Dear Work It Out,
What do you do when you're in the running for a new job and HR ghosts you after going through a million rounds?
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I was laid off at the end of 2018, and though luckily I started a freelance job in January 2019 that covered my bills, I was looking for something full time and a little more permanent. A HR person had reached out to me to interview for a job at a website I was really interested in, so I met with the editor who would be managing the open role. The interview went well, and I was cautiously optimistic that I'd soon have a job that would cover my health care.
We then moved on to the next stage, an edit test comprising four prompts that required me to put together, at a minimum, nine story ideas, plus images to go along.
I put in the work and submitted an 11-page doc. I received an email from the hiring manager that acknowledged she had received it. And then … nothing.
I'm going to give you three pieces of advice — two I didn't follow but wish I had, and one I did.
- Reach out
- Work your connections
- Don't take it personally
There's a whole range of events that may have led to your lack of response. Yes, they could have hired someone else and not let you know, which is rude but often just business as usual.
Or they could have gotten a budget update that put hiring on hold. A staff change could have altered what they were looking for. The hiring manager could have moved on to another position or gone on parental leave. From the outside, it's near impossible to know the full story.
Back when I was ghosted in 2019, I saw a couple months later that the person who interviewed me had a new job at another publication. Chances are, she gave her notice, HR needed to hire for that role before the one I was interviewing for, and they were back to square one.
I technically have no idea if that's true because I never reached out. But the fact that I didn't feel compelled to follow up after weeks of silence also showed me that maybe it wasn't the right job for me and, on some level, I knew that.
'Someone you sent a thank you email is more likely to remember you'
If you do want to reach out to get some clarity, your first step after you've been ghosted, or suspect you've been ghosted, is to reach out to whoever your point of contact was.
After that, you can reach out to anyone you talked to during the interview process, with two caveats.
- Only reach out to anyone you sent a thank you email to after your interview
- Only reach out once
Someone you sent a thank you email to is more likely to remember you. Even if they don't, when they search their inbox for other communication, they'll see that you followed up after you met with them and that will hopefully jog their memory.
Still, you only want to reach out once so that their predominant thought of you is "nice person from the interview," and not "person who won't stop emailing me."
What you're hoping for here is not necessarily that they email you back with a status update — if they're not the hiring manager on the role, they're unlikely to have an intimate knowledge of where in the process you are — but that they see your email and reach out to whoever is running point. That could potentially prompt that person to get in touch.
There's no guarantee you'll get a response from this, but hey, at least you will have tried.
With working your connections, you have to be a little bit more careful. If someone you know referred you for the job you've been ghosted on, definitely reach out to them. They'll want to know what's going on because they might have a referral bonus on the line and could be incentivized to help you out.
If your connection is someone you only worked with once in the past or met through networking, consider how much you want the job before you reach out. On the fence about the job or just want some closure? Keep your less-than-close contacts out of it.
Even though relationships shouldn't be transactional, a lot of times in business they are. If your main interaction with someone is asking them for help without offering anything in exchange, it's possible they'll see you as someone using them for their connections instead of a valuable professional contact.
Basically, it pays to be choosy about the favors you call in.
If you really want this job, it could be worth it to make the call. Just know then that you might not be able to lean on that connect again any time in the near future.
Consider a helpful mental shift
The last thing to keep in mind is that when a recruiter or hiring manager ghosts you, it's very rarely about you. Don't let being ghosted feel like a reflection of your worth as a job candidate.
Once you've reached out and exhausted your options, try to shift your mindset. The goal of interviews is to find a good fit for both you and the company. If they're unresponsive and making you feel insecure during the hiring process, it might not be the way you'd want to start a new job regardless.
A lack of response almost always says something more about what's going on inside a company than you as a potential new hire.
Work it Out is Make It's revived advice column for employment-related conundrums. Have a pressing career concern or question? Email me anonymously at email@example.com. Submissions may be edited for length and clarity.
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