It’s a story you might be familiar with. You’re in a budding relationship and then, without warning, your supposed-partner goes radio silent and you never hear from them again.
While most think of “ghosting” as part of the dating scene, it’s become a not-so-professional practice among job applicants and employees. Data from an Indeed survey bears this out. The job search engine found that 83% of companies report they’ve been ghosted by candidates or employees. Worse yet, two-thirds of respondents said the practice is becoming more common.
Don’t believe in ghosts? In the Halloween spirit, we asked business leaders to share their most unusual “ghost” stories. Candidate and employee names have been changed.
“We had a nineteen-year-old kid working in production with us. He was shaping up really well and was someone we thought would stay with us for a while. We were even considering him for his first promotion to a manager role.
Anyway, one day after our usual break, nobody knew where Adam was — which was weird since he usually didn’t leave for lunch. He had last been seen having lunch at his workbench, upon which was still sitting a half-eaten sandwich and a cup of warm coffee. His coat was gone. A couple of hours later, we started to worry.
We heard nothing from Adam for the rest of the week. After the weekend, he finally made contact and everything became clear. While he was eating his lunch, he'd been idly checking his Lotto numbers on his phone — only to learn that he had won a significant sum of cash. Unsure what to do next, and with a massive windfall in his hand, he literally got up, put his coat on, and walked to his mom's house.”
- Polly Kay, Senior Marketing Manager at English Blinds
“One day, a promising candidate came in for his interview. By that point, he had gone through multiple phone calls to determine fit and interest. I took him to a conference room and we had just gotten started when he stopped me and asked if he could be excused to use the restroom.
I said ‘of course’ and let him know where it was located. Five minutes went by. Then another. After 15 minutes he still hadn't returned. By this point, I was worried that something had happened to him in the bathroom. I asked another employee to go into the men’s restroom to check on him, but there was no sign of the guy.
We eventually had to replay the security video footage to discover that he walked out of the conference room, left the building, got in his car, and drove away. We never heard another word from him! He totally ghosted me.”
- TyAnn Osborn, founder of Osborn Consulting Group
“I own a contracting company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I have some great long-term employees, but over the years I’ve also had a fair share of workers who have quit unexpectedly. One of these was a young woman we’ll call Jan. She was fresh out of college and really good at her job. But after working for me for about six weeks, she just didn’t show up one day. No one could get a hold of her or her emergency contacts.
I was annoyed at first, but then I heard she never picked up her last paycheck. I was really into ‘true crime’ at the time, and I became convinced that something horrible had happened. So I decided to visit her at the address she had provided on her job application to, hopefully, deliver her paycheck.
I was surprised when she answered the door. She looked awful. Her face was scabbed and discolored, and I could tell she was mortified to find me on her doorstep. Come to find out, her parents had gotten her some sort of chemical peel for her birthday. She had a bad reaction and ended up in the hospital. She was so ashamed by the whole ordeal that she hadn’t even returned our calls, and she was too afraid to show her face.
I gave her the option of returning, but I think she was just too embarrassed to accept. I feel bad about the whole ordeal. Since then, I ran into her on the street and she’s made a full recovery.”
- Rick Patterson, founder of Poolonomics
“I’ve been ghosted quite a few times as a recruiter. The most bizarre instance I can recall is a candidate I’d interviewed for an entry-level administrative position. At the interview, they were enthusiastic, professional, and seemed like a good fit for the company. We extended an offer and they accepted. All seemed well until the day of their scheduled orientation.
The candidate never showed and didn’t reply or respond to our calls or e-mails. The weirdest part? They came into the office more than a week later and said they were now ready for training and wanted to start. They insisted they'd never been told when their orientation was scheduled, that they'd never received our calls or e-mails, and seemed upset when we told them we’d already moved on with the search and the position was no longer theirs. Definitely the strangest ghosting I’ve ever experienced and the only one to turn into a ‘haunting,’ so to speak.”
- Darrell Rosenstein, founder of The Rosenstein Group
“We were hiring for several different positions, including a new manager. The top candidate was a very nice guy, very qualified, very professional, and seemed excited about the job. He beat out several others, and after about three interviews, we decided to give him the job. We contacted him, he was super happy, and he was supposed to come on Monday to have a walkthrough and sign some papers.
On his scheduled first day, he was late. A few hours passed, and we assumed he got sick or got into an accident or something. We called him several times, left voicemails and emails — nothing. After a few days, we thought maybe something awful happened. We sent someone to his address, only for someone to open the door and tell us that the guy didn’t live there anymore. He’d moved to a different country. No one bothered to let us know.”
- Hosea Chang, Chief Operating Officer at Hayden Los Angeles
“One time we were waiting for one woman who was scheduled to come in for an interview. When she didn’t show, we all assumed she was stuck in traffic. Just to be sure, I decided to call her to see what was up.
She answered, but when she realized who I was, she straight-up put on a fake accent. She pretended to be someone else and said she had no idea what I was talking about, and then hung up. It was the weirdest experience I’ve ever had. Could she just not say she wasn’t coming? It’s not like we were ever going to see each other again, I don’t know why people do this. Afraid of confrontation, I guess?”
- Heinrich Long, Privacy Expert at Restore Privacy
"I was working for a client and we were recruiting at a high volume, I believe we were at 50 new hires per week for around three months. One of those new hires took on the night shift and decided to leave work about two hours after he got there.
Some of the other employees were on a break when a black SUV filled with men in ski masks pulled up in the parking lot asking them about the employee that left the building. All the employees were like, ‘We do not know that person.’ We called the police, reported the incident, and never heard back. We weren’t able to get in contact with the new hire and his emergency contact refused to give us information.”
- Nicole Anderson, CEO of MEND
While some of these stories couldn’t have been avoided, HR experts advise that a string of ghostings should spur you to re-evaluate internal processes. This is especially true in recruiting, as candidates might be frustrated by an excessive number of rounds or assignments. According to Charlotte Bate, Director at MAD-HR, an HR consultancy, your “ghosts” are often just candidates snatched up by competitors while they were stuck in process.
“Don’t overcomplicate the recruitment process. Be really clear so that the candidate knows exactly what is going to happen and when, so that they can plan, too,” Bate said. And above all, don’t inadvertently ghost them yourself by not communicating frequently enough. “Long periods of silence are never good. This is especially important when people are working their notice periods.”
Bate recommends filling these waiting periods by inviting candidates to social events or asking teammates to keep them “warm” with informal virtual coffees. “Regular contact will help keep them interested, engaged with the business and the team, and help you look for indications of cold feet,” Bate said.
As for current employees? While you can’t account for jackpot winners or caustic facial peels, you can get ahead of lingering problems before they escalate into sudden departures. That means keeping a steady pulse on how your team is doing through regular manager check-ins and pulse surveys. To see how Lattice empowers you to keep workplace ghosts and ghouls at bay, schedule a demo today.