Guarding Against Candidate Ghosting: Proactive Measures for Bucking the Trend

In a tight labor market, it’s no surprise that candidate drop-off is a persistent challenge. A challenge that can cost your talent acquisition team and entire business a staggering amount of time, budget, and opportunity. 

What may surprise you is that candidate drop-off today isn’t much more prevalent than it was before the pandemic turned the world (and with it, the world of recruiting) upside-down.

But if it feels worse, you’re not alone. While the overall numbers haven’t changed materially over the past few years, job seeker behavior certainly has, with the notable rise of candidate ‘ghosting’ among other trends. 

Candidate ghosting – when a candidate never explicitly communicates their decision to withdraw but stops responding to outreach or showing up to interviews (or even their first day on the job!) – has become more frequent and socially acceptable. (Which is presumably a response to employers’ own practices; 67% of all job seekers and 78% of those from historically underrepresented groups report having been ghosted post-interview.)     

Fortunately, there are tried-and-true ways to curb candidate ghosting and drop-off, ensuring that qualified talent remains in your pipeline from application to offer acceptance. But before we dive into those, let’s explore what’s really happening in the labor market so you can use data to prevent future disappointment.   

What’s happening in the labor market?

Between 2019 and 2022, the overall candidate drop-off rate only increased a seemingly benign 5%. But looking closer, the rate increased by 36% in the screening stage and, crucially, by nearly 20% in the offer stage. Painfully, just when companies are gaining certainty in candidates, those candidates are dropping out.

Candidate drop off rates.

In other words, a fifth more candidates are withdrawing in the final stage, which is a particular gut punch – it means losing highly qualified candidates whom hiring managers are excited about, demanding more time from interview teams to assess other finalists, and potentially going back to square one entirely, which can be costly.

A number of factors are likely contributing to this late-stage drop-off. And, of course, they tie back to our historically tight labor market. In industries such as manufacturing, financial services, and health + education, there are currently ~2-5 jobs in the US for every available job seeker! 

Candidates in these (and many other) sectors are surely juggling multiple opportunities. But the landscape is even more competitive than it appears on the surface. Companies wary of losing in-demand workers are “getting very smart [about] working with the current staff that they have,” reports HR Dive, introducing retention “strategies that include bonuses and salary increases [and] investments in upskilling.”

Put another way, you’re not just competing with job seekers’ other prospective employers but their current employers, too. And nearly everyone’s offering something to gain an edge. According to our distributed hiring data, 4x as many job posts mentioned bonuses (such as sign-on bonuses) in 2022 than in 2019.     

Still, the cards aren’t all stacked against you landing the talent your organization needs. And once you know the hand you’ve been dealt, you can make it work to your advantage. Here are three ways you can guard against ghosting – and make your hiring process more efficient and fair for all applicants. 

Preventing candidate ghosting and drop-off 

Manage expectations early – internally and externally 

Early alignment in the recruiter and hiring manager relationship benefits every aspect of the hiring process. So it goes without saying that getting your recruiters and hiring managers on the same page – before a job is ever posted – does wonders to guard against candidate ghosting and drop-off. (But we’ll say it anyway. Recruiter/hiring manager alignment is everything!) 

When candidates voluntarily drop out of your process (especially in the later stages), it’s almost always rooted in mismatched expectations. Maybe the candidate wants a higher salary than what’s being offered. Perhaps their location isn’t compatible with the role’s on-site requirements. Maybe they even expected a faster or more communicative interview process and were disappointed by their candidate experience

Not every job is a fit for every job seeker, but the more transparent recruiters and hiring managers are with candidates early on, the less likely it is for deal-breakers to emerge later. And transparency with job seekers begins with clarity and consensus among the hiring team.  

Start every new requisition with a standardized intake (or, as we like to call it, “kickoff”) meeting. In this meeting, the recruiter, hiring manager, and any other stakeholders should align on all the important aspects of the job such as responsibilities, qualifications, compensation, and job location requirements. They should also agree on the details of the hiring process, like how many interviews will take place before an offer is made and who’ll be involved.

Critically, the job posting that follows should be an accurate reflection of what was decided during the kickoff meeting. And in addition to role-specific details, it should include standard company content that also matters to job seekers: benefits and perks, your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), your compensation philosophy if you publish salary information, and so on. (Job post templates help ensure consistency and prevent hiring teams from rewriting, reimagining, or entirely omitting these essentials.)        

Empowering your hiring teams to clearly and consistently set expectations with candidates throughout the hiring process – from the job ad to the phone screen, reference checks to offer letter – minimizes ambiguity and reduces the chances of candidates withdrawing due to unforeseen or conflicting details.

Focus on committed inbound candidates

While the recent trend of later-stage candidate ghosting and drop-off is worrisome, the good news is that it’s not consistent across all candidates. In fact, inbound candidates (i.e., applicants from your careers page, LinkedIn, or other job boards) are half as likely to drop out of the hiring process as outbound candidates.

Candidate drop off rates.

Many talent acquisition teams use outbound (i.e., sourcing) tactics, either exclusively or alongside inbound. Some do it because they’re struggling with organic applicant volume. Others do it because they believe candidates referred by current employees or premier search firms are more qualified than inbound candidates – though there’s hardly research to support this.

But inbound recruiting (when candidates actively seek out and apply to your jobs) is more fair and efficient than candidate sourcing for a whole host of reasons – and that’s before accounting for the fact that inbound candidates are twice as likely to remain in your hiring process. 

Maybe it’s because they’re more motivated than passive talent to find a new opportunity quickly. Or they’re enthusiastically pursuing your specific company – in which case, kudos on your outstanding employer brand! 

Whatever the reason, if persistent candidate ghosting poses a problem for your organization, try prioritizing your inbound pipeline. (And if your inbound channel is attracting an overwhelming number of unqualified applicants, here are some tips for increasing the volume of qualified candidates in your inbound pool.) 

Utilize recruiting analytics

Say it with us: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. It’s cliche but true – if you don’t know where exactly in your funnel candidate drop-off is occurring, how can you hope to improve your hiring process to mitigate it?

Embrace recruiting analytics to understand the nuances of your unique recruiting process (and how it varies across your company). Tracking metrics such as drop-off rate and offer acceptance rate across different departments, office locations, and recruiters can highlight specific pain points. With this data-driven approach, you can make informed, targeted changes quickly.

Drop-off rate refers to the proportion of resolved candidates (i.e., candidates who’ve moved past a given stage and since been hired, been rejected, or dropped out) who withdrew their candidacy at that particular stage. Put another way, it’s the ratio of drop-outs to all candidates who’ve made it to that stage with the exception of still-active candidates, who should be excluded from this measurement for accurate insights. 

Formally withdrawing verbally or in writing – such as declining an offer to accept a competing one – and candidate ghosting are both considered drop-off. And as in this example, when a candidate drops out in the final stage of the hiring process, it affects both your drop-off rate and your offer acceptance rate. (As well as time to fill, the morale of the hiring team, and so on.)        

Job posts that don’t reflect the realities of the role, overly burdensome assessments, and long, slow-moving interview processes are just some of the missteps that may be plaguing your candidate experience and recruiting efficiency. Luckily, the sooner you identify an issue – be it high drop-off in the screening stage for engineering jobs or low offer acceptance for sales roles in EMEA – the faster you can fix it.

The path forward

Preventing candidate ghosting and drop-off demands a comprehensive approach centered on internal alignment, external transparency, and data-driven insights. 

Initiating standardized intake meetings at the start of each requisition helps recruiters and hiring managers establish clear expectations among themselves and their future applicants, reducing the likelihood of candidates withdrawing down the line. 

Prioritizing inbound candidates, who statistically demonstrate higher commitment levels, provides a strategic advantage in addressing the recent trend of late-stage drop-offs.

And leveraging recruiting analytics is vital for understanding the dynamics of your hiring process and increasing its efficiency.

You don’t have to do these things all by yourself – you can use Datapeople to alleviate the burden and zero in on the actions that will deliver the most impact. Sign up for a demo to learn how we give recruiting teams intelligence and control over the entire hiring process, beginning with your job posts.  

Subscribe to stay in the know 💡

Sign up for the Datapeople newsletter to receive all the iIlluminating data, valuable insights, and actionable tips today's recruiting leaders can't afford to miss.