How “Ghosting” Can Single-Handedly Ruin Your Professional Reputation

person in ghost costume

Ghosting is the professional equivalent of standing up someone for a date, and it’s one of the most cringe-worthy things someone can do when they’re on the job hunt.

Unfortunately, the trend of workers ghosting employers is on the rise according to analysts.

It goes something like this… a candidate applies for a job, successfully passes all of the interviewing stages, and is finally offered the job. But, instead of responding to decline or accept the offer, the candidate simply ‘drops off the face of the earth,’ so to speak, and is never heard from again. People can “ghost” at the job offer stage, on their first day of work (by simply not showing up after they've agreed to take the job) or even by walking out on their current employer with zero warning, zero explanation and zero contact thereafter.

So why are professionals (although “ghosting” is a decidedly un-professional act) going radio silent on employers and recruiters now more than ever, as this article suggests? Unemployment is at its lowest rate in decades, and for many industries in the U.S. there are more open jobs than there are available candidates. In this tight labor market, the candidate is king, so to speak, and therefore feels more empowered to call the shots during their job search. The job seeker is in the driver’s seat now, and some are not taking every job offer as seriously as they should.

A tight labor market also means that talented, desirable candidates may be faced with multiple job offers at once, perhaps giving them some the sense that they can simply choose the job they want and ignore responding to other offers or employers.

Keith Station, director of business relations at Heartforce Solutions, said that workers are especially likely to ghost employers who offer low-paying service positions to move onto something offering more.

Although it can seem almost too easy to ghost an employer because of the high demand for workers, "ghosting" an employer can have very different consequences than doing so to your date.

Click to download the U.S. 2019 Life Sciences Salary Report.

The consequences of "ghosting"

On a basic human level, when you “ghost” someone, often their immediate thought is that something is wrong or there has been some kind of an emergency. Simply put, they start to worry about you. Have you been in an accident? Are you in the hospital? Did you die? Because it’s so far-fetched for many to believe that any professional would simply stop all communication for no reason (especially if things had been going so well up until then – well enough to get a job offer), their first concern is that something must be wrong. So, once they realize that all is well and they’re simply being cut off, that sense of worry quickly turns to anger. And that’s a feeling they aren’t likely to forget any time soon.

“Ghosting” an employer or recruiter is one of the most effective ways to “burn bridges” in your professional life. Like LinkedIn editor-in-chief Dan Roth points out to CBS, employers remember who “ghosted” them, so anyone who “ghosts” runs the risk of having a serious dent in their professional reputation. For one, you never know who you will end up working with in the future, who you’ll be sharing a panel with at your next conference, or who will be sitting across from you at the interview table. If it’s someone you’ve “ghosted,” you’re in for a rocky, awkward conversation.

And remember, people talk.The sciences can be a rather small world, especially if you remain in one field, so this type of faux pas can easily come back to haunt you in the future. It’s likely that whoever you’ve “ghosted” will share the experience with others, and word about your unprofessionalism will get around pretty quickly.

And then there’s social media, particularly LinkedIn. These days it’s not difficult to find out where someone works or what they’re up to, so if you thought you could “ghost” an employer and never be heard from again, think again. You could wind up with an uncomfortable message on one of your social pages that publicly puts you on blast for your bad behavior. There’s really no such thing as anonymity and or complete privacy any more, so keeping your reputation intact as you go from job to job, employer to employer, is even more important today.

Never “ghost” an employer. Do this instead:

Ultimately, “ghosting” an employer is a sign of immaturity and unprofessionalism. As LinkedIn Editor Chip Cutter said, in today’s tight labor market many “professionals face a task some have rarely practiced: saying no to jobs.” Some job candidates may fear conflict or not understand the right way to decline an offer or quit a job. So, rather than risk an uncomfortable conversation that they don’t know how to approach, they simply stop showing up altogether and hope that it just ‘goes away.’

Instead of simply avoiding a potentially negative conversation, job candidates and employees should learn how to say “no” gracefully in a way that doesn’t burn any bridges and leaves their professional reputation intact yet clearly gets their point of view across. Similarly, if you’re unhappy in your current job, understanding how to walk away without creating a scene or causing further damage to your professional reputation or relationships is a valuable skill that everyone should master.  

And, finally, don’t hold grudges. If you were “ghosted” in the past by an employer, don’t hold on to that feeling of rejection and perpetuate the same bad habit. You'll only create a negative perception of your professional reputation and a disparaging sense of your character in the minds of future employers and colleagues.

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