The ghosting phenomenon: how to read the signs

2019-10-25 | BY Kaila Michitsch | IN Hiring

The ghosting phenomenon: how to read the signs

After multiple phone-screens and in-person interviews, the candidate accepts your offer. You begin to schedule on-boardings and trainings with various managers. The office is buzzing with excitement not only for the new addition, but for the opportunity to offload the extra work the team has taken on to compensate for a long-vacant position.

Day one comes and no one shows up. Day two, three, four – no word. Sound familiar?

According to a newly released Indeed survey, one in five workers will ghost on their first day. This statistic is backed by my own recruiting experience – in the past month I’ve personally had two professionals completely disappear after accepting an offer.

I know what you’re thinking; those ghosters must be low-skill workers accepting junior positions. Yet Proven Recruiting’s last two perpetrators were both Senior Accountants. In fact Indeed’s ghosting survey placed the median age of ghosters at 34, 70% employed in full-time positions.

What’s happening here, and how can you stop it?

Why people ghost (& how your hiring practices may be contributing to the problem)

Before the recent record-low unemployment rates, it was companies ghosting candidates. The phenomenon has always existed; it just adapts as the balance of power shifts from candidate to employer and back again. Right now, companies are facing the short end of the stick.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to mitigate the situation.

First, you’ll want to better understand why people ghost. And to be clear, we’re not trying to ascertain why someone may retract their acceptance – 99% of the time it’s because they got a more desirable offer – we’re trying to determine why they failed to communicate this fact to you.

It comes down to three main factors:

1. A sense that you don’t care about them

If you are slow to respond to candidate questions, disengaged from the process, or otherwise showing signs of disinterest, the candidate will feel that their own lack of communication is justified. CNBC agrees: they identify “poor communication with the hiring manager” as one of the leading causes of ghosting.

2. A long or slow hiring process

In our current candidate-driven market, people have come to take a quick and efficient hiring process as a given. This way of thinking leads candidates to equate a slow hiring process with a lack of interest. They may even think that you are in fact ghosting them (and not vice versa)!

3. A fear of hurting the hiring manager’s feelings

This rings true especially among younger job seekers who may fear upsetting a more senior professional. Little do they know, they are burning more bridges by keeping silent than they otherwise would by clearly and politely expressing their feelings. To avoid this situation, be clear from the start that candidates should be comfortable presenting any competing job offers.

Three signs you’re about to be ghosted.

This is by no means a comprehensive list and it certainly shouldn’t be used as justification for dropping a perfectly good candidate. There are many perfectly legitimate reasons for why someone may do or say any of the items listed below. Use your better judgment and be sure to include the personality type and apparent commitment-level in your considerations.

1. If they take over 24 hours to respond to emails or calls

The speed with which someone responds is (usually) indicative of their level of interest. If your job seeker is taking their time getting back to you – and eventually responds with an unenthused, quickly written note – you may want to keep your other candidates warm.

That being said, Proven Recruiting recently had a ghosting incident where the individual – after ignoring us for 1.5 weeks and missing his start date – finally let us know that he’d been in a serious car accident. He provided photos and apologized for the inconvenience. It’s important to not become cynical or jaded; most candidates are good, considerate people with complex lives which can occasionally get in the way of our interview schedules.

2. If they are a ‘yes-person’ 

It’s easy to favor the candidate who agrees with everything you say, doesn’t debate the terms of their contract, and accepts the salary as is. But be wary of an overly ‘easy’ candidate. Anyone who aims to please more than they aim to find a satisfactory middle ground may be lured in by a competing offer and too scared to tell you about it.

Case in point: our team recently found a great fit for a Talent Acquisition Director (in other words, a recruiter). He was optimistic and easy to work with throughout the entire process – no hiccups, no challenges, no uncomfortable moments whatsoever. But guess what? This recruiter, who of all people should know the stress caused by ghosting, failed to show up on his first day. We never heard from him again – that is, until one of our salespeople cold called  the company for which he ultimately went to work. Awkward.

3. If they accept a role for which they didn’t originally apply 

This happens all the time, and it isn’t in itself a sign of future ghosting. But couple it with the above indicators, and you may have a ghoster on your hands.

The reason is simple; people who are willing to accept an alternate role in place of their ideal job are more likely to jump ship if/when another company provides them with the opportunity they were seeking. Again, this certainly shouldn’t stop you from offering a great candidate a role you think is more suited to their skills and experience. Just make sure that this new role is something they truly want and would enjoy, or else they’ll always be looking for a better opportunity.

Again, the problem isn’t that people are changing their minds at the last minute. That’s a mostly unavoidable reality. You can’t expect people to choose a certain position because ‘they already agreed.’ No, the problem is that people aren’t telling you when they change their minds, leaving you in the dark. It puts unnecessary pressure on your team and can seriously harm office morale.

But remember, you and your company have tools at your disposal that can minimize the risk posed by ghosting. Communicating frequently, accelerating the hiring process, forging a meaningful connection, and emphasizing the value of mutual transparency will help to position you as an ally in the eyes of your candidates.

And if you are the candidate being offered a role you don’t really want, don’t keep silent. Regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you, speaking the truth is always 100% better than ghosting. In addition to being ‘the right thing to do,’ this strategy will also prevent you from burning any bridges. Professional circles are smaller than you think!

Have a ghosting story of your own? I’d love to share it! Message me directly at

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