When you think back on 2020, ghosting probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But like so many other facets of the way we work, this workplace trend has seen some significant changes since COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic in the U.S.
Originating from the world of online dating, ghosting occurs when someone disappears from a relationship without warning. In the workplace, “ghosting” refers to one party vanishing from the interview process without a trace. As it was still a relatively new phenomenon in 2019, last year’s data primarily described candidates vanishing on prospective employers.
Since then, it’s become clear that the disappearing act is no longer quite so one-sided: more employers are now ghosting jobseekers, too. But has the evolution been driven solely by the impact of COVID-19 on the job market, or is there more behind the ubiquity of ghosting in hiring?
We surveyed 500 jobseekers and 500 employers in the U.S. across various industries to learn more about how ghosting has changed, why it’s happening and what it means for hiring in the long run.
More jobseekers are ghosting than before — but so are employers
Ghosting seems to have grown in popularity amongst jobseekers over the past year: 28% have ghosted an employer, up from only 18% in 2019. Meanwhile, 76% of employers have been ghosted in the same time frame, and 57% believe it’s even more common than before.
Some employers say candidates are cutting off communications early in the hiring process — after an initial phone screen or interview, for instance. But others take it further, with one-quarter of employers reporting new hires “no-showing” on their first day of work.
But ghosting isn’t just a jobseeker behaviour anymore: Nearly half (46%) of employers surveyed believe that employers are now ghosting jobseekers more frequently than before.
A whopping 77% of jobseekers say they’ve been ghosted by a prospective employer since the U.S. onset of the pandemic last March, with 10% reporting that an employer has ghosted them even after a verbal job offer was made.
Alarmingly, only 27% of employers say they haven’t ghosted a jobseeker in the past year. It’s another sign that ghosting has become standard practice in the hiring process — even though it creates a terrible candidate experience and can threaten a company’s employer brand.
COVID-19 could be to blame, but only partially
If ghosting is such a lose-lose situation in hiring, why has it become such a pervasive behaviour?
Among jobseekers, exactly how and when they ghost seems to vary. Nearly half (48%) say they ceased communications with the prospective employer, while another 46% didn’t show up for a scheduled interview. A small but noteworthy 7% failed to appear for their first scheduled day.
The exact reasons jobseekers give for their disappearances vary, from receiving another offer (20%) to dissatisfaction with the offered salary (13%). And 15% simply decided it wasn’t the right job for them, significantly fewer than the 53% who said the same in 2019.
Only 4% of jobseekers claim COVID-19 as a reason for ghosting over the last 12 months — a surprisingly low figure, given its widespread impact on other areas of work. Still, 48% acknowledge that employers are probably being ghosted more often during the pandemic.
Their perception is that the pandemic has impacted employer behaviour, too — more than half of jobseekers (51%) believe employers are ghosting more than before. This is certainly possible; after all, soaring unemployment and the subsequent economic fallout upended a previously tight labour market, which may have caused recruiters to become overwhelmed with new requests.
But it’s not entirely clear whether this is actually happening more often now or if it’s simply the result of increased awareness around the behaviour now that ghosting has a name. Regardless, the data shows that ghosting on both sides seems to have become normalised behaviour within the hiring process.
Employers keeping score could trouble candidates’ future job searches
The ways in which people respond to ghosting have changed since 2019. Jobseekers have become less cavalier in their attitudes toward it, while employers are taking much more strategic measures to protect themselves. For example, to try and minimise the impact of ghosting, some are focusing on improving communication and nurturing candidate-recruiter relationships.
Jobseekers appear more concerned about the negative consequences of ghosting. Nearly two-thirds (65%) who ghosted an employer worried about having done it, compared to only 41% who felt this way last year. Meanwhile, 54% regret ghosting — up from 32% in 2019.
Most striking, however, is the fact that while more jobseekers are ghosting than before, fewer are coming out unscathed. Of jobseekers who have ghosted an employer, 54% say they experienced repercussions — far more than the 6% who reported suffering consequences in 2019.
And employers are keeping score. Fully 93% of employers keep records of ghosters; only 7% say they don’t, down from 13% in 2019. Among those who do, 26% say they track jobseekers who stop responding, 35% note those who don’t turn up for an interview, and 33% record first-day no-shows.
The vast majority of employers (80%) believe candidates who ghost will experience negative impacts on their future job search or career, compared to 70% in 2019. Perhaps that’s why fewer employers than last year believe ghosting is a “moderate” or “serious problem” (53% this year, versus 59% in 2019) — they think ghosters will ultimately learn their lesson.
Ghosting is here to stay — here’s what you can do about it
The latest data highlights the evolution of ghosting, from its steady growth as a jobseeker practice to its emergence as a trend among employers, too. Reasons jobseekers ghost employers still vary, while employer motivation is somewhat speculative given the paucity of last year’s data.
While it’s apparent that ghosting has become deeply rooted in the hiring process, employers can take steps to minimise the impact of the ghosting. In addition to keeping more detailed records of candidates who ghost, think about how you can target the source of the behaviour to prevent it altogether.
Remember that focusing on attentiveness and improved communications throughout every stage of the process is key to ensuring the candidate feels informed; research has shown that many jobseekers ghost when they don’t feel their needs are being met and don’t know what else to do. Secondarily, simply being transparent, empathetic and authentic can go a long way in building more comfort and trust into your relationship with the candidate.
Use these insights to foster more successful candidate interactions — because nobody’s giving up the ghost anytime soon.