The ghosting conundrum: is it okay to leave recruiters hanging?

Feb 02, 2023

5 mins

The ghosting conundrum: is it okay to leave recruiters hanging?
Christine Wilson

Christine is a writer based in Toronto, Canada.

It’s a modern-day horror story: a recruiter takes the time to find a candidate and present them with an enticing job offer. Or maybe not so enticing—but they put forth the effort all the same. The candidate replies, showing some interest. Excited, the recruiter sends over a date and time for a video call to chat more about the opportunity. The candidate responds with a resounding “Great, chat then!”

The day of the call comes and, poof! Like a ghost, the candidate is nowhere to be found. The recruiter sends an email to check in. “Maybe they just forgot about it?” they wonder. No reply. Not within 5 minutes. Not within the day. Not ever again.

If you cringed while reading this, you may be guilty of ghosting a recruiter. Don’t panic, you’re not alone. Generally, this kind of situation is not ideal, nor is it comfortable. But in certain cases, is it ok to ghost a recruiter? To find out, Recruiter and Mindset Coach Mara Rubinoff, shares how it feels to be ghosted, the implications of ghosting a recruiter, and her advice for a more appropriate way to end communication.

What exactly is ghosting?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term ghosting (lucky you!), it means to cut off all communication with another person. While face-to-face connections forced someone to explain themselves rather than disappear, modern-day means of correspondence—like texts and emails—make it much easier for people to simply not reply, without an explanation.

Job hunters aren’t afraid of ghosting during the recruitment process

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh no, I’ve done that!” you may be comforted to know that you’re not alone. According to a 2022 trends report from Zip Recruiter, 31% of first-time job seekers say they have ghosted an employer during their current search, versus only 12% of seasoned professionals, indicating that perhaps it’s just a lack of knowledge of what’s acceptable among experienced job seekers.

We asked Rubinoff if, as a recruiter, she’s ever been ghosted. “Of course!” she exclaims. “Recruitment is like being a matchmaker, and we know what’s happening in the dating world these days! It seems acceptable to disappear when we are ‘done’ with someone or something and don’t want to say so.” But just because it happens regularly, doesn’t mean it’s ok.

And it doesn’t seem to matter how far along the candidate is in the process: ghosting can happen at any time. “I get ghosted at all stages—from applying to a role and then not responding to my request for an interview to scheduling screening interviews and not showing, to disappearing when I try to set up next steps, and even no showing to the next steps interviews,” she explains. And though this type of behavior may appear to come from inexperienced candidates, Rubinoff’s personal anecdotes beg to differ: “I’ve even had a candidate disappear when we were trying to connect to present an offer. It’s surprising how often this happens, and not just at junior levels.”

Rubinoff notes that psychology and the need to people-please are some of the main reasons why some people ghost. “People let their fears—of honesty, rejection, or being forthright—guide them down the wrong path,” she explains. “We naturally want to avoid conflict, difficult conversations, or disappointing people. Disappearing or blocking, at that moment, seems to be easier, even though it makes us look unreliable.” In a world where so many of our interactions take place online, it’s pretty easy to just stop engaging with someone once you become uncomfortable or disinterested. However, again, this isn’t necessarily the recommended thing to do.

What are the implications of ghosting a recruiter?

It seems easy enough to get away with ghosting without any immediate repercussions. But remember, you never know the implications of ghosting down the road. Rubinoff says point blank: ghosting is highly unprofessional.

It shows your level of emotional immaturity and a lack of integrity and work ethic,” she explains. “I have given candidates a second chance when they reach out after ‘accidentally ghosting’,” a term she uses to excuse candidates from missing appointments due to extenuating or personal circumstances. “But, ultimately, those people show themselves to be unreliable overall. With all the communication tools at our fingertips, it’s not that difficult—unless you’ve been in the proverbial car accident—to send a quick text or email.”

Rubinoff provides a real-life example of how ghosting can seem harmless in the moment and backfire later on. “A candidate who ghosted me during the recruitment process sent me a note asking if I had any opportunities. Back when it happened, I could see from his LinkedIn that he stopped replying because he’d accepted another role. It would have taken him two minutes to respond to my email, letting me know he’d landed a job and thanking me for my time. Because he didn’t, I would never put him forward for anything again.” The lesson? Don’t burn bridges with recruiters.

Ultimately, it comes down to respect for other people’s time. And it’s not just the recruiter’s time to consider, but also the time of the company they’re hiring for. Ghosting wastes my time and that of my clients. Once I’ve moved a client forward, it also makes me look bad and affects my professional reputation, which is a disappointing, frustrating reality.”

What to do instead of ghosting a recruiter

Given these implications, you might want to think twice the next time you contemplate walking away from correspondence with a recruiter without formally wrapping up. Rubinoff says don’t overthink it—just do it.

“Take two minutes and send a short email to communicate what is going on. You don’t have to explain anything in detail, but merely withdraw yourself from the process. Honesty wins every single time and keeps doors open for the future,” Rubinoff says.

Overall, Rubinoff recommends honesty. “If you’re not interested anymore, say so. If you got another job, say so. If you can’t move forward for any reason, say so,” she insists. Remember that looking for a job is part of your professional path, and should be treated with care and attention. “This is work. It’s not personal, so be professional and show up for yourself—and future employers—with integrity. Just like your grandma said, ‘Treat others how you would want to be treated.’”

So, is it ok to ghost a recruiter?

The short answer is no. Ghosting a recruiter can have lasting effects beyond your current circumstance. Think long-term. Is this someone who could present you with an opportunity down the road? Could the employer catch wind of this behavior and keep a record on file, cutting off your chances of landing a job there in the future?

Aside from being unprofessional, ghosting is a bad habit to create within any relationship. After all, relationship-building is a fundamental aspect of job hunting; why would you risk burning a bridge by doing something that can be so simple to avoid?

If you’re struggling with getting back to a recruiter—whether due to time management reasons or you’re struggling with what to say—here’s what Rubinoff suggests you can do instead of ghosting.

  • Be communicative and professional. Reply to emails and do so in a timely fashion.
  • Keep it short and sweet. A simple reply that doesn’t overexplain is best—just be honest. Thank them for the opportunity and state that you’ve chosen to pursue another option.
  • Don’t avoid difficult conversations. Meet challenges head-on. Each time you do, it will get easier, and you’ll develop the resilience and grit you need to be successful in your career. If you miss a deadline or make a mistake at your job, you can’t stop showing up or pretend it didn’t happen: start your career developing the skills you’ll need, and be your best self in every interaction you have.

To sum it up, Rubinoff says to consider your professional interactions as investments in your future self. “What seems easier in the moment creates more trouble for you in the future. You’re building your network every time you speak to an HR person or recruiter, and you never know where each interaction will take you, so use every single one – whether you want the job or not—as a practice run and a relationship-building opportunity.”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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