It's happening more frequently: A hiring manager begins the recruitment process with a job candidate, only to have that candidate disappear or "ghost" them at some point — not returning calls, texts, or emails.
Pat Cassady, talent acquisition director at BKD CPAs & Advisors in the Kansas City area, can tell her fair share of stories her staff witnessed: a college student who went through a full round of interviews, and then stopped responding when a job offer was extended; an experienced professional with connections to an employer who stopped responding upon receiving an offer letter; and many others.
Ghosting can and does happen at any point in the recruiting process, from not showing up for an interview to not returning communication when an offer is extended — even not showing up on the first day of work. The increasingly global job marketplace is making ghosting easier and more common: It's less likely nowadays that job candidates live in the same town as an employer, and therefore they don't risk running into the hiring manager, Cassady said.
Younger generations may be more prone to ghosting, said Maureen Hoersten, chief operating officer of LaSalle Network, a national staffing, recruiting, and culture firm located in Chicago, though all generations are guilty of it. The younger, social-media generation is doing it most, she said. This group is used to more casual forms of communication like texting, and is comfortable not communicating at all. What's more, because there are more open positions than candidates in today's job market, job seekers tend to feel they have options, she said.
Other reasons for ghosting include attempting to avoid confrontation, Hoersten said. And in some cases, candidates simply don't have the right communication tools, said Erin Daiber, CPA, executive coach and CEO of Well Balanced Accountants LLC in San Diego. She points out that younger candidates coming out of school haven't always been taught the appropriate way to communicate in a professional setting and simply don't know how to respond when they decide to go in a different direction.
There are steps recruiters and hiring managers can take to avoid ghosting, and when they have been ghosted:
- Shorten the interview process. Companies should recognize how tight the job market is, and make their interview process as concise as they can, Hoersten said. "Remove unnecessary steps and be sure everyone who is part of the interview process understands their role to make it as least redundant as possible," she said.
- Help candidates connect with your organization from the start. At the front end of the process, recruiters and candidates should try to build a relationship and encourage candidates to connect with their organization, Cassady said. Leverage different touchpoints to tell the organization's story in multiple ways so the candidate can get a feel for the firm, its culture, and its people, she said.
BKD, for example, has worked to bring more stories and experiences into the interview process for the candidates. Stories of how BKD employees have given back through time and financial resources, such as when the firm donated to Houston and other cities after Hurricane Harvey, illustrate how the firm cares for local communities and colleagues in other cities, Cassady said.
The firm also uses Twitter, LinkedIn, and other online formats to give candidates the opportunity to learn more about the firm on their own, and is in the process of placing videos that showcase the firm's thought leadership on its career website, Cassady said.
- Be transparent. Set clear expectations throughout the interview process, and be sure to clearly communicate next steps, Daiber said. "If we think about younger people, regardless of generation, they grew up with instant access to information," she said. "If we can be more open with them about what this process looks like, even setting a time to follow up — whether they're moving forward [with a job offer] or not — that's going to help."
- Give candidates an "out." Ask candidates directly whether they are considering other roles, or interviewing elsewhere. Make sure they know it's fine if they are, and to keep you updated if they chose another role, Hoersten said. "It's better for a candidate to decline your offer so you can get feedback as to why they chose another position and move on, as opposed to waiting for a response and being ghosted," she said.
Consider creating a survey link to send to candidates, Daiber suggested. If they've decided to go in another direction, they can simply click that link and provide feedback about their experience, she said. "If they've had a bad experience, they're likely to not call you back," she said. "If we're just blaming the candidate, we're not learning from the experience."
- Follow-up is important. Do follow up if you've been ghosted by a candidate, Hoersten said. "It is important to follow up, because life happens and things can come up," she said. "Don't entirely give up on them."
Follow up at least once or twice even after communication from the candidate stops, but set a deadline for how long you'll follow up and then move on, even if it's a great candidate, Daiber said. Use the candidate's preferred method of communication, she said. But change it up if that's not working: If you were calling, try an email, for example.
Why ghosting employers is a bad idea
Ghosting is a "career-limiting move," Daiber said.
"The accounting profession talks," she said.
Those in human resources may see one another at conferences, or may be in touch over email or at networking events, Daiber said. Opportunities such as these give them the chance to compare notes, and a candidate's name could come up in conversation.
If you ghost an employer "thinking it can remain a secret, it won't," she said. "By doing this, you've started to earn a reputation before you've even had a chance to prove yourself."
Candidates should also realize that they can never know when or how they might encounter a hiring manager again, Hoersten said.
"When people ghost, whether it's a candidate not showing up for an interview, someone not showing up for their first day, or quitting without notice, they are costing companies time and money, which will not be forgotten," Hoersten said.
Lea Hart is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.