Few people are as knee-deep in our work-related anxieties and sticky office politics as Alison Green, who has been fielding workplace questions for a decade now on her website Ask a Manager. In Direct Report, she spotlights themes from her inbox that help explain the modern workplace and how we could be navigating it better.
In today’s topsy-turvy job market, a strange new thing is happening. Employers are increasingly grumbling about job seekers “ghosting” them. These job candidates just don’t show up for their scheduled interviews. And in some cases, new hires accept a job only to disappear.
Here’s some of what I’ve heard from managers:
I’m in the medical field and this is happening to us to for the past year 6–12 months. Being ghosted for interviews, people not responding. Five people scheduled to interview, but one shows up. We’ve even hired people who didn’t show up in the first day or didn’t return for the second. Nurses and front office positions. It’s unreal.
I went from working at a nonprofit to working for a vendor. … Part of my job is hiring, but I’m having a much harder time hiring now than I did at the nonprofit. The pay and benefits are better—we start people at more than the max rate at the nonprofit, hours are more consistent, and we offer good PTO, matching 401k, and insurance. I’ve sent out over 30 offers to interview. Nine agreed to interviews. Three didn’t show up, two failed background checks, two didn’t want to travel … and we’ve made offers to the other two but neither has responded to accept or reject. I’ve never had so many people just not respond or not show up. Is this the new normal? … I’m at a loss and feeling really discouraged.
I’m hiring for multiple hourly entry-level manufacturing jobs, well above local minimum wage with PTO, benefits, etc. If I reach out for a brief phone interview, only 50 percent respond. If I set up the interview, it’s no longer shocking when someone doesn’t answer the phone. … THEN once I offer a job … nothing. No response. I don’t get it.
Employers, unsurprisingly, do not like this. It’s rude, they say, and unprofessional. And sure, it is. But employers have been doing this to workers for years, and their hand-wringing didn’t start until the tables were turned.
For years I’ve fielded questions from job seekers frustrated at being ghosted by job interviewers. They would take time off from work, maybe buy a new suit, spend time interviewing—often doing second, third, and even fourth rounds of interviews—and then never hear from the employer again. They’d politely inquire about the status of their application and just get silence back. Or they would make time for a phone interview—scheduled at the employer’s behest—and the call would never come. When they’d try to get in touch about rescheduling … crickets. It’s been so endemic that I’ve long advised job seekers to expect never to hear back from employers, and to simply see it as an unavoidable part of job searching.
But now that the situation is finally reversed, oh the schadenfreude! Here’s a smattering of what workers have written to me about the turnabout:
Honestly I LOVE seeing potential employees treating employers the way employers have been treating their candidates for years! And then seeing the employers get all upset about it like they haven’t been behaving exactly the same way. … I really really hope that employers learn a lesson from this and start respecting job seekers a little more (although I’m not optimistic).
Maybe this will help employers clean up their act. Honestly, in all my years working and interviewing for jobs, I’ve only had a handful of companies get back to me after an interview. I’ve had so many just go AWOL after an interview that I thought that it was normal employer behavior, and that a company getting back to a candidate to say they were not proceeding was going the extra mile and never something to be expected.
If it’s unprofessional and rude to ghost someone in business communications, then why have employers been doing just this for years? It seems perfectly rational to conclude that since they have been ghosting applicants for years, therefore ghosting is normal and acceptable in business.
If employers wanted to be treated better, they shouldn’t have spent the last three decades treating candidates with such little humanity. You can’t treat an entire class of people like crap for decades, strip them of rights and protections, and then be upset when we don’t show enough deference to the people asking us to beg for work.
Given how many jobs I took the time and resources to apply to, research and show up for an interview who then never bothered to thank me for my time or let me know they filled the position, I can’t even summon up a little bit of empathy for this.
It’s also worth noting that in many cases, the reason employers are having trouble attracting candidates who stick is because what they’re offering—in pay, benefits, hours, or other conditions of the job—simply isn’t competitive. It might have been competitive a few years ago, but it’s not in this market, and they haven’t updated their thinking to account for that:
I work in the public sector and we are seeing plenty of candidates disappearing. Although we have worked on pay the last few years, we are not competitive. Our governing body became very used to the job market conditions during the recession and for several years after where the employer had all the leverage. They are only now beginning to realize how the roles have reversed.
For example, we have been trying to fill one of our entry-level positions for the last year:
First go-around: no qualified applicants
Second go-around: four qualified applicants, only two showed for interviews. Offered the job to both and they declined.
Third time’s the charm, right: We hired somebody and on their third day they didn’t show up to work. Never contacted us and wouldn’t return our calls.
Now we’re in the middle of try number four. We have a conditional offer but the candidate has pushed the start date back twice. We’ll see.
It remains to be seen how long these market conditions will last. But if getting ghosted helps employers better understand what they’ve been doing to job seekers for years, that’s a good thing. And if it reflects a real shift in power toward workers, that’s even better.