Tim Leylek, a branch manager at staffing and employment firm Addison Group, was in the lobby of a client’s office, waiting for a candidate. They had spoken on the phone the evening before.

When the interview time came and the candidate had not arrived, Leylek called him to make sure everything was all right. The candidate told him he was in the parking lot, looking for a spot. More minutes went by. Still no candidate. Leylek called again and was told the candidate was on his way, walking up the stairs.

“He never came,” says Leylek, who was unable to reach the candidate ever again. He had been “ghosted.”

The term ghosting, used in the dating world when a person abruptly cuts off all communication with a potential suitor with no previous warning or notice, has made its way into the workplace, causing a major headache among HR professionals.

Thanks to a tight job market and a U.S. unemployment rate at the lowest in nearly two decades, Janelle Bieler, vice president of sales for the U.S. at staffing agency Adecco, says the ghosting phenomenon has become more widespread within the past year. With the unemployment rate at 3.8%, the market for talent has become very competitive.

“People do not disclose to us that they have multiple offers, and more than 60% [of candidates] do,” she says.

Trying to reach out to a candidate who had previously expressed interest only to never hear back from them despite many attempts leaves hiring executives frustrated.

“Downright rude and unprofessional,” says Carl Schussler, managing principal of Mitigate Partners. “What happened to handwritten thank you notes and treating people with respect?”

Kathleen Downs, senior vice president with staffing and recruiting company Robert Half Finance & Accounting agrees with Bieler that candidates’ having multiple choices in today’s job market feeds into this new trend of professional ghosting. She explains that during the Great Recession, companies would receive 100 applications and choose to interview 15 of them.

“Now they receive five or six resumes, and if they are fortunate enough to interview all, each of them would have had three or four previous interviews,” she says.

Leylek agrees. “We are now working with a candidate-driven market,” he says. “Candidates are in a position where they hold all the cards.”

Other reasons

Bieler believes that another reason why ghosting has become much more common is that while social media made reaching out to people easier, it also made it easier for candidates to just not reply back.

Downs thinks there is also the uncomfortable situation of delivering the rejection personally that plays into this.

“Many times, candidates just do not know what to say when they are not accepting a job,” she says, adding that she does not recommend this course of action because one might be interviewing with the same recruiter for another position in the future.

“It is a professional courtesy to respond yes or no, just as it is for a company to say, ‘we have made our selection, you will not be getting the job,’” she says. “From where I sit, I see ghosting from both sides, both from employees’ and employers’ sides.”

Bieler says that they have encountered ghosting candidates all across the board, regardless of industry or age of the candidate, particularly with temporary workers, who do not have the same level of commitment, she says.

“Then, there is the situation of counteroffers,” says Downs. “A lot of candidates [that already have jobs] get counteroffers and choose to stay at their current jobs.”

Robert Half conducted a recent survey among executives in finance, accounting, technology, legal, advertising and marketing, and human resources. Researchers found out that 58% of senior managers made counteroffers to keep an employee from leaving.

The tight labor market has also resulted in a new phenomenon, Downs says. “Some candidates interview just to see what else is out there. This is something we have not seen until a couple of years ago.”

What they go for

Downs cites the reasons why a person will look for another job as including limited opportunity for growth, long commutes, flexibility, ability to work from home and tuition reimbursement.

Leylek says that commute time, money and duration of contract are the most important factors for temporary workers who typically have an urgency such as being out of work or the end of their contract approaching. On the other hand, benefits and opportunities offered are more important for full-time candidates the majority of whom are either passively looking or already have jobs.

White collar workers also ghost but more than one factor goes into the ghosting of a blue collar worker, according to Bieler.

“For example, shift work that may not be at an ideal time of the day,” she says. They have encountered ghosting more often if a blue collar worker is placed in the 2nd or 3rd shift that are out of the traditional work hours.

Preventing ghosting

So, now that the trend has made its way into the professional space, what can employers do to prevent it? Experts say there are a number of ways, including shortening the hiring process, involving artificial intelligence, explaining the hiring process to the employee at the start, and understanding what the candidate really wants and catering to it.

Bieler says they urge their clients to react quicker and make an offer to the candidates quicker. This shortens the recruiting process and the candidate’s waiting time. “Candidates have a ‘shelf-life’ of 24 hours,” she says.

Adecco found that using AI helps. “We can schedule interviews with candidates around the clock,” she says. This way, she explains, they can schedule interviews even for the next day.

Downs, on the other hand, found that speaking openly with the candidates at the beginning of the interview process helps.

“It is important to set out the process and expectations,” she says. If you explain the process to the candidate and ask for their cooperation in the beginning, “you can get them to respond in a way that responds to everyone’s needs,” says Downs.

Leylek is for taking a more personal approach and not limiting correspondences to email but making an effort to meet the candidate in person.

“In my initial conversation, I want to find out what drives that individual and cater to it. Sometimes it is money but it can also be commute time or work-from-home options,” he says. “What I constantly tell my team is, ‘don’t hear what you want to hear, but instead really understand what the candidate wants.’”

Meanwhile, individual HR professionals also have been working on finding solutions.

“We have had this happen numerous times. Very frustrating,” says Amy Genovese HR administrator at NET Credit Union. “I like the idea of overbooking interviews to ensure that you don’t have to go back to review resumes and reschedule interviews.”

With additional reporting by Cort Olsen

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