Ghosting. The New Normal?
Ghosting, it appears, has quickly become the new normal. Casually removing yourself from negotiations or conversations with complete disregard for the other person appears to be an acceptable form of avoiding crunchy conversations or simply saying, “I’m not interested.”
I recently experienced this at 2 separate job interviews. After murdering all of my initial interviews I advanced to later rounds, only to be left floating in the Sea of No Answer. After a couple of weeks of radio silence, it became clear that the conversation was over and I was left to do the next best thing: carry on. What’s sad is that these conversations were with the CEOs of both companies, not some junior recruiter or select team member.
This has occurred more and more often throughout my career, dating back to dot com 1.0, so I’ve begun to look for signs of potential ghosting in all of my business interactions, especially during recruiting stints. I’m pretty intuitive by nature so I can usually tell by the length of time between responses or the tone of a response itself whether there are signs of trouble. I deal in absolutes, so when I don’t see them in print or hear them in a conversation it’s instantly a red flag. Vague language is often a sign that you’re about to be left at the altar. Here’s an example:
CEO: “I’ll be in contact shortly once our funding is finalized which should be early next week. Then I’ll feel much better about bringing someone like you aboard.”
(…someone like you aboard.) Hmmm.
Let’s dissect. I had already been in pretty deep talks with this CEO. I came highly recommended by someone with whom I had worked at a previous company. I had also met two of his co-founder/investors who were very impressed by me (their words). The CEO expressed excitement at having a seasoned, lauded Executive Assistant as his right-hand guy. Sure, my comp was a bit more than he had budgeted, but he was confident he could make up the difference in stock or other incentives. And then came the silence.
I had reached out on a couple of occasions after our previous meeting to keep the conversation moving along. I’d even suggested we get together to strategize about exactly what the expectations would be of the role and put together a Day 1 action plan once funding was finalized. Nothing. For over two weeks. The final email I received to this day was the aforementioned.
A few key takeaways here:
1. He owed me nothing…except the courtesy to either say, “No thanks,” or “I’ve had a change of heart.” I’m 25 years deep in this role. I assure you I can handle rejection. What will never sit well with me is common courtesy being ignored. It’s juvenile, unprofessional and inexcusable, especially in the C-suite. You set the standard for not only how your company will operate but how it and you will be perceived outside, looking in.
2. My time was essentially wasted, with no recourse. Interviews take up time. They are quite expensive when you think about it. Drive time, tolls, parking, giving up a vacation day, emotional stress…it all adds up to a dollar amount that can never be recouped. I had even turned down 2 higher paying job offers because I really wanted the job and the language from our previous conversations had led me to believe, unequivocally, that the role was mine. (#stoopidstoopid) Ghosting during the recruitment process costs the ghosted money. So the ghosted has every right to send an invoice for their wasted time, if only as a token measure of saying, “Fuck you…grow a pair.”
3. You do yourself more harm than good by ghosting. You don’t close the loop of a conversation which, in some way, feels both morally and universally wrong. You’re giving the other person permission to judge you harshly, pass along the experience to any and everyone within their circle, and have that reverberate throughout the community. And, you’re building the wrong moral muscle by making it okay to remove yourself from a conversation fully aware and unrepentant of the potential consequences of that decision.
I refuse to accept this practice as a “new norm” or something that I should care far less about. It’s a dangerous precedent that needs to stop before it gets out of control. It happened a ton during dot com 1.0 because there were so many candidates to choose from and money flowing that no really cared about anyone’s feelings or following a moral code. They were simply trying to fill seats. We all witnessed the shitty attitudes, inflated egos, and immorality of that time. “Do you know who I am?” was the battle cry heard throughout the valley. Where are they now?
Ghosting is entitled, embarrassing and lazy. Period. And it belongs nowhere in the construct of business. I have and exercise the right to shame anyone who ghosts on a candidate, especially if that candidate is me. I would encourage anyone who is the victim of ghosting to not take it lying down. Send a letter or token invoice for your time to your transgressor to let them know how you feel with no fear of reprisal. And pass along this information to your network to, hopefully, warn them off of working with that person or the company or at least to be wary and informed.
The only way we as a community will start to course-correct some of this behavior, increasing unchecked at the top levels of business, is to start calling it out publicly and/or within our spheres of influence. The more we accept this as a normal practice the more it will become acceptable and woven into the fabric of our day-to-day business lives. And, I have no desire to operate in a world where this bullshit is in any way considered “normal.” Choose well.