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An HR ghost story

By Lynne Curry  bio

My client asked me to find him the one “right” applicant for a critical management position in his company. Out of more than 50 resumes, I chose my favorite. “Jacob” did a great job on his phone interview, so I called him in for an interview. Ten minutes before the interview, he called saying an uninsured motorist had rear-ended him and the police wanted him to stay and talk with them.

We rescheduled for the next day. Jacob emailed twenty minutes before the appointment saying the police had asked him to show up in court late that morning as a witness, and he didn’t know when he’d be out. I asked him to call or us when he could reschedule.

He didn’t call, so I both called and emailed him. He didn’t respond to either, a striking contrast to how quickly he’d responded when we set up the phone and in-person interviews.

I moved on and selected another finalist.

A month later, Jacob applied for job we posted for another client.

That’s when I knew I’d been ghosted.

Ghosts do exist

While you may never have been ghosted, according to a June 23rd LinkedIn article, ghosting at work is the “new normal.”

Ghost applicants are people who apply for jobs without intending to take them. They get a thrill when a recruiter or employer says their resume merits an interview—they just don’t show up for the interview.

Ghost employees accept a job, but don’t show up for their first day of work. Occasionally they call on their first day or the evening before, claiming a sudden illness. They apologize profusely, coughing into the receiver and promise to be there the next day or the day after—but never arrive.

Ghost employees leave a job after working several days or even months and never return, without a formal resignation or even an oral explanation.   

Why do ghosts do it?

Serial ghost applicants love the thrill of the chase. Every time a recruiter or employer selects them for an interview, they’ve scored. They are in a position of power when an employer wants them enough to call them in for an interview They can stand up the interviewer and win the game.

When applicant ghosts land another job, they simply don’t call and don’t show up for the interview. They no longer need the interview and they don’t expect to ever run into the interviewer again.

To some extent, these no-show applicants give employers a taste of their own medicine. After all, many employers leave job candidates hanging after the candidates fill out applications. Candidates who spend hours interviewing and preparing for interviews get, at most, a form rejection letter, without explanation. In short, prospective employers give applicants zero closure. Ghosts retaliate in kind.

Ghost employees who leave unexpectedly may feel too embarrassed to quit in person or simply don’t respect their supervisor enough to call and say, “I quit.”  Perhaps they’ve been offered more hours at a second job or can start the new job that day and don’t want to call and be guilted into giving two weeks of notice.


Employers can, however, limit their chances of ghost attacks by changing how they deal with applicants. Here are a few suggestions:

Get personal: While social media, online job forums and messaging apps allow employees to establish quick relationships, it takes personal contact to turn shallow into human-to-human relationships.

Say thank you: Courtesy demands that employers say thank you for resumes or follow-up applications emailed directly to them.

Create policies: Establish clear call-in procedures and absenteeism policies so no-show employees don’t burden their coworkers, leave customers hanging, or cripple the work flow.

Set boundaries: While employers need to seriously consider a late-calling, non-arriving employee’s explanation before reacting and ask police to conduct a welfare call on an employee who might be experiencing a genuine emergency, an employee who doesn’t contact the employer for three days can be seen to have abandoned his/her job. If this happens, the employer can send a certified letter ending the job relationship and “busting” the ghost.

Lynne Curry, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” and “Solutions,” which has great articles on how to remember names & 60 real-life workplace dramas with practical solutions. Both have 4.8-star ratings on

Curry and her group regularly work with law firms and medical practices and hospitals, providing HR on-call, training, expert witness work, facilitation, strategic planning, investigation, mediation, and executive and professional coaching. You can reach her at or or via LinkedIn or Twitter @lynnecurry1.

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