Is “Ghosting” the Best Way to Reject Job Applicants?

Exactly 14 years ago, an exciting career opportunity presented itself to me: to be the manager of the Website of a well-known art magazine. It was a dream come true, especially when the first interview turned into a second interview with the president of the magazine. I sensed the interview didn’t go extraordinarily well, but it also didn’t seem bad. So considering how far along I had gotten in the process, imagine my surprise when I simply never heard from anyone at the magazine again. My contact there, who was not a native English speaker, sent me one odd response that “it was all good,” and then nothing—ever again. I still sometimes Google my contact to see what he’s up to because the experience was so baffling.

When I was searching for a topic to write about for this week’s blog, my attention was caught when I saw a piece on job applicant “ghosting,” when prospective employees do to companies precisely what was done to me. Just as a company suddenly might stop communicating with an applicant, these days, many job applicants turn the tables on potential employers, and ghost them: Some 40 percent of job applicants say it’s reasonable to ghost a company during the hiring process, according to a survey from Clutch, a business-to-business ratings and review firm.

With our strong job market, it sounds like many companies that ghosted job applicants for years are getting a taste of their own medicine. It’s not fun, is it, to have someone in your personal or professional life mysteriously stop communicating with you? Not fun, especially when the communication is about something that means a lot to you.

Is ghosting in the job application process an appropriate and good way to handle rejection? I always wondered why companies do it, and the only answer I’ve been able to come up with is that by stopping all further communication, the company legally protects itself from sending false hope to an applicant it has decided it definitely does not want to continue pursuing. Is that it? 

I would argue that if legal concerns are the reason for ghosting, it reveals poor training. As part of every manager’s training program, there should be instruction on how to both communicate rejection, as well as how to extend a job offer. If a person is management material, he or she should be able to master that lesson, right? All it requires is a simple note, e-mailed in response to the applicant: “Mary, thank you for taking the time to meet with us. Upon further review, we have decided to pursue other applicants. Best of luck in all your future endeavors.” 

Is the fear the applicant will e-mail back an argumentative or nasty note? Or that he or she will start calling and hounding the hiring manager? Now that’sthe time to ghost them. 

That said, there is a practical reason not to ghost. If you ghost an employee, you are limiting your ability to contact him or her in the future if a more suitable position opens up. And you are leaving him or her with a negative impression of your company, which he or she may share with friends and family, predisposing all of those people—also potential applicants or customers—to think of your company unfavorably. 

In addition to training managers to write rejection letters, maybe training employees to imagine themselves in the shoes of customers and business contacts would be helpful. You could think of it as empathy training. At the end of the day, when you ghost someone who you know is excited about working for your company, you are causing another person pain. If a manager is able, reflexively, to think about how the applicant must feel eagerly awaiting a response, he or she wouldn’t have to remember not to ghost. It would be second nature to reply. 

Does your company allow hiring managers to “ghost” job applicants, or do you require that managers communicate rejections to all applicants, or at least those who have come in for an in-person interview?


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