You've Been Ghosted by a Job Candidate. Now What?

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With the lowest unemployment rate in almost 50 years, employers are increasingly challenged to find the talent they need—and to keep that talent on board. It's become an employee (and job seeker) market and some are taking advantage of it in ways that may not be wise over the long term. A phenomenon that initially emerged in the social dating world has made its way to the workplace: ghosting.

The Definition of Ghosting

In the dating world, ghosting is “the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date" (Urban Dictionary). In the workplace, HR professionals use ghosting to refer to a growing tendency for job candidates to become no shows for interviews, offers and even for the first day on the job. USA Today reported on the phenomenon recently saying, “A growing number are 'ghosting' their jobs: blowing off scheduled job interviews, accepting offers but not showing up the first day and even vanishing from existing positions—all without giving notice," and indicates that companies are reporting anywhere from 20-50 percent of their applicants and workers are exhibiting these behaviors.

These stats aren't just conjecture. Yungi Chu, the owner of HeadSetPlus.com, an online retailer of professional office headsets based in the Silicon Valley, says that ghosting is a new reality as he fights with “internet giants like Google, Oracle, Facebook and the like" to attract and retain employees. About 30-40 percent of the time, he says, “I get potential applicants who sent in their resumes, called and set up an interview, but they don't show." Last year, he says, an employee was late for work so he called to see what was up. “He said Twitter offered him a better job with better benefits, he no longer wanted to work for me. No warning, no notice given."

Detecting Early Warning Signs

There are some early warning signs that recruiters and employers should be alert to, says Kimberly Friedmutter, the author of Subconscious Power-Use Your Inner Mind to Create the Life You've Always Wanted (Simon & Schuster/Atria Books, 2019). The shift in power between employer and employee, notes Friedmutter, can be seen in a variety of ways. Contenders for a job these days, she says, will indicate to a recruiter or headhunter when they will make themselves available to be interviewed, as opposed to the other way around.

“Entitlement, ego and an alpha stance shows up before ever booking the interview time," she says. She shares an example of a potential candidate for a high-end job ($135-160k/annually) who was offered an interview time of “10:00 a.m. tomorrow," and declined through a recruiter, saying “either 5:00 p.m. or next Wednesday." When the employer declined, recognizing some early warning signs, the candidate reconsidered, indicating the 10 a.m. time would work after all. But, recognizing a “high-risk ghoster," no interview was scheduled.

Minimizing the Odds of Being Ghosted

In a legal alert, labor and employment attorney Rich Meneghello, with Fisher & Phillips LLP, offers some tips to spot potential ghosters and minimize the odds of being ghosted:

  • Broaden your search to consider a higher number of potential candidates. While he doesn't advocate the practice, he says that some employers have “begun to double-book their interview slots assuming that at least one won't show up."
  • Be transparent and honest in job announcements, ads and all communications.
  • Stay in touch; Meneghello advises against a “don't-call-us-we'll-call-you" approach.
  • Be timely. Hiring processes that drag on for too long are particularly prone to ghosting. “The quicker you let them know where you stand, the better your chances of keeping them on the hook," he says.
  • Evaluate your onboarding process to make improvements that will reflect positively on the company during the candidate's first few weeks of work. “Your new hires are more likely to jump ship and accept a competing offer of employment if they aren't immediately made to feel welcome," he says.

Dave Lane is CEO of Inventiv, a company that offers automated employee engagement and leadership development tools. He says he has “recruited, screened and interviewed over 2000 candidates over my career" and he's had a handful—“maybe three or four candidates ghost me after receiving or accepting an offer."

The best prevention, he says, is to be as responsive as possible to all job candidates. “Each and every candidate—regardless of their fit for their applied position—should receive a quick response from a human being." Beyond this, he says, make sure candidates know exactly what to expect from the process.

Turning the Tables

Ghosting is, to some degree, a natural response to a job environment where job seekers have options. When considering multiple options and opportunities from an alpha position, as Friedmutter points out, candidates may increasingly take charge and put employers in tough positions that they must seek proactive ways of responding to.

And, in some regard, maybe it's “just desserts." As Melina Gillies, CHRP, an HR specialist with SalesUp! Business Coaching, says, “The first thing HR professionals and hiring managers need to acknowledge is that we are reaping the harvest which our own seeds have sown. For years, employers have ghosted candidates by ignoring the candidate experience and post-interview follow-up because the demand of candidates outweighed the time and resources available to respond to every candidate." It's a fair point and one that should prompt important consideration about how to reinvent the hiring process to forge stronger bonds with applicants, candidates and new hires.

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