Time kills deals: How to avoid getting ghosted by job candidates

84% of job seekers admitted to ghosting in the last 18 months.

Ghosts fleeing from phone call

Ghosting employers isn’t new, but the hot talent market is driving a resurgence of this behavior.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Their LinkedIn was mesmerizing. Sparks flew during the first interview. But afterward, that promising job candidate just… disappeared.

Job seekers are ghosting employers all over the place these days. In the last year and a half alone, 84% of U.S. job candidates have ghosted an employer, potential employer or both, according to a February study from the people analytics software-maker Visier.

Alexandra Von Tiergarten, a Los Angeles-based regional director for the talent firm Robert Half, was ghosted by an entry-level candidate for an internal role within the last week. The candidate had gone through two prior interviews with the firm, but skipped the third-round virtual interview without warning.

“I went back to my team to find out what steps we didn’t do correctly,” Von Tiergarten said. “There were too many days in between the first interview and the interview with me. In that instance, I think time killed us.”

Why you’re getting ghosted

By surveying more than 2,300 senior managers and more than 2,400 workers in the U.S., Robert Half found that 35% of employers who had lost out on a candidate had done so because they were slow to make an offer. 40% lost a candidate because they didn’t allow enough schedule flexibility, and 24% offered too little pay.

“It’s really a representation of what’s going on with talent right now, because we have much more choice,” said Andrea Derler, an organizational economist who works as Visier’s head of Research.

Ghosting employers isn’t new, but the hot talent market is driving a resurgence of this behavior. (And disappearing like this might not be a great employee trait, anyway.) Of the U.S. workers surveyed by Visier, 37% admitted that in the last 18 months, they’d disappeared from an employer, and 30% said they’d ghosted a potential employer. 10% said they’d ghosted both.

And employers are feeling the effects. 39% of employers surveyed by Robert Half said that candidates are ghosting more often than they were two years ago.

Men are more likely than women to ghost, Visier found, with 90% of men and 68% of women admitting to ghosting. Office workers also admitted to more ghosting than front-line workers did. The biggest ghosters of all were senior leaders: 99% of senior vice presidents and 96% of C-level executives admitted that they’d ghosted a potential employer before. Vice presidents (93%) and directors (91%) also did their share of ghosting.

How to ward off ghosts

In order to avoid being ghosted, Robert Half recommends that companies move fast on strong candidates: Time kills deals. Quickly follow up with all candidates, even the ones who aren’t a fit, in order to build a reputation for providing a strong candidate experience. Make that communication “friendly, persuasive and specific,” Robert Half recommends in its report.

Even waiting two or three days to follow up with a strong candidate is too long in this market, Von Tiergarten said.

“In that time frame, they will get other job interviews and perhaps other offers,” Von Tiergarten said. “As you are interviewing a candidate, you’ve got to give them feedback, perhaps at the end of the interview, as to whether or not you are going to be pushing them forward in the process.”

One in three candidates told Robert Half they had ghosted because of a subpar interview process. 29% said they did because they’d received another offer, and 23% ghosted because the job wasn’t what they expected. 16% of workers said they’d ghosted because the company would have required them to work from the office.

Visier found similar results. The main reasons workers reported to Visier were low salary (29%), better job offers (28%), inaccurate job description (27%), poor reputation or online reviews (26%) and poorly perceived work culture (22%).

Poorly written job descriptions are a common obstacle to hiring. Robert Half deals with this type of miscommunication “on a regular basis,” Von Tiergarten said.

“Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what the hiring manager is wanting and the HR professional that wrote the job description,” Von Tiergarten said. “You’ve got some companies that write huge job descriptions with 20 things that they want, and then you have companies that write very narrow job descriptions because they’re trying to get a bigger pool.”

Given how many candidates ghost because they’re disappointed by the compensation on offer, Robert Half recommends that companies make sure their offer is above average on compensation, flexibility and perks, like a sign-on bonus. Von Tiergarten recommends making sure a candidate’s salary expectations fit within budget early. That could happen on the first interview if it’s with the hiring manager, she said.

The tables have turned, and they’ll turn again

Of course, many employers have ghosted on candidates, too, and it can sting. (37% of workers told Visier they’d be more upset about being ghosted by an employer than being stood up on a date.) But as candidates hold more and more power, employers are getting a taste of their own medicine.

“Years ago, it was the employee who was always on the weaker branch of the tree and had to take what they could,” Derler said. “It has implications for how leaders and managers treat employees, from the start of the first hiring interview until they want to consider who gets promoted.”

This is a phase, Derler said, but companies need to adjust if candidates are slipping through their fingers.

“I think that the responsibility currently really lies with the organization, because it’s on them now to create a really good candidate experience and employee experience,” Derler said. “It’s on HR leaders, but also business leaders, to make sure they get the right talent.”


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