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Devan Rajkumar, chef at the new Loch & Quay restaurant in Toronto, says a string of candidates during a recent hiring process failed to show up or contact him.

Chris Donovan

Chef Devan Rajkumar, owner of newly opened Loch & Quay restaurant in Toronto, was short-staffed recently and rapidly lined up a bunch of interviews and trial shifts for cooks. His frustration mounted as a string of the candidates didn’t turn up.

“I was at my wits’ end at that point with all the no shows,” he said.

Interview “no shows” are a common complaint in some industries, such as restaurant and retail. They appear particularly endemic to entry-level or low-paying positions with long, gruelling hours in major cities where there is an abundance of work available.

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“It’s been an ongoing problem … it’s driven by the intense competition between employers for certain-level jobs,” said Best Retail Careers International president, Suzanne Sears, a recruiter who has hired people for jobs ranging from retail entry-level positions right up to the CEO’s office.

Young people are often more comfortable with texting, applying for jobs online, interacting through social media and even “ghosting” someone they no longer wish to date.

Ed des Roches, owner of Vancouver-based Plum Clothing, said that “no shows” have been going on in retail for many years, but are especially prevalent with the younger generation.

“They do not feel like they have to call you and say they have accepted another job or have reconsidered. They just avoid telling you altogether,” he said.

Steven Hancock, head chef at one of the Fox and Fiddle pubs in downtown Toronto, tries to connect with interviewees who do not show up for a scheduled appointment. “It always rings and rings and I never hear from that person again.”

Mr. Hancock recounted a recent unsuccessful attempt to reach an applicant by phone. When the person returned his call several hours later, the candidate “seemed very confused as to why I would call them about the job posting and not just e-mail them.”

It can be a sore and recurring topic on social media, as employers complain about their latest experience with “no shows.” For some job seekers, however, it’s par for the course, arguing that they never hear back from employers either about unsuccessful job interviews. Why should they be expected to act differently? Others complain about rude hiring managers or unacceptably low pay as reasons why they change their minds.

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Hiring the right people has become a top concern for many employers and a challenge for businesses in a competitive labour market, recruiters and industry consultants say. While overall job growth in Canada has tapered somewhat, it comes after an exceptionally strong year in 2017.

“There are jobs out there that are still begging for workers, so people with the right skills should find a job in this kind of labour market, with the unemployment rate at four-decade lows,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist with BMO Financial Group. “It’s easier now to find a job, the opportunities are more ample than a year or two years ago ... so people have more choice.”

Retailer Mr. des Roches said that employers need to act quickly with offers, “in under 24 hours or they will have accepted another job.” Businesses are cognizant of the competition. Mr. Hancock, for example, tries to respond to job applicants within a half hour of receiving them, but even that is sometimes not enough.

“It’s a competitive market and everyone’s looking for qualified staff, so it’s pretty much first-come, first-serve,” said Mr. Hancock, who recalled his own job-hunting experience when he first moved to Toronto two years ago, where he was offered a job at all 10 of the restaurants he interviewed for.

In a recent hiring effort, Mr. Hancock said only two out of the seven scheduled interview candidates showed up and, of the two, only one came for a “stage,” an industry term for a trial shift to gauge a cook’s skills. As with Mr. Rajkumar, he was dealing with a staffing shortage, including one cook who notified him by text that they would not be coming back and another who broke the news in the middle of a shift that it would be their last.

“Our industry is very, very, very difficult; it’s very demanding and the pay is not the greatest,” Loch & Quay’s Mr. Rajkumar said.

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“A lot of younger kids can make more money sitting at a desk for eight hours, so I think that’s one of the reasons why a lot of people are not cooking. I would say there are more jobs available than there are cooks out there.”

Mr. Rajkumar says he offers a 4-per-cent tip-out on total sales to the “back of the house” and pays for trial shifts, which not all restaurants do. But the industry’s low pay stems in part from how difficult it is to keep a restaurant above water once labour, food, hydro and other costs are accounted for, he added.

Despite the consensus that “no shows” are viewed as discourteous and unprofessional, many employers and experts agree that businesses also need to make prospective employees feel a connection to the business and valued. This is particularly true for minimum-wage, entry-level jobs that are often seen as a means to an end and not particularly meaningful.

“The economy is such that the candidate is king,” Ms. Sears said. “So if you want better behaviour from the candidate, you need to provide a better candidate experience.”

Canada’s top entrepreneurs share their strategies for success at the 2018 Globe and Mail Small Business Summit. Full lineup and early-bird tickets available at tgam.ca/SBS18