“If a romantic prospect doesn’t text back, it’s easier to blame it on immaturity,” says psychologist and workplace expert Amy Cooper Hakim, PhD. “But you expect a level of professionalism—which includes proper communication, even if it’s a no, in a career setting.” And when a recruiter disappears, it can feel like you’ve failed yourself and your future.
One reason? The bulk of the hiring process is now done online, with automated programs scanning through stacks of résumés and e-mails.“Ghosting is more likely to happen when employers don’t think about candidates as humans with feelings, emotions, and goals,” says Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com. So even if you schmoozed it up with a would-be boss in person or dazzled a manager on a call, it still may be easier for them to remember you as a résumé online.
Or maybe HR does remember you vividly but is drowning in a sea of “Just checking in!” e-mails exactly like yours. “It’s not uncommon for companies to have hundreds of candidates apply for a single opening,” says Miller-Merrell. Even on a smaller scale, if an interviewer has 10 open positions and speaks to 10 qualified candidates for each post, she’d be fielding 100 follow-ups at the same time.
And then there’s the stuff beyond your—or even the recruiter’s—control. The company could love you but be on a hiring freeze and not want to get in touch until it’s over. Or perhaps there’s an internal reorganization going on, and the update is that there is no update (hence the radio silence). There’s also always the chance that a supervisor, just like a cowardly right swipe, doesn’t want to deal with any awkwardness, says Susan Vitale, workplace expert and chief marketing officer at iCIMS. “Frankly, employers could be reluctant to let candidates down and want to avoid having those uncomfortable conversations.”
You may not be able to completely avoid getting stuck in job-hunting purgatory, but you can take steps to keep the ghosts at bay. During your interview, ask specifically when you can expect to hear about next steps, says Hakim.
If you don’t get word by then, send an e-mail reminder that reiterates your enthusiasm and the fact that you’re hoping for an update. To make sure your note stands out, be specific. Try “Can we hop on the phone? I have one more question about the position” or “Here are some links to my work.” Direct asks are more likely to get responses.
Still nada? Most job openings are filled within three months of the initial listing, says Miller-Merrell, so if you haven’t heard a peep around 90 days after your interview—despite your polite follow-ups—consider that a rejection and move on.
You can take small consolation in the fact that you may not want to get involved with a ghoster anyway, says Vitale. “However an employer treats you during the interview process is a reflection of how they’d treat you as an employee. If it’s not great now, it’s not likely to improve later.”
But you shouldn’t ghost either. No matter how fed up you get with job ghosters, don’t turn the tables—even if it starts to feel normal or beyond tempting to deliver some payback. (Seriously: 41 percent of job applicants say they feel just fine ghosting a company during the recruiting process, according to Clutch.)
Not a great idea, says Amy Cooper Hakim. “Job ghosting, on either side, is not a respectful practice.” You could end up burning major bridges you’ll need later in your career. If you decide you’re not into a gig, just send a quick response: “Thank you for your time, but I don’t think this position is the best fit for me. Good luck with your search!”