HR Insights 8 min

Why Your Applicants Are Ghosting You (And What You Can Do About It)

January 18, 2022

At our recent HR Virtual Summit, we heard a lot of ghost stories: hauntingly similar accounts of applicants who simply stopped responding to recruiters, hiring managers, and HR professionals at some point during the hiring process. They all went something like this:

“The initial interview went smoothly, we did a final round of interviews, and by the end, we thought we’d found “The One.” So we put together a comp package and sent out an offer letter. Then…crickets.”

Spooky. This type of behavior—commonly referred to in recruiting (and in online dating) as “ghosting”—happens all too often, and it can be the most frustrating part of talent acquisition. 

We heard you, and we’re here to help.

We looked at multiple surveys and research articles on the topic in an attempt to find not just why applicants ghost, but which of those reasons stem from fixable problems.     

Uncovering the Real Reasons Candidates Ghost

Though employers don’t have a definitive answer to why there seems to be a surge in applicant ghosting, there are some theories. Indeed surveyed over 4,000 job seekers and nearly 900 employers across a broad set of industries to understand the prevalence of ghosting and why it seems to be on the rise. While the ghosting trend is relatively new, 83 percent of employers had already experienced it, and 69 percent had experienced it within the last two years.

Candidates might stop returning phone calls and emails for any number of reasons—many of which you can’t control, like the fact that when push comes to shove, they might just be terrible at communication. But there are also reasons you can improve on or maybe even eliminate with a change in your strategy or process. 

Reason #1: An Unstructured Hiring Process Left the Applicant Feeling Uneasy

Applying for a job is arduous, and ghosting can be a two-way street. Unfortunately, it’s a common theme for employers to fail to communicate with candidates during the hiring process. 

Without adequate communication during and after each step in the process, candidates can feel left in the dark, wondering whether it’ll be three weeks or three months before they hear back. As a result, some candidates may decide to “ghost back,” especially if their applications are met with a no-response from companies.

Solution: Communicate Constantly

It might only take a few days of no communication to create feelings of rejection and frustration. That can lead to a candidate deciding you aren’t worth their time, when in fact the only bad thing about your company is that a hiring manager spent a long weekend camping with the kids.   

A straightforward way to avoid a chaotic candidate-to-employer communication pipeline is by using tools that build communication into your process at regular (and frequent) intervals. It could be as basic as adding email reminders to your calendar, but if you want to ensure no drops in communication happen, think about an applicant tracking system. At its core, an applicant tracking system, or ATS, is software designed to make finding and hiring excellent candidates more efficient. But an ATS can also help you create a better hiring experience for candidates and reduce ghosting by:

  • Automatically managing job postings, application screening, candidate communication, and more
  • Tracking candidate data, so no one gets ghosted or accidentally ignored
  • Offering modules and analytics that let you examine the steps of your hiring process and see where you can improve communication, thus keeping more candidates in the pipeline

Reason #2: The Candidate Took an Offer From Another Company

Another reason candidates tend to disappear from an employers’ radar is that they’ve accepted another offer. That might have been because the compensation package was better, the role was better suited to their skills, or the commute was shorter. But we also know from experience that candidates feel pressured to make choices quickly, which means it’s often not the best offer but the quickest offer that gets accepted. And that’s something you can control.

Solution: Streamline Your Process

It’s a common refrain that “the best candidates are typically off the market within ten days.” And while we’ve found more articles repeating that statistic than actual studies proving it, the point is still valid: top-tier candidates don’t job hunt for long. If we assume there’s some data somewhere to back up the ten-day statement, and then we look at a report from LinkedIn showing the average company takes 30 days to fill a position, that means on average, companies would need to triple their pace to keep up with hiring competitors. 

When it comes to an offer package, you may not be able to beat the competition in every area. You can probably move a little faster, however, and gain a significant edge simply by beating others to the punch. How can you do that? Start by examining your process and looking for delays, bottlenecks, and ways to reduce the time between an application being submitted and a decision being made. If you’re using an ATS, look for reporting functions like an Applicant Funnel report to gain insights on how candidates are moving through your process, and use it to track any improvement efforts. 

Reason #3: The Candidate Used Your Offer as Leverage at Their Current Organization

Some applicants may come into an interview with the deliberate purpose of leveraging an offer letter to get a better compensation package from their existing employer. Most, however, don’t—they really are seeking a new opportunity. So, what could make them decide to turn around and stay with their current job? Perhaps an opportunity that wasn’t clearly good enough to be worth leaving for. 

Solution: Put Your Entire Foot Forward

Good candidates care about compensation, but they’re also looking for growth potential, telecommuting options, company culture alignment, and team/manager fit, among other elements. It pays to stand out in the mind of candidates as not only a better opportunity than the competition, but also a better place to grow and find fulfillment than their current role. Thus, employers should prioritize clarity in more than just flashy areas like salary and benefits. Make sure every job opening you post and every interview you conduct takes opportunities to communicate on specific talking points, including:

  • Salary and pay scale transparency so that compensation is aligned with what other companies are offering
  • In-depth discussion about company culture and fit
  • Potential for mobility, growth, and promotions
  • Standards regarding flexibility, job responsibilities, and expectations for the role
Learn how the BambooHR® ATS helps you keep applicants engaged from interview to onboarding.

How to Avoid the Silent Treatment From Applicants

As Glassdoor suggests, ghosting is a trend that isn’t budging. “In the current market, candidates really have a lot of options,” says Liz Cannata, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. “[I] think they have very high standards for what they expect out of both the recruitment process and the company.”

Keeping up with these standards may be challenging, but here’s what you can do if a candidate decides to ghost your company:

  • Leave your communication channels open: Most candidates tend to ghost because they realize the role isn’t the right fit for them. If you’re still interested in the candidate, it’s worth sending a follow-up message to scope out the real reason they haven’t replied. You never know where people will land, and you’ve already invested your time into the candidate—you might as well keep your channels open.
  • Consider your time constraints: Making one (or even a couple) of follow-ups with a candidate is a productive way to nudge a response. And we know we just talked about keeping channels open, but if an applicant needs constant nudging and repeated overtures to give you even the smallest response, it could be an indicator that they’re a poor communicator.
  • Track, track, track: Time is money, and you don’t want to accidentally reinvest in a candidate who was uncooperative in the past. Depending on the size of your company and average turnover, consider using your HRIS to maintain a list of applicants who ghost you and save yourself time and energy in future hiring decisions. 

HR has enough to contend with in the hiring process without the added stress of chasing applicants who pull a disappearing act. Luckily, you can put safeguards in place to ensure this doesn’t happen to your organization. As we’ve mentioned a few times, there are things you can’t control, but what you can control is how your organization treats both current employees and future ones. That’s the first way to get people to want to come work for you and want to stay in touch with you––if you build a great place to work and you’re making fair offers, you’ll find the right people.

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Marie-Reine Pugh

Marie-Reine Pugh is focused on making HR simpler for HR professionals and workplaces a better place for everyone. She pulls from her previous experiences as an educator and six years of writing and researching to explore how to create inclusive company cultures that help businesses succeed.