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Have you been ghosted? Here's what it means for your application and how to deal with it.

Have you applied for a job you that thought you were a great fit for but never heard anything back? Or have you had an interview with a recruiter but there was never a follow-up or an update afterwards?

If a significant amount of time (>2 weeks) has passed since your last contact with a potential employer and they haven't made any further attempt to get in touch with you, even to inform you that your application has been rejected, then you are most likely the unfortunate victim of (recruitment) ghosting.

Ghosting applicants is a major faux pas in any hiring process. In fact, keeping candidates frequently updated on their application status is one of the most important best practices in recruitment.

The advantages of maintaining a well-informed and engaged candidate base are well documented: easier and faster hiring, great employer branding, positive market reputation and overall, it just speaks volumes about the ethics and values of the business.

This is why most of the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that companies use have made it so easy to reach out to applicants even with automated emails that may feel impersonal but are way more effective than ghosting candidates.

But, as someone who has been on all sides of this process as an applicant, a recruiter and a decision-maker in a hiring team, keeping the hiring flow running smoothly at all times is definitely not an easy task.

So, when is ghosting a red flag and what can you do it about it as an applicant?

Reasons why you might have been ghosted:

  1. No technical know-how: the use of an ATS is extremely popular and there are plenty of options in the market for almost any available budget. However, not all companies use them or have a dedicated person or team that knows how to configure the system to do all that it's supposed to do (including moving applicants through the process flow and send automated update emails).

  2. Lack of dedicated recruiter or HR team: this is especially true in smaller sized companies where there is limited headcount and employees have to wear many hats. There usually a lot of often conflicting and pressing priorities and a time-consuming task such as updating applicants can easily slip through the cracks.

  3. Start-up phase where processes are now being built: it's very common for start-ups to "build the bridge while crossing it" and there is a lot of fixing, improving, optimizing and learning that takes place in how they run their hiring process (and any other process for that matter). Therefore, it makes sense that, in such work environments, not everything works as it should yet.

  4. Internal changes on organization level: the team structure has shifted, the scope of the role has been adjusted, the position has been put on hold due to cost cutting or the hiring manager has left the company - these are all examples of internal changes that could impact the hiring process. It's only fair that applicants receive an update whenever this happens but in many cases, these changes take time and in addition, the final decisions or who is left to pick up the task of getting in touch with candidates is not always clear.

How to effectively deal with ghosting

  • Gain insight into internal processes: when you have a clear idea of how things are being run and what you can look forward to in the next steps of your application, it is much easier to manage your own expectations. If given the chance, ask specific questions such as who will be your contact person and how you can reach out to them for questions, what is the timeline for each stage of the process, how many applicants are being shortlisted and whether there is a dedicated person or team in place who manages recruitment.

  • Do not reply to automated emails: if you are trying to reach out to the recruiter or hiring manager, do not hit reply on the automated email that was sent by the ATS. It's not always likely that it will reach the receiver's inbox (especially if they have turned off the ATS' notifications). Instead, always use their company email which can be found in their signature or on LinkedIn.

  • Connect with your (future) manager and peers: make sure that your application stands out by adding people in your network that you might end up working closely with. This includes the hiring team and any other employees who share the same title in the company you have applied for. However, it's important to add a personalized note when asking to connect on LI and follow-up with a quick thank you message after they have accepted your request.

  • Keep your contact person updated: staying in touch with the recruiter or hiring manager frequently is a great way to keep your application top of mind. But instead of constantly asking them for an update, the key is to make it meaningful and purposeful. For example, if you just started a new project that you want to mention in your application or completed a new course. Any update that showcases your expertise and can be a useful addition to your application can be a great excuse for reaching out.

Most importantly, be mindful of your mental health.

Being ghosted can cause anxiety, feelings of rejection, self-doubt and it can shatter your confidence - it's normal to feel like that if you have found yourself in this situation.

Job searching is generally a stressful experience and you need to muster your resilience to be able to get through it successfully and find the right job fit for you.

So, keep in mind that there are other reasons to ghosting that have nothing to do with you or how suitable you are for a specific position. It's not a reflection of how well you did at an interview or whether you have all of the required skills and credentials listed on the job description.

And even if you didn't do such a great job at the interview or you are simply not the right fit for the job, you still should be made aware of it. Best practices aside, it's also just the right thing to do as an employer - even if it may take a couple of follow-up emails from your side.

When it comes to ghosting, the real red flag is when the company has no other underlying reasons to continue this practice (as mentioned above) and it has instead become part of their company culture to treat candidates in such an inexcusable manner. It's usually those cases where even any follow-up efforts yield no results.

The only thing to do then in order to protect your mental health is to accept it and focus your attention to the next application.

All of your applications should be given the same attention because not all companies have bad hiring practices or ineffective processes in place.

Your application IS a reflection of you and you can find satisfaction in the fact that you have done your best to show that.


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