Have you been Ghosted in the Job Market?
The explosion of social media and online dating has given rise to a new era of rejection where the rejecting party resorts to a complete stoppage in communication with the person being rejected. It’s called “Ghosting” and Wikipedia currently defines it as a “breaking off of a relationship by ceasing all communication and contact without any apparent warning or justification.” We all know that the “silent treatment” has been with us since the dawn of human history, but the electronic version of it amplifies it’s impact because of the frequency of online and text communication. Ghosting is becoming more common and many blame the relative isolation and massive volume of electronic communication that we send and receive. It’s now much easier and acceptable for people to behave poorly with few social repercussions, and the more common it becomes the more desensitized people become to it.
Why is this important to employers and prospective employees in the job market?
As with dating it’s always been commonplace for hiring managers and candidates in an interview process to be reluctant to provide details about their lack of interest in the other party or opportunity. It’s natural for people to avoid hurting the feelings of others, and the old adage is that saying “no” can be more dangerous than saying nothing at all. That’s especially true when hiring managers have a concern about legal implications for their rejection of a candidate, and their unwillingness to document that electronically. The modern reliance on email in the business environment means that it’s much more common to simply ignore inquiries rather than respond with an answer that includes any kind of meaningful content.
Conventional wisdom says that it’s the hiring manager who always Ghosts the candidates, but that’s not true anymore. In our current “candidate-driven” job market, where more openings exist than qualified candidates to fill them, it has become common for candidates to disappear and go radio-silent in an interview process with no explanation of their interest or disinterest. Talented candidates with hard-to-find skills who are open to making a job change usually have several attractive opportunities to consider – the same way that hiring managers had multiple, talented candidates to consider for job openings in 2009. So the overall trend for Ghosting in the job market is increasing due to technology, but the people being Ghosted has changed. The takeaway for hiring managers in our current environment is that if you’re Ghosting good candidates be prepared to have B’s and C’s on your teams instead of A’s.
When I first heard the term Ghosting it was in the context of how Millennials treat each other in the management of personal relationships. As an Executive Recruiter dealing with generational differences in the workplace I assumed that Ghosting is yet another trait exhibited predominately by the much-maligned Millennial generation. But upon reflection I don’t see that difference playing out in action. Baby Boomers are just as apt as younger people to go stone-cold silent either as a hiring manager or as a candidate. The reasons for Ghosting may differ somewhat, particularly among older hiring managers who have legal or corporate-dictated concerns about communicating with candidates. But it’s clear that all generations are so burdened by the crushing amount of online correspondence that it’s very easy and tempting to simply say nothing rather than explain a rejection. Regardless of one’s age nobody wants to foster online stalking or potential legal disputes with an electronic documentation trail.
But there is a cost to Ghosting.
Part of my job in the labor market is to occasionally remind people that “since you’re going to have a reputation you might as well make sure it’s a good one.” I view the practice of Ghosting as being detrimental to one’s professional reputation, either as a hiring manager or as a candidate. People don’t forget this stuff – they recall how they’ve been treated in the past and they tend to talk about it with others in the workplace. It’s true that memories fade, but the fact that electronic documentation exists forever only increases the need for reputation management. As a professional recruiter in the middle of communications there are limits to the amount of smoothing-over that I can do to soothe hurt feelings.
I would suggest that instead of Ghosting we all practice a new method of rejection referred to as “Caspering” – where instead of ignoring someone we are honest about how we feel and let the other person down gently before moving on. The communication doesn’t have to include all of the details, but a professional effort to close the loop is appreciated. It is one more behavior that separates “A Players” from everyone else. It takes a little bit of effort to be a Casper (he’s a Friendly Ghost after all), but with practice and commitment we will become proficient at it and better position ourselves for long-term career success.
As always I welcome your questions and comments.