The Golden Rule of Ghosting – Don’t Do It

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By Dave Denaro
October 01, 2019
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The Shoe is on the Other Foot for Now

Traditionally, companies have been criticized for not giving timely feedback to candidates regarding the status of applications and interviews. Sometimes they never communicate at all, aka “ghosting”. Adding to the insult, leadership doesn’t seem to care about the criticism, evidenced by the fact that most don’t do anything to change the behavior.

Now, it appears that candidates are ghosting companies, and guess what? The companies are complaining! They are irritated when prospective employees ghost them by failing to show up for an interview or even to work on their start date.

Currently, the state of the job market is such that both employers and new employees are not communicating with each other when they want to stop the relationship.

It is not a good practice when the employers do it. Likewise, it is not a good practice when prospective employees do it.

Many job hunters have never experienced a market like this one, often getting multiple offers. To be clear, you should take the offer that is the best career move for you. If that offer comes in after you accepted a different offer, you still take it. However, you must communicate swiftly and professionally about your decision to reverse an acceptance to another company’s job offer.

You are not in 7th grade anymore so don’t “break up” with a company that made you an offer by not calling anymore, by standing them up on the start date, or by simply sending a text message. Breaking up courteously is not hard to do and it won’t hurt your career as long as it’s handled professionally – over the phone.

Here is some advice to help make decisions and avoid having to renege on an acceptance in the first place, followed by some tips on how to withdraw an acceptance professionally (assuming your offer was in the form of an employee at will offer letter and not a formal contract). About 99.9% of employees are “at will,” however, if you are in a contract situation, please check with an employment attorney.

Career Plans Help with Making Decisions

  • First, getting multiple offers, even if the timing is a little off, is great situation to be in! Be happy because you are in control!
  • Especially for early and mid-career people, decide which offer to take based on the role that is best for your long term career goals. An opportunity to learn and develop needed skill sets, and subsequently advance because of them, is a better investment in your future than a little more salary today. That begs the question, have you created a career plan to help forecast your future?
  • No matter what phase of career you are in, do you have your own personal career plan in place? You should, or how will you determine if a new job will develop you in the right ways? How will you determine if the new role can polish your strengths and develop needed skills if you don’t know what is needed for your career goals? How will you determine if a position provides the right challenges if you don’t know the achievements you need to be a viable candidate for your future roles?

Without an understanding of what the new job will do to advance you through your career plan, a tempting salary offer has a good chance of luring you into a job that doesn’t prepare you well enough for your forecasted roles.

Communication is the Key to Controlling the Process

Syncing up offer timing (trying to get all offers to come in around the same time) depends on how you control communications.

  • The first company to make an offer might give you a week to decide, but don’t plan on it! These days they are typically giving much less time. There is little advantage to the first company out with an offer to give you a long leash because they know you will use it as leverage to get other, higher paying offers. Communication is the best way to influence the situation.
  • If you sense an offer is close, tell the companies where you are only at the midpoint of their interview process that you are talking with others that are getting close to final interviews. It will give them more time to catch up than if you wait until you take the final interview or have an offer in hand.
  • You may also find yourself in a situation where the recruiter or talent acquisition person continually asks you how your search is going. Search and placement recruiters do this routinely. By staying on top of a prospect’s search process, the recruiter can use the information to prod managers to move the hiring process into high gear when needed in order to avoid losing a desirable candidate. So, don’t hide this information from companies bringing up the rear, timing wise. It actually can help you in this kind of market. Share the timing, but not necessarily the company and position details for now.

How to professionally decline a previously accepted offer…because it’s probably not going to be possible to sync all the offers.

  • When turning down offers or withdrawing an acceptance, make it a short and professional phone call. You are doing what’s best for your career, hopefully as guided by your career plan, so tell the company that you are sorry but you have accepted another offer that moves you further forward in your career. You are sorry to give them such short notice but it was unavoidable. Mention that you are grateful for the opportunity and learned through the interview process that they are a great company and the position will be a good one for someone else and you wish them luck filling it. Then say goodbye! You are not going to make them feel better about what is happening in the moment. Rip off the Band-Aid directly, professionally, and quickly. As a point of reference, consider how the conversation would go if they were calling you to tell you that you didn’t get the job. They would keep that call short and sweet. They wouldn’t go into detail about how the decision was made and neither should you. Follow the same model they do.
  • If your call results in a counteroffer, be aware that studies show that, for a variety of reasons, counteroffers hardly ever work out longer than a year. Besides, unless it is a new role that is offered as part of the counter, the money is likely all that has slightly changed, so the reason to take the new job still stands.

What’s the effect on your reputation if you decline a previously accepted job? None, if you do it professionally.

  • If you accept a role and then call back and decline it professionally, the company will not be happy but they will write it off as “just business.” It has happened to them many times before and it will happen many more times in the future. If you do it professionally, to them you will be one of many that got away and will be forgotten . If you do it unprofessionally, for example, if you ghost them, you will be an outlier and risk being remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Learn how to break up professionally. The key is having a career-based reason for the decision and then following that with simple, clear, concise communications.

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