Professional ghosting - acceptable or not?

 I’ve been working in my industry for well over 20 years. I’ve worked on contracts very long and very short, I’ve been a full-time employee, I’ve been self-employed and I’ve run my own company. I think it's fair to say that I’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see when it comes to working as a creative in a commercial environment. From time to time over the years, I’ve looked to recruitment consultants to bring me my next challenge. They’ve helped me out quite a few times and introduced me to some great companies and some great people. I’ve always appreciated that being that kind of middle man is a tough position to be in — at times flooded with candidates with very few roles, and other times struggling to fill daily positions that come up.

I get it — it's a hectic, fast-paced, and competitive job. We all have times in our careers when the days fly by and we’re constantly bombarded with emails, messages, and phone calls — it's exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming. In the madness, simple things can get forgotten. Emails get lost, messages go unresponded, and unsuccessful candidates don’t get notified. That’s been par for the course, and I think I’m ok with that.

But things seem to be changing.

A few years ago now, I was in touch with a recruiter about a specific freelance role. I was interviewing for a few roles at the time. After a bit of back and forth, the client decided to offer me the position on spec — they needed someone urgently and they didn’t want to let me go elsewhere. Obviously, I was delighted and made preparations for my upcoming employment, setting aside any other potential work and letting down the necessary people.

Then nothing. A week went by. Then two weeks went by. The company who offered me the job completely ghosted my recruiter, who initially ignored me, before eventually throwing their metaphorical hands in the air. Nothing came of it. In the meantime, I lost potentially weeks of employment waiting for information without any explanation or apology (not to mention the several months' worth of actual work that was promised). Needless to say, I was astonished that a company could behave like that.

Recently, I have been in touch with the same client and they now have a new internal ‘talent manager’. I told to them the situation and the new person apologetically explained that the company was previously overwhelmed and didn’t have the capacity to deal with recruitment adequately. Fair enough, and well done for fixing the problem.

That is quite a bad one-off example, and ultimately they dealt with the situation. Others are more serial offenders, like the following example.

Over the past few years, I’ve been on the books of quite a big recruitment agency. I get weekly emails directly from their senior consultant asking about my availability and listing any available roles. Usually, I’m not available, but occasionally I would respond positively expressing interest in a particular role. No responses were forthcoming, but I always assumed the roles were gone and I moved on. Over time, my email address changed, but they continued to use my old details. Week after week I would respond and ask them to update their database. Nothing changed, and the emails kept coming to my old address.

This year I responded to one of their emails about a position that I was a good fit for. To my surprise, they got back to me and requested more information. I obliged but again heard nothing back. Oh well, the jobs are gone — fair enough. But they could at least let me know, and acknowledge our conversation.

What transpired next is the trigger for this post. A couple of weeks later I was contacted again by the recruiter in question, this time by a new agent specializing in my particular field. This made sense to me — they were too busy and therefore had assigned someone to deal with the influx of work. Mistakenly I thought this meant that they’d dealt with their communication issues. Unfortunately, it seems I was wrong.

After a week or so of replying to the new agent’s group emails without a personal reply, eventually, there was a breakthrough — it turned out my previous email had been in spam, and the new agent had finally realised that they needed to update my email address. A phone meeting was immediately arranged to discuss future opportunities.

The time of the meeting came and went but nothing happened. I tried to call — no answer. Then an apologetic email — their previous call overran, can I do the afternoon? Sure, no problem I said. I rearranged my day and set aside time for another call. The time for the afternoon chat came and went, this time without a second apologetic message. Ghosted. That was nearly a week ago and I’ve still not had a response.

So, I guess it's this final incident that has broken my particular camel’s back. There are no excuses left now. This is just plain unprofessionalism, and frankly — rudeness. Just because I’m not traveling to an office to meet you, doesn’t mean it’s not an inconvenience to me. To schedule meetings and just ignore them, is the worst in remote working etiquette in my opinion.

I hope this doesn’t come across as bitter, because I’m not. I’m lucky that I don’t rely on getting work in this way, and have a (reasonably) established career that gives me a bit more wiggle room when it comes to these things. But I do feel very much for those less fortunate than me, maybe starting out without much work experience. These knockbacks must be very hard to deal with. The world of finding work is hard enough, without having to put up with this unnecessary, uncivil behavior.

So what’s the tl;dr?

I guess it’s to pose a question. Should we accept this as the way it’s always been in the recruitment world — or do we think that the lack of personal contact, be it through remote working or just faceless email communication, is leading to an inevitable slide in professionalism? Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I remember a time when I went into a recruiter’s office and met them face to face. I’m sure it’s harder to ghost someone when you have looked them in the eyes.

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