A figure dressed as a ghost wearing a large white sheet with black felt ovals for eyes.
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Disappearing act: The simple mistake that wrecks your recruitment

18 Mar 2022

Tech recruiter Gavin Fox explains how ghosting job applicants can damage your employer brand and turn candidates from ambassadors to saboteurs.

You might think the term ‘ghosting’ is reserved for dating app interactions, or teenagers who can’t articulate their romantic feelings. But it’s a huge problem in recruitment.

When employers ghost candidates, they do all kinds of damage to their talent pool and brand reputation.

I was cautious about writing this article. I didn’t want it to be a snide, opinionated affair if I didn’t have any evidence to back it up – especially since I’m just as guilty of this working in agency recruitment, which only emphasises the cultural need for change. But recruitment software company TribePad has shared research into employer ghosting, confirming my hunch.

The impact of ghosting in recruitment is monumental. 65pc of UK adults surveyed had been ghosted during the recruitment process, and 86pc of those candidates said the experience made them feel bad about themselves.

Every time you alienate a candidate by ghosting them, their confidence dips. As an employer, you might think, ‘So what?’ If they were the wrong candidate for the role, why does it matter how you made them feel?

It matters, because it’s extremely damaging to your employer brand. That candidate has friends and connections who could possibly be perfect for your company. And when they hear how you mishandled an applicant, they probably won’t apply for your jobs.

According to the 2021 Edelman Trust barometer, 53pc of those surveyed consider people like themselves to be an extremely or very credible source when it comes to information about a company. Friends trust their friends. Therefore, a candidate can be your ambassador or saboteur, depending on your behaviour.

When it comes to recruitment ghosting, there are some common tactics companies use, with different impacts. Let’s explore some of these.

Snail ghost

You post a job and get lots of applicants. Too many. It takes you so long to screen them that candidates don’t hear from you for two weeks. When they finally do, you’re booking interviews another two weeks in advance.

Meanwhile, they’ve been interviewing here, there and everywhere. By the time you pull your finger out and hit reply, they may have already accepted an offer.

I won’t pretend this is an easy challenge to solve, but preparedness is key. Make sure you have the facilities to handle lots of applicants, and keep them up to date with emails, phone calls, or any other communication that keeps them in the loop.

As soon as you go silent, they go elsewhere.

Automated ghost

You post a job and get lots of applicants, and you know that means lots of time to be spent assessing them. So, thoughtfully, you send out an automated email to say you’re inundated with CVs and successful applicants will hear back.

You pick your favourite 10, and the rest of the CVs find their way into the shredder (or Google trash can, this isn’t 1990).

While you get excited about seeing which of the 10 has the X factor, those other candidates are waiting for some kind of acknowledgement. They don’t even know they’ve been rejected.

It’s simple to schedule an email that says: ‘You were unlucky this time, but we’ll keep you on file. Thanks for applying!’ Give people closure. It’s the least you can do for the hours they spent writing their application.

Heartbreaker ghost

Now you have your top candidates, it’s time to give them an interview. Or maybe a tech test. Whatever comes first for your company.

You interview the candidates and there are some great contenders. You shortlist half of them for a final interview. The rest were unsuccessful.

Except, instead of telling the rest of them they were unsuccessful, you just move on with the shortlisted ones. Those candidates who didn’t make the cut might be ace in a few years’ time. They could turn into exactly the kind of developers, project managers, or data scientists you need in five years.

But you disappear off the face of the earth. And they think, ‘I’m never applying there again.’

You can fix this, easily. Pick up the phone. Tell them they didn’t get shortlisted. Give them one piece of feedback. End on good terms. You can do that in the space of 10 minutes, and it’ll do wonders for your reputation.

Turning the tables

When I was researching this article, there was one study I found particularly amusing. Because, on the flip side, three quarters of UK adults surveyed by Viser have ghosted employers in the last 18 months.

According to that same survey, 24pc of those candidates said it was due to an inaccurate job description. It appears that when employers actually bother to embrace comms, they’re still being deceptive.

I promise you, if you ghost candidates at any stage of the hiring process, it will come back around and hurt your employer brand. Whether they become exceptional candidates who no longer want to interview at your start-up, or their talented friends get put off applying, how you behave has a direct impact on the quality and quantity of candidates you receive.

When you take too long to reply to successful candidates, or don’t bother informing them, you shrink your talent pool. Not just for today, but for the future.

Leave ghosting on the dating apps, and stay present in your recruitment process. Or the consequences will haunt you forever.

By Gavin Fox

Gavin Fox is a director at tech recruitment firm Martinsen Mayer with 14 years’ experience in the industry. He is also founder of Dublin Tech Talks, a meet-up group and podcast series.

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