Over the years, the “ghosting” pendulum in the business world has swung back and forth.
First, when the unemployment rate was high, busy hiring managers left job candidates high and dry about the status of their applications—even after interviews and unpaid tryouts. As the job market got tighter, an increasing number of candidates began to turn the tables on HR. They didn’t return recruitment calls, ditched interviews, and—the minute they got new jobs—stopped showing up at work.
These days, however, ghosting goes both ways—and that’s not good for anyone. The practice is so common that the term appeared last December as an official market trend in the Fed Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Beige Book, which tracks employment trends.
Three-quarters (75%) of job seekers in 2013 didn’t hear back from potential employers at some stage in the hiring process, one CareerBuilder survey showed. Nearly 30 percent said the employer never acknowledged receiving their application, while 60 percent who were interviewed were not told the final hiring decision.
Business, finance and legal companies ignored applicants at a rate of 23 percent, followed closely by advertising/marketing/PR/media firms at 22 percent, according to a 2019 survey.
Candidates have “higher expectations for communication, logistics and new hire onboarding during their job search process—68 percent of employees believe their experience as a job candidate reflects how the company treats its people,” another 2018 survey showed.
Job candidates clearly risk burning bridges by ghosting potential employers. But employers who ghost potential candidates also face dangers, including the risks of sullying their brand, losing customers and referrals, and failing to attract qualified hires down the road. And yet, they still do.
Earlier this year, Jessica Liebman, executive managing editor of Business Insider, published an article in April saying she refused to hire applicants who didn’t send a thank you note after an interview. A Twitter backlash ensued, and she followed up with another column in which she admitted Insider itself doesn’t always send thank yous or notify candidates when a decision is made.
“We try to do this as often as we can, but we haven’t figured out the best system at scale,” Liebman wrote. “We are working to improve the application and interview process at Insider all the time. I will be the first to admit that we can get better at this.”
The reality is, hiring is a complicated process, and it’s inevitable that some things—and people—fall through the cracks. But that should be the exception for businesses, not the rule (and when it happens, through no fault of the applicant, an apology is in order). Like a bad date who promises to call but doesn’t, there’s no good excuse.
“Ghosting interview candidates is incredibly damaging for companies from an employer branding perspective,” says Evelyn Cotter, founder of SEVEN Career Coaching in the UK. “Top talent have plenty of options and they’re savvy and discerning, so if a company really wants to attract the best, they need to invest in values-led interviewing and see those interactions as as much of a branding exercise as anything else the company does.”
Brian Kopp, chief of human resources research for global research firm Gartner Inc., agreed.
“If you treat candidates poorly during the recruiting process, they’re going to tell their friends,” Kropp told The Wall Street Journal in July. “You could get away with that in 2009, but you can’t get away with it in 2019.”
At Talentfoot, our executive recruiters work with thousands of people looking for jobs and employers nationwide. Regardless of our workload, we understand the importance of a fair and transparent hiring process that respects everyone. That’s not only the smart thing to do—it’s the right thing to do.
As Sjoerd Gehring, Johnson & Johnson’s vice president for talent acquisition, puts it: “We can track a pizza we order from Domino’s—why can’t we give candidates the same ability to track where they are in the hiring process?”
Indeed, why not?
Here are 7 ways to avoid ghosting potential hires:
Streamline your process. Employers are taking nearly twice as long to hire new people as they did a decade ago, which means top talent may move on while others fall by the wayside. Candidates want the process to be accessible and fast, so allow them to apply with social media profiles from their mobile phones or other devices. Limit scheduling delays for interviews, even if that means using remote video or conducting interviews off-hours. And focus on fewer candidates to reduce the odds that anyone will be ghosted inadvertently.
Enhance time management and personnel skills. Teach your team how to stay on top of applications and make the hiring process a positive experience for candidates. Also help them find ways to deliver bad news while keeping candidates open to future possibilities.
Stick to the script. Precisely define job roles and major responsibilities, and don’t change hiring goals midway through the process. If you craft the right job description from the outset, it will be easier to determine who is qualified and who is not so you can notify them in a timely manner.
Maintain communication. Be sure that information is well coordinated, both internally between stakeholders and recruiters and externally with candidates. Consider assigning candidates to specific HR reps, and ask job seekers about their preferred communication methods. Set expectations about the timeline, and reach out to them on a regular basis.
Automate, automate, automate. Use software with mobile-friendly application forms, candidate portals, and automated tools to keep applicants up-to-date. Modern applicant tracking solutions make it possible for candidates to schedule preferred interview times and monitor the status of their applications. They also let you send automatic thank you notes, arrange for chatbots to answer common questions, and track applicants through the entire hiring process.
Be consistent. Every interaction you have with talent, even internally, should communicate your employer brand values and be consistent across the board, says XX. Nurture your candidate pipeline, and show them that you treat people well, whether they work for you or not.
Be smart. Don’t encourage your team to ghost someone just because you are worried about a possible lawsuit. When in doubt, keep the message fairly general and flattering in a rejection letter. And if you want to keep them as a backup candidate in case a front-runner falls through, find a tactful way to tell them that. At the very least, everyone wants closure.
What systems do you use to keep applicants in the loop?