How recruitment 'ghosting' is impacting mental health of job applicants

According to a new report, 86% of respondents said the experience of being ghosted by a recruiter had left them down or depressed in some way. Photo: Getty

You spend hours crafting a great job application, highlighting your skills, abilities and experience. When you’re asked to attend an interview, it seems to go well — and you’re quietly confident that you may be asked to return for another meeting, or be offered the role. But when weeks turn to months and you still haven’t heard back, you question whether you are competent at all.

Many of us have faced silence while waiting to hear back from a prospective employer, only to end up hearing nothing at all. “Ghosting” — a behaviour usually associated with dating in which someone suddenly disappears — is becoming more common among professional recruiters, research suggests. And it’s having a seriously detrimental impact on job applicants.

Two-thirds (65%) of the UK public have been ghosted by a recruiter, according to a survey of 2,000 job-seekers by the recruitment software company Tribepad. Three in four men (72%) have been ghosted during the job-seeking process, in comparison to three in five women (58%).

Ghosting isn’t just rude, but it can have a significant impact on people’s mental health. Job applications are often time-consuming and complex, with multiple written tasks and tests, as well as interviews.

Read more: How maternity leave stigma is undermining women's careers

While candidates may feel disappointed by a rejection, not hearing back from an employer at all after meeting them in person — or on Zoom — can be devastating. Applicants can lose confidence and feel angry or dejected, particularly if the interactions they had with the recruiter went well.

According to the report, 86% of respondents said the experience had left them down or depressed in some way. A further 17% said they had been left severely depressed. More than four in 10 (43%) UK applicants who have been ghosted say it took them weeks or even months to recover.

Lise Campbell Price, 50, an events and project manager from London, was ghosted after a two-day interview. “It included back-to-back interviews, tasks, drafting competencies and being tested on the company’s values, they said they’d be back in touch by the end of the week. I never heard back from them, despite following up four times,” she said.

“I had put in so much time and effort, when I heard nothing back, I got in such a state with it all. What is wrong with me? Will I ever work again? It triggered a trail of thoughts that made me question everything.”

There are many reasons why an employer may ghost a candidate after meeting them, including the current job market. “The whole planet has been upended in the past 18 months and it’s inevitable that the impact of that is far-reaching,” says Dean Sadler, CEO of Tribepad. “The HR and recruitment industry is under intense pressure with the job market contracting and expanding at an incredible pace.

Read more: Should new hires be offered 'golden hello' joining bonuses?

“Nonetheless, it’s disheartening that as a result, people are being ghosted while applying for jobs at potentially one of the most stressful times of their lives,” he adds. “It’s having a hugely detrimental impact so we are calling for brands to pledge to acknowledge and address the problem.”

Another study, carried out by the career data firm Clutch, found more than one-third of job seekers (36%) said the last company that rejected them did not respond at all. When candidates did receive a response, only 13% got a personalised rejection email.

Ghosting candidates also signals a complete lack of regard for both job-seekers and employees too, which can impact a company’s reputation. Employers may not think twice about ghosting an applicant, but people talk and bad experiences are shared on job review websites such as Glassdoor. The firm Tribepad, which carried out the research, has also launched a campaign called End Ghosting to encourage people to come forward with their experiences.

“Recruiters need to be aware of the impact their actions have on the person looking for work and take on a level of accountability. A follow-up courtesy email takes mere minutes to draft and could make a world of difference for the person looking for work,” says Muge Ahmed, a London-based psychotherapist and EMDR therapist.

Read more: Is it OK to take a day off work to do 'life admin’?

“It’s so important to consider the time and mental energy the person is investing in the job seeking process. No matter how together we may appear in an interview process, the reality for that individual could be quite different,” Ahmed adds.

“Someone may be struggling with low mood and anxiety, but decided to look for work despite their difficulties. If they are then ghosted after a series of interviews, what message is this sending to the person already struggling?”

Watch: What to ask in a job interview

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