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Ghosting in Recruitment: Did Your Dream Job Just Vanish?

Ghosting and breadcrumbing harm candidates, necessitating respectful solutions.

Key points

  • The alarming trend of abrupt discontinuation is leaving applicants without closure.
  • Ghosting not only sows self-doubt and worthlessness but also hampers mental health.
  • Respecting candidates improves employer brand and attracts top talent.
  • Clear communication policies, feedback, and tech can improve the recruitment process.
Jane Kelly/Shutterstock
Source: Jane Kelly/Shutterstock

Initially emerging from the realm of online dating, the trend of "ghosting"— the abrupt discontinuation of communication without explanation—has ominously seeped into the professional sphere. This phenomenon is becoming increasingly prevalent in the recruitment process, much to the detriment of hopeful job applicants: ghosting not only leaves them without closure but also shows a marked lack of respect and empathy on the part of the organization.

Ghosting, in its cruelty, presents a profound violation of the individual’s fundamental psychological needs, such as the sense of belonging, self-esteem, and the need for closure. It introduces a pervasive uncertainty that varies greatly based on an individual’s inherent desire to avoid ambiguity. According to research, this not only sows the seeds of self-doubt and worthlessness but also impairs the ability to move forward and adapt, thereby proving detrimental to mental health in the long term. Consequently, closure—the understanding of the "why" behind an event—is crucial for emotional recovery and growth.

The Psychological Toll of Ghosting: Understanding the Need for Closure

The ghosting phenomenon is an enormous problem in the job market today, and it has consequences beyond frustration, according to research. The absence of feedback or reason for rejection due to ghosting leaves candidates marooned in a sea of speculation and uncertainty, which, according to a study that examined the relationship between everyday experiences of ostracism and psychological distress, only serves to exacerbate the frustration of not having received a response.

Despite being frowned upon, ghosting has become an unfortunately accepted practice among employers. It is alarmingly dismissive and disrespectful towards job applicants who have put immense effort into the application process, and it sets an unprofessional example that may be inadvertently mimicked by other candidates down the line.

Breadcrumbing: A New Recruitment Menace

Yet, the spectral presence of ghosting is not alone. A new menace—breadcrumbing—is making its mark in recruitment. Borrowed from the culinary term denoting “small pieces of dried bread”, breadcrumbing in recruitment refers to the act of sporadically sending enticing yet non-committal messages, according to research. It’s a method recruiters use to maintain a candidate’s interest without investing significant effort. Unlike ghosting, breadcrumbing doesn’t imply a clear intent to end the recruitment process. Instead, it represents an effort to keep candidates interested without a real intention to progress the relationship, which according to The New York Times, is draining, disorienting and often demeaning.

Solutions for Recruiters

All in all, recruiters must understand that the recruitment process is not a one-way street. Candidates are also making an effort and investing time and energy into finding their ideal job and thus should be treated with respect no matter the outcome. Ghosting or breadcrumbing implies an irregular attitude towards candidates, which will only lead to further dissatisfaction and lost opportunities. Addressing these trends requires a cultural and procedural shift within organizations. But how?

  1. Develop a clear communication policy: It’s important to establish communication standards that everyone in the hiring process adheres to. This policy should clarify when and how candidates will be updated about their application status, the number of communication points, acceptable timeframes for responding, and the type of language that should be used. This policy should be communicated to all members of the recruitment and hiring team. Incorporate it into your employee training to ensure everyone understands and can abide by it.
  2. Set expectations from the outset: This involves being transparent about the recruitment process with each candidate. Explain how many stages exist, who they’ll be meeting with, what those meetings will involve, and how long they might have to wait between steps. If you have an estimate of when a decision will be made, share that too. If there are changes in the timeline, inform the candidate immediately. This not only manages the candidate’s expectations but also shows your respect for their time.
  3. Invest in technology: HR technology has advanced significantly in recent years, with platforms that can automate many aspects of the recruitment process. For example, applicant tracking systems (ATS) can automatically update candidates about their application status, send reminders to recruiters about pending tasks, and even help schedule interviews. Chatbots can provide real-time interaction to answer candidate queries and keep them informed. By leveraging these tools, recruiters can ensure consistent communication with candidates without adding too much to their workload.
  4. Provide constructive feedback: If a candidate isn’t selected, provide feedback explaining why they weren’t the right fit for the role. Try to provide specific, actionable feedback, focusing on areas they could improve or skills they could develop. This gives them value from the process and shows that you respect them as professionals. If time allows, offer an opportunity for them to ask follow-up questions.
  5. Train and educate your recruiters: Training shouldn’t just focus on the operational aspects of the role, such as how to use your ATS or interview techniques. It should also educate recruiters about the impact of their actions on candidates and the organization’s employer brand. Use case studies, role-playing, and other interactive methods to drive the point home. Highlight the potential negative consequences of ghosting and breadcrumbing and the benefits of maintaining open lines of communication.
  6. Accountability and monitoring: Regular audits of the recruitment process can help ensure that recruiters and hiring managers follow your communication policy. This could involve checking in with candidates to see if they’re receiving the communication they were promised, or looking at data in your ATS to see how long it takes to respond to candidates. If you find that certain team members regularly fail to adhere to the policy, they may need additional training or, in extreme cases, disciplinary action.
  7. Candidate experience surveys: Surveys can be an effective tool to understand a candidate’s experience during the recruitment process. This can be done immediately after the recruitment process is over, whether they’ve been hired or not. Questions could explore whether the candidate felt respected, how well they thought they were communicated with, and whether the experience met their expectations. This feedback can be crucial for identifying problem areas and making improvements to your recruitment process.

By taking these steps, organizations can create a more respectful and candidate-centered recruitment process. This not only improves the candidate experience but can also positively affect your employer brand, making it easier to attract top talent in the future.

Remember, no matter how busy you are, it’s important to remain professional and courteous to potential candidates. It’s the right thing to do—and can have a long-term impact on your reputation as a recruiter. The recruitment process should be one that is friendly, engaging, and respectful of both parties involved. By avoiding ghosting or breadcrumbing, you can ensure a positive candidate experience for all involved: leaving everyone feeling valued and respected.

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