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Business/Economy

‘Ghosting’: It’s not just for dating any more (job applicants are doing it, too)

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | The Workplace
  • Updated: July 23
  • Published July 23

My client asked me to find him the one "right" applicant for a critical management position in his company. Out of more than 50 resumes, "Jacob's" was my favorite. He did a great job on his phone interview, so I called him in for an interview. Ten minutes before the interview, he called saying an uninsured motorist had rear-ended him and the police wanted him to stay and talk with them.

We rescheduled for the next day. He emailed 20 minutes before the appointment saying the police had asked him to show up in court late that morning as a witness, and he didn't know when he'd be out. I asked him to call us when he could reschedule.

He didn't call, so I both called and emailed him. He didn't respond to either, a striking contrast to how quickly he'd responded when we set up the phone and in-person interviews.

I moved on and selected another finalist.

A month later he applied for a job we posted for another client.

That's when I knew I'd been ghosted.

What's a ghost and why do they do it?

Ghost applicants apply for jobs without intending to take them. They thrill when a recruiter or employer says their resume merits an interview — they just don't show up for the interview.

Ghost employees accept a job, but don't show up for their first day of work. Occasionally they call on their first day or the evening before, claiming a sudden illness. They apologize profusely, coughing into the receiver and promise to be there the next day or the day after — but never arrive.

Ghost employees leave a job after working several days or even months and never return, without a formal resignation or even an verbal explanation.

Why do ghosts do it?

Serial ghost applicants love the thrill of the chase. Every time a recruiter or employer selects them for an interview, they've scored. An employer wants them enough to call them in for an interview and they now have all the power. They can stand up the interviewer and win the game.

One-time applicant ghosts no-show when they land another job. Because they no longer need the interview and don't expect to ever run into the interviewer again, they simply don't call. To some extent, these no-show applicants give employers a taste of their own medicine. After all, most employers leave job candidates hanging after the candidates fill out applications. Candidates who spend hours interviewing and preparing for interviews get at most a form rejection letter, without explanation. In short, prospective employers give applicants zero closure, and ghosts retaliate in kind.

Ghost employees who leave unexpectedly may feel too embarrassed to quit in person or simply don't respect their supervisor enough to call and say "I quit." Perhaps they've been offered more hours at a second job or can start the new job that day and don't want to call and be guilted into giving two weeks of notice.

Ghost-busting

While you may never have been ghosted, a June 23 LinkedIn article, "People are ghosting at work, and it's driving companies crazy" call it the "new normal."

Employers can, however, limit their chances of ghost attacks.

Employers need to change how they deal with applicants. Courtesy demands that employers say thank you for resumes or follow-up applications emailed directly to them. While social media, online job forums and messaging apps allow employees to establish quick relationships, it takes personal contact to turn those into human-to-human relationships.

Employers need clear call-in procedures and absenteeism policies so no-show employees don't burden their co-workers, leave customers hanging or cripple the workflow. While employers need to seriously consider a late-calling, non-arriving employee's explanation before reacting, and ask police to conduct a welfare call on an employee who might be experiencing a genuine emergency, an employee who doesn't contact the employer for three days can be seen to have abandoned his/her job. If this happens, the employer can send a certified letter ending the job relationship and "busting" the ghost.

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