If you aren’t familiar with the term ghosting, rest assured. It has nothing to do with Halloween. But it is a problem that has haunted job seekers for a long time. And now it’s sneaking up on HR teams, recruiters, and hiring managers as well.

Ghosting refers to those instances when you’ve been communicating back and forth with someone about something, and then… poof! They disappear into thin air. Your calls, emails, or texts go unanswered, and with absolutely no explanation as to why.

It’s been happening to job seekers for a while

In an employer-friendly labor market, this happens to candidates all the time. They apply for a job, and then hear nothing. Or they apply for a job, get partially through the process, and then hear nothing. Or even worse, they apply for a job, go through a series of phone screening, interviews, skills testing, and reference checks. And then hear nothing.

This phenomenon has been frustrating job seekers for a long time now. Notably, since about 2007, when the great recession kicked in and the job market got really tight.

On some level, it’s easy to understand why. With copious amounts of positions being eliminated and very few opening up, hiring managers found themselves with hundreds of applicants for even the most entry level jobs— and fewer in-house resources to handle them. Responding to each candidate in this scenario ranged from difficult to downright impossible.

This was probably frustrating for everyone initially. But somewhere along the line, the ghosting of job candidates became a normalized practice. Many organizations started to believe that responding to candidates they weren’t going to hire was a waste of time. After all, the line of quality applicants wasn’t just out the door, it was all the way down the street.

But the tables have turned

Years of desperately eager candidates lulled employers into believing they were in the driver’s seat, and that hiring candidates was the easy part of the talent search.

But with unemployment at an all-time low, employers have seen that pipeline of talent dry up. When they find that ideal applicant, it’s like winning the talent lottery. Unfortunately, the practice of not responding to job seekers has now shifted to the other side. After years of being ghosted by potential employers, candidates are now responding in kind.

HR forums are full of stories about candidates who simply stop responding during the job search, don’t show up for interviews, or fail to report on their first day of work. All with no explanation whatsoever. Never to be heard from again. Classic ghosting.

For employers who are used to being in the power position, this can be quite a shock. Recruiters and hiring managers are now left feeling frustrated and confused. Much like job seekers used to be when it happened to them.

What can you do?

As with any emerging business problem, you’ll want to explore strategies to mitigate the damage, and the chances of it happening again. Here are a few ways you can position yourself as an organization worth responding to.

1. Follow the golden rule

If you want candidate communication to be a two-way street, you’ve got to do your part. Don’t leave applicants in the dark. Keep them informed, educated, and engaged every step of the way during the process. Even if they aren’t a good fit, let them know in a kind and timely manner.

2. Take advantage of technology

You no longer need to sift through stacks of paper, make endless phone calls, or print out rejection letters. There are plenty of online platforms that allow you to collect applicant information and respond quickly and easily. Email automation is an amazing tool. Use it to let candidates know you’ve received their information and tell them what comes next. As you get further along in the process, take the time to make your communications more personal. But always keep them timely.

3. Don’t drag your feet

One of the reasons employers are being ghosted is because employees have options. Savvy, talented candidates are likely to have several job leads, and multiple companies courting them. If you hesitate, they will get snapped up. Maybe even by your competition.

4. Be attractive

The most common context for the term ghosting relates to dating scenarios. You go out once or twice, you think it went well, then you never hear another word. Chances are, it’s because your date just wasn’t that into you. The same goes for job seekers.

Now is the time to take a look at your company culture, your compensation, PTO, and benefits packages, your hiring processes, your website and marketing, your image in the community, your Glassdoor reviews, and anything else you can think of. Have you built an organization that people want to be part of? Do you have a clear purpose? Does it align with your actions? Are you paying market wages? Is it obvious you care about your employees and your community? Are you focusing on things like diversity, career development, and employee success?

If you want your candidate relationships to go to the next level, you have to show them that you’re worth their time. And that they are worth your time.

5. Put ghosting to bed

The quickest way to show someone they aren’t worth your time is keep them waiting. Or to ignore them all together.

Unfortunately, so many companies have done this to their job applicants for so long that the message came through a little too loud and a little too clear. And now we must undo the damage.

If you’ve been skimping on your candidate communications, it’s time to overhaul your processes and your assumptions. Today’s employees have more leverage than ever, and they aren’t afraid to use it. Not responding to job applicants isn’t going to get you the talent that you need to run your business.

It all starts with you

Make sure your company culture and your hiring practices reflect your core values and purpose. If you don’t know your core values and purpose, put the time in and figure it out.

Your future employees are looking for signs that let them know you’re the one. It’s time to step up and show them.


Photo by  narin chauhan

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