Q: What if a potential employer stops responding to me?
A: It’s happened to all of us: You’re communicating with recruiters or hiring managers about a promising new job, and they suddenly stop returning your messages. You follow up after a first, second, maybe even a third interview, and never hear back. You wonder what you could have done differently and if there’s any hope of reviving their interest. You’ve been ghosted.
In case you’re not familiar with this term, which has recently joined the vernacular, ghosting has its origins in the social arena: Someone you’re dating suddenly stops texting. A friend stops returning your calls. As a career coach, I see workplace ghosting happening more and more. As if the burden of doing a job search were not enormous enough, add this new insult to an already fragile ego. But you’re not alone.
Why You've Been Ghosted
First, the why. The short answer is, it probably has nothing to do with you.
• The bar for candidate selection is higher than ever. There are many more qualified candidates for far fewer positions. On top of that, people are working harder and may not have the bandwidth to respond in a meaningful way, no matter how qualified you are. Along with this comes the fact, I believe, that social media and online dating apps have made such behavior a more acceptable norm; we’ve been socialized to tolerate this disappearing act.
• There’s an imbalance of power. Companies have something of value that you and many others want. They don’t need to worry about fallout to their company’s reputation. I wonder if it’s perhaps the opposite—the higher-ups believe that being able to ignore candidates gives them more cachet.
• There was never a job available to begin with. Sometimes companies will post a position simply to comply with fair-hiring practices.
• There is a slim, though unlikely, possibility that your correspondence never made it through firewalls and is now circulating somewhere in cyberspace.
I see workplace ghosting happening more and more. ... Add this new insult to an already fragile ego. But you're not alone.
So What Can You Do About It?
• I’m a believer that applying a bit of old-school guilt sometimes goes a long way toward nudging a wayward contact. I might send a brief email, then follow up with an almost-verbatim voicemail message: “You may recall I was referred by our mutual friend, Kate Smith. Just wanted to check in. Sent two emails over the past two weeks and didn’t hear back. Wanted to make sure everything is OK.”
• Decide how many times to follow up, and stick to it. Typically, this number should be based on insights gleaned by consulting with your LinkedIn contacts who work for the company or know someone who does. However, prepare yourself for people who, when you finally reach them, criticize you. Be apologetic: “I know I’ve called a number of times and apologize for appearing to be a pest. I’m just excited by the work you’re doing and figured you’re busy.”
• Find a new and better point person. Sometimes people don’t respond because they aren’t the right contacts. Or maybe the person you’ve been speaking with had to depart the company suddenly.
• Generate activity—then make sure the company knows about it. Busy people are more interesting to companies. You might write an email that says: “I’m moving forward with interviews at two competing firms. I would hate to be faced with a decision without having the opportunity to talk to you.”
• Invest the time in making sure that you present yourself as someone worth getting to know. Write a great email, and make sure to proof it carefully. Prepare your voicemail message in advance.
• Give up … but don’t forget. Focus on other options. But be ready when, almost out of the blue, you receive a response. It may even be an apology. Above all else: never personalize the process. You’ve been ignored, not necessarily rejected. I, too, have been a frequent victim of career-related ghosting. But the reason I get ghosted often is that I make myself get out there. Remember, you’ve only been ghosted because you put yourself out there. And that’s a good thing!
Roy Cohen ’85 is a career coach specializing in career management for Wall Street professionals and the best-selling author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide (FT Press, 2010).