Ghosts in the (Recruitment) Machine

There are steps you can take to avoid being "ghosted" by job candidates.
By: | July 31, 2018 • 3 min read

Ghosting. Though it may sound like something straight from the SyFy Network, it’s much more serious—disappearing job candidates are causing serious strain among employers.

The term “ghosting,” or ghosted, skyrocketed to fame in the dating world and means a person you were speaking to for days, weeks or months suddenly vanishes. They completely disengage from conversation, leaving the “ghostee” high and dry and slightly concerned.

This trend can spell disaster for a company’s bottom line and may get worse before it gets better.

Candidates (and even employees) have started to not show up for scheduled job interviews, the first day on the job and some even vanish from existing positions.

Current statistics are tricky to nail down but, according to USA Today, approximately 20 percent to 50 percent of businesses report some type of applicant and worker no- shows. Experts say the near-record low unemployment rate is part of the reason for the ghosting trend.

Dawn Fay, district president of Robert Half’s New York City area, told USA Today, “You’re seeing job candidates with more options. It’s definitely influencing their behavior.”

Fay mentioned that the disappearing candidates’ act could also be a form of “payback” for businesses that took advantage of the high unemployment rate during the Great Recession—a time when businesses were overwhelmed with resumes that they often ghosted or never bothered to respond at all to applicants.

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An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind, or so the adage goes, but for now it seems ghosting may continue its upward trend, so what can employers do to try and avoid these ghosts?

Heather Tarrillion, a long-time recruiter for staffing and search firm Addison Group, says recruiters should look for warning signs of a potential ghoster during the early stages of the process.

“I like to look for signs of engagement during the initial interview—is the applicant asking questions about the role or the organization, are they taking notes during the interview, do they send follow-up emails or thank-you notes?” says Tarrillion, who is today senior vice president for Addison Group’s finance and accounting group. “If they’re not excited or engaged, I think there’s a greater likelihood they’re going to ghost you.”

Phone screens can also help recruiters avoid being ghosted, she says.

“We’ll phone-interview every candidate before a face-to-face meeting and I look for the same factors there that indicate engagement, or lack thereof,” says Tarrillion.

A candidate’s job history may also contain warning signs, she says. “I look for job movement and reasons for leaving—was it because a better opportunity arose, or were they struggling to get along with colleagues and managers and decided to just quit rather than try and handle it?”

Although job-hopping in and of itself may not be a disqualifier, says Tarrillion, it’s important for recruiters to try and determine the reasons for it. “If someone’s leaving opportunities back to back, looking for a little more money, that can be a red flag.”

While ghosting isn’t a new phenomenon, she says, the strong economy is undoubtedly helping some candidates feel more comfortable about ghosting employers these days. “Folks are having multiple opportunities presented to them.”

Some companies are taking proactive steps to limit ghosting’s adverse effects, in some cases by booking extra interviews.

Kent Gregoire, the CEO of call center VoiceNation, told USA Today that he started hiring 15 call-center representatives for one position knowing that some of the applicants would stand him up. This practice technically worked, but he quickly realized it was a drain on resources and time. Instead, he decided to shorten the length of time between hire and start date from two weeks to three days.

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Even though the candidate may have accepted an offer, it doesn’t mean it’s the only one they were entertaining. And if a better offer comes in while they’re still waiting to start at the first company, there’s a greater chance of being ghosted.

“If you don’t bring them in immediately,” Gregoire said, “they’re still an open agent.”

Above all, limit your time-to-hire as much as possible, especially for strong candidates, says Tarrillion.

“If you like someone then move forward fast, because if you don’t, someone else will,” she says.

Andrew R. McIlvaine contributed to this story.

Danielle Westermann King, staff writer for HRE, received her bachelor’s degree in English from Temple University. She has written and edited articles for various print and online healthcare publications and is now setting her sights on human resources. She can be reached at [email protected]