The hot labor market has cooled in recent months amid talk of a recession and layoffs, but those worrisome indicators haven’t put much of a dent in a peculiar pattern that has emerged in recent years for job seekers: the application, the job interview, the job offer, getting hired—and then failing to show up for the first day of work and subsequently disappearing.
Credit an unprecedented job market in which a record 68.9 million workers left their jobs in 2021. Job seekers, confident with demand, wield far more leverage and bargaining power. So much so, that they disappear without a word to employers—choosing not to respond to offers, choosing not to show up for work, or to just going radio silent after working a couple days of a new job.
“They don’t think twice about burning bridges,” says Sinem Buber, lead economist at job site ZipRecruiter.
This pattern of “ghosting” employers is not necessarily new, but it has hit a new high in recent months. In January, 16% of job seekers admitted to ghosting employers; that number jumped to 20.25% in May, according to ZipRecruiter survey data shared with Fast Company. The peak of those numbers came right before job optimism began to decline, and talk of a recession heated up.
In July, 13.45% of job seekers admitted that they had ghosted employers after accepting a job offer, according to ZipRecruiter.
It’s not just low-wage job seekers doing the ghosting, either. More white-collar job seekers in technology and finance are leaving employers in the dark after accepting a position, sometimes with salaries of $65,000 to $100,000, says Buber.
Emily Sander, founder of Next Level Coaching, who’s managed recruiting and hiring for various companies over the past decade, says she has been ghosted numerous times. In one case, Sander flew a hiring manager across the country to meet a man on his first day as an account manager. He was MIA for three days before finally sending her a winding, implausible story explaining why he didn’t show up.
Sander rescinded the job offer. “We dodged a bullet, as it became clear there were some dependability issues,” she says.
For Jill Anderson, the experience was far more shocking. She was stunned earlier this month when a new accountant didn’t show up for work after accepting a $63,000 accountant job at Beck Building Company (a Colorado home builder that—full disclosure—employs the husband of this author).
The man didn’t return texts, calls, or emails for a few days, and Anderson worried he was either dead or in the hospital. “I finally sent a text saying, ‘Please, just let us know you’re alright because we’re worried,'” says Anderson.
He never did, and Anderson and her colleagues haven’t heard from him since. She says it may take another two months to hire someone. “I’ve never in my career had this happen,” says Anderson. “How do you not know that this is not cool?”
They may not know it’s not cool because job seekers say it’s happened to them, as well: 47% of job seekers who have ghosted employers say they themselves have been ghosted by another employer. “There’s a bit of normalization going on,” says Buber.
Numbers games and head games
The ghosters also tend to be more aggressive with their job search, sending out far more applications, participating in far more interviews, and receiving far more job offers. Two-thirds of ghosters have at least one job offer already when they ditch another employer.
Candidates looking for their very first job are more likely to cut communications with an employer—31% of first-time job seekers ghosted an employer, whereas only 12% of experienced professionals did, according to ZipRecruiter.
That 31% is not at all surprising, says Stacie Haller, career strategist at ResumeBuilder.com, an online resource for job seekers. Younger workers fresh out of school have the least experience with professional life, and many haven’t been properly coached on résumés and how to do an interview.
They may avoid uncomfortable conversations, and they tend to ghost each other online when dating, too. Yet young job seekers don’t realize how ghosting can impact their career in the long run. A 2021 survey by job board Indeed found that employers are keeping score. As many as 93% of employers keep records of ghosters. A quarter of them track job seekers who stop responding, 35% note those who don’t turn up for an interview, and 33% record first-day no-shows. The vast majority of employers (80%) also believe those ghosters will experience negative impacts on their future job search or career.
“It’s unfortunate for those who ghost,” says Haller, “because those hiring managers never forget who ghosted them.”