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How Job Ghosting Haunts Both Employers and Candidates (and How To Stop the Terror)

October 2, 2023

By: Alaina Sims

“Ghosting” is somewhat of a misnomer to me. After all, in movies and TV shows, ghosts tend to move into places where they aren’t wanted and stick around longer than any of the characters anticipate. But in the non-ethereal world, the act of ghosting is just the opposite. It leaves the ghosted party thinking, “What happened?” and “Why have they disappeared?” Maybe The Invisible Man Phenomenon would be a more accurate description, though a lot less catchy.

While the term initially rose to prominence in the dating realm, ghosting has become an eerie, unwelcome practice in the business world too. In this blog, we’ll discuss what job ghosting is, how it impacts both employers and candidates, and how to prevent it.

What is job candidate ghosting?

When done by a candidate, job ghosting is when the applicant, who was actively participating in the hiring process, suddenly ceases communication with the potential employer. Job candidate ghosting can look like unreturned calls when the hiring manager tries to follow up with the candidate, a missed interview with no call or email from the applicant to explain why, or even not showing up for the first day of work after the candidate accepted the offer.

Job candidate ghosting comes with obvious problems for employers looking to hire. This can include the time wasted interviewing the “ghost” candidate, potential lost opportunities as other applicants move on to pursue other open positions, and the increased length of time that current staff must take on additional work until the position is filled and the new person is trained and brought up to speed.

Why do job candidates ghost?

There are many reasons why a job candidate might cut off contact with hiring personnel. A major reason is often because the applicant is no longer interested in the position. Perhaps the individual discovers the job isn’t what they thought it would be or the salary or benefits are not what they expected. Rather than convey that sentiment, the candidate may simply avoid communications with the company. Also, a person might have extenuating personal circumstances that cause them to bow out of the hiring process.

Given that the interview process in the United States takes an average of 23.8 days, candidates who are considering several positions may decide to ghost the jobs and employers they are less interested in to focus their time and energy on the positions and organizations that are most appealing to them.

A big contributing factor in candidate ghosting is the sometimes impersonal nature of modern communication methods. It’s quite easy to avoid replying to an email or to let a phone call go to voicemail (and never listen to the message or return the call).

“But wait a minute!” all the job candidates shout. “It’s not just us! How many times have we submitted applications and tried to follow up with calls or emails only to be met with radio silence from companies?” And my response to them is, “You make a good point.” Job ghosting isn’t done only by candidates; employers can ghost their applicants too, and it can be just as bad for business.

Why do employers ghost?

A key reason why employers ghost candidates is similar to why candidates ghost employers: they are no longer interested. After an initial phone interview, the employer may decide to move forward with some candidates and stop communicating with the others. A hiring manager could cease contact with applicants once the manager has made an offer to their top candidate and the offer has been accepted. Some companies may feel the need to mitigate the risk of litigation that they fear might come from an outright rejection, so they go incommunicado instead.

HR reps and hiring managers, who are also trying to keep up with other job responsibilities, might feel that they just don’t have the time to communicate with candidates at every stage of the hiring process. And the fear of being ghosted themselves can cause an employer to stop contact with candidates; not telling applicants that they didn’t get the job can be viewed as a safety net in case the company’s new hire is a no show on day one. Rather than closing a door on candidates that they may have to reopen, they leave the door open indefinitely by not communicating anything.

In both scenarios, the ghosted party can feel frustration, uncertainty, and perhaps a little resentment—not the impression a candidate or company wants to leave on others. But in the real world, the hiring process can be lengthy (for both applicants and organizations) and resources are often stretched thin. “Non-essential” communication can sometimes be viewed as the first thing to go in the process of hiring or being hired. But it doesn’t have to be, and fortunately, the following ideas can be used by companies to help ward off both forms of ghosting.

How to Prevent Candidate and Employer Ghosting

1. To stop employer ghosting within a company, business leadership must set and emphasize the standard that communication with job candidates is essential, not simply a courtesy. Incorporate communication checks within every stage of the hiring process, including documenting the interactions to ensure they are not overlooked.

Encourage HR associates and hiring managers to treat job candidates like customers in order to give them a positive experience with your organization, even if they are not hired. People who have a favorable association with your company will tell others about it, which can help attract high-potential candidates in the future. However, someone who has a negative experience with your organization may also tell others about it, including via social media, which could cause your next potential superstar to steer clear of applying for a job at your company.

2. Be very clear about the job’s requirements, salary and benefits, remote work policies (or lack thereof), and other relevant information that candidates need when deciding on what job to take. Don’t try to entice applicants by making the position seem like something it really isn’t. When candidates feel misled by the job ad or what’s been implied in the interview, it sets up a prime scenario for ghosting.

3. Use automation to your advantage. If you cannot reply to all of your first-round candidates individually, use an applicant tracking system or candidate relationship management software to manage communications. This can include setting up automated emails to detail the next steps of the hiring process and to request that candidates take assessments or sending automated rejection emails.

Also, use automated scheduling or self-scheduling to streamline the hiring process and shorten the hiring timeframe. These tools can minimize the back-and-forth emails or calls between employers and candidates when trying to set up interviews and start dates. Also, a shortened wait time minimizes the chance that candidates may lose interest and move on to other positions—possibly without telling you.

Additionally, automation can ease the workload of hiring personnel, allowing them increased time for more individualized communications as candidates move through the process and lessening the chance of employer ghosting.

4. Especially if there is a lag between receiving the candidate’s acceptance of your offer and their start date at your organization, check in with the new hire to maintain communication. Offer to answer any questions the individual may have, and ensure the new hire has the contact information for their manager and any other teammates who can offer assistance.

With Halloween fast approaching, let’s leave the ghosting to the trick-or-treaters. And if you need help hiring the right person the first time, contact Omnia today to make employee selection less scary!

Alaina Sims

Alaina first joined Omnia in 2003 as an analyst and was sold on its mission from the start. So much so that, after a move and brief time away, she came back in 2013 and now works as the Senior Manager of Profile Analysis and Workflow. She writes and edits various Omnia products and is the resident “follow-upper” to help keep the department running smoothly. She is grateful for a role that marries her love of data analysis and the written word in a way that enables her to help clients find (and keep) productive, fulfilled employees.

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