HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia


Do you believe in ghosts? Well, you should. They are active in the job market, wreaking havoc, causing frustration, damaging employer branding, or simply being hurtful. Join me to explore more about ghosting in the labor market and how to combat this phenomenon.

What Is Ghosting?

Ghosting is slang that originated in the early 2000’s, primarily in the dating scene. It describes someone who for no apparent reason and without warning simply ceases all forms of communication with the other person, disappearing like a ghost. This term’s use has been broadened recently to encompass the employer-employee relationship. Ghosting happens when candidates and recruiters exchange various forms of communication—phone calls, emails, or text messages—only to have one of the parties simply stop responding to the other without any justification or notice. Ghosting also refers to newly hired employees who walk off the job with no provocation, notice, or follow-up.

Why Do Candidates/Employers Ghost?

Most of us consider ghosting an unacceptable form of behavior. Given that, why would anyone ghost someone else? Here are a handful of reasons ghosting happens.
  • Fear of conflict. Ghosting can be a way to avoid truth-telling when one of the parties is uncomfortable with saying “no” or sharing that the fit for the role simply isn’t there. Absent what is viewed as a true relationship at this stage of the employment process, avoidance becomes an easy way to opt-out.
  • Culture. Candidates are likely to ghost when they get a bad feeling about the culture of a company. Given the low level of connection to a recruiter or company in the early stages of the employment process and coupled with a robust job market, some feel justified in just moving on without any sort of notification.
  • Dishonesty. The role in question may not be the first choice for the candidate, yet the candidate may continue to promote themselves strongly to a recruiter so as to maintain multiple options for employment. When their dream role becomes available to them, candidates may drop all other options in their pipeline without thinking twice. In that same vein, recruiters can collect backup candidates who are not front-runners for the role but would serve as a way to fill the role should true front-runners not accept their offers. Recruiters then fill their roles and ghost the candidates they were holding “in the wings” as backups.
  • Job offers. Candidates accepting another job offer may drop all contact with other potential employers. Similarly, recruiters overburdened with hundreds of applicants may not feel able to respond to all of them when the position has been filled.
  • Candidate experience. Frustration with the application process or a bad interview can result in candidates simply disappearing off the radar or recruiters rejecting a candidate without making it official.

How to Prevent Ghosting

Ghosting can leave a candidate feeling hurt, resentful, confused, and sometimes even paranoid. None of that is beneficial to your employer's brand and can even put a strain on getting referrals for new hires. Here are some tips to help ensure you aren’t guilty of ghosting in the workplace.

Break It Down

Break down each step a candidate needs to navigate in the recruiting process. Think about what could go wrong at each step in the entire candidate experience process. Make plans at each step in order to ensure a smooth candidate experience.

Review the Application Process

How complicated or easy is it for your candidates to formally express interest in a role? Is your applicant tracking system software overly cumbersome? The easier you make it for a candidate to interact with your company, the lower the likelihood of candidates ghosting. Are your job postings accurate and clear about role requirements? If they are, candidates are more apt to have their expectations met and be motivated to stay in the process or self-select out of the process before having any sort of formal interfacing with a recruiter.

Consider Your Culture

If candidates are hearing one thing from you and experiencing other things from your website, former or current employees, or other sources, they may drop out of the process and ghost you in the process. Are candidates seeing and hearing what may be written in your employee handbook or posted on walls on-site? Does your recruiting process reflect the values the company claims to embrace? Are you aware of why employees leave? Are you aware of what is attracting (and attractive) to candidates? Seek to understand the sort of cultural impression that candidates experience. Is it reflective of your company culture?

Prepare Your Interviewers and Review Your Process

If your process is too lengthy, you risk them questioning whether or not your company is truly interested in them. They may become frustrated, which can lead to them ghosting you for a company that moves more quickly. Don’t have an excessive number of interviews with excessive wait times in between them. In fact, determine the fewest interviews required in order to make a hiring decision. Train everyone in the hiring process to be consistent and efficient.

Streamline the Hiring Process

Eliminate any time-wasting steps in your hiring process. Determine the minimum amount of interviews required to make a decision. Use techniques like panel interviews when multiple stakeholders need to align on candidate selection. Look at software for your applicant tracking system through the lens of an applicant, and make it as easy as possible for them to apply. Ensure you optimize how you balance the open requisition list amongst the recruiters on the team and communicate your expectations of how they follow up with candidates.

Use Communication Strategically

Emails should always include messaging around a next step, or feedback, or at least interest and appreciation in the candidate’s interest in your company. View all communication as part of a marketing platform that represents your brand. Try to create a few automated templates for your applicant tracking system that serve to let candidates know they haven’t been forgotten. Ensure that cancellations and rescheduling are kept to an absolute minimum and are clearly explained to the candidate. Time is not on your side as an employer in a hot job market.

Play by the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Simple as that. We all appreciate a timely follow-up, no matter how brief. Ask yourself what you would desire if you were the candidate going through the process. Most importantly, don't ghost candidates, which only perpetuates a reputation for all HR departments that makes candidates tend to see ghosting as a quid pro quo behavior.
“Telling a candidate they aren’t getting an offer may be the hardest thing we do, so procrastinating is always a temptation. But I feel deep shame whenever I let it happen. We owe candidates that phone call for the time they gave us and for the fact that they were open to considering us as their employer.” – Valerie Vadala

Ensure You Understand Candidate Needs

If a candidate clearly expresses the need for remote work and you know that the only option for the role is hybrid at best, be clear and upfront about that even if it risks losing the candidate. Minimizing eventual disappointment can decrease candidate ghosting when they clearly don’t see their needs being met.

Get Candidate Feedback

Employers need to validate their recruiting process through the lens of their customer: the candidate. Create surveys, either written or verbal, that can provide recruiters with a sense of what it’s like to be a candidate looking to work for your company. Do this on a regular basis and, most importantly, act on the findings.

There May Be No Answer, Ever

Accept that sometimes you just won’t ever know what happened on their side. It may not have had anything to do with you or your company or your process. There could have been something happening in their personal lives that led to their ghosting that had absolutely nothing to do with your recruiting process. Sometimes you will just never know.
Milly Christmann

Milly Christmann

Milly Christmann is a high energy, operationally oriented talent management leader with extensive expertise in human resources, sales management, service and operations. She is recognized for collaborating with leaders to achieve their business goals by unleashing the power of an engaged workforce. By using process improvement, technology and strong, impassioned people skills as well as by attracting, developing and retaining top talent, Ms. Christmann drives change that matters.
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