How “Ghosting” Your Candidates Can Kill Your Small Business

Felicia Sullivan

Have you ever ghosted a candidate? Now, we’re not talking about white sheets on Halloween and shouting boo! at trick-or-treaters; rather, we’re referring to a scenario where you’ve interviewed a potential employee and then dodged their follow-up calls, emails, and notes like the plague.

Maybe you got cold feet or realized you didn’t have the resources to support a new hire. Perhaps time slipped away because life happens and you genuinely forgot. Regardless of whether you had the best intentions, ghosting a candidate can hurt your small business.

The Origins of Ghosting

With every generation comes a new vernacular — familiar words are given a makeover based on cultural and societal trends. Enter ghosting, the preferred term for abandonment, coined by millennials. When we hear the word ghost, we may think of Casper and haunted houses; however, its new form is a verb that signals an abrupt end to all communication. The New York Times penned an extensive feature on the term back in 2015, in response to how Charlize Theron avoided all communication with Sean Penn as a way of breaking off their relationship.

People ghost to avoid conflict, according to Psychology Today. No one wants to have awkward conversations or be responsible for hurt feelings, so the employer stops all communication with the candidate without explanation, in hopes of dodging discomfort.

Although people have been technically pulling the disappearing act since forever, it’s become even more challenging in today’s tech-dependent world, where we’ve come to expect immediate responses — just like hitting refresh on our Twitter or Facebook feeds. Did you know that 90% of all email replies happen within one to two days of receiving a message? It’s also painful because social media is such a part of our culture that you can actually see the “ghoster” communicating to the world — just not to you. Ouch.

While ghosting has its roots in the relationship lexicon, it’s now being used in professional settings. Even recruiters, who are communication pros, have a hard time saying no, according to Fast Company.

When it comes to your small business, every decision you make and every voicemail you delete could have big consequences. Everyone’s busy, but common courtesy is still in fashion and, if you avoid the tough conversations with prospective hires, the impact could be brutal and long lasting.

Reasons Not to Do It

Here are a few ways that ghosting a candidate can hurt your small business:

Candidates talk, and word-of-mouth can be killer.

Everyone’s a critic, and with a few clicks your business report card is in clear view. A whole crop of employer review sites like Glassdoor, Vault, Great Place To Work, Indeed and TheJobCrowd offer honest takes on everything from the hiring process to how the owners run their business — and employers can no longer ignore them.

With 11 million reviews and 30 million visits a month, according to Forbes, Glassdoor is proof that potential candidates want to know everything about a company before their first interview. Perception is everything, and your ghosting could create the perception that your company is disorganized, disrespectful, unprofessional, or lacking in leadership. Accountability is key in business relationships, and ghosting implies that you haven’t been accountable and responsible for your business decisions. Even if this isn’t the case, the way you treat candidates is a reflection of your business and personal brand.

You waste time.

The recruiting process for candidates can be costly — not only from a dollars and cents perspective but also in terms of time. All the coordination, meetings, follow-ups, feedback sessions with your team, job listings, and recruiters cost both time and money.

Ghosting wastes productivity, resources, and potential hires. Say you wanted to hire a candidate but didn’t have the budget and you left them waiting in agonizing silence. A couple of months later you land a major contract and you suddenly have a windfall. That candidate you wanted to hire? Consider them gone. You have to start the process all over again because of your bad business etiquette.

People have long memories.

You can’t afford to breed ill will with candidates, because the world is small and you never know how and when you’ll meet the candidate again.

Today’s job seeker could become tomorrow’s lucrative client, vendor, or potential partner. Impressions are lasting and people travel in similar circles — you never want negative feelings attached to your business, even if it wasn’t your intention.

How to Stop Ghosting

Don’t worry — it’s not all gloom and doom and 1-star Glassdoor and Yelp reviews. You can fix a ghosting situation through accountability and communication.

Responding to a candidate late is better than radio silence. It gives them closure. Apologize, own the communication delay, and tell them where you’ve landed in your search. You could write something along the lines of:

Hey, Mike,

So sorry for the delayed response. I should’ve written you sooner. Unfortunately, we’ve decided to go with another candidate, but I appreciate your time and our chat, and would love to keep in touch about future opportunities. Best of luck in your search!

More and more companies are ghosting job applicants — even after hosting multiple rounds of promising interviews. After the ignored phone calls and emails, candidates are left wondering what happened and they end up frustrated and disappointed. More importantly, they’ve issued a Scarlet A on your business.

Even if the communication breakdown wasn’t intentional, every decision and action you take is a reflection of how you manage your business. Don’t be Casper; be the leader who picks up the phone or writes the email and takes responsibility for their actions.

16 Responses to "How “Ghosting” Your Candidates Can Kill Your Small Business"
    • Lisa Beaulieu | October 29, 2020 at 7:35 am

      Great article and responses. Thank you.

    • jennifer meents | October 30, 2019 at 12:10 pm

      if an applicant “applies” on indeed. is it ghosting if we don’t respond? what is your advice on that?

    • Ron M. | October 30, 2019 at 10:14 am

      @Paul Jeffko – Most people can move on from a no-reply or not being part of the first round, but ghosting is different. Ghosting implies initial interest, exchanges and an abrupt dead-end. The moment you make contact, you have to be responsible enough to explicitly mark the end. It’s common courtesy. If you had gone to a few interviews, discussed how well you fit with the team, I’m sure you would at a minimum appreciate a simple note telling you of the end of the courtship. Millenial or not. The point of the article was for you as a small business owner to avoid ghosting, not to try to explain an abhorrent practice. As a small business owner myself, I try my best to always treat people with a high dose of decency.

    • Kim, The Pet Elf | November 7, 2018 at 12:53 pm

      Exactly what Tina B. said. They seem so offended when told they didn’t even make the first cut, but is there a nice way to let them know they simply need to follow directions and do some proof-reading?

    • Tina B | November 2, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      Ok-I am one of those that never ghost. I follow up with everyone, and I let them know that I will, and when I will.

      Instead however, I want to take it to the other side. I want a way to tell all those people with horrible resumes how to fix their resumes. I want to tell them the details of why they didn’t even get an interview. I wish there was a way I could do that without offending them. For instance: “Please read the ad, we were asking for a cover letter, but because you did not send one, we don’t feel you can follow directions, nor have attention to detail, therefore you were not selected for an interview.” Or: “Please read your own resume or run it through any word processor and fix the typos before applying anywhere else. You seem like a great person with a solid background, but those typos are going to kill your chances anywhere!”

    • Henry Fischer | October 31, 2018 at 11:34 pm

      This same rule should be applied to sub-contractors as well. Too many people solicit bids for services, pick the one they want to go with and never let the other proposals/quotes know. It is so easy to call or write and say “Thank you for your proposal, I appreciate the effort that it took to do that but we have decided to go with another vendor/supplier/etc.” When you are back in the market for the same services they will remember and be much more receptive to putting in the effort to quote again.

      • Hannah Sullivan | November 1, 2018 at 4:19 pm

        Thank you for your feedback, Henry.

    • Larry Thurman Jr. | October 31, 2018 at 5:30 pm

      Courtesy is a two way street. Employer rating websites set up by entitled brats, should not bother hardworking, honest small business employers. Stick to your craft, be kind, work hard and care less what the internet thinks of you.

    • Paul Jeffko | October 31, 2018 at 11:01 am

      Back in the day, the first thing the interviewer would tell you is, “there are 25 applicants for this position; we’ll contact you if you are the one.” Apparently “millennials” are much too fragile to be made aware that the world does not orbit around them. However the straight-up truth is the best way to communicate, and hopefully speed up the learning process for these folks. It’s interesting that this article does not touch on the real issue…and that is personal, individual responsibility needs to be taken by the applicant to better themselves, become competitive, but instead young society tends to place blame in a third party…and that’s why we need Yelp and Glassdoor.

    • Pam Butterfield, Business Success Tools | October 31, 2018 at 9:13 am

      Managing your small business’s reputation has often focused on marketing and sales. Today, especially with social media and employment websites (Indeed, Glassdoor, etc.), you have to consider the employment market and what prospective candidates know about you and you company, as an employer. Thank you for the excellent advice, Felicia.

      • Hannah Sullivan | October 31, 2018 at 11:09 am

        Thanks, Pam!

    • Henry N Rodriguez-Almanzar | October 31, 2018 at 9:04 am

      Like this article said:
      This is a small world so, you never know if one day you got out of business and have to be interviewed by a ghosted candidate.

    • SAMUEL B RUDOLPH | October 30, 2018 at 11:12 pm

      Much agree with this, but such “radio silence” has unfortunately become the norm for many.

    • Joe L. | October 30, 2018 at 10:55 pm

      This is a really good article with sound advice. I have done this both unintentionally and intentionally and been on the receiving end as well. After reading this I wouldn’t think of allowing it to happen again. I think you have to check on anybody working for you as well, which I would probably not have thought of before reading this.

      • Hannah Sullivan | October 31, 2018 at 8:26 am

        Thank you for your feedback, Joe!

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