ghosted candidate standing on city street

I’ve heard hundreds of stories about people who’ve gone to multiple interviews, met hiring managers and team members, gotten their hopes up about what seemed like a slam dunk … only to be ‘ghosted’. No word back, not a phone call or even an email, despite polite messages requesting an update. What are you supposed to do when you’re ghosted?

I have a ‘30 minutes’ rule of thumb. If someone has given you 30 minutes or more of their time in a phone call or an interview, a thank you note is in order. It works the other way around, too. If a candidate has given me 30 minutes or more of their time, I have always felt that I owed them a note or a call to let them know if we weren’t going to go any further. Showing as much respect for a candidate’s time as they show for mine is just the right thing to do.

Some recruiters and hiring managers don’t do that. They leave people hanging.

There’s no two ways about it; it sucks. It feels awful if this happens to you. Even outright rejection would be a bit better. At least you’d have some closure.

I’m not making excuses, but the truth is that sometimes when it happens, there are reasons (other than the person being an inconsiderate jerk). 

In a hiring process with a lot of people involved, sometimes there are so many decision makers (or, at least, decision influencers) that it takes time for the main contact person to get clear direction, and they want that direction before passing any news along. They don’t want to give you false hope by being too positive if the answer is going to be no, and they don’t want to give you the impression that you’re out of the running if you’re one of the lead candidates. So, they wait … for what feels like an eternity on your end.

Sometimes things get very, very busy. If you’re dealing directly with a hiring manager who has a full-time job that isn’t recruiting, their plate may have just become overloaded with responsibilities that they can’t put aside, and that consume every working moment of every day. Even a quick note to say, ‘hang in there’ drops to the bottom of the priority list.

Some people just really hate letting people down. Let’s face it, we all do. Most of us suck it up, and deliver bad news when we have to. Some people, though, deal with it by avoiding and procrastinating, hoping the task will go away if they just ignore it long enough.

And some recruiters just forget. Juggling an armful of open positions, there are a lot of demands on a recruiter’s time, and sometimes things (or people, in this case) fall through the cracks. (Usually – not always, but usually – a note of some kind from a candidate will remind them and prompt them to respond.)

So, if you find yourself in this position, what do you do?

I recommend no fewer than two attempts, and no more than three. Whether you choose email or phone will depend on the circumstances. Generally, whatever you used for most of the communication up to that point is the best medium.

In the first message, restate your interest, thank the person again for their time, and say that you’re looking forward to hearing back from them with an update.

In the second message (and the third one, if you send one), you can be a bit more direct. If you’ve got other interviews on the go and you think you might need to make a decision soon, you can tell them. If there’s another reason why you’d need to hear by a certain date – for example, a major project with your current employer that you’re going to have to commit to unless you’re moving on – you can mention that as well. (Don’t lie about this, though! If they’re moving slowly because of something they can’t change, you might find yourself booted from the running.)

Don’t let your tone (verbal, or in an email) come across as pushy or demanding. Imagine a situation where a coworker that you like and trust is working on a project, and you need an update from them. That’s the tone of voice you should aim for. Don’t veer into desperation, either. You’re looking for an update because you’re sincerely interested in the job and the company. Not because you need to know now. If you’re unsure, you may want to script yourself before making a phone call, or draft an email and get someone else to check it for you, before making contact.

If you’ve gotten in touch two or three times and there’s still no reply, move on. This doesn’t necessarily mean ruling the company out for good. Sometimes it really is just a delay, and you might hear from them in a week or two. I just mean move on, keep looking at other opportunities, and don’t keep sending messages into a black hole. If there’s an unavoidable delay in the hiring process, a message every single day is eventually going to annoy the recipient. You could inadvertently shoot your otherwise strong candidacy in the foot by being a pest. (It probably goes without saying, but don’t let your emotions or hurt feelings take over. Sending a snarky message will close any doors that may still have been open, and burn bridges as well.)

I honestly wish all recruiters and hiring managers used the ‘30 minute rule’. Job-seekers deserve it, and it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to copy and paste a generic rejection note into an email.

If you’re a candidate who’s had communication break off, be professional and don’t let your emotions get the best of you.  As with every other point in the job search, feel what you’re feeling inside but choose your outward reaction well. Two professional messages (three at most), then move on.



Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash