Why companies and recruiters ghost/ignore job applicants

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What would you think of a colleague who ends phone calls or meetings by saying their last sentence and then hanging up (or literally running out the room) before anyone can reply? A person that never wants to hear what others have to say, who never gives a chance for others to add anything, ask anything?

How would you react to that person – and would you want to keep working with them?

Employers do this many times a day, every day, to the candidates applying for jobs. They solicit job applications, put an application form online, ask for people to email them … then silence.

Is that how you want to be seen? Is it the kind of colleague you are, is it a fair representation of what it’s like to work with you?

What it feels like for the candidate

(from: Daniel Abrahams/LinkedIn):

Obviously the best thing is to hear “Congratulations! You’re hired!” but in the absence of that, note the extent to which people wish they’d heard something – a clear rejection – over hearing nothing at all.

Most employers seem to have this graph the wrong way round in their mind: they fear that rejecting someone is more painful (to the candidate, and/or to themself) than saying nothing.

Why companies don’t reply to candidates

In practice, there are two broad reasons why companies don’t reply:

  1. No time / I forgot
  2. Not sure what to say / Afraid of saying the wrong thing
  3. EDIT: as pointed out by Brett Putter: No feedback given by interviewer, so they have nothing to say/pass-on

If you fall into the first group then your recruiting process is disorganized and ineffective – forgetting to reply (or lacking the time) are outcomes that should never happen. If you find yourself with many candidates sitting in the queue waiting hours or days for a reply then this is a warning sign that your process is failing and needs urgent corrective work.

You can make an excellent start on solving this simply by adopting an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) – and making sure you use it correctly. They range in price from free, through 10s or 100s of dollars a month, to thousands. I usually recommend Workable (https://www.workable.com/pricing) – a mid-cost, high-value, ATS that every company can easily afford. Your ATS will take care of automatically reminding you to reply to candidates (or even auto-reply to them if you wish), and will provide you with 1-click solutions for e.g. “email all remaining candidates and send them this (templated) email”. This is what they were designed to do.

By contrast: the second (EDIT: and third) group is a problem with your existing staff. If you – or someone in your org – is procrastinating on responding to applicants, and you have a clear process / automated ATS setup, then something is wrong with your people. Are they sufficiently trained? (can they use the ATS? Do they feel confident with it?) Are they being supported by their own manager? Are they overwhelmed by work or stress? No-one involved in hiring should be procrastinating on hires: this is one of the biggest mistakes I see time and time again in orgs that complain “hiring is hard” or “(tech) recruiting takes a long time” (anything longer than “weeks”).

You can’t fix that with a single response – there are many possible causes, from #FOMO (“What if I realise next week that this candidate was the best, and want to re-offer them the job?”) to untrained staff (“I don’t know how to reject people using the ATS, and I’m afraid to do it wrong”), to individual stress (“I’m overloaded in my job, I can’t handle the pressure of rejecting someone right now”).

But here’s a quick rule of thumb: if you (as an org) don’t positively want to hire that person today, for this role, then reject them now and save yourself the stress of this unfinished commitment hanging over you (and save them the uncertainty). If a candidate has been in the queue with no response for more than a few days, ask all the stakeholders if any of them want this candidate: if no-one will vouch for them, then the candiate is out. You never planned to hire a second-rate candidate, one who couldn’t do the job, so be brutal with yourself: unless this candidate looks great … move on (and show them the courtesy of letting them move on as well).

Do I reply to everyone?

Should you reply to all applicants, including those who you’re not going to interview?

Yes. This is simple respect: you initiated the dialogue, so see it through to the end.

When you ignore candidates applying for your jobs, when you reject candidates but don’t bother to tell them they’ve been rejected, when you stick candidates in limbo and send them nothing and reply to none of their emails … you are broadcasting what you’re like to work with. At best: disorganized. At worst: selfish, disrespectful, and the architects of an unhealthy workplace.

Whose responsibility is it to reply?

If your name/face/voice/role has appeared anywhere in the conversation then: it’s you. This means multiple people are jointly and severally responsible in most companies – the HR manager, the (internal or external) recruiter, the hiring manager. With multiple people all looking out for this, at least one of you will have time to do it.

Of the applicants you’ve interviewed how many have you personally replied to? Did you keep on replying to them, right through to the end of the process? Did every candidate get a timely notification that they’d been rejected?

Should be easy, right?

More tips and advice…

I’m sharing my tips and lessons from 15+ years of tech recruiting and management (as a hiring manager/line manager/VP). If you want more of this, and want to know when release new articles (and books and in-depth guides), signup here:

Credit: Peter Fox for the image idea, and Pixabay for the image

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