Recruiting: Shaking hands with a ghost

"Alright, let's shake on it and we'll send out the contract in the next few days. Looking forward to working together." In the past 12 months, so many job interviews have gone like this. Both parties agreed that they'll take the first step towards a common future.
Said and done, the signed contract goes out the very next day, the vacancy is removed from the job tool, and the HR department is informed accordingly. The management is happy to have a staffing task site completed and to have reduced the additional workload of the team or freelancer costs.

A week goes by and there don't seem to be any questions from the candidate, so the signed contract should be back soon. Two weeks pass, the contract hasn't been returned. Maybe something was still unclear, so we send a friendly e-mail and ask. Three weeks go by and still no answer. The human resources department calls and writes – no luck. After four weeks, we receive an e-mail from the candidate: "Unfortunately, a very interesting job alternative has opened up for me, so I have to cancel."
Bottom line? A month was lost, the search for staff starts from the beginning, the temporary solution is extended.

Did we just have bad luck or did we misjudge the person? Or is there more to it than that? In recruiting at any rate, there are more and more cases in which candidates jump off despite a binding commitment. And "job ghosting" – which means "not appearing, not competing or just staying away from the job" – is already becoming a buzzword.

What causes that?

The new non-commitment

As a 'Hamburg businessman', I'm used to someone's word counting for something and to a handshake being a contract. This trait often does not seem to belong to the character portfolio anymore.

Today's generation of newcomers grew up with mobile phones and smartphones. Everyone knows what this means for appointments and concrete commitments. Until the appointment is sitting in front of you, nothing is binding. "Let's talk on the phone later!" or "I'll call you again via WhatsApp," and if a better option comes along, "Hey, I'm stuck here at the moment, it may be a while." Or never.
A lack of conflict skills

Similarly, as we know from our American friends, who find everything to be "awesome" and "great" and handle a possible conflict with their counterparts accordingly, even young people evade unpleasant conversational situations. So many haven't learned to say no or criticize properly. Maybe because they were criticized too little? Although this experience strengthens self-esteem and ensures that one often leaves a good impression in job interviews, it does not prepare people for real life.

Lots of options, little pressure, no plan A

Skill shortages, demographic transitions and digital transformation are driving companies into intense competition for job candidates. At the same time, job profiles and job opportunities have become more diverse and applications can be sent via job portals almost automatically. As a job seeker, you often have several applications running in parallel. And in order to keep all options open as long as possible, you sometimes make provisional commitments or cancel prematurely, in case you've changed your mind. Because there are no consequences and the next job offer is not far away.

What can we change?

Screen applicants better

Digitalization and new work models mean that employees need much more than simple expertise. Soft skills, i.e. social, mental, personal and communicative competences, are becoming more and more important in the new, rapidly changing world of work. It's not easy to show them in a job interview. And whether characteristics, such as liability and reliability, can be examined in conversation is questionable.

Better alternatives to the traditional job interview are, for example, assessment centers and trial work. Even the candidate's willingness or unwillingness to do that reveals how serious his or her interest in the position is.

Create new incentives

A foosball table and free coffee are no longer enough to impress applicants and everyone knows it now. Today, for the younger generation, work-life balance, flexible working hours, varied activities, more responsibility, time-out, training opportunities and more freedom. With new work, there are already approaches with which companies want to follow the zeitgeist. The most important thing is probably to respond to individual wishes and needs of (future) employees. In the hope that it will then be rewarded.

Create new structures

Is the permanent position in and of itself an outdated model? Maybe in the future we will only need a few permanent employees and then, depending on the project, we will use a pool of freelance colleagues and specialists who organize themselves in the cloud and then dissolve again. It would be possible. But even with these kinds of cooperation, you have to be able to rely on each other.

Conclusion: There are some approaches for employers to win applicants with the right qualities, but the ultimate solution is not there. One of the reasons is that the roots of the problem are much deeper and that job ghosting is merely a symptom of a larger problem in society. If non-commitment was a no-go in the past, it's almost a good thing among the younger generations. However, this not only affects professional but also social relationships. To change something, you have to start with education. Parents, schools and society itself are in demand when it comes to conveying the values that are important to be able to live together harmoniously. The same applies to working life: The basis for good cooperation will always be commitment and trust. When those are missing, new work quickly turns into "no work".

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Lasse Matthiesen Executive Consulting Director

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