Ghosting at work


It’s 6pm and you’ve heard nothing. The two of you had talked. You thought he was perfect. He told you that you were the one. Then, he vanished.

This isn’t the beginning of a murder mystery or romantic comedy gone awry... well, perhaps the latter. This is the reality that, according to sources, recruiters are experiencing with uncomfortable frequency.

The term “ghosting” is most often associated with dating apps like Tinder. It refers to the point in a conversation or relationship when one party, having been responsive before, decides that it’s time to remove themselves from the situation—it is sudden, unannounced, and unexplained.

In the ephemeral world of digital romance, this should not be surprising. Yes, ghosting a potential love-interest is rude, but it reflects the culture promoted by the app. A simple swipe could change the course of an entire lifetime, month, or at least an evening of someone’s life. And with so many people using the app, ghosting is just another reminder that each individual is merely a speck in the Jackson Pollock painting that is internet romance.

Ghosting is also reflective of our broader digital culture and isolated personal lives. Talking on the phone, paragraph texts, and even emails have become the bane of many people’s existences. The anxiety of speaking to another human being with (oh no!) opinions and differences, is stifling. And in this age of one-click two-day shipping and cab drivers delivering McDonalds, the option to never speak with an actual human is easier that ever.

But a job is not like loose romantic involvement: there’s a contract involved, and (probably more) money.

Then again, legality and salary are, essentially, the only difference these days.

It used to be that you’d apply for a job and expect not to hear back. “Too many candidates to reply to all of them,” you’d think to yourself and shrug. And a good career-advancing job might be hard to come by, so when you found a good fit, you might say, “hell yeah,” without much question.

The Internet has changed the process, however. Applications are generally done online. A candidate submits their information. The same expectation of being “ghosted” by the hiring manager persists. Lucky are those who are given a working email address to follow up on their initial application. Luckier still are those who receive a reply at all.

Applications today may also be completed in single clicks on LinkedIn, via a myriad of apps, or via translating your work history into a form-fill in addition to sharing a résumé (ugh). Then there are recruiters, hounding potential candidates with LinkedIn connection messages or emails. There are also more respectable methods of recruiting via email. Sometimes job hunters—especially freelancers—will ask to be sent a daily deluge of available positions via an agency. That’s great.

The combination of recruiters and apps reveals the demand for labor. And there is a demand for labor—especially in tech fields. But that demand is tempered by old methods of recruiting and hiring, not to mention archaic salary offerings and job descriptions. There are too many jobs out there right now, and especially in UX-adjacent positions, that want a UX/UI Designer/Content Manager or a UX/Front-End Developer—positions that basically scream, “we need you to do the job of 2-3 people.”

So it's not a huge surprise to see ghosting interviews and even first-days of work become commonplace. Some even decide to terminate their contracts without notice. And no one should be all that surprised. Employees are individuals with self-interest and, even though jobs are easier to come by these days, jobs with realistic salaries and benefits are, seemingly, just as rare as before. If a new-hire has committed to a role and gets a better offer, they’re going to leave. Why? They know that, even after they are hired, their tenure is not secured. Give it two or three weeks and the boss might not think they’re a good fit anymore.

Does any of this make not showing up for an interview polite? No. But is it necessarily wrong for a candidate to act in their self-interest? Also no! Because companies have been doing the same thing for years. They just can’t seem to take the heat.

The thing is, everyone in this new world of hiring ghosting is wrong. We need to be more accountable as human beings—not just a username next to a chat. But, despite the outrage directed at flakey candidates, they’re only serving the same coldness they’ve been fed for years. Ultimately, this toxic culture has been created by recruiters, hiring managers, and employers—even if Millennial/Tinder culture gave us the terms to address it with a fun buzzword.

Here are 4, very basic, steps recruiters can take to keep the candidates they want…

  1. Research the role. Make sure the description is accurate and, if the duties of the role are too broad to fit one run-of-the-mill role, make the specific skill-set and experience you’re looking for abundantly clear.

  2. Don’t treat your candidates like numbers or meat. Weird nicknames like unicorn are weird and we all know recruiting is a numbers game. Do everything you can to address candidates on their level. A little empathy and humility go further than you think.

  3. No form-fill work experience. This makes you look behind the times and less likely to find a quality candidate. If you’re relying on a system that searches through form-fills, find a better system.

  4. Communication: Be the better person in this world of ghosts. Make an applicant tracker. Make some fill-in-the-blank emails for every step of the process—including denial. And use them. All the time. Value your candidates’ time and they will value yours.