Ghosting: a growing phenomenon to report if you’re a contractor, not accept

Looking for work can be tough. The UK labour market can be unforgiving, and the rights of job-seekers are, sadly, minimal. This absolutely needs to change.

Compounding the situation, the way in which companies hire rarely has the work-seeker front of mind. That’s a controversial assertion to make, perhaps, but hiring processes are invariably geared towards the needs of the employer, writes Reed director Keith Rosser of the Better Hiring Institute and JobsAware.

The impact of increased technology in the hiring process hasn’t helped, however. While offering many benefits, there is a downside to technology creeping into much more of the process and it’s this. Tech is maturing the ‘ghosting generation.’ The thing is; relationships and commitment levels between hirers and work-seekers are fracturing even further through more and more hiring tasks or methods being automated or not requiring human interaction.

The Deliveroo-approach to hiring

Technology is therefore driving a sort of ‘platformisation’ of the UK labour market -- a kind of Deliveroo-approach to hiring. Employers (or ‘engagers’ in contractor parlance) want to maximise applications and minimise effort. With the still choppy economic outlook in the UK, that desire to reduce outlay per candidate is only likely to increase, unfortunately.

Originally a term used to describe being left in the lurch in the dating space (because your suitor simply disappears), ‘ghosting’ has been on the rise in recruitment.

Three-quarters of us are ghosting victims

An international study of over 1,500 work-seekers found 75% of candidates had experienced ghosting last year. If you’re a contractor, you’re ‘ghosted’ when you go forward for work but never hear back -- whatever stage of the hiring process you happen to be at. Ghosting has always been around to a degree. But our post-pandemic labour market characterised by more tech, more focus on the bottom line, and more remote/hybrid opportunities, has seen a rapid rise in the phenomenon.

Employers want to cast their net wide; maximise the volume of applications and this is often done by the use of recruitment technology. One thing that’s hasn’t changed is the greater the volume of applications, the less likely it is that you’ll hear back, even if you have attended an interview. Technology has also enabled a lot of remote recruitment -- beneficial in many ways, but the by-product is loosening the relationship between the employer and the work-seeker.

The problem for candidates goes beyond the frustration of not receiving feedback. In some cases, ghosting is caused by the online growth of fake job opportunities, designed to fool job hopefuls into disclosing personal details or even paying money for spurious services. Late last month, the government flagged up this very issue, warning job-seekers from .gov to be wary, especially at this time of year when traditionally changing job or seeking out a new opportunity is in vogue.

Catfishing via WhatsApp

But another concept from the sharp end of the dating spectrum could be behind the next government alert. This is the recruitment epidemic of ‘catfishing,’ whereby WhatsApp users receive notifications from individuals pretending to be genuine recruiters. These supposed recruiters contact contractors with the offer of work, but it’s just as a ruse to obtain the WhatsApp user’s personal details and/or money.

Catfishing in recruitment gained ground in 2022. We know this because a JobsAware survey late last year of over 2,000 work-seekers found that 74% believed they had applied for a job which simply didn’t exist. Sadly, there are more motivations for such ‘non-jobs’ than there are scams themselves. But some recruiters advertise fake jobs as a ‘fishing’ exercise to harvest candidates for their book. In other cases, hirers just leave job adverts live too long.

Report your concerns to us

My concern is that there isn’t currently enough in place to protect the rights of job-seekers. Nonetheless, there are rules for agencies to abide by and these are worth refreshing yourself, specifically:

Recruiters must only advertise jobs that they have permission for and actually exist.

If a contractor feels they have found examples where this is not the case, it is certainly worth reporting your experience to JobsAware.

And just so you know, you’re not alone. Towards the end of 2022, JobsAware referred more than one recruitment agency every single day to regulators, following tip-off of bad practice and/or breaches of UK law.

There are no rules about ‘ghosting,’ However, ghosting is still worth reporting to JobsAware because sometimes ghosting is only the tip of the iceberg, whereby other poor practices or abuses of legislation lie in wait at the next stage, hiding out of sight to the larger ‘ghosted’ contingent.

The shoe on the other foot, albeit far less frequently

As with many scenarios, ghosting generally favours the party with the power in the relationship – normally the hirer. This was particularly true during and following the coronavirus pandemic, when unemployment spiked. But with record vacancies, the pendulum has now shifted a little, with work-seekers becoming more valued and valuable. According to Indeed, this shift has led to a rise in work-seekers ghosting hirers. Only last week, an agent stumbled upon a candidate of theirs who didn’t want to let on that they had ghosted the client on the day of the interview!

However, further Indeed findings add some important proportion. Just one in four work- seekers have ghosted a hirer, versus the three out of four candidates who have been ghosted. To me, such a finding reinforces the fact that our hiring ecosystem in the UK could be greatly improved -- in fact, needs to be greatly improved, if we are to create a more efficient, fairer labour market, so people simply looking to make an honest living are spared a lot of time, toil and trouble from ghosting and other underhanded activity.

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Written by Keith Rosser

Keith Rosser is a labour market expert with almost 20 years working in hiring. Currently a Group Director at Reed, the UK's largest family-owned recruitment business, and Chair of 2 joint UK government and industry bodies: the Better Hiring Institute and JobsAware.
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