Power Shift - The Ghosted Become the Ghosts


Before they are employees, they are candidates. And, at this stage is where your engagement or disengagement starts. Over the past few decades, culminating with the byproduct from the great recession, employers became inundated with applicants. As recruiters and human resources staff increasingly struggled under the burden of sifting through many hundreds of applicants a handful of trends emerged. One of those trends was a growing disrespect towards applicants. As available jobs decreased, and job hunting went from months to a year or more, applicants became more desperate and pleading, and their persistence was not welcomed. The volume of applicants increased. The jobs did not. Disrespect became disdain. Another trend that emerged to combat the overwhelming submissions was employers adding more and more job requirements in an effort to weed out the volume and take advantage of the unemployed’s desperation. Job descriptions morphed into a ridiculous hodgepodge of skill requirements. Entry-level pay required a degree and as many as five years of experience. Director titles became manager titles. And existing employees needed to change organizations for better salaries and titles. A third trend that emerged was innovative methods to exclude applicants in a manner that required no effort from human resource staff. One, software that scanned for keywords was used to select, and more importantly, reject candidates. Other organizations created their own culling method. A recent job posting from legal organization had a single sentence mixed in with the EEO language on the application stating: “To be considered for this job, you must email your resume with your name spelled backward.” Another recent example from a large organization, with more than 24,000 employees, added an obscure instruction that cover letters, resumes, and references must be on a single document. Any submissions that didn’t see this requirement were rejected without review. All these trends created a hostile atmosphere towards job hunters. Countless applicants had three, four, five interviews with a single company only to be ghosted, or submitted dozens, or hundreds, of resumes that never met a hiring eyeball. Many applicants who received emails or calls inquiring about an interview on a specific date, took the day off work, juggled kids’ schedules, bought a new outfit, got a haircut, deeply researched the company's digital footprint, practiced with mock interviews only to never hear from the organization again. Emails and calls were left unanswered. If you are reading this, you were likely a culprit. This mistreatment became the norm. A handful occurrences that I’ve verified:

  • One applicant was so elated that she received a real personalized email from an actual person after an interview, that the sadness of being rejected was dampened simply by the pathetic excitement that she received any correspondence at all. She went as far as writing a thank you for getting rejected solely to acknowledge this tiny effort that is now considered a treat.

  • Numerous job seekers shared that recruiters have reached out to them, only to be ghosted, never returning calls or failing to show up for a scheduled Zoom.

  • One recruiter sent a LinkedIn message asking if the person was interested in a director position. After responding yes, the recruiter called. The job seeker was in a meeting and couldn’t answer. After listening to the voicemail, she sent an email to the recruiter sharing that she was in a meeting and could make time later in the afternoon or the next morning. The recruiter replied back “No thanks, I’ll let you know if any other positions come up.”

  • Another applicant was asked to write a blog post. After submitting he never heard back from the company, but later saw his post on their site.

  • Another candidate, during a Zoom panel interview, was told that the organization was interviewing 60 candidates, and that they couldn't remember all the interviewees so in an effort to differentiate each of the 60, they were asked to share something non-work-related that was unique enough for them to be remembered. They went so far as to give examples: “one applicant parachutes and another was attacked by a shark.”

  • Another candidate showed up for the interview and the hiring manager proceeded to interview him for the wrong position. After politely pointing out that he was there for another role, he was summarily rejected and never given a chance to interview.

Just feeding off the stories I am familiar with, these anecdotes can go on and on. For over a decade the power imbalance continued and employees and, more so, job hunters, became jaded and further abused. Salaries didn't mirror the cost of living growth. Employers reduced benefits and eliminated perks and continued these horrific trends that had become so normalized that most didn’t notice. Fast forward 13 years and a pandemic. For many organizations, the roles are now reversed. An article in Forbes offers insightful feedback from job seekers reacting to this phenomenon (Green, 2021). Here are a few excerpts: "Honestly I LOVE seeing potential employees treating employers the way employers have been treating their candidates for years! And then seeing the employers get all upset about it like they haven’t been behaving exactly the same way. … I really really hope that employers learn a lesson from this and start respecting job seekers a little more (although I’m not optimistic)." "Maybe this will help employers clean up their act. Honestly, in all my years working and interviewing for jobs, I’ve only had a handful of companies get back to me after an interview. I’ve had so many just go AWOL after an interview that I thought that it was normal employer behavior, and that a company getting back to a candidate to say they were not proceeding was going the extra mile and never something to be expected." "If it’s unprofessional and rude to ghost someone in business communications, then why have employers been doing just this for years? It seems perfectly rational to conclude that since they have been ghosting applicants for years, therefore ghosting is normal and acceptable in business." "If employers wanted to be treated better, they shouldn’t have spent the last three decades treating candidates with such little humanity. You can’t treat an entire class of people like crap for decades, strip them of rights and protections, and then be upset when we don’t show enough deference to the people asking us to beg for work." (Green, 2021). This blog addressed a tiny sliver of a single component of the hiring process. There is much more such as diversity, bias, onboarding, retention, and referrals. The entire process isn’t busted and doesn’t need repair. It’s obsolete. No matter how well your tune-up a horse and buggy, it won’t perform in today’s environment. It's not just that the buggy will get passed on the freeway, it's a danger. Efforts like LinkedIn, Indeed, Ziprecruiter, and the rest of the clones can’t be repaired or tweaked. Recruiters and human resources can't simply say "we'll do better." The process, mindset, and actions are outdated. They are a danger that impacts the entire economy and way of life. Engaging employees is the surest path to scaling your business. If your company attempts a band-aid approach to hiring, you'll never reach your potential. Employees are the lifeblood of growth. With existing technology and a fresh, bold approach, your organization can lead the way. References: Green, A. (2021, October 25). The Strange New Trend That’s Enraging Hiring Managers. Slate Magazine.

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