Why haven’t they called?

We had such a great little get together.

I told them about me.

They told me about them.

It was all going so well.

So why haven’t they called? Even a text might have been nice.

And then I hear through the grapevine that there’s someone else on their arm… or should I say payroll.

“So and so has just been hired by [company]”

That was supposed to be me!

Sound familiar?

It can feel like a very personal rejection when a company you interviewed with doesn’t get back to you, like being rebuffed after a first date. It’s an issue faced by applicants of all kinds – from entry level up to senior leadership.

It’s also something we’ve all faced in the search for work – many of us have experienced it in the search for love too.

So what’s actually happening here? Well, when looking for a job, at least.

Well, as we’ll discover, there are a number of factors that are sadly out of applicants’ and recruiters’ control. Let’s investigate some of the reasons why potential employers don’t call back; how applicants can improve their chances of making an impression; and how you can make your job hunting experience more enjoyable and fruitful.

Why Don’t Potential Employers (and Recruiters) Call Back?

Let’s get to today’s million dollar question. It can feel like a very personal rejection when you don’t hear back from a potential employer. But in many cases, it’s not you, it’s them.

The Employer or Recruiter is Focusing on Quantity over Quality

Sometimes, when you don’t receive a call back about an application or interview, know that the recruiter or employer may have focused on simply getting as many applications through the door as possible. Understandably, this doesn’t give any recruiter – be they internal or external – time to build rapport with individual candidates.

The ultimate upshot of this “numbers game” is that recruiters and/or hiring managers are deluged with CVs and simply don’t have the time in the day to be overly mindful of individual applicants. And liaising with potential candidates is essential, especially with senior and hard to fill roles.

But when employers play quantity over quality games, you can only expect quantity over quality tactics in return.

Contacting Unsuccessful Candidates Isn’t a Priority

Let’s think about things from the employer’s perspective for a moment. Once the right candidate is chosen, it’s much more worthwhile for the hiring manager and HR teams to spend their time onboarding the new hire rather than getting in touch with unsuccessful candidates.

Plus, calling or emailing all unsuccessful candidates can be a really time consuming process. It sounds pretty harsh, but there’s just not much of a business case for spending time calling tens or even hundreds of people, just to tell them they’ve been unsuccessful.

Sadly, this creates a whole tranche of people who are sitting at home, expectantly watching the phone or their email inbox, waiting for news. If they’re lucky, they might eventually receive an automated message saying “Thank you for applying but you have been unsuccessful.” It’s a limp and lifeless response, but it’s a response nonetheless.

Thankfully if you have a recruiter in the mix, they may be better positioned to get you some answers – but sometimes we recruiters get ghosted by employers too!

People Don’t Like Delivering Bad News

Nobody likes being the bearer of bad news. After all, nobody wants to be the messenger that gets shot!

A recent Harvard University study sought to uncover how people judge those who give them bad news. One experiment was a simple game of chance – a slip of paper would be picked from a hat that stated whether the participant had won $2 or not. Then, a second person, a messenger, told the participant the result of their draw. Participants were then asked whether they liked the messenger or not.

Those who hadn’t won the $2 reported disliking the messenger more than those who had won – even though they acknowledged that the messenger had no control over the situation.

Bad news is very emotional, and even when we know the messenger has no say in the matter, they sometimes get both barrels of an upset outburst anyway.

Psychologically, as social creatures, we like to be liked – and therefore don’t like to be disliked. So we naturally avoid or put off delivering bad news as a defence mechanism. From the perspective of a junior, inexperienced, or just plain timid recruiter, the prospect of calling unsuccessful candidates just to let them down is incredibly daunting, especially when they have already put a face and a person and a story to each name.

When paired with the lack of a business case for spending the time on callbacks, it’s easy to see why any wish to do so eventually evaporates.

The Timing of the Application is Poor

Occasionally, the time that an application hits someone’s inbox is just not the right time due to internal factors. This is one of those things that no applicant will ever fully be able to navigate as an external party. Sorry.

Some employers will jump on the first few applicants on a “first come, first served” basis; some will wait for the CVs to accrue and may approach the most recent first – in turn burying the older ones.

This is a shame because applicants equally can’t help when a role comes on their radar.

Timing can also be an issue with both internal and external recruiters who don’t specialise in a role’s particular industry sector, as they lack the expertise to review a large batch of profiles and properly gauge the best candidates in a short, efficient time frame. This can mean some applicants’ window of opportunity gets missed.

Not All Recruiters are Made Alike

Many recruiters do things the right way – by building relationships with candidates and employers, and proactively making themselves a valuable resource to both camps.

However, there are less fastidious agencies out there who simply hoover up CVs and job ads; don’t do much relationship building; and simply connect roles to applicants when the right keywords match in their database. This is an approach that very much feeds into the above “numbers game”, transactional approach to recruitment, and applicants probably won’t get much in the way of proactive feedback.

Hiring Managers Misunderstand the Recruiter’s Role

Many hiring managers are great, but occasionally a recruiter will encounter a hiring manager who doesn’t grasp the depth of work that goes into ethical, conscientious recruiting.

This isn’t necessarily the hiring manager’s fault, either. Their experience of recruiters may have chiefly been those in the above, less fastidious camp. Those recruiters who are mere keymasters to a database of CVs that get lobbed an employers’ way when the right stars align.

More scrupulous recruiters will get to know the technical requirements of a role; suss out the organisation’s culture; look at good candidates on our radar; effectively “sell” the role to those candidates; confirm who’s interested in the role; and create a well thought out shortlist of good matches based on skills, personality, and culture.

Not all hiring managers know that recruiters go to this extent behind the scenes.

A Side Note, for Talent People

About 15 years ago, I had the great privilege of being in a room with Orrin Brown, one of the best recruitment trainers I’ve ever known. I’ll never forget one particular point of insight that he imparted.

He said there are three essential decisions a person makes in their life:
● Where they live
● Who they’re with (in terms of their life partner)
● What they do for a living

As people in the talent space, we are in a position to affect one of those things. I would add that it’s the one factor that has influence over at least one of the other factors too. Is that not a truly singular and momentous responsibility?

Yet sadly, it’s possible to be ghosted across any of Orrin’s three factors.

There are a lot of highly conscientious hiring managers, recruiters, and HR personnel out there. But those in the talent space who are quite lackadaisical in their approach need to do better.

Many of us will become job candidates once more at some point – even the talent people who have previously ghosted candidates and kept recruiters in the dark. I’m not saying “see how they like it” as that would be an unfair, low blow. But we will all eventually be on the receiving end of this behaviour, in time.

We all know that these practices are not personal – so my view is “don’t hate the player, hate the game”; i.e., don’t hate the individual, employer, or the single instance of ghosting – hate the practices and systems that enable poor communication between employers and candidates.

Personally, I think that hiring managers should provide feedback to unsuccessful applicants (or their recruiters) wherever possible. Candidates deserve to know why they didn’t make the cut. Knowing why will give recruiters and applicants much more to work with in future compared with “they just said no.”

So how do we in the talent space tackle the problem of ghosting? It’s clearly not a question with a straightforward answer (yet) as someone would have implemented a fix otherwise. I feel that the talent community needs to come together and work towards a solution that respects both employers’ and applicants’ time and energy. AI and automation technology may hold the key…

Our Advice for Candidates

So what can job seeking candidates do to give themselves the best chance at a call back whilst keeping their heads high during their job hunt?

Optimise Your CV for Recruitment Software

HR personnel and hiring managers can receive countless CVs/resumes in a day across all of the roles they’re recruiting for. To juggle this, they use ATS (Applicant Tracking System) software that scans CVs and even ranks/scores them to uncover which applicants may be best for a role.

Needless to say, it’s important to keep this robot happy as it may mean the difference between a human seeing your resume and it staying in digital purgatory.

So try to optimise your CV in the following ways (it’s a little like SEO if you’re familiar with that concept):

● Submit your CV in a Microsoft Word .docx format.
● Don’t include images and only use basic formatting and fonts. Some ATSs even have trouble navigating tables!
● Include keywords that are relevant to the role – these will likely be present within the job description, so keep your eyes peeled!
● Be hyper-specific about your unique skills, experience, and what you bring to the table. Use unambiguous job titles and omit any corny, generic mentions of being a “clear communicator” or a “team player”. Your executive summary is a great place to sell your singular qualities.
● Don’t include anything in the header and/or footer sections of your document as ATSs often don’t look at them.
● Write for humans too! Don’t go overboard with the optimisation as the goal is ultimately for a human to read it.

Make No Assumptions About Technical Knowledge

Sometimes, you need to spoon feed those who receive your application – thankfully not literally. Don’t assume that the person (or indeed the software) reviewing your CV knows about any of the technicalities of the role, or indeed those of your prior experience and qualifications.

When you use acronyms, always add the full, extended term in brackets – at least wherever that term appears first within a document. Use the full, formal names when referring to specific technologies, certifications, and accreditations rather than any colloquial or jargonised versions of those terms.

Maintain Situational Awareness

Whenever you apply for a role, remember the likely situation at play. Roles nearer the entry level end of the spectrum will likely get a lot more applications – and uncovering one person in that is likely to be real “needle in a haystack” stuff. It will therefore be less likely that any one applicant is going to hear back, even after an interview.

Vacancies in senior leadership generally receive fewer legitimate, qualified applications, and more due diligence will need to be done against each candidate. There’s still a lot of work for the hiring manager to do here, so a call back may not always be forthcoming – but I feel hiring managers have less of an excuse in this case!

Also, as above, be aware of the timing of your application. If you’ve applied soon after the job ad went public, the employer may be waiting for more applications to come in, or they may have been inundated! If you apply late, they may already be some way towards hiring someone else.

Yes, you often have little control over when you become aware of a job vacancy. Just strike when the iron is hot for you – but be aware that timing may be a factor outside of your control.

Build Relationships With Recruiters

Getting a recruiter on-side can help you get more out of your job search. If you’re getting ghosted a lot or you always seem to be late in finding out about the best roles, calling in an extra, experienced pair of hands might be the answer.

We recruiters have our ear to the ground for new roles and have existing relationships with companies. Therefore we can approach hiring managers and put in a good word for candidates we know will be perfect for a role.

Use Your Existing Network

When looking for senior roles, it’s often well worth harnessing your existing connections to seek out introductions with relevant people at hiring organisations. After all, it’s better to strike up a conversation with someone you have some sort of link to or familiarity with, rather than a complete stranger!

Don’t Become Emotionally Attached

This one’s much easier said than done. Whether it’s a first date or a first interview, take what comes your way with equanimity and composure.

We all know that imagining our future life with someone after a first or second date makes little sense. So why do we do it with jobs after the first or second interview – when we know there are other people trying for the same position?

Because sometimes it’s not you – it really is them. And just like romance, sometimes, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

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