You've spent four frenetic days working on a killer presentation. You’ve pushed your overdraft to eye-watering limits for the perfect ‘hire me’ outfit, and depleted your boyfriend’s reserves of patience with hours of ‘practice questions’.
Finally, interview day dawns. You’re nervous but you nail it – the interviewer seems engaged and impressed; she smiles, talks about you ‘fitting in well’ and, with a warm pat on your shoulder as she shows you out, promises she’ll be in touch soon.
And then… nothing. No emails, no calls. Nada. Days pass, then weeks. You send the dreaded, ‘Just checking in’ email but still, you’re met with a silence that rings with a deafening sense of failure. Eventually you grieve, you allow yourself a small sense of anger, and then try to move on. But one thing is abundantly clear: you have been career-ghosted. The term ‘ghosting’ was coined a few years back, to describe dates who disappear without explanation, or friends who evade your texts until they just stop replying altogether.
But now, we’re finding ourselves grappling with this silent treatment in our professional relationships, too. Experts suggest more of us than ever now find ourselves at the mercy of employers who simply ‘drop off the ledge’ post-interview – leaving us confused and embarrassed.
‘We’ve seen career-ghosting a lot recently and it’s incredibly irresponsible of employers and recruiters,’ says Evelyn Cotter, founder of Seven Career Coaching. ‘It’s so difficult for candidates who have invested time and energy and put a lot of work into presentations or projects to get to the very final stage only for the employer to completely move the goalposts or just drop off the face of the planet.’
It’s something PR manager Jasmine, 32, has experienced more than once. ‘I interviewed for my dream job recently,’ she says. ‘I made the expensive journey from Bristol to London, did all my research and I know I shone at the interview – we chatted for an hour and a half and the interviewers even messaged me afterwards, asking more about the things we’d discussed and saying how much they’d enjoyed meeting me.
They sent me through a final task to complete, which I did well – then nothing. I chased twice and still heard nothing. It was as if they were intentionally blanking me. Eventually, after two months, I just gave up, but I was left with a bruised ego.’
Some women Grazia spoke to were even offered jobs, then ghosted just before their start date, including Naomi, 28, a digital account executive. ‘I was recently covering a vacancy and had been promised the role permanently,’ she says. ‘I was told to take a few days off before I started full-time, and that they’d email me my official start date.
But weeks went by and I hadn’t heard from them, even though I saw some of the ideas I’d pitched on their social media. It was over a month before I received a formulaic letter telling me they’d decided not to hire anyone after all. I had turned down other job opportunities in that time. I felt angry to have been treated like I didn’t matter.’
In our throwaway culture, it’s perhaps not that surprising that ghosting is as prevalent as it is. Hires are made online, our Twitter feeds act as CVs and – as the Tinder trend has proven – people know there are always going to be other options out there, and that applies to employees as well as dating.
That’s not to mention the fact that those in managerial positions are often time-poor, overworked and too stressed to respond (in a recent survey of 1,300 HR managers, 44% reported that their level of stress had increased in the past six months).
But that doesn’t make ghosting any less agonising. Being rejected without explanation can have a devastating impact on self-confidence, and studies by New York’s Columbia University have shown that our brains actually process rejection in the same way as physical pain, which is why an empty inbox can actually feel like a punch in the gut.
But while the cold-shoulder treatment is hurtful, there is no law forcing employers to offer feedback to everybody they interview. What’s also worth bearing in mind, according to career coach Ros Toynbee, is that there’s often an explanation for a firm’s lack of communication. ‘Sometimes, an employer might know who they are offering the job to but they may hold someone in reserve, just in case they don’t get their first choice. This can often be why they don’t contact everyone straight away,’ she says.
‘There are also often structural issues,’ she adds. ‘The budget for certain positions can fall through during the recruitment process, there might be restructuring within the company or, after seeing all the candidates, a company may simply decide that they want to re-advertise the position because no one fitted the bill.’
Nevertheless, people are starting to call out this dubious practice in very public ways. ‘Anti-ghosting’ campaigns are underway on LinkedIn and publications from Forbes to the New York Post are weighing in on the ghosting debate, too. So what can we actually do to protect ourselves from the fallout of a nasty ghosting experience?
‘One of the easiest ways of raising your chances of getting feedback is to make it plain at the end of the interview that you really do want the job,’ says Ros. ‘It’s surprising how few people actually say it out loud. Also, ask what the recruiter’s next steps are going to be. Then you’ll feel confident chasing up if they don’t meet the promised timeframe.’
There’s also, of course, a lot to be said for simply sucking it up and moving on. ‘I always remind candidates that how the employer treats you through the interview process is a very good reflection of how they’ll treat you when you work for them,’ says Evelyn. ‘People often ignore warning signs, because they’re excited about getting the role, but that means you’re not in control.
She suggests interviews should be like dating. ‘Always have two or three suitors on the go at the same time, so that you will feel you have choice. Don’t get too attached to any one role and only start to get really excited when you have the offer officially in the bag.’ Who’s afraid of the big bad ghosters now?
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE GHOSTED
Sara McCord, editor at careers website themuse.com, gives her tips for bouncing back…
Move on and keep pursuing other jobs. You also need to move on emotionally; projecting your anger on to future applications can hold you back.
Don’t write the work equivalent of a break-up email, saying, ‘I can’t believe you’d treat people this way.’ Just don’t do it. And never vent about what happened on social media.
If you’ve sent a follow-up email and hear nothing, send one more a week later. Neither should include barbed comments (like how you’d ‘hoped to hear back already’), but should include an offer to provide any additional information.
If you don’t hear back after a second time, let it go. There’s no need to get the last word. This will help you if you want to apply to the company or cross paths with the interviewer in the future.