Seglin: Ghosting uprofessional

Two readers have written recently to comment on their experiences with a job hunt.

In one instance, the reader has been searching for a full-time position for several months. In the other, the reader has been looking for additional part-time work. Both wonder about the responsibility of the hirer to follow through with communication.

The part-time position hunter has responded to posts on social media boards seeking professionals with her credentials. She responded by email to the posts expressing an interest and asking for more details, waited weeks, and heard nothing.

On at least two occasions, the full-time job seeker was asked to interview for a position, was told he would be informed of the search committee’s decision or progress within the two weeks following his interview, and more than a month later has heard nothing from either search committee.

“These aren’t the first instances,” writes the full-time job hunter. “In the past, I’ve made it as a finalist for a position and never heard anything one way or another.” He’s only found out a hire was made by Googling the institution and seeing the new hire in the position for which he’d applied on the organization’s website.

It may not be uncommon, but it is bad form for an organization not to let an applicant know when he or she didn’t get the job. It’s particularly bad form to bring an applicant in for an in-person interview and then never follow up.

Sure, there are times organizations take their time letting people know out of concern that their top choice for a position might not accept an offer. They want to keep their options open in case they have to go further down their list of candidates. That’s fair and fine.

At some point, however, simple courtesy dictates letting someone know when he or she didn’t get the job. Simply shifting to silence and hoping the applicant gets the hint exhibits no sense of professionalism.

But when an organization’s representative specifically tells an applicant he or she will be contacted about the outcome of the search, the right thing is to keep that promise. If there was never any intention to let runners-up know they weren’t successful, then making a false promise crosses ethical lines.

Each of the readers wants to know if it seems too “pushy” to contact the potential hirer to ask the status of a position. No, it’s not too pushy. It’s simply unfortunate that organization representatives too easily forget how a simple gesture, no matter if it’s relaying disappointing news, demonstrates thoughtful professionalism.

Jeffrey L. Seglin is a lecturer in public policy and director of communication program at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Send your question to [email protected]