Candidate Ghosting — Effective Tips for Minimizing This Growing Menace

Ghosting is an emerging issue in recruiting and has now been rated as the No. 1 challenge by nearly 6 percent of employers (Source: LinkedIn). Ninety-five percent of recruiters say they have experienced “candidate ghosting” (Source: iHire). This ghosting problem is likely to get worse because 40 percent of candidates now believe it’s reasonable to ghost firms. And a whopping 28 percent of workers have backed out of an offer after initially saying yes.

If you happen to recruit in San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, or Houston, you can expect your “reneging rate” to be even higher.

If you’re not familiar with the term “ghosting,” it now appears in the Oxford dictionary. It occurs when an applicant or candidate without explanation ceases all contact and no longer responds to communications attempts by the recruiter. Once a candidate ghosts a firm, they have to be classified as a lost opportunity. Fortunately, my research has identified numerous practical and proven approaches for minimizing the multimillion-dollar damage that ghosting now costs each major firm. This article covers those action steps.

Understanding the Costs of Candidate Ghosting

Hiring managers won’t likely focus on eliminating ghosting until they understand their real costs. Ghosting costs fall into three major areas.

The primary cost to a firm comes from losing the productivity and the value that would have been added if it hired its top candidate. Having to “settle for” a No. 2 or lower candidate means that they that will likely perform at least 15 percent lower than the lost No. 1 candidate. Next, when candidates ghost, your time-to-fill will be significantly extended. This means that in addition to wasting a lot of the hiring manager’s time, you lose productivity for every additional day that the position is unnecessarily vacant.

Finally, ghosting slows recruitment process improvement. Once they stop communicating, you lose your opportunity to find and fix the factors that might cause future top candidates to drop out.

The Top Seven Recruiting Actions for Reducing Candidate Ghosting

If you want to have an immediate impact on reducing candidate ghostings, here are the recruiting action areas that generally have the highest impact. The highest-impact actions are listed first.

No. 1 — Hire faster — when you’re focusing on top candidates, slow hiring is the No. 1 cause of candidate ghosting. Accepting a “bird in the hand offer” often means dropping communications with other firms. Speed is critical because top candidates are likely to get another offer in as few as 10 days. And Robert Half reports that “If it takes more than a month to hire someone, you’ve already lost your top pick.” The best overall way to hire faster is to reduce the time needed to complete interviews.

  • Track the number of days until they drop out — the best firms end their interview process within 20 days. So, track the number of days until top candidates start dropping, and complete your interviews before then.
  • Reduce interview scheduling delays — scheduling interviews are a major delay factor. Reduce that delay by using telephone interviews, remote video interviews, and by allowing the candidates to self-schedule interviews using online software. Holding interviews at night or on weekends can also reduce scheduling delays.
  • Hold fewer interviews — use the Google rule of four, which limits interviews to no more than four interviewers participating in no more than four interviews for each candidate.
  • Have an expedited interview process — complete your interview process quickly in the case when a top candidate has another offer or to meet the job search timetable of your top candidates.

No. 2 — Make the overall candidate experience highly responsive — you can reduce candidate ghosting dramatically if you treat top candidates like customers. Top candidates frequently drop out when they receive harsh treatment during the hiring process because they assume that type of treatment reflects the way they will be treated after they are hired. Make the hiring process more responsive using the following approaches:

  • Let them track their progress – stop their guessing over whether their application was received. Limit this No. 1 applicant frustration factor by automating the notification that their application has been received. But don’t stop there. Also, allow them to track their progress online throughout the process. This works because many people ghost recruiters simply because they assume when they hear nothing that they have been eliminated. Firms like Johnson and Johnson, Philips, and PwC allow applicants to track their application’s progress.
  • Educate them about timelines — uncertainty leads to ghosting. So, give applicants a general idea of how long the hiring process could be and when their interviews are likely to begin. This lowers expectations and that often allows you to maintain their interest a little longer.
  • Keep in constant touch — hearing nothing causes them to lose interest. So, schedule periodic CRM-type contacts with every top candidate at least once a week. Do that by using a combination of automation and a CRM reminder to ensure that each candidate hears something from you every week.
  • Encourage candidate inquiries — because top candidates have many options, they are likely to have many questions. So, no matter how busy you are, always make top candidates feel like you are always open to their inquiries. Don’t ever say or even infer “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” And when they do inquire, respond quickly because slow responses to inquiries unintentionally make it appear that the firm isn’t interested. Limit this No. 2 frustrater by using a 24-hour respond-back rule, at least for top priority applicants.
  • Personalization makes top candidates feel special — top candidates hate messages that seem like spam. It means you didn’t find them important enough to personalize your message. So, reveal your interest in them by sending personalized communications to your high-priority applicants.
  • Increase response rates by using their communications channels — often candidates appear to be ghosting you simply because you are using communications channels that they don’t regularly visit. So, ask them upfront during the application process to rank their communications preferences. Use their preferred channels to communicate.
  • Get into the habit of requesting a read receipt — read receipts allow you to know for sure if your message was actually opened. As a general rule texting (as opposed to voice or email) has the highest response rate by far. Thursday at 4 p.m. is the best time to get a response.
  • Enhance the relationship over time using an applicant community — if you accept applications when you have no open jobs, applicants can feel isolated. Reduce any feeling of isolation by building an applicant community. This allows you to keep your applicants “warm” with a periodic e-newsletter. This pipeline approach also provides more time to build the relationship and to show applicants that they are not alone in wanting to work at your firm.

No. 3 — Show them you care by personalizing their interview process — top candidates have been known to have an ego. They like to feel that they are being treated special. So, personalize their interview process and make it responsive to their individual needs and concerns.

  • Give them input into who they will talk to — rather than arbitrarily determining who they will talk to, why not give them some input into who they will meet with during their interview process?
  • Tailor your selling approach to their decision criteria — top candidates are hard to sell because they have high expectations. Identify their expectations early on. Specifically, ask each top candidate for their personal job acceptance criteria (I need these things before I can accept). And then let them know throughout the interview process how you meet each of their decision criteria.
  • Periodically ask for feedback — rather than assuming everything is okay, periodically ask top candidates during the interview process if they have any major concerns. Address them immediately. Make the interview process more of a professional conversation than a grilling.
  • Minimize common interview frustrations — negative occurrences have the highest impact on ghosting. So, understand the common frustration points during interviews, including any prolonged delay in providing feedback after each interview, postponed or rescheduled interviewers, and unprepared interviewers. The best candidates are probably employed, so their time availability is limited. So, respect their predicament by minimizing the number of hours that they must take off work to interview.

No. 4 — Prioritization is critical — if you are short on time and recruiting resources, review applicants quickly and then identify the ones who should be given a high priority. It makes no sense to worry about ghosting among candidates that have no real chance of getting hired.

  • Prioritize your top applicants — because they have more options, realize that top applicants are the first to ghost. So, in order to focus on and devote more time to them, the highest quality candidates must be prioritized. If you want to raise their interest or keep it high, let them know that they are a top candidate.
  • Prioritize your key jobs — because not all jobs have an equal business impact, prioritize your key and high-impact jobs. Prioritize the jobs in the cities where ghosting occurs more frequently.
  • Realize that ghosting varies by generation — Randstad research reports that 43 percent of employees 22 or younger reported ghosting, while 26 percent of millennials and Gen X reported ghosting. But only 13 percent of Baby Boomers admitted to ghosting.

No. 5 — Your sourcing approach impacts the rate of ghosting — data reveals that candidates who are identified using certain sources are much must less likely to ghost a recruiter.

  • Use sources where ghosting is less common. Focus your sourcing on boomerangsemployee referrals, and silver medalists. Because there is already a pre-existing relationship, candidates from these sources are less likely to ghost you.
  • Source using approaches with the highest response rate — sourcing contacts originated by recruiters have an extremely low response rate. Initial contacts from professionals on the same level get up to a nine times higher response rate. The response rate is much better because of professional courtesy and the added possibility of an opportunity to learn.
  • When you’re really ghosted, learn to give up — don’t waste your time trying to continue a ghosted relationship. Instead, use the three-strike rule to limit your waiting. When a candidate doesn’t respond to three messages they are out. Add more tries in the special cases when priority applicants, finalists, or offered candidates are involved.
  • Don’t spam top prospects with generic messages — top prospects expect you to know them and their value. So, they expect personalized sourcing messages whenever you reach out to them. Never send them spam messages that don’t fit them, because that will actually make them angry. You might get a zero response rate.

No. 6  Be transparent and reveal the things that they want to know about your job — Top candidates have choices. They won’t likely select your job unless they know almost everything they want to know about it. So, be transparent and proactive in providing information that they need, if you don’t want them to lose interest and ghost you. Typical job-related information they might need include:

  • When will I likely start the job?
  • What is the pay range?
  • What will my performance be measured on? KPIs?
  • What is the average time that a new hire stays in this position?
  • What additional training will be offered to me?
  • What tools/software will I have available to me?
  • Do you know what my first assignment will likely be?
  • Is there anybody notable working on my team?

No. 7  A data-driven approach to candidate ghosting is required — across the board recruiters have failed to apply a data-driven approach to ghosting. And most recruiting functions haven’t gathered any data on the costs and what causes ghosting. So instead of guesswork, what is needed is a data-driven approach that includes these elements.

  • Track when and why it occurs — identify when and why top candidates ghost you, using a data-driven approach. Surveying ghost candidates is obviously difficult because they have stopped communicating. However, try waiting a month or two, and then see if they may then be willing to share their reasons.
  • Match solutions to the causes — once you determine the causes, use data to identify which solutions work best for mitigating each cause.
  • Insist on accountability — track and widely report the number of ghost candidates who were lost by each recruiter and hiring manager. See which actions are taken by the most successful hiring managers.

Final Thoughts

It should be obvious to everyone involved in recruiting that the power has shifted away from the recruiter and towards the candidate. The power has shifted as a result of sustained corporate growth, high employee turnover rates, and low unemployment. Candidates are becoming choosier and more self-centered. As a result, if they don’t get precisely what they want, they will simply walk away from an opportunity that they would have jumped at even six years ago.

So, until the power shifts back, every recruiter and hiring manager should realize that ghosting is a real and costly phenomenon that will be with us for a while. The good news is that ghosting can be defeated if you use a data-driven approach to scientifically identify who is likely to ghost, and why. My research has found that nearly 75 percent of the causes of ghosting are preventable.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, follow or connect with me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the ERE Daily, and hear me and others speak at ERE’s Recruiting Conference in October in Washington, D.C.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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