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How to Stop Perpetuating 'Ghosting' Culture

A man sitting on a couch looking at his phone.

​The practice of "ghosting"—severing all communication with someone without any explanation or warning—has become common during job interviews. It happens on both ends of the relationship; sometimes the prospective employer ghosts the job candidate, while other times the candidate pulls a disappearing act. While it's typically done to avoid confrontation, it can lead to bigger problems.

Ghosting Surges

Ghosting is on the rise. According to a recent survey from jobs posting website Indeed, 77 percent of job seekers say they were ghosted by a prospective employer since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Ten percent said they had been ghosted by an employer after receiving a verbal job offer. And only 27 percent of employers surveyed said that they hadn't ghosted a candidate in the past year.

It's important to be clear about exactly what ghosting is. Some job seekers might feel that they've been ghosted when they send in their resumes and never receive any response. But ghosting is really when an employer severs all contact with a candidate after there has been some kind of real interaction, noted J.T. O'Donnell, founder and CEO of WorkItDaily, an online career coaching service and social network.

"Maybe they messaged you and said we want to set up a call," she said. "Maybe you have that call and then they went underground and stopped the process. That's ghosting."

Ghosting most often occurs early in the interview process. The further a candidate makes it, the less likely it is to happen, O'Donnell noted. However, there are some rare instances where ghosting occurs with candidates who make it to the final rounds.

There is a common misunderstanding that ghosting happens because hiring managers and recruiters are rude and dismissive, but it is more likely that they are avoiding confrontation with a job candidate, noted Laura Mazzullo, founder and owner of East Side Staffing, a recruiting firm that places HR professionals. "That fear paralyzes them from even sending an e-mail," she said. "The fear is all about 'How will the other person respond? What if they hang up on me? What if they yell at me? What if they're disappointed in me? What if they give me a long, undesired sales pitch to try and change my mind?' "

Mazzullo advises HR professionals to let go of the idea that they can control the other person's reaction. "We can only control our own behavior," she said. "We can choose not to ghost. We can choose to close a process out via e-mail or phone, whatever the other party prefers; we should be asking. We can recognize that our choices to treat people with respect or not do impact our own personal and professional brand."

Ghosting can reflect badly on employers. Job seekers frequent social media and jobs review sites like Glassdoor and Comparably. They read reviews on companies and want to know which ones they should avoid. "So if companies are ghosting people, those people get angry and post. They comment on the process. And it gets out there," O'Donnell said. "Plus, people tell their friends and their colleagues, and it spreads. Ghosting is a really terrible idea. Companies need to at least message people and say that they went with another candidate. And that's it."

A Ghosting Culture

On the other side of the coin, job seekers also frequently ghost prospective employers. The Indeed survey found that, since the pandemic began, 76 percent of employers have been ghosted by candidates, and 57 percent believe it's a growing trend. As for job seekers themselves, 28 percent have admitted to doing so, up 10 percentage points from a similar survey that Indeed conducted in 2019.

Ghosting employers may be indicative of a broader social trend. Ghosting originated on dating apps and has become a common practice there. The assumption is that young people, frequent users of such apps, try to avoid confronting people they don't want to go out with, and that behavior appears to have extended to the job search.

"It's possible that younger job candidates prefer ghosting to having conversations, even if employers weren't ghosting," said Robin Rosenberg, clinical psychologist and CEO of Live in Their World, a company that addresses issues of bias and incivility in the workplace. "Younger job seekers have ghosting experience from dating apps, and from growing up texting—or not replying to texts that might lead to hard conversations. People who grew up before texting had more practice with challenging conversations before applying to jobs. In order to break up—or be broken up—with a boyfriend/girlfriend or end a friendship, we usually had difficult conversations." 

Young people might be opting for the easiest way out of difficult situations. But when it comes to job hunting, they may want to rethink that approach. Fifty-four percent of job seekers told Indeed that they regret ghosting, up from 32 percent in the 2019 survey. Furthermore, 54 percent of job seekers said that they've faced repercussions from ghosting—a far cry from 6 percent less than two years ago.

Vicious Cycle?

With ghosting continuing to surge on both sides of the hiring relationship, HR departments can do their part to reverse the trend. Ghosting on one end may ultimately be helping to perpetuate the other; if job seekers have been ghosted multiple times, they may see no harm in doing the same to prospective employers. But if those job seekers have had positive experiences with multiple HR teams, they may show other companies the same courtesy.

"When employers ghost applicants, it communicates to job seekers that such behavior is appropriate," Rosenberg said. "These employers are unfortunately acculturating a generation of job seekers that it's OK or even expected to be ghosted—and therefore to ghost others."

Mazzullo agreed, noting that there shouldn't be a double standard that ghosting is acceptable by employers simply because they have power over candidates. "Let's take power and ego out of the equation and bring more humanity in," she said. "Both job seekers and employers are people. Most people would prefer to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness. [Ghosting] shouldn't be acceptable for either party to do."


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