Ghosting and Schadenfreude in Hiring

Schadenfreude: Schadenfreude is the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.

Sometimes it’s hard not to gloat. I try to be a good person and that does not include reveling in the misfortunes of others. But, when it comes to job applicant ghosting I just have to share my glee.

Cast Out and Ignored

For years, decades even, American businesses have treated job seekers like immigrants on a rubber raft in the Mediterranean. Except that, even when you managed to touch land, they ignored you. Sometimes they pushed you back out again.

babies, schadenfreude, crying, laughingLife was good for hiring companies. Economic difficulties, the Great Recession, poor management decisions (especially in high tech) mergers, acquisitions, and massive layoffs left huge pools of candidates looking for work.

Many, perhaps most, were highly qualified people with graduate degrees and years of experience. Despite our best efforts to do a good job and make the company successful, we found ourselves out on our rumps and beating against closed doors.

Can’t Buy an Interview

During the Great Recession you could not, as a friend once said, buy yourself an interview. Millions of us submitted resumes and crafted cover letters to match. Not only did we demonstrate our qualifications, we optimized resumes to beat the Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) that seemingly matched no one with anything.

We reached out to our contacts and went to networking events where we worked the room like pros. We used LinkedIn to find people who would recommend us, built our mailing lists, signed up on job-search web sites, tried to find open jobs before they even hit the web sites, and got creative in so many ways, it’s hard to detail them all. Men shaved off beards and women lost weight to look younger. Whatever it took.

Behaving Like Anointed Royalty

The problem wasn’t that the companies weren’t hiring, although that was true, it was that the companies acted like anointed royalty, aloof, remote and unreachable. Common courtesy was far too common for the likes of these privileged aristocrats.

Red Queen, Tenniel, monarch, off with her headOkay, responding to every resume that came in over the transom might have required too many resources. I get that. I don’t owe every charity that calls me the chance to make their pitch either.

But when a company responds to an application, requests more information, and has the candidate in for an interview (or several), they have established a relationship. Courtesy demands that you do not just leave the applicant hanging for days, weeks, or forever. Because, you know, you’re just so important and so busy you can’t be bothered treating another person like a human being.

Today there’s a word for that: ghosting. It came out of online dating websites to describe potential matches who faded away to avoid confrontation, but it soon applied to the job search process as well.

Ghosting: The practice of ending a personal or professional relationship with an individual by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Job Candidate Ghosting

Ghosting now happens when a company settles on a candidate and wants to proceed to the hiring phase. Only the candidate vanishes, returning no communications of any kind. Sometimes the company even hires an new employee, only to have that person go out to lunch or go home for the night—and never return.

ghosts, ghosting, hiring, interview, disappearCompanies are flummoxed by the ghosting phenomenon. How dare people do this to them! Don’t candidates realize this is rude? Don’t they understand how it puts the hiring manager in a difficult situation? Don’t they  understand loyalty? Where did they get the idea they could get away with this?

Well, they learned ghosting from you. You taught them very carefully that, when you’re in the power position, you can be uncivilized, unprofessional, and even downright nasty and get away with it. Do they know it’s rude? Maybe. But they don’t care. Because you also taught them to watch out for themselves first, second and third. They learned the hard way that loyalty works in just one direction in the business world.

XPertHR’s Guide to Ghosting

To help these poor souls get over themselves, XpertHR has published a “Guide to Ghosting.” They offer three main suggestions:

  1. Keep the Lines of Communication Open: This involves treating the candidate the way you, the company, want to be treated. What a concept! It’s good advice, even if we shouldn’t have to teach HR departments and hiring managers their manners. This is the 21st Century, after all.
  2. Conduct Meaningful Interviews: XPertHR defines this as learning as much as you can about the candidate, then being “open, friendly and receptive.” Back when companies actually trained managers in how to do their jobs, this was standard procedure. I took courses in how to hire and how to conduct interviews. How can you possibly hire the best candidate if you behave like an arrogant twit?
  3. Maintain a Positive Workplace, Culture and Brand: The reasons for this are simple; candidates talk to one another. Whether it’s in person, on social media, at meetings, or in reviews on GlassDoor, your bad behavior will not stay in your office. No one wants to work for a self-important SOB so don’t act like one. Also, the #MeToo Movement will let the world know if your executives are grabby, insulting, offensive, or worse. Be warned.
  4. Know What Your Competitors Are Doing: Right, because if you screw this process up, the candidate is going to move to another opportunity with a company that does it better. And that just might be your competition. This is the way the free market works when monopsony breaks down and candidates actually have a choice. “Employee at will” is a concept that works both ways.

The Bottom Line on Ghosting

ghost in office, ghosting, hiring, Human Resources, HRThe bottom line is that XpertHR should not have had to write these recommendations. Clearly, however, companies need to learn good manners all over again after acting like entitled idiots for so long.

Candidates should remember, though, that hiring managers and HR staff talk to one another as well. You don’t want to create a bad reputation that sticks to you throughout your career.

Writing this post about ghosting felt like therapy. Even though I’m retired and out of the hiring game now, I remember—vividly—how it felt to be treated like a desperate immigrant.

Who knew? Schadenfreude can be fun.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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