Ghosting Unmasked: Listen to the Voices Behind the Epidemic

ghosting

If you want to know something, just ask. In our second installment of Indeed’s Ghosting Week series, we delve into the minds of job seekers to reveal why some disappear during the hiring process — and why others would never consider becoming a ghost. 

As we showed in our previous post, ghosting is a new and growing practice that causes major headaches for recruiters, hiring managers and employers. But what are job seekers really thinking when they decide to ghost? And why isn’t everyone doing it — especially when we know that only a tiny number of ghosters (6%) report any negative consequences? 

To better understand attitudes toward ghosting, we asked over 250 job seekers to share why they have or haven’t disappeared during a job search. We answer common questions such as: Is ghosting premeditated? And are job seekers ghosting to change the power dynamic, or are they just avoiding awkward conversations? 

Read on to discover what guides job seekers’ ghosting decisions — in their own words.

“Employers ghost on me all the time” — why ghosting cuts both ways

According to some people we asked, ghosting is fair play — payback, almost — as many companies are just as guilty, relegating candidates to the job search black hole without a word. 

“Employers ghost on me all the time,” explains one candidate. “If they can do it, why can’t I?” Indeed survey data shows that this is one of the most common arguments behind ghosting and that even job seekers who state that they do not ghost are quick to point out the double standard. 

“I have never ghosted on a job,” notes another candidate, “but I always seem to be on the receiving end!” 

It’s a cautionary reminder that what goes around sometimes comes around. Job seekers are accustomed to having recruiters go silent on them during the hiring process, and many have horror stories to prove it.

“It happens to me all the time,” laments one. “It’s as if I never interviewed or even existed.” 

They report getting ghosted by employers at all stages: from hiring managers who bail on scheduled interviews to not hearing back after coming in. 

One person even got ghosted after being told they’d gotten the job: “[I] signed an employment contract, filled out all the necessary paperwork and did some training, and they never called me back for a start date.”

Despite the fact that many job seekers see ghosting as par for the course, they tend to have guidelines for when it’s appropriate: I generally only ghost people or companies that are misleading … when it comes to recruiting and searching for candidates for jobs,” says one job seeker, highlighting the importance of honesty. Another candidate sums it up, saying, “I try to live by the golden rule.” If employers don’t want to be ghosted, they need to walk the walk and treat all candidates with respect. 

Lengthy application processes are another reason why job seekers ghost

There are a variety of reasons why job seekers ghost, and some of these a recruiter can’t change, such as salary, benefits or location. In these cases, candidates assume the position isn’t going to work, so there’s no need to continue. What’s more, nearly one fourth of ghosters say they disappeared because the hiring process took so long.

“If you are looking for a job,” says one candidate, “you can’t wait two or three months for them to decide.” Another explains why they ghosted a potential employer: “By the time they got back to me, things had changed in my personal and professional life.” 

Job seekers want to ensure a good fit with both the position and their new employer. Some end up ghosting because of a mismatch in company culture or after learning new information during the hiring process. They mention “red flags” such as pushy recruiters, negative company reviews or rude hiring managers. 

“If I ghost after accepting an interview,” explains one respondent, “It’s usually because I find out new information about the organization or the office that leads me to believe they have a bad work culture or environment.” Others have more intangible feelings of discordance with the company: as one ghoster says, “My spirit just didn’t feel it would want to work there.” 

Whatever the reason, for many job seekers, ghosting is an easy way to avoid confrontation. Technology has lowered the opportunity cost of a job search, and job seekers feel the effects.  It’s never been easier for recruiters to promote their jobs; it’s never been simpler and faster for people to apply for jobs — and this has changed how people react in the job hunt process.

Seven degrees of ghosting

Sometimes job seekers don’t plan to ghost but fall into it because of circumstances. Many cite the challenge of juggling a job search while working full-time and the lack of understanding and flexibility they get from some recruiters. 

For example, one respondent ghosted after receiving just one day’s notice about a job interview — in a city five hours away. The recruiter’s rigid attitude made the decision a no-brainer.

I asked if there were any later interviews so I would have time to work my current job and get to her, but she was firm,” they recalled. “I didn’t show up. No regrets, either!” 

Some ghosters mention cancelling or ditching interviews because they didn’t want to use paid time off for a job that wasn’t guaranteed. Others worried their job search might endanger their existing full-time position.

Interestingly, job seekers believe there are different degrees of ghosting. For example, one mentioned “partial ghosting”: waiting until the last minute to leave a message or email saying they won’t attend a scheduled meeting or interview. Technically, the job seeker let the recruiter know, but they admit they probably didn’t get the message in time. 

This raises the question of whether all ghosting carries equal consequences — and some job seekers say it doesn’t. They don’t feel guilty for ending communication with recruiters about jobs they don’t really want or that are below their qualifications. 

I worked hard for my college degrees, and I worked many years to gain [the] knowledge and skills that make me stand out from the crowd,” explains one seasoned professional. Others admit that ghosting can be accidental, saying they’ve done it because they simply forgot to follow up with a recruiter. 

Job seekers have strong feelings about ghosting 

Some job seekers who have ghosted are very emotional about it, expressing intense guilt and regret: “I just did this recently, and I feel just terrible about it,” one says. 

Many job seekers who have not ghosted also have strong feelings about the practice, saying that it’s “unprofessional and can harm your opportunities” or that it “can tarnish your reputation.” In fact, these are the primary reasons nonghosters refrain: They say it simply isn’t worth it to burn bridges or to leave a bad impression.

“The world is way too small, and you never know where you or the recruiter/hiring manager may be in five years,” one job seeker warns. 

Many of those who don’t ghost experience the same feelings of discomfort expressed by those who do. However, while nearly one third of ghosters do it to avoid confrontation, nonghosters say these potentially awkward exchanges are a necessary step. 

“While these conversations can be uncomfortable,” explains one, “I feel that they’re important so as not to burn bridges within your professional community.” 

Others say they treat companies the way they would want to be treated: “Although there isn’t any repercussion for [ghosting], I still always want to show the same respect as I would expect from companies,” a job seeker says. 

Such sentiments are especially strong among those who have also held roles as hiring managers and been on the receiving end.

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“I think what you experience as a ‘ghostee’ should impact your decision never to ghost a potential employer,” says one former hiring manager. 

We’ve seen why some people ghost, so now what?

Ghosting is more complicated than meets the eye, and job seekers have a range of rationales for disappearing on potential employers. Those who ghost feel it’s justified if they aren’t being treated well or if the hiring process takes too long. Others do it for logistical reasons, such as an insufficient salary or difficulty navigating a job search while working full-time. 

Communication is another primary factor, and a large chunk of ghosters disappear because they want to avoid confrontation. In today’s digital world, it’s as easy to ghost on a job as it is to apply. While some contributing factors are outside recruiters’ control, our inside scoop from ghosters suggests ways that employers can reduce their risk of getting ghosted.

Now that we have a holistic understanding of ghosting, let’s do something about it! Stay tuned for the final installment in our Ghosting Week series, when we will offer data-driven strategies to help stop ghosting before it starts.

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