In 2013, Kristina had just wrapped up an internship at a magazine and was hoping to find a full-time job in New York City. When she saw a listing for a communications coordinator role working for a famous musician at his music label, she knew it was her dream job. Kristina was connected to the hiring manager by a mutual friend, had two great interviews, and agreed to take on a test assignment. She spent a few hours working on it and submitted the assignment before the deadline, along with a thank-you note. “Then I heard nothing. Literally crickets,” Kristina says. “Not even a ‘Sorry, we decided to go with someone else.’”
While the term “ghosting” has its roots in the dating world, it's being used more and more by job applicants who — after participating in one or more interviews and, at times, completing a significant amount of free labor as part of the application process — are never contacted by the recruiter or hiring manager ever again. According to a survey from CareerBuilder, a whopping 75% of job seekers say they didn’t hear back from a job they had applied for, and the situation becomes especially frustrating the more time, energy, and free labor one invests into the process.
Earlier this week, the executive managing editor of Business Insider published an article in which she admitted she refused to hire applicants who didn’t send a thank-you note after an interview. There was a lot of backlash on Twitter, and many people countered with frustrating stories about companies that ghosted them. In truth, the lack of a thank-you note is probably not the reason you didn’t get the job (though you should certainly send one if you really are interested in a position you interviewed for). But then why does it happen?
Kit, 36, had worked in the writing industry for years when she applied for a new SEO writer position in the travel sector. She was excited about the job and felt confident her résumé would stand out. After an hour-long interview, the hiring manager told Kit that it would be “really fantastic” to have her on board and asked her to complete a practice assignment. Kit felt good about her work and even asked a fellow SEO strategist to look it over before she submitted it within 24 hours of receiving it. Then she heard nothing.
"After not hearing back for a few days, I sent a follow-up email thanking her again for the interview," Kit says, but still there was no response. “There was no email or phone call saying that [they were] looking at other candidates. I was really disappointed.”
Kristina, for her part, also says that her experience left her utterly confused and devastated. “I reached out to my contact multiple times over email,” she explains. “I honestly would have preferred an email back that literally just said ‘no’ or ‘your edit test was shit’ or something like that, rather than being completely ghosted.” She adds that the circumstances were particularly strange given the fact that she’d been personally referred for the job.
The reality is, the hiring process has its share of problems, and some even say that the entire system is broken. So it helps to take a look at the process from the inside. Destiny Lalane is a recruiter at drchrono, and though she enjoys doing her job, she also admits it's extremely hard work. “Recruiters are juggling a lot, sourcing and screening talent for not just a number of different positions for a particular department, but sometimes for multiple departments,” Lalane says, adding that the inner workings of these processes aren’t often understood by applicants. “Most recruiters want you to get the job, as it’s often how [we] are compensated.”
Lalane says there are a few common reasons why job seekers aren’t being notified when they are not chosen. Sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for feedback from interviewers and managers to decide on next steps. Other times, managers are on the fence about the candidate and are ruminating for longer than expected. In some cases, recruiters are giving another candidate an offer and are waiting for the process to finalize before letting other applicants know they weren’t chosen. Lalane adds that they do this so that they have the option to extend an offer to another candidate if the first pick doesn’t accept.
“Unfortunately, for some reason some people don’t like to follow up with a candidate after a lengthy interview process because they potentially feel bad letting you down,” Lalane says, adding that she believes all applicants should be formally acknowledged or declined.
That said, Lalane notes that it’s always important for candidates to follow up, even if it feels repetitive. “It doesn’t make you look bad," she says. "It makes you look excited, eager, and engaged.”
While it’s helpful to know what the hiring process looks like from the inside of a company, it’s equally important to know where you stand legally as an applicant. James Murphy is an employment lawyer in New York City who specializes in wage and hour law. Murphy says that certain public employers, such as states and municipalities, are obligated to inform applicants who are not selected for a position. This, however, varies widely depending on location.
But when it comes to private employers, there are no such requirements. “Employers sometimes will inform applicants that they haven't been selected, but they do so solely as a courtesy; there's no legal requirement that they do so,” Murphy says. This silence can stem from legal motivations that many aren’t aware of. For example, if a company gives a reason for their decision not to hire you, it could easily be spun as discrimination, Murphy says, and many businesses find it easier to just go quiet instead.
Ultimately, getting ghosted is never a pleasant experience, whether it’s by someone you’re dating or by a recruiter for a job. And while ghosting might not be illegal, it is most certainly disrespectful. Thankfully, it’s possible for this conversation to shift.
Improving an inadequate status quo begins, first, with recognizing that hiring practices that treat job applicants as disposable are not the way forward — and recruiters and hiring managers have the power to change them. It starts with the acknowledgement that getting an answer (even a canned one) back to someone who has invested time and completed unpaid work is not only a nice thing to do — it's the right thing to do.
As for Kit, she has come to expect this type of behavior from employers as part of the job-searching process. And though she hopes things will change, she acknowledges that there are still many hiring teams that haven't figured it out yet. “In the process of applying for jobs, one is meant to jump through all sorts of hoops,” Kit says. “[But] the same degree of professionalism that [job seekers put] into applying to jobs should be practiced by the interviewing managers and recruiters, too."