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Ghosting: It’s not just for dating

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JUNE 03, 2022

Ghosting (v.): the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. 

It is human nature to hate rejection, especially in its most modern form — being ghosted on a dating app. It’s the worst feeling when excitement and hope peak for a crush, only to have this love interest seemingly fall off of the face of the earth. Our generation is all too familiar with ghosting in the online dating scene, but the culture has translated into the professional world as well. Professional ghosting involves an employer going silent on an applicant during the interview process, or vice versa. 

Recently, I was reached out to by Ashleigh Banfield’s (formerly of CNN and ABC) news talk show, “Banfield,” to discuss my thoughts on professional ghosting after her team saw a TikTok I created conveying the frustration of job applicants who often don’t hear back from employers. Ever since I started creating Generation-Z-related career content on social media, I have heard dozens of stories from young professionals entering the professional workforce about the problems they face communicating with employers. While Ashleigh Banfield wanted to discuss ghosting by applicants, we students know that, most of the time, we are the ones being ghosted.

After appearing on her show to discuss this phenomenon I was able to reflect on my own recruitment experiences. I once did two final round interviews for two different positions at a major financial services company, only to never hear back about whether or not I got the job. After two weeks of waiting, I just assumed I didn’t get accepted and went about my life, hoping my other applications would have more success. Eventually, I did hear back — I received an automated rejection email seven months later telling me that I didn’t get the job. 

This is sadly a common occurrence that is shared by almost every student who is applying to coveted summer internship opportunities. Many individuals often get ghosted at the online application stage or, unfortunately, later in the process when they already committed time and emotional energy to interview for the position.

The lack of professional communication from employers often leaves job applicants in the dark. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, 77% of job seekers say they’ve been ghosted by a prospective employer. This can damage applicants’ well-being as well as the reputation of an “unresponsive” company. A study found that 55% of job seekers would not apply again to a company that did not reply to their initial application. Considering so many firms aim to foster talent directly from university, lack of communication can be seriously costly. A student who does not receive a reply for a sophomore or junior internship posting may not consider that company for full-time work post-graduation.

On the other hand, many employers report ghosting from candidates. This happens at any stage of the recruitment process, from cutting off communication after an initial hiring call, to “no shows” from a new hire’s first day of work. A reported 28% of job seekers have ghosted employers in 2021 — the result of receiving another job offer (20%), dissatisfaction with salary (13%), deciding it wasn’t the right job for them (15%) — and the list goes on. Applicants ghosting employers can create mistrust, burn bridges and ultimately add to the culture of poor communication. If neither party is respecting the relationship enough to follow up honestly, then the ghosting problem will only get worse.

During my TV interview, Banfield dove deeper asking how professional ghosting is influenced by our generation, Gen Z, saying, “I certainly know about ghosting with friends and dating apps … But this employment one is kind of new, and I wonder if this is a natural progression, because such a big part of your society is friends and dating when you’re young, and when you move to working you just think that’s normal. Do you think that’s why this is happening?” 

In response and my interpretation of this recurring behavior, I said, “I think when it comes to dating and socializing, they both kind of transfer into our professional lives as well because you have this sort of subconscious mindset of ghosting. There are so many options out there and it’s so easy to move on to the next option with a swipe of a finger without thinking much about the consequences.” 

In some instances, this ghosting phenomenon may be occurring on both sides due to fear of confrontation. It is likely that some people feel awkward or uncomfortable when confronting rejection or bad news, such as a job applicant rejecting a job offer or an employer that no longer wants to move forward with a candidate. The easy way out of this uncomfortable situation is simply not responding. 

Ghosting never feels good, especially if you are on the receiving end, whether it is online dating or applying to jobs. There are a ton of reasons why you may get ghosted as a student in the job search process (and vice versa), but I’d say not to take it too personally because there are only certain things you can control. However, both candidates and employers should aim to communicate transparently with either party throughout the job application process. This would hopefully eliminate the confusion of ghosting during the job search and create a more positive hiring culture for all. 

Lillian Zhang is a recent UC Berkeley graduate and makes career-related social media content

JUNE 06, 2022