By Amy Spelman

There are two sides to every story.

I recently wrote about “career ghosting,” the phenomenon in which recruiters abruptly stop responding to job seekers.

But job seekers aren’t just victims of ghosting; they’re guilty of it, too.

Recruiters and hiring managers report ghosting at various stages of the hiring process - from applicants blowing off interviews, to candidates, after accepting an offer, failing to show up for their first day of work.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, ghosting is more common in certain industries and in lower-wage, high-volume hourly roles, such as retail and hospitality. Ghosting rates as high as 50% have been reported in casinos and restaurants.

But no industry is immune to rising rates of ghosting.

So, why do job seekers ghost?

For one, it’s a job seeker’s market

Unemployment dropped to a 49-year low in late 2018, and the number of job openings surpassed the number of job seekers. Some speculate that a tight labor market empowers job seekers, making ghosting seem more acceptable to them.

Perhaps they ghosted after receiving a job offer because they’re waiting for another, better, one to come through. Maybe they hastily accepted an offer, realizing shortly after it’s not the right job for them. And they don’t know how to break it to the recruiter or hiring manager.

While not ideal job seeker etiquette,* it’s not unheard of in a competitive hiring market.

The application process is too complicated

Hiring new employees is a major commitment - not to mention investment - and employers need to make sure applicants are properly vetted.

But if the process drags on, and an applicant has multiple hoops to jump through - dozens of stakeholders to impress, personality assessments, skills tests - he/she may give up (and seek opportunities elsewhere). Ditto for a jargon-filled job description - a surefire way to turn off potential candidates.

The job seeker doesn’t realize the consequences of ghosting

To an applicant with multiple job prospects, ghosting one recruiter might seem harmless. One reasons, “I’ll never apply to X company again, so who cares about burning this bridge?”

Of course, as we all know, it’s a small world - even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Every connection we make has the potential to help us move forward. Or not.

Recruiters and hiring managers: how can you prevent ghosting?

Recruit the right candidates (with transparency)

Minimize the likelihood of ghosting by appealing to the right applicants in the first place.

Start with a clear, jargon-free job description that explicitly outlines required - versus ideal (“nice-to-have”) - qualifications. For example, if a position requires candidates to have media contacts, they should know before applying. That way you’ll attract the right people - those with media relationships - and reduce the likelihood of appealing to the wrong applicants, and then being left high and dry.

Also consider using “disclaimer language” in the posting and throughout the application process. What does this mean? Clearly state it’s okay for candidates to drop out of the process, but that you’d appreciate some closure (and offer the same). Perhaps something like: “We look forward to finding the right person to welcome to our team. Don’t think it’s you? No problem - just let us know, and we promise to do the same.”

Simplify the hiring process

Try to avoid a long, drawn out hiring process, during which candidates may lose hope and move on without notifying you.

Can four to five people interview the candidate instead of eight to ten? Is a skills assessment necessary for every role in your organization? Finding ways to simplify the screening, without compromising your organization's values, can encourage candidates to stick with it, instead of ghosting.

Additionally, if your hiring process takes longer than applicants expect, they’re more likely to ghost. According to a 2017 study, the average hiring process is about 24 days; if yours exceeds this, be upfront to manage candidates’ expectations.

Clearly outline the process and timeline as early on as possible and be communicative throughout. We all know the importance of setting expectations and sharing next steps - but it's easy to forget to cross every "t" when you've got a few hundred candidates to respond to. Consider having a form response that you personalize.

Some of this is easier said than done. Especially as talent management undergoes major changes in many companies - becoming more agile across the board, including in recruitment.

If there’s room for improvement in your hiring process, consider holding a team workshop facilitated by a third-party (such as this one) or 1:1 coaching for HR leaders. Not only will you help your team become more efficient and productive - you’ll also improve candidates’ experiences with your organization tremendously. Trust us - or take their word for it.

Develop personal relationships with candidates

Job seekers will be less likely to ghost if they feel connected to someone at the company. Keep them engaged with regular check-ins.

The recruiter or hiring manager can do this; or, if it makes more sense, consider delegating another point-person to guide each applicant through the process. This doesn’t take much time or resources, but can go a long way in keeping applicants interested.

Of course, while establishing good rapports with candidates is critical, it’s equally important to avoid leading them on - a difficult balance. What does this look like? A recruiter should be approachable, certainly, but doesn’t need to befriend a candidate. The latter is more likely to cause an applicant to feel slighted if he/she ultimately doesn’t get the job.

Give an easy out

Ghosting often happens when candidates are too uncomfortable to tell a recruiter or hiring manager that they’re no longer interested. Make it easier for candidates by making it less personal.

Consider creating a short (2-3 question) survey for candidates to fill out. You might include simple questions like “Are you still interested in pursuing employment with us?” and “If no, please indicate why.”

Clicking a multiple choice answer option on a survey tool is much easier than turning down a friendly recruiter. Bonus: if you ask for feedback on the company/hiring process, you may get responses the talent team can learn from.

Ghosting - it plagues job seekers and employers. Armed with knowledge and strategies, hopefully we can encourage more open communication on both sides.

*Talk to us for help navigating your job search with grace and professionalism.

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.