Ghosted by candidates? Stop complaining & fix the problem!

This was a 3-part series that I originally posted on Linkedin. Feel free to connect with me at linkedin.com/in/jeaniestanek

Alright, y’all. It’s time for a little tough love.

If you’re being “ghosted” by candidates, it’s your fault.

I’m serious. It’s not the millennials – it’s you.

But, let’s back up a minute. Maybe you’re not sure what I mean by “ghosted.” That’s ok, let me enlighten you. In the world of recruitment, ghosting is when a good candidate doesn’t show up for their interview (or even their first day of work!) and they won’t return phone calls, emails, or texts. It’s as if one day things were going great; they were engaged and excited about the opportunity… and the very next day: they don’t even exist. Poof! Gone.

What on earth happened?

If this has ever happened to you, I’m sorry. It sucks. It really, truly sucks.

But, if this has happened to you more than once… Or if this continues to happen to you quite regularly – it’s totally on you, dude. I hate to break it to you… but it’s definitely your fault.

It’s a job seekers market and they’re expecting to be wooed – from the moment they lay eyes on your job ad, until… Well, forever, really.

There seems to be a growing trend of candidates “ghosting” employers after an interview. They don’t show up to second or third round interviews, or sometimes even their first day of work – even after enthusiastically accepting an offer. They simply stop returning your calls. They offer no explanation as to why they are no longer interested – technically, they don’t even really confirm that they have lost interest. One day they are excited about the opportunity, and the next they are just gone.

I keep seeing employer after employer complaining about this admittedly annoying phenomenon, but they tend to place the blame solely on candidates, instead of taking the opportunity to evaluate what they might be doing to cause this problem.

Take a step back and consider the interview. Consider all of your interviews. Do you hold a conversation with candidates, or do you simply interrogate them? Do you ask thoughtful questions? Or do you ask them questions you easily could have found the answer to on their resume sitting in front of you? What perception do they get of the company while they are there? Was the receptionist kind? Did the office look fun and inviting? Did they have to wait for a long time after their interview was supposed to start?

Employers too often think that the interview is a time to evaluate the candidate. And it is – but they are also evaluating you. They are evaluating if they want to work at this company, or with the people that they met while they were in your office, or frankly, with you. If you don’t take the effort to impress them during the interview, you might not ever see them again – even if they really had impressed you.

An interview should be a relaxed conversation that allows both parties to determine if it would be a good fit for their needs and long-term goals. Just as you would expect the candidate to prepare by researching the company, you should have a good feel for their skills and past work history.

Ask thoughtful questions. Don’t ask questions that don’t add value. For instance, what do you truly learn from “What is your greatest weakness?” Not a lot. I’m not even really sure what you’re TRYING to learn from that question. Their answer is likely not completely truthful – and if it was, would you hire them? How would you feel if they turned around and asked you the same? Don’t ask questions that would offend you if they asked the same one. DO ask questions that add value to your understanding of the candidate. DO ask questions that are specific to the position or the skills that are needed to be successful in the role.

Answer their questions thoroughly. Talk about benefits. Talk about culture. Talk about career advancement. Talk about the best parts of the role, and the worst ones, too. Tell them what they might enjoy, and what might be a challenge. Be sure to give them a tour of their potential workspace, maybe introduce them to a few future coworkers, and show them why joining your team is the best decision they could make.

When it’s time to part ways, make sure that you’re not leaving them exhausted or traumatized from an awful interview. They should leave feeling energized and excited about the opportunity.

Most importantly: Tell them when and how you will follow up with them – and actually follow through with that promise.

Imagine this scenario: You are the owner of a company that is experiencing a slow sales season. Despite all of your best efforts (and a LOT of marketing dollars), you still are not able to improve your sales. One day, you decide to take a deeper look and dig into the numbers yourself. To your surprise, you actually have several requests for quotes – but your sales person hasn’t responded to most of them, and the ones he has responded to, he has taken weeks between phone calls. You reach out to your sales person to ask what is going on. They explain to you that they’ve been busy, and were planning on following up today. When they do, they learn the customer is no longer interested or has bought the service from your more responsive competitor instead.

Now, imagine you are the customer. You’ve seen an awesome ad for a new product. This wasn’t something you really needed, but after seeing the ad, you are hooked. You call the number at the bottom of the screen. On the other end of the phone, you hear an uninterested sales person that almost seems annoyed that you’ve interrupted them with your call. He asks a few questions and tells you that you actually need to fill out a form online for him to be able to write you a quote. He doesn’t even thank you for your interest. Annoyed, you wonder if this is really the right purchase to make, but you decide to go online and fill out the form anyway.

You give the company another chance.

However, after a week goes by with no quote, you decide to reach out to a different company – their biggest competitor – that offers the same product. The person on the other end of the phone is friendly and helpful. They are able to give you a quote while you’re still on the phone, and you immediately make the purchase. They thank you for your business before you part ways on the phone, and they even follow up a week later to ensure that you are happy with your purchase.

Suddenly, a month has gone by and you’ve been happily using the service from the second company for weeks, when the first company finally calls back with a quote and asks for your business… and they have the audacity to be upset when they learn you’ve gone another direction.

THIS is what we do to candidates as hiring managers or human resources professionals.

We make candidates jump through hoops. They can’t apply in person – they must apply online. They can’t submit an application without a resume. Or, we ask for 3 professional references before they can be considered for an interview.

We take our time to respond. Some applicants we never follow up with – they might not even know for sure if their application was received. Sometimes we take weeks before we invite them in for an interview. Sometimes we take weeks to get back to them with a decision after an interview.

We have the need – but we’re making themwork for it.

We have the need – but we’re making them work for it. Why would they? We’ve done nothing to convince them that this is the right place for them, and when another company accepts their application, gets them scheduled for an interview, and gives them an offer on a reasonable timeline… Well, of course they will no longer be interested when we finally make the time to speak to them.

We have the need, we have to work for it.

Exceptional customer service is just as important when it comes to dealing with applicants, as it is when you’re dealing with customers.

Exceptional customer service is just as important when it comes to dealing with applicants, as it is when you’re dealing with customers. If you wouldn’t treat your customers in the same way that you treat your job applicants, you’re doing something wrong.

Here are ten ways you can improve your customer service in your recruitment strategy:

  1. Make it easy to apply. Get rid of long applications. Get rid of ridiculous hoops. Ask for only the information you absolutely need in order to schedule an interview – and get everything else later.
  2. Make sure you let candidates know that their application has been received – even an upbeat auto email would be OK.
  3. Follow up in a timely manner. Depending on the industry and the position, different timelines may be appropriate. However, you should never go more than a week without at least touching base with a candidate. Even if you do not have anything new to share with them, at least reach out and tell them what you’re waiting for. Reiterate your interest. Share that you are excited that they have applied, that you’re looking forward to speaking to them, etc. Don’t let them forget you.
  4. Fascinate the applicant at the interview. Do not interrogate them. Hold a friendly conversation to discover if it is a fit – for both of you. Answer their questions. Give them a tour. Leave them wanting more. Leave them excited for the opportunity.
  5. Give them the offer as soon as you can after their interview – and again, if you for some reason hit a snag and are unable to offer it to them right away – you still need to follow up. Weekly.
  6. If there is any time between the accepted offer and the first day of work continue to follow up with them. Send them some company swag in the mail. Give them a call to ask if they have any more questions, or to give them an update, or to just reiterate your excitement to have them part of the team. Again, don’t let them go more than a week or two without hearing from you (depending on the length of time between the accepted offer and the first day of work).
  7. Make sure their first day of work is an exceptional one. Prepare for their first day. Plan their training. Make them feel welcome. Don’t bog them down with a long, boring orientation or hours and hours of filling out paperwork. The first day of work can make or break a great hire – don’t blow it.
  8. Check in with the new hire frequently. Give them an opportunity to ask questions. Make sure they have received what they need for training. Let them give positive and negative feedback about their experience.
  9. Ask new hires what they did and did not like about the hiring process. How was the application? How was the interview? Did we follow up enough? Too much? Did we leave you feeling excited or exhausted? Would you recommend us to your friends and family? Why or why not?
  10. Take their feedback seriously. Improve what you’re able to improve. Let them know why you can’t implement a certain suggestion – but that you’ll be looking into it. If you find a possible solution, ask them what they think about it. Continue to evolve.

Take a look at your hiring process. Do you respond to every applicant? Every single one? Have you ever received an application, knew instantly it wasn’t a fit, and forgot about it – not even taking the time to say “thanks, but no thanks”?

What about after a first or second round interview? If someone doesn’t make the cut, do you give them a call and let them know they haven’t been selected? Or do you lead them on with “We’re still working out some details, but we’ll be in touch soon” only to… never be in touch again?

You.

Are.

Ghosting.

Candidates.

They learned it from you! They apply for a job, they don’t hear back. They have an interview, they don’t hear back. They’ve learned that you’re much too busy to reach out to them when you’re no longer interested, so they’ve decided they’re a little too busy to let you know when they’ve lost interest. Can you really expect them to behave in any other manner? What makes your time more valuable than theirs?

They’ve learned that you’re much too busy to reach out to them when you’re no longer interested, so they’ve decided they’re a little too busy to let you know when they’ve lost interest.

Of course, I know that some of you reading this really, truly do respond to every single applicant, and you’re still being burned by candidates ghosting you… but, unfortunately, not every company is responding to them. In fact, most are not.

Here are three ways you can ensure that you’re following up with each applicant:

  • Have an automated email sequence set up that immediately confirms to the applicant that their application was received.
  • Make sending a formal rejection letter be a required step of deactivating an application in your application tracking system. Most will allow you to require this step, and a lot of them will let you have a few different rejection email templates that will allow you to feel confident that hiring managers can personalize the “no” to the actual situation, but they will still use the approved language to convey that the company is not interested.
  • If an interview did not go well, wait 48 hours, and then send a follow up email or make a phone call to deliver the news. The type of position and the reason you’re not making an offer should really be considered when deciding whether to email or call. If the interview was a total dumpster fire and the applicant would never, ever be considered for hire, simply send a nice, but direct email and move on with your life. However, if the applicant was promising for this role (or any other in your company) but just doesn’t have the right amount of experience, or another applicant had something a little extra to offer – call them. Encourage them to apply again. Tell them what went well. Gently tell them what they can improve on. Use your “no” as a way to potentially capture this applicant again in the future.

Ending the habit of ghosting candidates will likely not end their habit of ghosting you (at least not completely)… but, it’s hard to have a productive conversation about how the one side is behaving badly, when your side is widely known for behaving in the exact same way.

Well, that’s all I have to say about that. This is the end of my 3-part series on ghosting. I’ll leave you with this:

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