Can you hear the silence? It’s deafening.
You’ve been ghosted.
You completed the phone interview, the web interview, and the campus interview. They said that they’d get back to you in one week. It’s been three. You’ve. Heard. Nothing.
You may think that this means you’re a failure. Really… you’re not. You made it this far. How many other candidates can say the same thing? One? Two? (maybe).
But actually “Ghosting” (when an employer abruptly stops responding to a candidate) is pretty common.
Borrowed from dating terms, Ghosting replicates the experience of when your date disappears without an explanation (phone, text, or otherwise). Usually this comes from an imbalance of power. A sort of “I don’t really need you” that embodies the position that most employers find themselves in.
Sometimes the only thing that job seekers really need is closure. A sense that “this is really over.” But that bittersweet satisfaction doesn’t come when a candidate is ghosted. Sometimes all you want is the form letter that says “we’ve had many competitive applicants…” but instead all you are met with is the sound of silence.
Why ghosting happens
The rise of social media and messaging apps have helped individuals establish relationships quickly and on the fly. But what hasn’t happened is the lack of face to face conversation that gives relationships substance, depth, and connection.
This lack of fundamental human connection makes breaking up (or lack thereof) so much easier. From the employer’s perspective, not responding to a candidate at all is much better than delivering bad news. After all, what happens to the employer? Usually nothing. The candidate however, is left holding the proverbial bag and a bruised ego to boot.
This dedication to conflict avoidance as well as lack of resources makes it easier to just… turn the other way. What you didn’t witness didn’t happen. A sort of success by omission. By requiring zero effort on the part of the company, it gives the hiring manager or HR person an easy way out of a potentially awkward situation.
Can’t be liable
Another reason why ghosting often happens is that providing feedback can be…. legally dangerous. Sometimes candidates will ask for feedback on what they can improve upon. And the institution’s response? They don’t want their feedback to become the basis of a discrimination suit against them.
Sometimes the organization gets the go ahead to start a search with some funding in their budget. Everyone gets the green light to proceed… until they don’t and the funding dries up; the grant is not available anymore; or any other host of reasons that ties up the money they would have paid you.
Competition is out there
Another reason (and perhaps one of the more popular ones) is that there are other candidates in the running for the role. Unfortunately you don’t seem to be that high on the priority list. Otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten the cold shoulder.
Sometimes the reason why they haven’t gotten back to you is due to bad planning, bad execution, or just plain bad luck. Sometimes the organization won’t get back to you because… there wasn’t even an open position to begin with (as crazy as that seems).
You also could have been the victim of incredibly bad luck where the institution’s correspondence just hasn’t made it through their channels and was instead stopped by some random firewall in cyberspace. That means that anything they might have sent you got dropped into the internet’s black hole. All the more reason to keep checking those spam and junk email folders. There’s no telling what could be trapped in there.
What you can do about Ghosting
The best way to avoid getting ghosted is to stop setting yourself up for it. There are some action steps that you can take to makes sure that the search committee, hiring manager, and human resources will continue to keep tabs on you and keep you in the loop.
The first step focuses on making sure that you have an open and honest communications channel with each other. You can do this by setting expectations with your contact for when you’ll be in touch next (i.e. I’ll follow up with you again via email on Tuesday the 18th). That way you have a reason to reach out (because you promised).
One of the best ways you can end your first interaction during the interview process is just to share and reiterate “how much you want the position.” Often this is overlooked by the candidates and the interviewer is left wondering. Make it evidently and abundantly clear that you are there for the job and you are intently interested in hearing back from them.
If however, your contacts begin to waver, then you should also consider finding a different contact person. The hiring manager not getting back to you? Try HR. Is HR not responsive? Try the head of the search committee. There are multiple ways to address getting your question answered and keeping your application alive.
However, know when it’s time to begin your exit strategy if they haven’t responded readily. A follow up email indicating your progression in other searches might help spur a response.
Just don’t be a doormat. Remember that there might be a time to pick up and move on. However, how an institution treats your during the interview process is another indicator of how their culture is implemented in practice. This might be a warning sign.
So despite your best efforts, the organization has left you in the dust and you haven’t heard anything from them.
It’s okay. The first step is to just allow yourself to be upset by it. No one wants to be in your position. It’s okay to be mad. But sometimes we just don’t let ourselves feel this emotion and it infects everything that we do. You don’t want to be carrying that emotional baggage with you everywhere you go.
It’s time to let this institution go, but don’t forget about this process. Remember it and learn from it. Use it as a positive sign that you were good enough to get an interview, an on campus interview, and a face to face meeting. That still means something.
Facing up to this reality can be sobering and time saving. Candidates know what institutions tend to ghost their applicants. Those applicants talk, share, and network. So discussing your situation with others can be reassuring and cathartic. Again, discovering these warning signs early may be an indication that you dodged a bullet.
Remember that you were only in a position to be ghosted because you put yourself out there. You decided that this was a position at an institution worth pursuing. Now you’ve learned from this experience and you’re ready to tackle the next one!
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