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Is Ghosting the New Normal in a Competitive Job Market?

Employers— and job seekers— are giving each other the silent treatment.

by Gabe Zaldivar
September 10, 2019 | Work

You finally get that interview, say your goodbyes and wait by the phone for a call or email.

If you never get either, you are not alone. Ghosting isn't just for dating anymore.

According to one survey, 60 percent of job candidates said they'd never heard back from an employer after an interview.

In another, more than half of job seekers said employers are bad at communicating during the hiring process.

But there's plenty of shame to go around. Thanks to a strong job market, candidates are now ghosting employers, often not replying to an offer or even showing up to work at all.

It's so common, the Federal Reserve even made note of it in its updated Beige Book.

Jilted job seekers

Ghosting itself isn't new.

“Sadly, I think employers have been ghosting candidates for decades to be quite honest,” said Amanda Augustine, career advice expert at TopResume.

But it does seem more common, partly because there are more candidates for any given job than there used to be.

Sites like Monster and Hot Jobs let job candidates submit their resumes to any number of openings instantly. There's no need to sift through the classifieds.

“Suddenly it was much, much easier for a recruiter or employer to post a job and much easier for a candidate to respond to that," Augustine said.

But there's also been changing technology on the HR side, says job search strategist Sarah Johnston.

Job candidates wait for an interview. Rewire PBS work ghosting
Thanks to a strong job market, candidates are now ghosting employers, often not replying to an offer or even showing up to work at all.

Instead of sifting through resumes and cover letters by hand,  98 percent of Fortune 500 companies are now using applicant tracking systems.

They're a filing cabinet of resumes and cover letters in digital form, instantly streamlining the process for recruiters and hiring managers.

That means Human Resources departments are looking at a lot more candidates than they used to.

According to Johnston, while recruiters might have previously handled 10 to 15 candidates per opening, the advent of ATS means that number could shoot up to 85 cases or more.

“And now at a corporation, it’s not uncommon for a recruiter to have a [recruitment] load of 40 to 60 positions at any given time,” she said.

More candidates means more rejections. It's more tempting to ghost.

Flipping the script

But the door is now also swinging the other way.

“It’s always been more common for the employer to ghost candidates than vice versa. However, we’ve been seeing an uptick in the candidates ghosting employers.”

Whether candidates are more jaded and less loyal or whether there are just too many jobs to go around, employers are now getting an abrupt rejection from their coveted job seekers.

Tony Lee, vice president of editorial at the Society for Human Resources, points to the job market. The unemployment rate continues to hold at 3.7%, which is the lowest mark since 1969.

"HR is trying to fill lots of positions and can’t find the candidates to do it because it’s such a tight job market,” he said.

Some view the current market as the strongest labor market in a generation. But that's led to stiff competition.

Candidates might not actually be legitimate applicants, instead heading into the market to find a job to use as leverage for their current gig. Or, as is the case in a strong economy, candidates get multiple offers or late offers and simply never show up to jobs they find less appealing.

Johnston also thinks there is a healthy amount of deception taking place exacerbating the issue. Job seekers get OZ-ed, she says, referring to the classic film “The Wizard of Oz.”

They're shown a bright, cushy job with gorgeous amenities, and then pull back the curtain to find there is no wizard.

“Candidates are being marketed to about these opportunities before they even start,” she said.

Bad news?

On top of that, today's job candidates have different ideas about company loyalty.

“This isn’t a generation that’s going to work 20 years and collect a gold watch,” Augustine said. "This generation has seen where loyalty gets you, especially during the lean years of the recession."

But even if you are not getting back to a company out of the ideal that business is business, you are missing a bigger point. Good business is still very much good business.

Remember, the HR rep you jilted today might look at your application again down the road, and a virtual red flag will be sitting there to tell a clear story on how you treated the company.

“The systems that companies use to manage applications have very long memories,” Lee says. “You never want to be discourteous during the job search and that goes both ways.”

Ghost an employer— or a candidate— and you're putting your reputation and personal brand on the line.

If you are a company practicing ghosting, there's no better time to stop than in our current job market. The minute you mistreat candidates is the second they head to websites like Glassdoor to complain about it.

“Today’s savvy job seekers are paying attention to how companies operate and communicate with candidates at all stages of the hiring process," Glassdoor community expert Scott Dobroski said. "And ‘ghosting’ does not reflect well on a company’s reputation or employer brand."

What you can do

There are some things you can do to improve your chances of a response and a closer look as a viable candidate.

One is to be like George Costanza, cleverly dropping your name at every opportunity.

“I highly recommend follow up notes after every conversation with a recruiter,” Johnston said. “Not only will it help you stand out in a positive way, you’re also giving the recruiter your contact information over and over again and putting yourself at the top of their mind.”

Humans are simple creatures. We like to be thanked, so following up is important.

In one recent survey, 68 percent of interviewers said receiving a thank-you note from a candidate after the interview impacts their decision-making process. It's important to show you really have interest in the job.

If all this ghosting is getting you down, don't worry. The solution can be as simple as treating this all like the business that it is.

“Take emotion out of the job search by focusing on what you can control,” Johnston said.

“And what you can control is your activity. You can control the number of meetings that you have with people. You can control the number of jobs you apply for. You can control the networking meetings you go to.”

We are all going to be rejected. The market will look kindly on candidates who perform the increasingly rare act of simple communication.

Gabe Zaldivar
Gabe Zaldivar is a Los Angeles-based writer who has covered all manner of sports for Bleacher Report and, as well as all manner of travel interests for
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