When candidates start ghosting you

I just read this highly entertaining article about some HR companies struggling with candidates ghosting them (not replying to offers, not following up on interview invites, generally not communicating back), and I think this issue deserves a deeper dive. IMHO, this is not a problem, it’s a symptom for a much bigger problem.

First of all, my own hiring experience has been the complete opposite. When I was a hiring manager (ah, long long ago it all seems today), I did my best to communicate back to candidates, if not personally, then via our company’s HR manager. I don’t remember ever being ghosted by any candidates. People are eager to start working with you, eager to show up at an interview, eager to join new teams, and sink their teeth into a new opportunity… Maybe I just kept getting really good candidates and team-mates. Maybe that spoiled me.

Later on, when I was looking for full-time gigs, it was usually me following up with head-hunters, HR managers, hiring managers. In some rare cases, I would get a polite, or exceptionally well-worded ‘no, thanks’ message or phone call from the company, or ‘thanks for the interview’, but more often, the hiring people would go silent on me, making me wait for days, sometimes weeks, just to get an update on the role. I thought it was expected of me to be the initiator of all conversations, plus the earlier developed habits kept me going through the same communication steps. It took a long while for me to sit back and realize – wait – these companies just don’t care to build a relationship with you… Oh, I got stories about being ghosted – I really should start sharing those anecdotes – I have a few of them in drafts already, keep putting it off because I already see how often it happens. A lot of hiring processes are simply broken. And the main symptom of that – poorly executed communication feedback loop.

So as tempting as it is to point and laugh at recruiters getting a taste of their own medicine, and being ghosted by candidates – let’s be grown-ups about it. I think it’s a symptom of a bigger, more serious problem. The broken down communication loop – from hiring people to candidates – is not a new thing – it’s been happening for a while, can we admit to it? In my humble opinion, it’s a horrendous long-term strategy. You may have saved 3 minutes for a phone call or 2 minutes for a quick email (and if you have a half-decent CRM, with prepared outgoing messages, it’s literally a single click to inform the candidate of their status) – but the candidate will remember your rude silence, and will stay away from your company in the future. Now that the talent is getting picky, realizing its value, and manages its time better, this creates a push-back. However, I don’t see how these two wrongs can make a right. Companies are going to over-spend resources chasing candidates, who, in return, will enjoy a few moments of sweet revenge and giggles, and burn a bridge in the process (oh yeah, and save a few minutes). Or maybe, more and more people are just not comfortable delivering bad news (that’s a global problem, sorry can’t begin to help with that). Or, maybe, the introduction of bots has simplified a process so much that even an automated acknowledgement message is seen unnecessary. That practice is wrong, no matter who does it, but somehow I think it’s the companies who should fix their shit first, and right away.

It’s poor form, all around. As a recruiter, you should try to reach out to all your candidates, no matter how time consuming it is; and as a person being offered an interview, a position – you should absolutely reply, even if it’s ‘no, thanks’. It’s unfortunate, this cycle of broken communications seems to be getting worse – but I must admit – I’m felling very little sympathy for the headhunters in this scenario. For years you’ve treated your pool of candidates like a beauty pageant (in more ways than one), and now you’re complaining about a few un-returned phone calls and emails? So before you start blaming millennials or some other group for this – think for a few minutes and ask how YOUR COMPANY does its hiring. Where do YOU take a shortcut, and decide to go silent? And more importantly, why do YOU think that YOUR industry or institution IS NOT in the business of building relationships? Because from where I sit – we’re all building relationships, all the time, and going silent, is not only rude, it’s bad for your business.

When an individual doesn’t respond when expected – it’s a burnt bridge, and it can be excused as ‘being green’, having a big ego, or just being uncomfortable with saying ‘no’. It’s a character weakness that hopefully can be realized and adjusted. Not much damage other than a missed opportunity. When companies do that – and they do – I promise to share some of these stories soon – it’s costing them real money, it’s keeping the talent away, and it erodes their public perception for a long time. Ever been on Glass Door, and read those reviews? People talk, and if your hiring processes suck – it is hurting your company every day. Fix it. Fix it now.

Coincidentally, I can recommend a couple of really good people who can help you with your communications strategy, so please reach out for an intro, if you find yourself ghosted. It’s never pleasant, so let’s talk.