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Ghosting: The new norm

May 31, 2019

A new social norm appears to be highly prevalent in the employer arena: ghosting.  It may be that an applicant is scheduled for an interview but never shows up.  An offer is made and start date agreed, but the applicant/employee does not show up on the first day.  Or employees leave work to never return.   The only way to find out that the employee is no longer working is through numerous attempts to contact, but nothing is ever found out.  

This behavior could be traced to employers not responding to submitted applications, leaving the applicant feeling unwanted and simply a cog in a machine that is uncaring and unfeeling.  What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  Ghosting has “almost become a new vocabulary” in which “no response is a response,” says Amanda Bradford, CEO and founder of The League, a dating app. Now, “that same behavior is happening in the job market,” says Bradford, who’s experienced it with engineering candidates who ghosted her company.

It can also be a function of the economy.  There are more jobs than job seekers.  The unemployment rate is at an all time low.  Promotions are hard to get, so employees need to move from employer to employer to get more money and possibly benefits.  Moreover, a Robert Half study found that more than a quarter of workers (28%) said they have backed out of an offer after initially saying yes. The top three reasons for backing out include better offer from another employer, counter-offer from current employer, or hearing bad things of the potential new employer.  And potential employees want time to think, where the employer wants a decision right away…which can be off-putting to the candidate.

So how have employers combatted this epidemic of ghosting?  The employer makes the recruiting process more like a fishing expedition.  They overbook interviews thinking that a certain percentage will drop out no matter what they do.  Or they keep interviewing until a hire has actually started.  In both cases, it could lead to EEO issues on failure to hire claims, plus lead the employer to have a negatively viewed employer brand.

Employer brand is important.  Employers need to have a team focusing on how potential and current employees view the organization.  From engagement studies, which actually focus on the needs of the disengaged more than the engaged, to salary and benefit surveys to create a more competitive total rewards structure, to employment messaging and its impact on the employee and applicant community (for example, Glass Door reviews), employers need to spend more time and resources on getting the messaging right. 

Newer graduates are not willing to take just any job.  They want to be in a thriving culture and with greater flexibility with both life events as well as workforce lattices.  These employees may be more ambitious than in the past, wanting to be the big boss while still in their twenties, so employers need to be more strategic in career planning within the organization – and most aren’t.  Most are just trying to get the day-to-day stuff done without bandwidth for the pressing issues of the future.

What else can employers do?  Always respond to applications, from the initial “Thank you for applying,” to the final decision made of “We thank you again for applying but have gone with a different candidate.  Please do not hesitate to apply again to a job you feel qualified for.”  For those employers who can provide some information as to why the non-selection, it may be worth doing.  The risk of a lawsuit may be less than the risk to the employer brand. 

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