Stop ghosting! It’s Damaging Your Professional Reputation.

Save your ghosting for your personal life

I’m not talking about the pain of ghosting that apparently happens now in the world of dating. I’ve been out of that game for several decades, so I have nothing much to say on that issue. It does leave people hanging with a million questions, but sometimes it is better and safer to just disappear. I get that.

I’m talking about the ghosting in the professional world that is damaging your reputation and limiting your career. A mature professional responds, follows up, and cleanly closes things out.

Inexplicably disappearing and refusing to respond to repeated communication attempts is the sign of someone who avoids conflict, can’t communicate honestly, and perhaps doesn’t understand how disrespectful it is.

Ghosting during the interview process

This isn’t about ghosting when you receive unwanted initial contact from recruiters. We all get bombarded with irrelevant jobs from people we don’t even know. I think it’s still a good practice to tell that recruiter why you aren’t interested, so that they don’t keep sending jobs like that to you. But, I understand that some of you receive dozens of unwanted solicitations every day and you just get tired of dealing with it. I’m not surprised when you block these people.

I’m talking about the process after you’ve initiated the conversation. If you accept a request, take a meeting, and especially if you really get into the interview process, see it through. That doesn’t mean that you have to continue all the way until the end. “Seeing it through” means that you honestly tell the recruiter or hiring manager if you want to stop because you are no longer interested, instead of ghosting.

Kristi Muller wrote an excellent article on the issue of professional ghosting from the perspective of a recruiter. These were some of the comments made by her clients about ghosters (i.e., candidates who interviewed, received an offer, but never responded at all):

“Unwillingness to follow through”
“Flawed decision making processes”
“Inability to handle conflict”
“Disregard for reputation”
“Underestimating the importance of the professional network”

I’ve certainly seen this happen with candidates during my own management experience. We would interview someone, reach out to schedule a follow up interview or to even make an offer, and hear nothing back. Some people would be slow to respond (which also isn’t great), but some just disappeared and never responded again.

As Kristi mentions, you’d also be surprised by the number of people who would contact us later to renew the discussion. From what I could gather, they thought they had another offer from a better company in the bag, so they just dropped us, without the common courtesy of explaining that they were no longer interested. How do you think we responded?

When someone ghosts like that, they are done. They don’t get a second chance. Our industry is small enough that this reputation for being a flake follows them from company to company as well. All of the people involved (e.g., recruiters, staffing, hiring managers, and the interview team) remember who these people are.

When the ghost names come up again later, even at another company, we immediately pass and remove them from our list. I’ve literally sat in meetings with our recruiting teams and witnessed this. People remember, and they won’t be burned again.

Please don’t be one of these ghosters. If you are interviewing, always respond to the recruiters and hiring managers. If at any point you decide you are no longer interested, have the courage and honesty to say so.

People would rather have you give a firm and polite “No” than to just vanish. Your professional reputation will only improve when you’re known as someone who communicates honestly.

Ghosting a networking connection

Similar to the interviewing situation, I know that we all receive unsolicited networking advances on a daily basis. Most are completely useless and spammy (thanks a lot, Linkedin). I do try to respond to many of these to let them know that I’m not interested. But, some people can’t take no for an answer. So, unsurprisingly, they will get ignored or blocked.

But, if you have requested or agreed to be introduced to someone, you’d better respond or your reputation will be permanently damaged. This one baffles me. I’ve had people ask me for an introduction to someone. So, I get the double opt-in to make sure that both people want to be introduced to each other. The other party responds and the first person, who asked for the intro, never responds.

Huh? I don’t understand this at all. This not only damages that person’s reputation. It also damages mine since I vouched for him or her. You can be certain that I will never make an intro for that person again.

We all know that networking is sometimes a strange social experience. There are times that a new business relationship works out well. There are times that it fizzles out and doesn’t make sense to continue.

But, unlike dating, this doesn’t mean that you need to ghost that person. When they reach out to have lunch again, or to discuss another opportunity, you can politely decline. We all get busy, our business moves in a different direction, our careers change, etc. It’s ok to say “No thanks” and move on.


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Ghosting during a professional discussion

This issue has only arisen in recent years for me, as I left the corporate world and returned to entrepreneurship. Sales is clearly an important part of running your own business. I talk with numerous people every week via email, messaging, phone, and even video chat. When you’re engaging in sales, you go into it knowing that most people are going to say “No.” That’s to be expected and you can’t take it personally.

“If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough.”
— Chris Dixon

To be clear, I don’t do cold calling. I also don’t initiate an email or direct message with someone trying to push my services. I get enough of this myself on Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, etc. It’s spammy and annoying. I can’t recall a single time that a cold call sales approach worked with me. So, I don’t do it to anyone else.

All of my leads come from my writing (here and my own blog), social media (mostly Twitter and Facebook), and communities that I manage on Slack, Linkedin, and Facebook. I share my articles, my thoughts, and I will sometimes post about my services. But, I wait for people to reach out and initiate the conversation with me.

A lot of people will go back and forth via email, and then they just stop responding. It’s a little annoying, but it’s not uncommon and I’ve learned to accept that type of “No” and move on. My investment in the conversation wasn’t large, and I’m too busy to continue bothering someone if he or she can’t make the effort to engage.

But, there are a number of people who sign up for a phone call or video chat with me. In that case, we are both investing a lot more time and energy in the discussion. We talk about their current job, their career goals, frustrations they are facing, and what they need help with the most.

Almost 100% will ask me what the next step is and how they can work with me. I gladly share a summary of my consulting plans, send them more information about how it all works, and I make it explicitly clear that it is more than ok to say “No.”

I literally say, “It’s ok to tell me no. Really.”

If there is one thing that I’ve learned as a career advisor, it’s that you can’t help someone who isn’t 100% ready, willing, and able to receive and act on that advice and guidance. I don’t want to work with someone if he or she isn’t truly ready for it.

“For when the disciple is ready the Master is ready also.”
— Mabel Collins

I’ve had some great clients say “Yes” and we’ve moved forward into a 1-on-1 engagement. I’ve had a number of people tell me that they were interested, but not quite ready yet. I’ve had a few tell me “No” and that it wasn’t right for them. I appreciate all of these direct responses, even the “No” answers. Seriously. I love it when someone gives me a clear no.

But, most surprising are the ones who ghost, go silent, and never respond again. Ever.

I can only guess that they are uncomfortable with saying no to me, or they are trying to avoid conflict. Perhaps they’ve had bad experiences in the past with folks who went into hard sell mode. I know that I’ve experienced that a few times when I told someone that I wasn’t interested. It’s not fun.

If you know me, you know that I’m not some fast-talking, pushy salesperson. Like I said, I do take “No” for an answer, since it means that someone really isn’t interested or she just isn’t ready right now.

But, this ghosting does change my perception of the individual forever. I wish that I could overlook it. I just can’t. It speaks to their unwillingness to stand up for themselves, be confident, and be honest about what they do and don’t want.

I guess that also explains some of their unhappiness with their own careers. If ghosters don’t have the courage to respond to me, they certainly don’t have the courage to stand up to their boss to ask for a raise, a promotion, or other changes that would improve their job and long-term career.

Ghosting hurts you

Ghosting may seem easier for you. There is short-term comfort in just disappearing and walking away from a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable (like having a difficult conversation). But, in the long run, it will hurt you.

  • It damages your professional reputation.
  • It weakens your network as valuable nodes withdraw.
  • It severely limits your career prospects.
  • It stunts your personal growth and development.

Mature people are able to have important, yet difficult, conversations. Strong people are able to respectfully, firmly, and politely tell people “No.” Well-respected professionals are known for wrapping things up cleanly, with no loose ends or unanswered questions.

Of course people don’t like being turned down, but they will respect you for doing it with professional kindness instead of just ghosting.


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