Ghosting Will Destroy Your Reputation

🚀 And I'm not talking about dating - Issue #136

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I’m not talking about the pain of ghosting that 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.

Ghosting does leave people hanging with a million questions, but sometimes it is better and safer to disappear. I get that.

I’m talking about ghosting behavior in the professional world that is damaging your reputation and limiting your career. A mature professional responds to messages, follows up on requests, and cleanly wraps up discussions.

Just this week, a potential client ghosted me. We had an initial phone conversation, and he said he was interested in learning more about my career coaching services and how to work with me.

I emailed him the info over a week ago, but I’ve heard nothing since. I pinged him again this week to follow up. Still no response. I don’t get it.

Inexplicably disappearing and refusing to respond to repeated communication attempts is the sign of someone who avoids conflict and can’t communicate honestly. Perhaps some people don’t understand how disrespectful it is? Regardless, it is a big mistake.


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 recruiters why you aren’t interested, so they don’t keep sending you jobs like that. But, I understand that some people receive dozens of unwanted solicitations every day, and you get tired of dealing with it. I’m not surprised when you block these recruiters.

I’m talking about the interview process that begins once you’ve initiated the conversation. If you accept a request, take a meeting, and start interviewing, see it through.

However, you don’t necessarily have to continue 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.

You don’t ghost them and disappear!

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 experienced this with candidates during my time in the corporate world. We would complete the first interview, reach out to schedule follow-up interviews or make an offer, and hear nothing back. Some people would be slow to respond (which also isn’t great), but some disappeared and never replied.

As Kristi mentions, you would 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. They didn’t give us the common courtesy of explaining that they were no longer interested.

How do you think we responded?

When someone ghosts you 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. Everyone involved remembers who these people are (e.g., the recruiters, staffing, hiring managers, and interview team).

When the ghost’s name comes up later — even at another company — we immediately pass and remove them from our list. I sat in meetings with our recruiting teams and witnessed this. People remember, and they won’t let you burn them 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 prefer that you provide a firm and polite “No” instead of vanishing. 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 daily. Most requests are entirely 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 get ignored or blocked.

However, if you have requested or agreed to be introduced to someone, you’d better respond, or your reputation will be permanently damaged. This type of ghosting 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 replies.

Huh? I don’t understand this at all.

This not only damages that person’s reputation, but it also hurts mine since I vouched for him or her. You can be sure 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. But, there are also 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.


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. Running your own business requires that you master selling.

I talk with numerous people every week via email, messaging, phone, and video chat. When you’re engaging in sales, you go into it with the knowledge that most people are going to say “No.”

Rejection is 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 can’t recall a single time that a cold sales approach worked with me. So, I don’t do it to anyone else.

I also don’t initiate an email or direct message with someone trying to push my services. I receive enough of this contact on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc. It’s spammy and annoying.

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

Several people go back and forth via email, and then they eventually 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 significant. I’m too busy to continue bothering someone if he or she can’t make an effort to engage.

However, some people 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, 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 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 the words, “It’s ok to tell me no. Really, it is.

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 ready for it.

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

I’ve worked with great clients who said “Yes,” and we moved forward into a 1-on-1 engagement. I’ve had some people tell me that they are interested, but not quite ready yet.

I’ve had a few say “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 definite no.

The most surprising reaction is when someone ghosts me, goes completely silent, and never responds 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.

However — if you know me or spend some time talking with me — you discover that I’m not a fast-talking, pushy salesperson. As I said, I do take “No” for an answer, since it means that they really aren’t interested or they aren’t ready right now.

This ghosting behavior does change my perception of that 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 do not want. I guess that also explains some of their unhappiness with their careers.

If ghosters don’t have the courage to respond to me, they certainly don’t dare 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 success.


Ghosting hurts you

Ghosting may seem easier. There is short-term comfort in disappearing and walking away from a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable (e.g., having an awkward 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 reduces the opportunities people will share with you.

  • It stunts your personal growth and development.

Mature people can have meaningful yet difficult conversations. Strong people can 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 it when you turn them down. But, they will respect you for doing it with professional kindness instead of ghosting them.


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🎧 Did you listen to last week’s career tips?

In my most recent audio digest, I covered:

  • Behaving like a great leader, even before you are one

  • Why you shouldn’t ignore your social anxiety at work

  • How important it is to let off steam

  • The power of reigniting “dormant ties” in your network

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What I’ve been reading and writing:

  • In How to Protect and Focus Your Time, I discussed the shift to the “attention economy” that we’re experiencing. Your time is your most valuable resource, yet we waste an incredible amount of it every week. Some of this is obvious (e.g., social media), but some of the wasted time is not so obvious (e.g., saying “Yes” to a project you should have walked away from). “We only have so much energy for our work, for our relationships, for ourselves. A smart person understands this and guards it carefully. Meanwhile, idiots focus on marginal productivity hacks and gains while they leak out energy each passing day.” — Ryan Holiday

  • Focus is just as crucial for organizations as it is for individuals. As I was writing this, Marty Cagan posted Product Strategy – Focus on his blog today. I know Marty from my time at eBay, and he is a sharp product strategist. He says, “The bottom line is that organization will get more critical work accomplished if it focuses on just a few [initiatives] at a time. So, we need to pick our battles based on what really matters, and we need to limit the number of major problems we’re trying to solve at once.

  • If you’re in the middle of a job search, then you’ve probably completed a few phone interviews. You would think that most people are aware of the obvious mistakes to avoid when you’re speaking with a hiring manager or recruiter, but a surprising number of candidates still make them. This article can help you prepare for your next interview and perform better than your competition: How to Ace a Phone Interview.


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