I’m still in the running for a job I interviewed for in 2014. At least, I think I am? I never heard one way or another. After an initial phone interview, I hopped on a train, taking an eight-hour, round trip journey to meet my potential employer. I was even asked to write an essay—about as long as this piece—as a test run. But in the weeks that followed, despite promises of “wanting to move quickly on this” from management, I heard nothing. Every check-in email—my teeth grinding with each attempt to play the role of an exceptionally competent, but also totally laidback candidate—went unanswered. After a while, even the crickets should’ve started to feel guilty. I’d been ghosted. It wasn’t the first time—and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Initially, I blamed my industry. (My career is about as unstable as my romantic life, so it figures that my professional correspondence would mirror that of my Tinder matches.) But the more friends asked for nonexistent updates on job leads, the more we ended up commiserating over similar experiences. They too had encountered endless rounds of interviews, some amassing unpaid hours while completing elaborate tests only to be frozen out. Nearly everyone I spoke to—mostly millennials who requested anonymity because they feared professional repercussions—had at some point endured a bizarre hiring process that trailed off in noncommittal silence or reached a similarly ambiguous ending. Art galleries and photography studios ghosted. So did tech giants like Facebook, Instagram, and Google, along with lifestyle heavyweights like Nike and Red Bull.
However anecdotal, the evidence suggests that more and more companies—particularly those skewing younger, hipper, and richer—are developing a culture where professional ghosting is acceptable, perhaps even the norm. The more publicly desirable the employer, the more disposable candidates seem to become.
This trend isn’t quantifiable. While consulting firms and the government regularly compile employment statistics, no one keeps tabs on the in-between process. The internet provides a never-ending supply of advice for finding great employees and preparing for interviews, but there’s no cut-and-dry etiquette when it comes to the treatment of candidates. Technically, it’s a good-faith process in employers’ favor. While bound by discrimination and other labor laws in choosing employees, companies have no pre-employment obligations, communication-wise, to potential hires. Ironically, neither national human resources organization I contacted responded to multiple requests for comment.
But if that’s always been the case, why does it seem like professional ghosting is on the rise now? Maybe it’s yet another symptom of the radically changing workforce. Employees are more mobile. Remote work is on the rise, encouraged by email and instant messaging. Turnover is lightning fast. Startups often explode before founders can establish consistent professional practices, and many companies don’t have human resources departments at all. Employees are tasked with conducting the hiring process, but aren’t empowered to actually make hiring decisions. In a culture that celebrates slapdash success, normalizes overwork, and prizes idealism, it should be no surprise that the instant communication era hasn’t produced instant decision-making.
A workforce in flux is bound to invite insecurity at both the institutional and individual levels. Uncertainty and risk breed indecision. The psychological concept of analysis paralysis, wherein workers overthink problems so deeply that they bottleneck their own success, is another possible explanation as to why you haven’t heard back yet.
Some etiquette standards would be a reasonable first step to addressing this 21st-century predicament. One ghostee I spoke with suggested companies send formal, timely rejection letters after two interviews. Hell, I’d settle for a “THX BUT NO THX HAVE A NICE LIFE” text, so long as it’s mandatory. Until that happens, I’ll just be over here incessantly refreshing my inbox and typing, “Hey, just checking in again!” for the millionth time.