Recruiters and job seekers are ‘ghosting’ each other. Can we save the lost art of replying?

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Being “ghosted” – cut off from all communications without an explanation – isn’t a pleasant experience in any situation.

So when you’re in the middle of a job hunt – and may have poured your heart and soul into application forms and interviews – it can really sting.

A recent survey in the UK by hiring platform Greenhouse found that almost 45% of candidates had been “ghosted” by recruiters after an initial conversation.

Respondents from historically underrepresented backgrounds were significantly more likely to have been ghosted than white candidates.

But job-hunt ghosting seems to be happening in both directions. A recent Edge Recruitment survey of Gen Z job hunters in South Australia found that 15% had ghosted an employer once, and 34% had done it multiple times.

New recruitment technologies – such as online application forms and artificial intelligence for candidate screening – aim to maximise efficiency. But good communication is a two-way process, an important rule we seem to be forgetting.

So why are we ghosting each other, and what should recruiters and candidates do about it?

Why do candidates ghost?

Preferred communication styles have seen a shift in the workplace, particularly among Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012.

As digital natives, many have different attitudes towards workplace communications and career development than previous generations.

Gen Z employees really value immediate, meaningful feedback at work. But their tech-savviness means many prefer instant messaging, video conferencing, and collaborative tools for teamwork.

The etiquette around these tools is still evolving, and differs from that of phone calls and talking in person, where failing to reply immediately is almost unthinkable.


Read more: Young people hate making phone calls – could it be hurting their careers?


smartphone screen showing mail icon with 2,269 unread emails
Ghosting could include failing to respond to an email, or even show up to an interview. Tada Images/Shutterstock

There are other generational differences. Along with millennials, Gen Z are changing jobs more frequently than older generations.

This is in part due to the greater uncertainty and rapid changes in the modern workplace they have experienced as they’ve started their careers, making them less inclined to commit to a single employer long-term.

But this sense of having “options” could be contributing to “ghosting” behaviour, if it causes them to disengage suddenly when their values and expectations misalign with a prospective employer.

Why do recruiters ghost?

On the other side of the coin, modern technologies such as AI-supported candidate screening have streamlined much of the recruitment process for employers.

They’ve also made it easier for organisations to communicate with candidates anywhere, anytime.

So why is communication still breaking down? There are likely several factors at play.

Woman seen smiling sitting across a table in a job interview

For roles with a large number of applicants, recruiters often prioritise responding to a select few. This leaves many others ghosted simply due to time constraints, even if they’ve put considerable amounts of effort into applying.

The shifting needs of an organisation can also quickly change hiring priorities. Some positions may end up being redefined or put on hold in the middle of the hiring process, without immediate updates to those who’d applied.

Technical issues, like emails landing in spam folders, can lead to further unintended ghosting. As can poor communication between hiring managers and recruiters.

And unfortunately, some of it comes down to the emotional discomfort of rejection. Delivering clear rejection messages or communicating uncertain circumstances can be taxing for recruiters, prompting some to ghost out of avoidance.

This can be made worse if organisations have vague recruitment policies and weak accountability practices.

Setting our expectations

Establishing a clear road map of the recruitment process early on is crucial. Candidates should know what to expect and when.

While it may not eliminate ghosting entirely, better communication of both sides’ expectations can help avoid some of the hurt.

In a multi-generational work environment, communication preferences vary. Some people thrive in face-to-face meetings, while others prefer written communication for its clarity.

Potential job candidates, particularly from Gen Z, should directly voice their own communication preferences to recruiters early on – how they want to be contacted, and when. They should also seek to get a good grasp on the organisation’s own preferences.

Recruiters themselves need to recognise and adjust to the diverse communication styles that exist across their workforce (and those looking to join it). This means embracing various communication methods, and being willing to adapt to different candidate preferences and job contexts.

Man touches email icon floating above a laptop
Formal updates are often best communicated over email or with a phone call. jd8/Shutterstock

Formal emails, for example, remain ideal for significant announcements, whereas instant messaging is useful for quick exchanges that keep people in the loop.

Fostering healthy employment relationships begins at the recruitment stage. Employers should offer basic courtesy to everyone, even those who don’t ultimately progress further.

A strong sense of connection is important. A 2021 study found that greater communication with recruiters and more knowledge about a firm made candidates less likely to ghost.

The goal is a culture that values timely responses and establishes clear expectations – but can also adapt to the changing world of work.

This article is republished from The Conversation. It was written by: Connie Zheng, University of South Australia

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Connie Zheng does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.