Stop ghosting job and client candidates: It can hurt your business in the long run

Abruptly ceasing contact with potential employees, partners and vendors isn't just rude, it could harm your ability to acquire help in the future.

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Image: FOTOKITA/Shutterstock

Ghosting is one of several colloquial terms that have made it into common parlance that I love for its dramatic imagery and accuracy. The term originated in interpersonal and romantic relationships, where one partner abruptly ended all communications without explanation, effectively vanishing into thin air as if they never existed in the first place.

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While I have no firsthand data on the prevalence of ghosting in the dating world, it does appear to be on the rise in the professional domain. For example, I recently spoke to a former colleague who was considering changing jobs. She's immensely qualified in a hot area, and her search was off to a great start. She mentioned one particular organization that had contacted her, quickly scheduling an initial call and then setting up an interview with her potential future boss. All this occurred over a couple weeks, and she remarked about how impressed she was with the company's quick turnaround and organization.

After the interview, she said she was very excited about the role, only to have the company ghost her, with no contact or acknowledgment of the emails and calls she sent to express her interest and inquire about next steps.

As a professional service provider, I've experienced a similar phenomenon dozens of times. Excited potential clients are checking in on a sometimes-daily basis, asking for information, approaches, pitches and pricing, only to ghost us after a significant effort was expended to design a tailored proposal. Sometimes I'll hear months later that they went with another provider, canceled the program or weren't all that serious to begin with.

"It's just business" isn't an excuse for bad behavior

It's impossible to have a conversation with anyone trying to hire these days without hearing about the impacts of the Great Resignation, talent shortages and difficulties in finding talent. When I hear these conversations, I can't help wondering how many good candidates were ghosted, due to something on the spectrum ranging from misguided malice to simple sloppiness. Usually, ghosting is due to the latter and attributed to some variant of "it's just business, therefore courtesy is not expected or required."

Each ghosted candidate may have shared that experience with friends and colleagues, as my jilted friend did with me. She described the role as a dream job, but is uncertain if she'd even do another interview or accept an offer since she worries her ghosting is indicative of broader cultural flaws at the company. I'd certainly avoid the organization that ghosted her and have her story in the back of my mind if I ever interact with the organization.

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On the services side, it usually only takes one or two ghostings before providers will either ignore your requests or simply "phone in" a response. Worse yet, intentionally or subconsciously, that provider may not bring their best people, services or solutions next time you engage them. It's simple human nature not to bring your best to an abusive relationship, and ghosting sours professional interactions just as it does personal relationships.

No one expects to get an offer from every job interview or a lucrative contract with every pitch. However, the basic professional courtesy of an email saying that the job is no longer available or that another vendor was selected is not only baseline professional courtesy, it's a reflection on your organization and its values.

A rejection delivered promptly and frankly, and perhaps even including a bit of feedback shows that your organization is a team of professionals that values the current and future relationship. I'll happily respond to and respect an organization that's rejected me a half-dozen times when I know that I was given reasonable consideration and my time was not being wasted.

The easy way to end ghosting

You've undoubtedly been admonished by an elder with some variation of "it takes just as much time to be rude as it does to be kind." That advice is certainly applicable in business relationships. Ending ghosting is as simple as informing the impacted individuals of where they stand in your emerging relationship, even if that relationship is coming to a close. Suppose you've decided not to fill an opening, go in a different direction, or merely need more time. In that case, it takes all of three minutes to inform the impacted individuals rather than vanishing into the spirit world, never to be heard from again (unless you want something).

A one-line email that's nothing more than "I just wanted to let you know we're still very much interested in continuing our conversation, we just need a bit more time. Please reach out in three weeks if you don't hear from me first" might turn a future detractor of your organization into an ally or at least a neutral party.

Not only will you make your elders proud and be acting like a decent human, those three minutes could do more for marketing your organization as a group of reasonable and responsible professionals than the thousands of dollars you're throwing at social media campaigns, job fairs and headhunters.

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By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...