The Disappearing Job Candidate
#evolve Magazine
July 04, 2022
You put your leading candidate through all the paces, and they came out the other side without a single misstep.

This applicant’s work experience is ideal. References? Impeccable. The interview? Flawless. In fact, each of your team members met with this candidate at some point of the hiring process, and the verdict was unanimous: It’s a great fit. This decision is a layup.

Just one problem. You’ve tried repeatedly to contact this unicorn with an official job offer and have been ignored at every turn. Your phone calls, emails and LinkedIn messages have all gone unanswered.

You and your organization have been ghosted.

Originally a dating term, “ghosting” is used when one person in a relationship suddenly disappears, cutting off all communication without warning or explanation. Whatever the current terminology, ghosting is not a new phenomenon in the singles scene or the working world.

Quality candidates typically have options, especially in a growing job market like the current one. Some of them won’t feel compelled to give suitors a heads-up that they’re taking their talents to another organization, or that they’re not taking your job for some other reason. And there are signs that it’s happening to employers more and more often.

For example, research found 28% of job candidates saying they ghosted a company they interviewed with during 2020, compared to 18% saying they did so in 2019.

Naturally, seeing a front-running candidate slip away unannounced in the middle of the hiring process — or, worse, after accepting your offer — is a setback for the organization. And it certainly makes life more complicated for the talent acquisition team. But there are steps a company can take to mitigate the risk of top talent pulling a disappearing act.

Feeling the Frustration

Slate writer Alison Green recently examined how employers are feeling about being ghosted as the labor market opens up.

“I’m in the medical field and this is happening to us for the past year,” one manager told Green. “Being ghosted for interviews, people not responding. Five people scheduled to interview, but one shows up.

We’ve even hired people who didn’t show up on the first day or didn’t return for the second. Nurses and front office positions. It’s unreal.”

Another described their organization’s struggle to fill multiple entry-level manufacturing jobs despite offering pay well above minimum wage with paid time off and benefits.

“If I reach out for a brief phone interview, only 50% respond. If I set up the interview, it’s no longer shocking when someone doesn’t answer the phone. Then once I offer the job … nothing. No response. I don’t get it.”

Eden Higgins, vice president of practice development at the Duffy Group Inc., has felt the same sense of bewilderment on at least one occasion.

“Thankfully, we haven’t had too many candidates ‘ghost’ Duffy Group,” Higgins told #evolve.

In 2021, however, the Phoenix-based recruitment firm encountered what she called “an unusual situation” while recruiting for a hard-to-fill engineering role at a renewable energy company.

“We began speaking with one of the top candidates on May 3, and we got all the way to the offer stage of the process when the candidate stopped communicating with us and our client,” she recalled, noting that the search was “highly competitive,” with 266 candidates vying for the position.

When the process began in May, thorough vetting uncovered eight candidates who would be a good fit for the job. From this pool, a top candidate emerged and expressed interest in moving forward with the process, said Higgins.

“Collectively, our team and the client engaged with the candidate on approximately 17 occasions. This included calls, interviews, and email and text messages.”

The last effort at communication came in mid-July, when the client began putting together an offer “with a terrific compensation and benefits package,” said Higgins. “The candidate was open to this, but then stopped responding to calls and other messages.”

Higgins, the Duffy Group and their client company may never know why this candidate got away. But the company ultimately rescinded the offer in early August — three full months after first making contact with this applicant — and essentially went back to square one to start the recruitment process anew. It took another four months to successfully fill the position, with a new hire ultimately coming on board in December of last year.

If I reach out for a brief phone interview, only 50% respond. If I set up the interview, it’s no longer shocking when someone doesn’t answer the phone. Then once I offer the job... Nothing. No response.  I don’t get it.

Make the Process Personal

The predicament that the Duffy Group and their client company encountered underscores the need for speed in hiring, “now more than ever,” Higgins said.

“This is especially true in a tough labor market where candidates may be entertaining several offers. [And it’s] as important [to] find out why candidates are looking for a new position in the first place and what may be missing in their current role.”

Indeed, understanding the ghosting trend starts with understanding today’s job market, said Kurt Meyer, managing consultant at Best Workplace Solutions.

“With job opportunities far outpacing job seekers, it’s a seller’s market. Much has changed, from COVID-19, widespread vaccine confusion, record job openings and supply chain shortages and inflation,” Meyer said. “Further complicating this, many job seekers have rearranged their priorities in life — family before career, happiness over money and flexibility over routine. Translated, candidate values are in transition and selectivity is on the rise.”

On top of all that, candidates seem to have grown frustrated by some employers’ lack of transparency in the hiring process.

For example, a CareerBuilder survey conducted earlier this year found 51% of workers expressing disappointment with a lack of information coming from employers with whom they’ve applied for a job. Another 38% said that employers are leaving them in the dark about where they stand as a candidate, with 30% saying they’re disheartened when companies fail to acknowledge receipt of their application.

The feelings that employees expressed in response to the aforementioned CareerBuilder survey are helping to drive the increase in ghosting incidents, said Jennifer Benz, communications leader of the benefits communication practice at Segal.

“Applicants have been left hanging too many times, due to clumsy hiring practices,” she said. “Now that job candidates have more options, why would they give more consideration to employers than what they received in the past?”

To keep top applicants engaged, employers must make the recruiting process personal, said Benz.

“When you help applicants feel like they matter, and show respect for their feelings and time, it makes all the difference in a tight labor market.”

An ongoing labor shortage and high turnover are also contributing to the uptick in ghosting, added Jennifer Donnelly, senior vice president of organizational effectiveness at Segal.

“The power balance has shifted from the employer to employees and candidates. Applicants now often have multiple offers on the table and can be selective about their choices, making it easier to ghost a potential employer when something better comes along during the process,” Donnelly said.

To make sure the best candidates don’t disappear, she urges employers to rethink their approach to attracting and recruiting talent.

“Pay and benefits are important, but don’t overlook the importance of your culture and values,” Donnelly said. “Remote and flexible work options are also in high demand. They can be true differentiators in attracting and retaining talent.”

Hiring should also be done in a timely way, and the process should be easy for candidates to navigate, she said.

“Communication and transparency throughout the process are critical to keeping applicants engaged. Making a great first impression and ensuring a positive experience can go a long way in minimizing candidate ghosting.”

Applicants have been left hanging too many times, due to clumsy hiring practices. Now that job candidates have more options, why would they give more consideration to employers than what they received in the past?

Dealing with sudden departures

An employee leaving a company typically gives his or her employer at least two weeks’ notice. Two weeks has long been the unofficial standard, and employers expect this courtesy.

But it’s important to remember that an employee providing two weeks’ notice is doing just that: a courtesy. Most employment is at-will, and there are no federal or state laws that require workers to give their employers any kind of advance notice at all, let alone 10 business days.

That said, employees leaving without notice figures to remain an anomaly, even in a job climate as hot as the current one, said Eden Higgins, vice president of practice development at the Phoenix-based recruitment firm Duffy Group Inc. She urges embracing flexibility to help prevent having to deal with sudden departures.

“Hiring and retaining workers is a bit unpredictable right now. The wild card is where employees will work,” Higgins said. “If employers aren’t flexible with at least a partially remote work schedule, we may see a greater number of employees leave their current jobs with the confidence that they can find something else in this candidate-driven market.”

Legally speaking, companies can do little to stop an employee from leaving on the spot, added Kelly Hughes, an employment attorney and Charlotte, N.C.-based shareholder at Ogletree Deakins.

“Most employees are at-will, which means that both the employee and the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without notice, for any lawful reason,” she said.

An organization can, however, take steps to help make sure this kind of scenario doesn’t play out again.

“Employers may want to consider maintaining policy — that is consistently applied — providing that employees who do not provide two weeks’ written notice prior to voluntary resignation will be marked ineligible for rehire,” Hughes said.

“Consider including a statement that the policy does not alter the at-will nature of the relationship, nor does this provision guarantee the employee the option to continue working during the two-week notice period. It’s simply a professional courtesy.”

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