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Why it's time to stop ghosting candidates

Value-driven organisations the world over speak about respect, diversity and inclusion, integrity and trust. And yet something is happening in their midst that suggests the very opposite to candidates applying for jobs. The ghosting of candidates is on the rise – and the impact it is having is huge.

Recruiters will, quite rightly, claim that candidates do the same to them. With the great resignation and applicants often having their pick of roles, returning calls, answering invitations to another interview, and even ignoring job offers is on the increase.

But, while this is irritating, rude, short-sighted and time wasting for HR professionals, it amounts to so much more than that for candidates when it is done in reverse.

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The problem is not limited to one level of applicant. There are horror stories from senior executives applying for roles such as head of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – and even, in some cases, global HR director.

All report being ghosted by organisations that claim to drive DEI or uphold a list of values that clearly their recruiters do not.

In the worst example, the candidate had attended nine interviews, an assessment and three psychometric tests, and delivered a presentation on what the next three years' HR strategy should be.

After hearing nothing for a week, they chased the recruiter (internal) with an e-mail. A week after that, they called up – twice. A week after that, they emailed the CEO to explain their concern. And still nothing. Not a word.

That should make you think about treble checking what your recruitment practice is – not your policy but your actual day-to-day practice.

Of course, your policy will say you are going to get back to candidates and, hopefully, offer feedback to those who make it further through the process. But it is vital for HR professionals to check what is actually happening.

In the past, there was the odd flurry of notes on social media from disgruntled applicants citing organisations. These were often not at manager level – and a mention from an executive was rare.

What stopped them was the impact on another employer if they saw the post – being seen as a troublemaker could be career limiting.

But now we see this changing, with firms regularly being named and shamed online.

That can get interesting when a potential recruit investigates your company, sees the perfect values listed, reads the great diversity policy – and then sees the reality from another candidate who has suffered from an unthinking recruitment practice. And it can really involve suffering.

Of course, many people just expect to hear nothing. But others can be badly affected by the experience.

Application ghosting is particularly common, with many people receiving just a 5% response rate to their applications. Post-interview ghosting is worse as you are now in the territory of rejecting the human being you have met and who has trusted you and your organisation to respect them.

This applies even more if the candidate has been through multiple interviews and psychometric tests – and to the executive who has spent hours creating a three-year strategy to present.

If a candidate has got that far, the very least they deserve is to be given some feedback on their performance, otherwise it will tap into the impostor feelings that many of us try to keep well hidden.

For a diverse candidate, the repercussions can be even greater. I know of a successful leader with ADHD and autism who applied to an organisation that was proudly boasting of a shelf of diversity awards.

Having shared their very reasonable adjustments at the final stages of the hiring process, they heard nothing more and were sent into a spiral of self-doubt and despair.

So, what is the answer? CEOs need to make sure their HR directors are accountable for ensuring that the company's processes are followed.

HR directors then need to ensure that part of the recruiters' role is to follow the process at every stage – from a pro-forma note to every applicant at form stage, to a basic rejection letter at first interview and a feedback note to candidates who make it further along the hiring process.

Some organisations have an empty chair denoting the customer in their sales and marketing meetings to ensure they always consider the customer. Perhaps an empty chair in the recruiters' office for every ghosted applicant might be useful, to ensure they are constantly thinking about the impact on what is a growing number of people.


Angela Peacock is global director of diversity and inclusion at training consultancy PDT Global, part of Affirmity