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The Ghosting Epidemic: When Employers Cut Off Communication With Job Candidates



Ghosting, the act of ceasing communication without explanation, has unfortunately become an increasingly common hiring practice. While ghosting is often associated with personal relationships, it is now infiltrating the professional world at an alarming rate. A recent study found that nearly 80% of job seekers report being ghosted by prospective employers during the hiring process. This disappearing act leaves candidates confused, disappointed, and often discouraged from pursuing other opportunities.


Today we will explore the origins of ghosting, its impacts, and what can be done to mitigate this unprofessional behavior.


The Rise of Ghosting


Ghosting gained prominence with the advent of online dating. The anonymity provided by apps and websites made it easy for people to suddenly disappear from budding relationships. However, this disregard for basic communication has now carried over into the workplace. Employers often cite the high volume of applicants as a reason for ghosting. Sorting through hundreds of resumes and coordinating interviews takes time, which some hiring managers are unwilling or unable to expend.


Furthermore, companies that utilize automated tracking systems and artificial intelligence for screening applicants may let candidates fall through the cracks. Recruiters or managers fail to follow up once the technology does the initial vetting. While technology certainly enables ghosting behaviors, it does not excuse them. This trend remains problematic regardless of how or why it occurs.


The Candidate's Perspective


From the candidate's point of view, ghosting is unacceptable, unprofessional behavior. Individuals seeking employment invest significant time and emotional energy into the hiring process. They believe they are entering into a good faith discussion with an employer. When communication suddenly ceases, it leaves them feeling confused, anxious, and often demoralized.


For example, Marissa Smith applied for her dream job at an advertising agency. After two rounds of interviews over video chat, the hiring manager said they would be in touch about next steps. Marissa sent a thank you email and eagerly awaited the decision. Weeks went by without any response, despite a few polite follow-ups from Marissa. Unsure if she was still being considered or if they had gone with another candidate, she felt deeply discouraged. This emotional rollercoaster could have been avoided with a simple email or call with an update, even if it was not the news Marissa hoped for.


Dan Thomas had a similar experience when applying for a sales position at a software company. After a seemingly successful in-person interview, the recruiter communicated that they would let Dan know when the final hiring decision was made. Dan never heard anything back, despite calling and emailing multiple times. He was left not knowing if he had been rejected or if they had not yet filled the role. This situation prevented Dan from fully pursuing other opportunities, as he was still hoping he might get an offer. A few months later, he happened to see the same job posted again. Clearly they had gone with someone else long ago but never told him. Dan felt his time and energy had been disrespected throughout what he thought was a mutual interview process.


The Employer Perspective


While candidates bear the brunt of ghosting's effects, the practice also impedes companies in the long run. When employers allow ghosting to become normalized, it reflects poorly on their brand. Word spreads, and top talent may become reluctant to apply for opportunities due to fear of being ghosted. Little effort is required to let applicants know their status, even with a generic rejection email. When companies ignore this simple courtesy, it signals dysfunction in operations and culture.


Furthermore, ghosting can lead to legal issues. Failing to formally reject candidates in a timely manner could be classified as leading them on. And intentionally avoiding communicating rejection due to demographic factors such as race or gender could open companies up to discrimination lawsuits. Employers must be cautious not to cross legal boundaries.


Mitigating the Issue


While the hiring process will always contain some inherent disappointment, employers can take steps to maintain open communication and transparency:

  • Set expectations upfront about timeline and communication

  • Follow up with candidates about status at each stage

  • Provide clear rejections to unsuccessful applicants in a timely manner

  • Ensure those interacting with candidates are trained on proper etiquette

  • Use technology to automate status updates and reminders

Additionally, candidates should use caution when reading into ghosting actions. While often unfair, ghosting unfortunately has become somewhat normalized. Job seekers should follow best practices like sending polite check-ins, continuing other job pursuits, and not taking it personally.


Conclusion


Ghosting has no place in a modern, ethical hiring process. Employers must hold themselves accountable in order to maintain positive brand reputation and legal standing. With a few simple adjustments, they can massively improve the experience for candidates. While ghosting's roots run deep in current culture, awareness and open communication can help mitigate its impacts. Job seekers and companies alike can work together to reshape outdated hiring norms. By evolving standards, the working world will become more transparent, productive, and mutually beneficial for all.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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