A few days ago, an article on LinkedIn brought to light the phrase "ghosting" and how it is detrimental to tech recruiters and employers currently. Ghosting, in its technical definition is the act of ending a relationship abruptly without any form of notification or communication. Or to become a ghost. But we'll focus on the first for now. While the term is most popular when referring to ending a personal relationship, it can just as easily be applied to any other form of relationship as well. You can ghost on friends that you outgrew and you can ghost on a job interview that you just aren't feeling.
Companies and recruiters are finding it detrimental mainly because good talent is hard to find, and it does technically cost them money and time in resources trying to nail down the right candidate. Just imagine finding a developer who hits all of the 10 marks acing interview after interview just to have them vanish into the ether as if they never existed. Good talent is not easy to come by, particularly in the tech world these days.
As someone who's attended dozens of programming interviews in his life, I can honestly say that I have been guilty of ghosting through a few of them a number of times. Each time for different reasons and at various skill levels, which I will break down below. So don't judge too harshly, as you will likely find yourself in one of these cases as well. Here are the reasons why you might "ghost" on a programming interview.
I received a better job offer
The first time I ghosted on an interview, both to the recruiter and employer, was when I first starting out in my programming career. I had interviews on a daily basis pretty much, running through subways and freeways trying to make each on time, or at least, not too late. One particular interview went very well, however, it was not an ideal position for me. It was an hour daily commute one way without traffic and with traffic, it wasn't any lower. It was also not a full-time job, but an internship that paid a minimum wage salary, with potential for growth later on. The recruiter was friendly and helpful answering all of my questions along the way and she followed up with me during the week to let me know how the process was going and informed me that they were close to making a selection soon. And as luck should have it, I was selected for the role. I received a voicemail letting me know the good news, to my amazement. As this was my very first offer letter in this industry.
Just when I was about to make the call and graciously accept the offer, something unexpected happened. I received another phone call that same day, with pretty good news. The job that I had applied to 3 weeks prior was done conducting their reference checks and such, and were more than happy to extend an offer letter my way. And a bit more exciting on this end, it was for a full-time position at about twice the rate of the previous offer. And I'm not here to argue that one is better than the other. Because clearly, the full-time offer that was closer to home and offered twice the finance at a much higher title is better. You can read more about that experience over here. So I did end up ghosting on the previous recruiter and company.
The main reason that I believe now I became a ghost, was because I was only 23 years old. My only real contact during the past few years was with stressed out people my age and not a single one of them had a career of any kind. So in my reality, I was still somewhat young and child-like. I just didn't have the maturity to call up someone that was so excited about an opportunity that I was about to turn down. Also, shortly after my full-time job began and I was busy going to meetings and working on projects and the phone calls just blurred into the background.
Nothing against the company and/or the recruiter. They were all fantastic. But when opportunity knocks, you don't stop to consider why it is knocking. You let it in and move forward.
Programming interviews take days
I have not been guilty of this one, but I have considered it for sure. Interviews are getting harder due to stricter hiring policies from companies. Where as you used to be able to walk into an office, have a 30 minute conversation over a glass of whiskey (maybe?) and walk out with a handshake and a story for your families dinner table, you now to wade through 6-10 people each with their own set of questions and quirks and personalities and you have to impress all of them pretty much. This could either take 1 long day or several days where you meet with 2-3 people per day. It sounds like an exaggeration, but rest assured that it is not. My longest interview was about 3 days, each day meeting with different people, and even one day meeting the same people again in an awkward exchange where the same questions were being asked of me, to probably different answers.
Safe bet that the more interviews are required to get a job, the higher the chance someone is going to be ghosting it. It's not just about the schedule and time of the recruiter and the company that is valuable here. We have to consider the fine folks attending these interviews as well. These are people who are looking for work, who have families and have to take time off with no finance to allow companies to see their abilities.
While the odds of landing the job increase equally the more interviews you are invited to attend, for some the exchange of potentially landing the job still doesn't outweigh the uncomfortable process.
Some companies don't make great first impressions
I've also been guilty of ghosting myself out of a second interview at some companies due to the impression I received during the first. One company in particular was completely unaware that I would be showing up that day for an interview. And so, the door was closed. For a while. Until I called the companies many numbers and eventually someone came out unsure of who I was or even if they were hiring to begin with. They were it turns out. But that left me a bit shook up. I wasn't a brand new developer at this stage. I had a few years under my belt and so was looking for something somewhat stable.
After some back and forth during this interview, the sole web developer made an appearance. He looked exhausted and rightfully so. He informed me that he could really use the help with the companies 12 different clients. 12 clients, 1 web developer. That was this companies current model. After the interview, which went well overall I went on home and assured myself that this was not a place that I wanted to spend my time in.
The next day I received a few calls letting me know that I had a second interview coming up with that same company. And since I had no interest in pursuing it any further, I left it at that. I didn't email the company letting them know that I didn't like it there, nor did I call that poor overworked developer and told him that maybe he needed to consider finding another place to work. I had other interviews that week to attend to, so I let the matter go.
Again, we make it easy by putting blame on the people interviewing. But this is a 2-way street. You are going to be providing a service to a company, in which more than likely, they will generate substantially more income from your work than you will earn. You are both doing each other a favor in this case, so it's a good move to put your best foot forward.
We lack the social skills to say 'no thanks'
Guilty as charged on this one. Growing up, you learn that disappointing people is bad. It's not just bad. It's something we avoid no matter what. We never say no to our parents or elders, even if we believe we are in the right. We just do what is expected and we sit down and shut up for the most part. Most of your childhood is spent doing things that you don't want to do, such as waking up bright and early in order to go into some building and sit in a chair for hours on end. And we repeat this pattern for some time in life, to the point where saying 'No' to an authority figure is insulting. Except it isn't. And it's incredibly important to learn to do so.
Saying 'no' to something that you don't want to do is one of life's greatest treats. But we rarely use this superpower. And so we choose to avoid confrontation in lieu of it as adults. It's our own little way of saying 'no' without any repercussions, to us at least. People don't ignore phone calls from recruiters because it feels bad. They do it because deep down they don't feel like pursuing this relationship.
And this is particularly more accurate of the younger people entering the workforce, because cultural norms change, we just don't notice them. But it is their patterns that will dictate the next set of patterns. Just because we feel that you have to call everyone up to explain yourself because you have some moral obligation to do so, doesn't mean that future generations will, or that it's even correct from a psychological perspective. Maybe we've been doing it wrong all along, and we should be more mindful of ourselves before anyone else. And that new pattern could potentially change the way that recruitment gets handled, to something even better.
Companies ghost also
Ah, everything is so simple when it is one-sided. But not in this case. Companies probably ghost many times over what potential employees will ever be able to do. How many interviews have you had that have gone amazingly well, only to never hear a peep back from either recruiter or employer? I would say, maybe 5% of the companies that I've interviewed for, have made it an effort to reach out to let me know that they would be moving on. Which is unfortunate news, but it does help in focusing your energy somewhere else. The rest escape into the ether.
And it's this unbalanced nature of hiring and recruitment that leads us back to the topic of this post. The recruitment, interviewing, hiring process we currently have in our society is functional, but it is far from being perfect. But let us not lose hope. Things are changing all the time. Companies are finding new ways to hire employees and making interview processes smoother and more seamless.
Should you ghost?
There's no real right or wrong answer here. If you miss an interview and stop talking to a recruiter, they will be annoyed for a bit and find someone else to interview in your place. You may or may not feel guilty, and either is fine. Feeling guilty for doing something you think right probably isn't very logical in any case. And if you decide to call your recruiter and let them know that you are moving on, then will still be upset and will have to find someone else. But at least you'll get that out of your chest and they get to move on.
Do not expect the number of people skipping interviews or not showing up to work ever to go down. If anything, it will probably skyrocket during the next few years as tech markets become more and more saturated. Half of my LinkedIn requests are recruiters pending approval. Some even hide their titles as 'Business Management', but I can see through your profiles. You are recruiters. And you want me to go interview somewhere, because you will have a good pay day if all goes well. And until that relationship starts to change to something more human, something with just a little more meaning behind it, then the trend will continue.
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Walter Guevara is a Computer Scientist, software engineer, startup founder and currently mentors for a coding bootcamp. He has been creating software for the past 15 years.