Job applicants who feel ghosted could come back to haunt you

Candidates who’ve been ghosted during the hiring process describe the toll it takes on their self-confidence and well-being.
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Famous Studios/Casper the Friendly Ghost via Giphy

· 5 min read

Last summer, Michele Rousseau applied via LinkedIn to a technical content writer position at AssemblyAI, an applied artificial intelligence company, and over the following two weeks, she said, seemingly automated messages trickled into her inbox, prompting her to complete various tasks.

The most time-consuming part of the interview process, she said, was a 500–1,000-word writing assignment, an “ultimate guide” to “speech-to-text recognition,” that was supposed to incorporate, among other things, the history of text-to-speech technology, which the company said was an optional way of “expediting your application,” according to an email from AssemblyAI reviewed by HR Brew. A week later, Rousseau had completed the writing assignment, which she described in an email as a “pretty involved, considerable time commitment,” in addition to a one-way video interview, which was again described by the company as optional, but incentivized with an offer of expedited review of her application.

Feedback on the video interview—which involved Rousseau answering questions by talking into her webcam—was likely to come within 48 hours of submitting the assignment.

The feedback didn’t come, according to Rousseau, who says she never heard from anyone—human or otherwise—at AssemblyAI again, despite an attempt to follow up. In an email to HR Brew, Rousseau expressed dismay at the process, which came at the expense of her time and self-confidence. “What is wrong with me that I didn’t even rate ‘thanks but no thanks’? Is it because they saw I was older in my video interview?” AssemblyAI’s CEO, Dylan Fox, told HR Brew in an email that “some communication is automated” when it comes to interviews, and that “We’ve been growing a lot lately, and are trying to tighten our recruiting process.”

Rousseau’s experience is not unusual. Ghosting, the act of severing all ties and communication with someone suddenly and without warning, happens frequently between job candidates and companies. Recent surveys suggest employers are ghosting candidates and candidates are returning the discourtesy, leaving each other in the lurch without explanation or warning. Though Rousseau never spoke directly to a human being throughout the process—some of her email correspondence with AssemblyAI was signed by a recruiter—she feels her experience qualifies as ghosting.

Ghosting happens for a number of reasons, and speaks to the ways recruiters fail to hold themselves accountable, according to Jeff Shapiro, senior director of talent acquisition at the radiology imaging firm RadNet. “Recruiters are not incentivized on giving the candidate full closure. It’s an expectation, but no one’s actually measuring it.”

Getting ghosted…can haunt you

Matt Rooks, a commercial real-estate attorney in Atlanta, remembers one interviewing experience as a kind of gauntlet. After his first interview at a Fortune 500 company, he “proceeded to have a series of nine additional interviews with eleven people of increasing senior roles” over roughly an eight-week period. After being told that a job offer was imminent and “on the one-yard line,” a series of delays followed until the hiring manager stopped responding to his texts and voicemails, he explained in an email.

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Rooks can only speculate as to what happened, because he wasn’t given a reason. “I was very disappointed and felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I felt at the time, and continue to feel, that this was extremely unprofessional regardless of the reason why it fell through,” he explained to HR Brew.

Rousseau conveyed a similar feeling of frustration, compounded by the indignity of being left hanging. “It’s fine if it’s ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ But at least acknowledge that all these things were submitted.”

For Shapiro, there’s really no excuse as to why candidates should jump through hoops only to receive static in return. “Part of what we need to do is recognize that any job seeker is…a human being. And we can’t just leave them lingering,” he said.

Nobody likes ghost(ers)

If a company develops a reputation for ghosting applicants, it can hurt the company both reputationally and economically, Shapiro said. Any person who gets ghosted by a company is “unlikely to apply for a job at your organization again in the near future, and probably in the distant future, they’re also going to not be a customer of yours.”

“The odds are they’ve told their friends and family members about this horrible experience,” Shapiro speculated. “And now they may not be likely to be a customer of yours as well. [This] means ghosting is impacting your revenue, whether you realize it or not.”

Despite the fact that candidates can also ghost recruiters—39% of employers say candidate ghosting is worse than it was two years ago, according to a February Robert Half survey of 2,300 senior managers and 2,400 workers in the US—Shapiro says recruiters really have no excuse.

“Candidates are going to ghost you,” Shapiro noted. “They owe you nothing. It’s far worse for a recruiter to ghost a job seeker than a job seeker to ghost a recruiter. Because recruiters are representing an organization.”—SB

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SammBlum on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Sam for his number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.