By Amy Spelman

Everything seemed to have gone perfectly.

Conversation flowed easily; there were even some laughs. (Or was that nervous laughter?)

You were a perfect match - at least on paper.

He’d said he’d be in touch... It’s been over a month.

You got ghosted.

Fear not - I’m not about to veer into tales of awkward first dates.

I’m talking about ghosting in the professional context: when, after being in touch (in this case, with a hiring manager), your calls/emails suddenly go unanswered.

Ghosting is unfortunately not limited to the dating world; it’s a frustrating but real phenomenon for job seekers, too.

There’s the freelance Creative Director who gets frequent, urgent requests by an agency recruiter to book him for gigs. After responding in a timely manner, he hears nothing in return.

A sought-after marketing executive interviews for a job she’s well qualified for. After the interview: crickets.

A senior in-house designer applies for a job and - even after getting connected to the company’s CEO through a mutual connection - hears nothing for months.

The Senior Director who's told "You're in the final 2!" But days later has heard nothing.

These are just a few examples; I’ve seen many more seemingly promising job leads turn into dead ends.

Confusing at best and soul-crushing at worst, it’s all too familiar for today’s job seekers.

The most painful aspect of ghosting is arguably the lack of closure. And, while I can’t necessarily offer this, hopefully I can shed some light on 1) why this might be happening, and 2) what job seekers in this position can do.

Why ghost?

I can't tell you what's going on, but I can share what I've been seeing:

  • They’re still interviewing other candidates. Yes, this might seem obvious, but sometimes it really is the simplest explanation.

  • You may be on the short list, but not their #1. It’s possible you’re a finalist, but the company is making an offer to another candidate (essentially, hoping you’re still available if their first choice turns them down).

  • They want to make you an offer, but need to confirm $. Your desired salary may be slightly outside of the company’s budget for this role, and they’re exploring any wiggle room.

  • Life - i.e., other work - got in the way. Even if filling this position is important to the company, priorities can change at a moment’s notice. If billable work, business development, client relationships, and/or other staff changes require the attention of the hiring manager, you may be waiting longer for a reply.

There are even more potential reasons that could explain why you’re not hearing back from the hiring manager, but you get the point. We don’t know what we don’t know.

So, what can you do?

Follow up. You’ll have sent a timely thank-you note post-interview, of course. If you’re still in the dark, consider sending a brief-and-bright nudge to your hiring manager. A good rule of thumb: follow up once - and only once - five to seven days later. After that the ball’s in their court.

Stay active in your job search: Continue interviewing, submitting new applications, and networking (here's some advice on approaching the latter strategically). Even if you’re waiting to hear back from your dream job, you never know if/what you’ll hear from the company (see above). So, it’s best to keep an open mind about other opportunities.

Stay confident. I know, it’s easier said than done, but try not to let this one experience with ghosting send you into a spiral of self doubt. Consider focusing on the process of finding the right job, rather than the outcome of landing your perfect job, so you can acknowledge small wins along the way.

Additionally - and this is my favorite because it can actually give you a leg up on the competition - you can use this as an opportunity to boost your credentials.

If you’re still employed, try to take on new assignments at work that will broaden your appeal. Or, engage in some job crafting - finding ways to change aspects of your job to make it more satisfying. For example, if you love writing, volunteer to write proposals, help with presentations, and/or contribute to the company’s blog or social media.

If you’re underemployed, unemployed, or find yourself with a decent amount of free time, you have even more options for honing your skills.

You could find an organization that interests you and offer to volunteer your time. This could be a non-profit, but it doesn’t have to be; it could be a professional organization in your industry of interest - such as the American Marketing Association. Perhaps volunteer to help with events, serve on a committee, contribute your expertise (e.g., write a white paper or blog), or mentor those earlier in their careers. Your involvement could lead to valuable new connections and position you as a thought leader in your field. (Bonus: others will appreciate your efforts, and will only be more willing to help you in your job search.)

Another way to boost your credentials: learn a new skill if you think it will help you land your next role. Depending on your interest, schedule, and budget, there are plenty of options. For example, if you want to learn coding, there are multiple in-person and online schools to explore - from General Assembly (which has paid courses) to freeCodeCamp, and everything in between.

And get creative with your learning and professional development. Using the coding example, once you’ve learned new skills in the classroom, get some real-world experience by offering to build a friend’s website, for instance. Better yet, add it to your professional portfolio.

The point is that we only have so much control over the job process. Sure, a polished resume, robust LinkedIn profile, strong professional network, and superb interview skills will go a long way.* But, most of the time we won’t be privy to the goings-on of another company.

So, if you find yourself ghosted, you’re not alone. And even if your “ghoster” never gets back to you, perhaps you’ll have used the time to learn a new skill or grow your professional network, and gotten some enjoyment from the process, too.

*Trust me - they do. And if you’re looking to improve in one/all of these areas, talk to us.

Amy Spelman specializes in helping people navigate and master their career transitions. As Senior Advisor to Pencil or Ink, Amy also has a wealth of communications and branding experience to her name. You can reach her here.