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Job candidates report rampant employer ghosting, even as the job market surges to record high

Posted by Kanika Sinha

October 19, 2021    |     5-minute read (872 words)

The widely publicized disappearing act of job candidates who don’t show up after committing to an interview or even a job is no longer quite so one-sided. Employers in the U.S. are increasingly ghosting job seekers too. 

In a February 2021 Indeed survey, 77% of job seekers said that they’ve been ghosted by an employer since the onset of the pandemic. Nearly 10% report that an employer had ghosted them even after a verbal job offer had been extended.

What is most surprising about this purported trend of employers ghosting candidates is that it’s happening despite U.S. job openings hitting a record high and businesses continuing to complain of a hiring crunch.

What is ghosting?

Taking its name from the practice originally associated with dating, ghosting is the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone. The perpetrator hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and go away.

Ghosting manifests in a number of ways in the workplace on the candidate’s end. Sometimes a job seeker lands an interview but suddenly has a change of heart and doesn’t show up. Or they accept a job offer and seemingly vanish, never to be heard from again.

But employers pulling a disappearing act on job applicants during the hiring process is not uncommon either, according to many job seekers. They say recruiters may interview them or ask them to complete a test and then never follow up. Some hiring managers never get back to the applicant even after extending a job offer. 

What’s happening?

While a large number of people are still out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and others are desperately seeking a career change, accounts of job seekers finding themselves ghosted by employers can’t be ignored. 

As reported by Business Insider, Scott Margot, a job seeker with 20 years’ experience in the hotel industry, never received the promised phone call from the recruiter despite doing everything right, from schmoozing the sales and marketing director to landing a follow-up interview. 

Paul Scherwin said he has been ghosted by multiple companies while looking for a job after being laid off from his management job in 2020 due to the pandemic. Scherwin completed two interviews with one company before the job listing was pulled without explanation. And for another job, the hiring manager never showed up after calling him for an interview.

A whitepaper from U.K.-based Tribepad reflects similar episodes of employer ghosting. One job seeker’s account claims to have held six phone calls with a company before they suddenly went radio silent. Another job seeker, Jessica, reported an employer broke contact midway through the interview process, despite guaranteeing her a final interview round.

Unfortunately, it's not only in the hiring process where workers feel they are being ghosted. Several employees in industries that have irregular work schedules report being gradually taken off the calendar without any explanation from their employer.

Murphy, a restaurant worker, reported that after being diagnosed with COVID-19, he took several days to recover. And when he apprised his managers he was ready to return, he never got a response. 

What’s behind the employer ghosting trend?

There are any number of reasons why employer ghosting is on the rise, but the most significant is the expanded use of algorithmically driven screening decisions, according to recent research by Harvard Business School.

An overwhelming majority of employers in Harvard’s research cited strict screening criteria and parameters in their applicant-tracking systems as the primary reason for vetting out otherwise qualified applicants for high- and middle-skills jobs. And that happens before any kind of human factor enters the hiring process.

Though this sheds some light on ghosting in the initial part of the hiring process, most of the ghosting episodes applicants complain about transpire well into the hiring process. This is more likely motivated by an employer’s reluctance to deliver disappointing news and avoid a potentially awkward situation.

Can job candidates avoid being ghosted?

Ghosting by employers can easily shatter a job seeker’s confidence and leave them feeling confused and rejected. Candidates may mentally retrace their steps in an endless loop, wondering whether they should reach out to the employer.

Until hiring managers and recruiters improve their follow-through etiquette and discontinue the unprofessional practice of ghosting, here are some tips for getting through the applicant-tracking system.

Cover letter

Written communication has become more prominent in the workplace, so applicants should always use a cover letter to display their writing skills.

Tailor the letter to the posting’s specifications and the company’s organizational culture to convey diligence and seriousness about the position. This also grants applicants the opportunity to stand out. 

Resume

Recruiters rarely review resumes or job applications manually and, as previously mentioned, are typically instead assisted by applicant tracking systems. These systems extract information from submitted resumes and sort them in a particular order, based on preassigned parameters.

Using specific keywords — that is, specific words or phrases that employers identify as requirements for a given position — make an applicant’s resume more compatible with the ATS software sifting through the batch. This at least improves the chances of landing in recruiters’ search results.

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