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Job Candidate Ghosting: Three Ways to Minimize the Risk

image credit: Illustration 134743666 © Hafakot - Dreamstime

The Urban Dictionary describes ghosting as “the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date.” While dating and interviewing candidates is not the same thing, they are very similar in the early stages and can elicit very similar behaviors. Candidate ghosting is when you are actively engaged with a prospective employee, and at some point before their first day of work, they cease all communication. Ouch!

The market for talent is hot right now and this goes across all industries and career levels. It means candidates have more choices than ever and might be entertaining multiple offers. Even if you assume that job candidates have the best intentions during the recruiting phase of the relationship, sometimes good manners and their own candidate brand fall to the side when there is a lot of interest in their skills. When candidates stop communicating with you, it’s not only frustrating—it’s costly too.

To avoid being ghosted, you must focus on the overall candidate experience. While there is as much head (clear processes and accountability), as there is heart (being respectful and kind) in this process, there are efforts you can make to minimize job candidates ghosting you.  Let’s start with these four areas:

  1. Go deep on expectations. Provide a level of detail which includes who is on the interview panel (share LinkedIn profiles) and how they contribute to the decision process. Share the timeline for reference checks and background screening and the role the candidate will need to play, and any tests that might be part of the hiring process with a detailed description of the reason and approach.
  2. White glove travel experience. If the candidate will be traveling for their interviews, make it seamless and build your policies with their experience, not your cost at the forefront. For example, don’t ask the candidate to pay for their travel and wait a period to be reimbursed. Book direct flights (not the cheapest that involve a connection), and book them at reasonable times. A day trip with a morning flight, back to back interviews, and a red eye return flight is not an ideal way for a candidate to learn about your brand or put them in a good headspace to think about entertaining an offer from you.
  3. Stay connected. Check-ins and pre-selling during all points of the process is critical. After every step, you should be asking the candidate how they feel the interview went, what they are thinking in terms of the company and the role, and how interested they would be in getting an offer at this point. You can use scales to ask them to rank from 1-10, and then follow up to understand why their interest is where it is. This shows you are invested in their success and they are not lost in a tunnel of endless interviews.
  4. Ask about shopping. Building trust with the candidates and then boldly and directly asking about their interaction with other companies is critical. Ask what other roles they are considering and what about those roles is potentially more appealing than what you might offer. This will help you be more effective at making an offer that targets their needs and is more attractive.

When planning for the steps above speed is paramount. We live in a world of instant feedback and immediate reaction. While the interview process can take time, if you focus on the candidate experience, they can assume you’re not interested and stop replying. Much like waiting for someone to call after the first date, what used to be a four-day standard is now more like a same day follow up. Candidates need and deserve to know how long you will take to consider them for the next step in the recruiting process, and that you will get back to them either way.

Now, let’s assume you have made it past the interview stage and extended an offer. A certain way to get ghosted is to make an offer that is less than competitive. In hourly jobs, $1 makes a big difference. For top candidates in middle management, certain perks are now standard, and multiple offers are common at all career levels. Sending an offer that is too low or not at all competitive increases the chance that you will be ghosted and remove the opportunity to even improve the offer or negotiate. This is where market data and non-salary perks become important as well. Not every company will be able to get into a salary war for their desired candidate, so knowing what other non-compounding benefits you can offer to sweeten the deal will help your chances of keeping the candidate engaged and interested through the recruitment process.

Suppose you got through the first two milestones and your candidate is ready for their first day. Would it shock you to learn that candidates today are increasing their first day ghosting tactics? What a horrible experience to expect a candidate on-site for their first day of work and they never show up! All the work that has gone into welcoming and planning for their onboarding is for naught. Many employers try calling, emailing, and even try to contact the new hire through social media—they are often perplexed as to why someone would just not show. At this stage, the reason for ghosting often is because of a terrible onboarding program. After spending weeks of cumbersome processes and silence once signing their offer, they no longer want to be part of your brand. It’s possible they received another offer in that time while your team was not fully invested in them. While it’s certainly not good for their personal brand to ghost, it seems to be the non-confrontational option of accepting a role where they feel more valued. It was too hard before they even started.

Unfortunately, ghosting seems to be a growing practice. You rarely see it coming and there is no profile to predict who will ghost and who will not. Therefore, your candidate experience is so critical to your success. If you aren’t already, have a look at your practices at all the key touchpoints. Pressure test your process and think about how easy and exciting it is (or isn’t) for a candidate to move through. Think about how you can drastically reduce your chances of being haunted by the ghost of offers past!


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 16, 2019

White glove travel experience. If the candidate will be traveling for their interviews, make it seamless and build your policies with their experience, not your cost at the forefront

Well said-- hiring right is one of the best and most cost-saving moves you can make, so don't cut corners when it comes to this part of the process

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Dec 19, 2019

This is excellent advice. Diving into the weeds a bit, when an early candidate shows real promise, don't tell them "we're still looking at resumes."  It's a clear signal you don't know what you want and that the process will take much longer than expected.  Instead, move the early prospect forward in the interview / hiring process.

Don't look for "purple squirriels" in the candidate pool. If you find some that hits 8 out 10 key success factors, roll with him or her right away. These people do not grow on trees so to speak and other firms may benefit from your delay as you pursue your desire for perfection.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 20, 2019

Shrewd advice, Dan. Reminds me of the optimal stopping problem and specifically when it's been applied to how to mathematically determine when a romantic partner is most likely to be the 'optimal' life partner. Given the similarities in choosing an employee among a stack of resumes and a partner from a group of suitors, the advice about finding and picking the right one when they come along and not waste time diving in is a great reminder!

Jeremy Eskenazi's picture

Thank Jeremy for the Post!

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