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Ghosting isn’t just for dating—recruiters do it, too

Between a global pandemic and a devastating unemployment rate, empathy is key to helping our fellow humans make it through the day. Unfortunately, recruiters at some companies don’t seem to have gotten the memo.

Between a global pandemic and a devastating unemployment rate, empathy is key to helping our fellow humans make it through the day. Unfortunately, recruiters at some companies don’t seem to have gotten the memo.

Since COVID-19 settled into the US, countless businesses from Main Street to Silicon Valley have been forced to cut costs by reducing overhead and staff rosters—or by shutting down completely. The result? A months-long national unemployment rate worse than that of the Great Recession. It’s no wonder recruiters are the new hottest person to know.

The feeling doesn’t seem to be mutual, though. As eager as Americans are to get back to work, recruiters are leaving job seekers on read. Social media (particularly LinkedIn) is littered with tales regaling the same song and dance: apply, interview, never hear back. In fact, the ghosting has gotten so bad that job seekers can join online webinars with tips on how to avoid being ghosted during the pandemic.  

For those who are desperately job-seeking after being laid off in the past year, ghosting feels like salt in the wound. After losing her job at a tech company earlier this year, Sandra* wasn’t only ghosted by a company she’d interviewed with—she also found out she didn’t get the position in the worst possible way. “I went through two rounds of interviews and received no response back after following up with the recruiter. I had connected with the recruiter via LinkedIn so I could see their activity,” Sandra says. “They ghosted me but publicly congratulated another candidate for securing the position I interviewed for. That’s how I found out I didn’t get the position.”

Another pandemic job seeker, David, says a company he briefly worked for falsely advertised higher wages than they actually intended on paying in order to yield a larger pool of job applicants. He stayed at the company for a couple months before both landing a job at a friend’s place of work and starting his own business.

Aside from crises on both the national and international scale, what happened? It may have been rare pre-COVID for people to actually enjoy the search for employment, but in this strange new era, things appear to have only gotten more cutthroat. “I understand that it’s a really hard time for any business to be hiring right now, but that didn’t make the job search any easier,” says Lily, who was laid off from her job last July due to budget cuts. “I applied to a lot of jobs online, but I probably only heard back from about 10 percent of them. To say it was frustrating would be an understatement. It felt like my resume was floating in the middle of nowhere.” Lily’s search continued this way until November, when she finally found a position that suited her. Her discouraging job search, however, is one she won’t forget.

It’s obvious that job seekers understand the pressure recruiters are under. Let’s face it: employed or otherwise, we’ve all had to learn to quickly forgive minor blunders in the past year, like someone’s baby screaming in the background of a Zoom call or a colleague’s WiFi cutting out. But a little empathy goes a long way, and it doesn’t take a lot of time or energy to send the bare minimum of a form rejection to someone whose actual life hinges on a job. Job seekers just want to move on from one door to the next, both emotionally and logistically. One could even argue that during what has frequently been called “these unprecedented times,” it’s a jerk move to ignore applicants whose resumes are ignored from the beginning. Just send a quick “no thank you.”

It’s also worth exploring whether complete transparency from a company would end up saving both parties some time. If an ad or recruiter is upfront and honest about the compensation for a specific role, the job seeker can determine for themself whether the entirety of the role is suitable for their specific needs, then choose whether to apply. This means less labor for a recruiting department who otherwise may sink time into screening a candidate only to be turned away at the negotiating table. Especially as people flee expensive cities for suburban and rural areas, early compensation disclosure can help potential job applicants determine whether a role’s pay is sufficient for the adjusted cost of living.

Ghosting isn’t exactly in the company’s best interest long-term, either. If a business is interested in enjoying full application pools post-COVID, it’d better watch out for its reputation, and ghosting hopeful job seekers (especially once they’ve actually interviewed) means doing the exact opposite. Word spreads fast—especially when people are more likely to gripe about a business than speak its praises.

As much as anyone would love to experience tight turnaround times after applying to a job or  constructive feedback after a failed interview, too many Americans are knocking at recruiters’ virtual doors for these luxuries to be expected. Instead, job seekers are asking for one simple thing: decency.

*Names have been changed for privacy purposes.