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In the previous decade, businesses enjoyed recruitment in a buyer’s market – with plenty of applicants to choose from, few considered the need to properly manage their rejection process; simply leaving job-seekers in the dark about their applications, or why they did not get the job. But in a tighter labour market, amid economic uncertainty, this could well come back to bite employers, explains Angela Peacock, Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion at training consultancy PDT Global.

Your team is prepared – this pitch may lead to a multimillion-pound contract. You are aligned on the presentation you will give and special attention has been paid to the values and diversity section – as the potential client holds these things dear and, according to your website, so does your firm. You walk in and are greeted by the new CIO. They are very hard on you all, though – and especially when you get to the part about values and diversity. You do not win the work. You have no idea why. Unbeknown to you, that same CIO was ghosted by your CEO two years before – and the impact lingers on…

Ghosting job applicants is a seriously damaging blight that is on the increase. It can have devastating effects on candidates. But what is often overlooked is the damaging repercussions it can also have on firms – specifically professional services companies.

Angela Peacock, Global Director of D&I, PDT Global

Value-driven organisations quite rightly place great emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) activities to ensure they attract and retain the very best talent and create an environment where everyone can reach their full potential – and, if we are cynical, because they need to be in synch with their clients.

But all too often business leaders jeopardise their hard-won DEI reputation by failing to recognise how much the little things count. A classic example of this is making sure you have a policy of recruiters – and anyone who interviews candidates at any level – getting back to applicants after any contact with your firm.

It is a very simple, quick, inexpensive thing to do – yet it can play a big part in maintaining the quality of your brand in the battle for scarce talent. In many areas of consultancy practice, candidates can often end up as clients – albeit years down the line. This makes it hard to understand why ghosting job applicants is on the increase.

Ghastly ghosting

When it comes to ghosting, the stakes are higher than ever before. In the past, there was the occasional social media post from a disgruntled applicant naming a specific organisation that had failed to communicate the outcome of an interview. But most people kept quiet as they were reluctant to be seen as a troublemaker.

Now, however, firms are regularly named and shamed online. And it is not a good look if a potential client checks out your consultancy, is impressed by your values and DEI policy – and then uncovers a flurry of social media posts from candidates complaining of being ghosted.

Of course, recruiters often find they are on the receiving end of ghosting themselves from candidates who fail to return calls, prioritise a competing interview invitation or even ignore a job offer. And post-pandemic labour shortages have led to an increase in such practices as applicants have their pick of roles.

But something that is irritating, rude, short-sighted and time wasting for recruiters amounts to so much more than that for candidates when it is done in reverse. For a neurotypical cisgender person after their first interview, ghosting will make them question themselves and increase any impostor feelings. For a historically marginalised, queer, neurodiverse person after seven interviews, it not only hurts but damages in a way that could affect their mental health.

And the problem is not limited to junior applicants. There are horror stories from senior executives applying for roles such as Strategic Director or CHRO. All report being ghosted by organisations that claim to foster DEI or uphold a list of values that clearly their recruiters – and those interviewing candidates – do not.

In one of the worst examples, a candidate attended nine interviews, an assessment and three psychometric tests, and delivered a presentation on what the next three years’ HR strategy should be. After hearing nothing for a week, they chased the internal recruiter with an e-mail. A week after that, they called up – twice. A week after that, they emailed the CEO to explain their concern. And still nothing. Not a word.

That should make CEOs everywhere triple-check what their recruitment practice is – not the company’s policy but the actual day-to-day practice. Of course, the policy will say you are going to get back to candidates and, hopefully, offer feedback to those who make it further through the process. But it is vital for business leaders to check what is actually happening.

Simple solutions

Application ghosting is particularly common, with many people receiving just a 5% response rate to their applications. Post-interview ghosting is worse as you are now in the territory of rejecting the human being you have met. And that applies even more if the candidate has invested their time in multiple interviews and tests – and to the senior consultant who has spent hours creating a three-year strategy to present.

If a candidate has got that far, the very least they deserve is to be given some feedback on their performance, otherwise it will tap into the impostor feelings that many people try to keep well hidden. For a diverse candidate, the repercussions can be even greater – sending them into a spiral of self-doubt and despair.

To remedy the situation, there are simple steps business leaders can take – starting with making sure HR directors are accountable for ensuring that company processes are followed. They, in turn, then need to ensure that anyone hiring in their firm follow the process at every stage – from a proforma note to every applicant at form stage to a basic rejection letter at first interview, and a feedback note to candidates who make it further along the hiring process.

The potential impact of ghosting on individual candidates is serious. The knock-on effect, both in terms of general brand and also the potential of walking into a pitch and being faced with the very executive your firm ghosted last year, may be worse!