A few weeks back I was reading a group discussion on a human resources social media page. The topic was about candidates “ghosting” for job interviews. Ghosting refers to when an interview is scheduled and confirmed and the candidate simply doesn’t show up, doesn’t return phone calls, and doesn’t return emails. He or she vanishes, like a ghost. The best phrase to describe this is, “man, that’s messed up.” So, I have a few ideas on why ghosting happens as well as ideas on how to limit or avoid being ghosted.
Another type of ghosting is when a new hire never shows up. What gives?
Who is doing the ghosting? The answer isn’t that easy. In my imagination, people who ghost should probably stand out in a crowd. They should be easily identified as looking like a slob. They are late for something but don’t know it; always scrambling, bumping into people on the sidewalk, holding a sweaty and wrinkly scrap of paper, searching for an address on the wrong street. Their work history could be a recipe for job-hopper stew. They should be obvious outcasts, the Columbo of job-seekers. But the sad fact is, they’re not. They look and usually act just like the rest of us. You might be sitting near one and not even know it. Heck, you could be one and not even know it! Full disclosure, early in my career I accepted a job and on the first day, walked in and quit; I accepted a much better job offer the night before. I felt awful about it. But, following my mother’s advice, I owned up to my decision and had the decency to resign in person. The people who are ghosting are nearly impossible to identify by sight. They are nearly impossible to identify, period. When they ghost, they aren’t issued a mandatory scarlet letter. They aren’t entered into a searchable database. The only people who actually know that the person is a “ghoster” is the employer left wondering what happened. And, frankly, that employer isn’t likely to go around publicly bad-mouthing the candidate because that just looks bad for the employer. So, employers are stuck with dealing with this behavior for now.
Why are people suddenly ghosting? I don’t have any supporting data so you’ll just have to take this on face value. People are ghosting because jobs are easy to come by right now. Additionally, there isn’t a short-term consequence for this rude and unprofessional behavior. Since jobs are aplenty, candidates are bombarded with opportunities. That creates a false sense of long-term security that clinicians refer to as the “illusion of invincibility.” The reality is, the job market changes every few years and when it does, those ghosts suddenly disappear. Employers usually have a candidate database. And, we can search that database for evidence of historical flakiness. I can assure you that we search for people who’ve previously shown their unreliability. But, the distilled explanation for ghosting is that candidates are operating in a market that has a surplus of jobs. They have the luxury of picking and choosing, or ghosting. Those same candidates also mistakenly believe it will always be like this. The result is no-show-no-call for interviews and for jobs.
How can an employer minimize the chances of getting ghosted? No one likes to have their time wasted. Ghosting definitely wastes time. Employers are never going to eliminate the possibility of a no-show-no-call employee. The best that one could hope for is to reduce the potential for ghosting. This is accomplished by building rapport with the candidate through motivational interview questions. It’s essential to ask and probe about what is driving a candidate. By knowing, or at least asking about, why the person is looking for a change as well as what the person is seeking in a future job, an employer invites the candidate to get some skin in the game. The candidate must disclose something and typically it’s the true drivers behind their job-seeking. With those elements on the table and explored during an interview, the candidate develops some emotional linkage to the possibility that true job satisfaction is available at your company. People like to imagine themselves engaged with things they like. When the possibility of having a job that is professionally satisfying comes into view, most people will pursue that opportunity until it’s either a reality or until it’s no longer available. What people will not do is act like they are pursuing that thing and then haphazardly abandon that pursuit. My advice to employers is to always include questions about career-change motivations. Examples are: Could you please talk about what is going on with your current role that isn’t as satisfying as you had hoped? What is it about what you’re doing currently that isn’t meeting your expectations? If you found a really good job with a really good employer, what are some of the positive things that would stand out? Can you describe a few highlights of your career where you really felt like things were going well? This makes a person open up and talk about what’s inside and that linkage is what will hopefully keep them engaged and committed to show up and work hard.
As an employer, it’s helpful to remind yourself that you really only want to hire people who are reliable. One of the ancillary and indirect benefits of being ghosted by a job seeker is that you were able to avoid making a bad hire! The ghosting candidate revealed their flakiness before you started paying him or her. It’s frustrating that you had your hopes up on filling a vacancy on your roster. But, I think it’s typically better to have a vacancy than to have a team member who doesn’t take things seriously. So, it’s useful to look at ghosting as having benefits, though they come at the price of your time.
We’re never going to be able to get rid of ghosts. They’re everywhere and it’s rare that we can ever identify them on sight. Even the best interviewers and the most respected employers are going to encounter a ghost from time to time. It’s unavoidable. However, by simply asking someone about their interests early in the process, employers can stop wasting time.
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