Why businesses should never ‘ghost’ job applicants

If you want to keep your brand reputation intact and forge meaningful candidate relationships, don’t shy away from providing personalised feedback, says Paul Surridge

We can all agree that not getting a reply to a job application isn’t great. Everyone should get a response of some sort, at the very least an automated email to say they have been unsuccessful.  

This, however, isn’t what I consider to be ‘ghosting’. This happens once a candidate enters the selection process and, following one or more interviews, the employer abruptly severs all ties with them. At this stage, it becomes a moral responsibility for the organisation to communicate with the applicant. The person has after all given up their time to be interviewed, so it’s common courtesy to provide personalised feedback. It’s the right thing to do and will also help the candidate understand why they haven’t been chosen for the role, so that they’ll be in a stronger position next time round. 

The feedback factor

The prime culprit as to why feedback is rarely forthcoming is that people aren’t comfortable giving it. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news and giving negative feedback is difficult at the best of times. Given concerns around discrimination, for example, it’s just easier to say nothing and avoid conflict altogether, which is often why candidates get ghosted. But it doesn’t take long to provide your six to 10 shortlisted candidates with feedback, so blaming it on time is a poor excuse.    

Applicants will inevitably get put on hold during the hiring cycle and things can get delayed for several (often confidential) reasons, which organisations may not want to divulge. For example, the business might change direction strategically or they might be in the midst of redundancies, or perhaps the decision is made to hire someone internally or the role might not even have been signed off. Whatever the reason is, it needs to be communicated with honesty and transparency. 

Not providing proper feedback can be a costly mistake both for the hiring organisation and the recruitment agency. What often happens is that people automatically view these bad experiences as a reflection of the organisational culture, which is unfortunate and not usually indicative of the reality. And they’re not likely to apply for another role in the future, for which they might be a perfect fit. 

The other key point to note is that every candidate is a potential client and should be treated as such, given the adverse impact that the selection process can have on the organisation’s reputation. Providing feedback, even if negative, lets the person know where they stand, provides closure and allows them to move on with no collateral damage to your brand. They’ll appreciate your honesty even if they don’t like what you have to say. 

Reputation and relationships

In fact, meaningful feedback should always be encouraged (by the recruiter) as it helps build strong relationships with candidates and therefore reduces the chances of ghosting. People’s roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined with upfront steps and timelines laid out as part of the discussions between the recruiter and hiring manager. And feedback should be an integral part of the process. If the candidate doesn’t get the job, you’ve got detailed notes ready to share, which will avoid any reputational damage on social media and employer review platforms. 

Of course candidates are also guilty of ghosting companies at times and this trend has become more prevalent especially in a tight labour market with acute skills shortages. Individuals will sit tight waiting for their dream role, having in some cases already even accepted a job offer and then not even turned up for their first day. This is equally inexcusable behaviour and they should let the recruiter or hiring manager know if they’ve had a rethink or received a better offer elsewhere. Personal brands can be negatively impacted in the same way. It’s never wise to burn bridges. 

Yet the pendulum has perhaps now swung back in favour of employers, given the redundancies that we’ve seen in the tech sector, for example, resulting in greater candidate ghosting. And I believe that’s mostly down to the discomfort in having those difficult conversations as outlined above. This is why it’s vital that recruiters and hiring managers receive the right interview skills training so that they can deliver personalised feedback. It’s a skill all managers and leaders should possess. 

Ghosting leaves a sour taste and does nothing but tarnish company cultures and reputations. 

Paul Surridge is managing partner of Target Leadership Consulting