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The Disappearing Job Candidate: “Ghosting” Is Back in Style

pick-uppath / iStock

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 hiring 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 more applicants are disappearing without a trace.   


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 frontrunning candidate slip away without a word in the middle of the hiring process — or worse, after accepting your offer — is a setback for the organization, and makes life more complicated for the talent acquisition team.  


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.”


Being ghosted can indeed leave an organization confused, said Kurt Meyer, managing consultant at Best Workplace Solutions.


“After all,” said Meyer, “why would someone apply for a job and not follow through on the interview and hiring process?”


To understand this trend, it’s important to understand today’s labor market.


“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.


These feelings 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,” Benz 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, she added.


“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.”


About the Author

 Mark McGraw is the managing editor of Workspan.

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