting’ has found its way into the recruitment space and has become a sad metric that is now planned for when scheduling interviews or booking flights for mass hiring events. According to a recent survey by recruitment platform Indeed, the statistics confirm this argument.

In 2021, 28% of job seekers admit that they have ghosted an employer, which is a 10% rise from 2019, when the survey was last conducted. On the flip side, 46% of employers are convinced that ghosting of job seekers is on the rise, which is confirmed by 77% of job seekers who state that they have indeed been ghosted by an employer during the recruitment process since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. And finally, 10% of job seekers claim that they have been ghosted after they had a verbal job offer.

Changing one’s mind about a commitment is fine, but what is unacceptable is to completely cease communication with the involved party and leave them to doubt what might have gone wrong. Ghosting is no longer the phenomenon we have come to accept in the world of dating, it has now found its way into the world of recruitment, and while my focus in this article will be entirely business related, some of the aspects I will discuss will be easily transferable to areas outside of business life.

Ghosting frustrates. On both sides.

Visible on online platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or Fairygodboss, I see the postings of many frustrated job seekers who have applied for jobs, prepared for calls scheduled by recruiters, or attended an interview, only to not get the call, and never hear from the prospective employer again. Some are invited onsite only to be told that the person they were supposed to meet is unavailable and they leave never to hear from the company or the hiring manager again. Others prepare for and attend interviews, feeling like a bond was created, are excited about the job and company, only to never hear back at all, or – if they are “lucky” – will be left months later with the generic “thanks but no thanks” email when the position is being finally closed and automated messaging kicks in.

Of course, ghosting happens both ways. As an executive recruiter, I have experienced setting aside time to meet with a candidate that does not show or return calls on more than one occasion. Ghosting is not reserved for a single experience level; it is happening across the board and on both ends of the table. Even executives who interview for C-Suite roles have experienced hearing nothing back from the leaders who interviewed them or the recruiters who introduced them.

Why does ghosting happen?

I imagine, that over my 30+ year career in and around recruitment, I have been guilty of ghosting someone, too. If I have ghosted you, I am deeply sorry. I have always tried to honor people’s time and their emotions and imparted the same expectation on teams of recruiters and coordinators that I have led.

We are often in the unfortunate position to be the messenger of bad news.

  • “I’m sorry, but you didn’t get the job.”
  • “The position has been put on hold.”
  • “They decided to proceed with another candidate.”

Often, we receive bad news.

  • ”I’m no longer interested in the role.”
  • ”I know I told you I accepted the position and am supposed to start on Monday, but things have changed and we are not going to relocate to Atlanta.”

Unfortunately, these kinds of interactions are part of our job, and if handled properly can actually build stronger bonds and relationships beyond the current event.

Sometimes, things happen that force our hands and render us unable to respond or communicate. Whether that be a personal tragedy, like the loss of a loved one or sudden illness, or the less tragic loss of our cell phone or personal computer with the contact details of the involved party in questions – sometimes, responding to someone will just be the last thing on our mind.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that these occurrences are making up a small percentage of the overall number of ghosts. I suppose that most ghosts want to avoid conflict, or shy away from interaction that may bring into question their motivation, integrity, or commitment. It may seem easier in the present to just not show and not interact, avoiding conversations that might be difficult or unpleasant at the time. We know that eventually the calls/texts/emails will cease.

Ironically, as I write this, my phone is ringing with a “scam likely” caller heading. I suppose that these days we let our calls go to voicemail, screen our email, or block our texts. We are bombarded with requests for our time, money, and attention. Some are malevolent and truly interactions we should avoid or even report, but some are just businesses chasing a channel to grow their revenue and provide a service.

Technology plays a massive role in driving the ghosting phenomenon. We can now reach out to thousands of candidates in a key stroke, candidates can apply for hundreds of jobs with a click, and what is easy to do is also easy to walk away from. Like missing a metaphorical train, we know that the next one will be coming soon, and so we feel no remorse for having missed one. There are few consequences that we can see immediately from our avoidance of the situation, which causes us to favor protecting ourselves from potentially causing someone else upset by ceasing all communication.

However, just because they are not immediately felt or even visible, ghosting has real and potentially long-lasting consequences. In our world of social media, unethical or morally questionable behavior can rapidly become a brand. For a job seeker who vanishes, companies might flag a note in their system which will be visible years into the future. On the other hand, if you are a recruiter or a company that ghosts applicants during the recruitment process, you stand a good chance of receiving unfavorable reviews on Glassdoor, LinkedIn, or other networks, which can turn others off of your organization and leave a bitter taste in the mouth of potential customers or other stakeholders. Is that a risk worth taking, when it could so easily be avoided by following up with people you have been in contact with?

How do we cleanse recruitment of ghosts?

Simply put, I believe that ghosting is bad behavior, with no long-term gains achieved through ghosting, and with potentially long-lasting negative consequences for individual brands or company reputations alike.

We need to return to simple self-reflection and personal accountability. Maybe, we need to remind ourselves of the old saying we all grew up with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Whatever it is we end up doing, we need to understand that avoiding conflict will not solve a situation, it will potentially make it worse. By doing so, we also showcase a lack of respect for the time and effort invested by another party and ignoring them from one day to the next will reflect badly on us – not them.

If we know colleagues or others in our social circle that have communicated to us that they became a ghost, we should let them know that it is not acceptable behavior and encourage them to address the condition and reach closure without disappearing. We need to reach a level where we truly respect the time and effort of others and can be open and communicative when we choose to withdraw.

That does not mean that we should make up false reasons for wanting to cease the communication. Rather, we should reflect and accept that negative conversations are a part of every day and everyone’s life, they are normal, and we all have been both messenger and receiver of uncomfortable news. It is our own individual responsibility to withdraw in a professional manner and reach a level of closure that is both common decency and beneficial for both sides. Let us not treat our own brand as a disposable commodity! If we do, it may become exactly that. #StopGhosting

If you would like to have an open, honest, and exploratory conversation about interim recruitment or career development, please contact Glen Johnson.

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