Skip to main content

alashi/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Christy Washer was sure she was getting the job she had just interviewed for, but instead of an offer, she got radio silence.

The opening was for an office manager and bookkeeper at a large pest control company in Toronto. She had been contacted by a recruiter, whom she met in person after speaking on the phone. She then interviewed with the company’s chief executive and again with the vice-president to whom she would report if hired.

She thought all four interviews went well. The recruiter told her she’d be in touch the next day, but then all communication stopped. Ms. Washer’s e-mail inquiries about her status went unanswered, leaving her with nothing but questions and self-doubt.

“The CEO had liked me enough to refer me on. I thought the rapport was good, we talked for quite a while,” she says. “So what was wrong with me? What did I misread? That was a hit to the ego.”

Ms. Washer’s experience is an example of “ghosting” – the unexpected cessation of communication by one party in a correspondence or relationship.

Employers have been going quiet on potential employees since time immemorial, but the relatively new term for the practice comes from the dating world, where vanishing on a potential partner has been described as a growing epidemic.

Ghosting is on the rise in workplace circles too, experts say, as technology is making it easy to both apply for jobs and ignore communication efforts. As in dating, plentiful options abound for employers and job seekers alike, which means the knife cuts both ways.

It was reported last year that there had been a rise in job seekers and newly hired workers ghosting employers, either by dropping out of hiring processes or not showing up for the first day of work without explanation.

Experts say that plentiful job availability – employment gains are on track for one of the best years on record, according to Statistics Canada – is making job seekers feel like hot commodities.

There may also be an element of revenge at play where, after numerous experiences like Ms. Washer’s, candidates are giving employers a taste of their own medicine.

“The dynamic has maybe shifted,” says James Davidson, director of talent acquisition at accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada. “It’s giving people greater confidence to ghost employers back.”

Still, ghosting an employer or recruiter is a horse-before-the-cart problem – a candidate can only do it if and when they receive a job offer. What can they do before getting to that point? How should job seekers deal with employers who ghost them?

Mr. Davidson advises assuming positive intent for the lack of communication. The recruiter or human resources manager may simply be overwhelmed or they may be waiting on decision makers – it usually isn’t anything personal.

Job seekers may want to push the process by saying they are moving to a new round of talks with another employer. “We like busy people who are in demand,” Mr. Davidson says. “That might be the piece of information the recruiter needs to go to the hiring manager and spur things along.”

If that approach fails, some degree of introspection may be called for. “Some organizations will ask the receptionist, ‘Did Joe Blow say goodbye and hello?'” he adds. “Reflect on your whole brand and how you projected yourself to everyone in the process.”

Job hunters may also want to look for warning signs of potential ghosting during the early stages of the interview process. An interviewer who asks questions only about perfunctory issues such as salary expectations may be signalling little real interest in the candidate.

“Do they get back to you ahead of time? Do they listen to you?” says Diana Lemdall, manager of people and culture at Toronto-based software firm Sentaca Consulting. “If they’re not responding quickly, maybe you’ve dodged a bullet.”

Ms. Lemdall also suggests checking out online discussions on employment sites such as Glassdoor, where candidates sometimes post details of their own experiences. Such threads can be a good way to identify employers who are likely to ghost so that they can be avoided.

Experts don’t advise candidates to ghost employers in return should the opportunity present itself, for a number of reasons. Not only can the act come back to haunt them down the road, it’s also harmful in the big picture.

“It’s a waste of everyone’s time,” says Andrew Carricato, employment and human rights lawyer at Lidstone & Company. “It’s lost productivity for the economy overall. It shouldn’t continue.”

Ms. Washer agrees. “It’s not acceptable to me and it’s not good business practice,” she says. “If this is a thing, it needs to change.”

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.