Lessons Learned by an HR Consultant After Being Ghosted as a Candidate

They say it’s about who you know, not what you know. For Matt Huddard* though, neither his extensive professional experience nor his network shielded him from an all-too-common bad candidate experience. After being recruited by a fast-growing Canadian tech company, Matt went through a series of interviews over the course of a couple of weeks, only to be completely ghosted. However, unlike many instances of recruitment ghosting, Matt was in a position to turn his crap experience into a good outcome for other people. He may not have gotten the job, but he looks back with gratitude for the lessons he learned.

From glowing reviews to getting ghosted

In December 2020, Matt was working as a talent acquisition consultant at an HR consulting company. Then he was personally recruited by someone in his network for the Head of Talent position at a fast-growing Canadian tech company. While he was happy in his current role and enjoyed the work he was doing, this position and the company seemed like a dream job. With that potential in mind, Matt accepted the invitation. Within a week of applying, he had an initial interview with the Head of HR.

Originally scheduled for 45 minutes, his interview with the Head of HR turned into an hour and a half conversation that left Matt feeling incredibly positive about the opportunity. Both the Head of HR and the Hiring Manager gave him glowing feedback about his work, his experience, and how he’d fit in the role. They told him they were looking to move quickly and that while they were interviewing other candidates, Matt was already their top choice.

Within the span of a week, he had three more interviews with key decision-makers in the marketing, engineering, and customer support departments. Things were moving quickly, but the excitement of the opportunity coupled with the positive feedback he had been receiving had Matt feeling confident and looking forward to this new chapter. Then they ghosted him.

No news for the ‘top candidate’

After his lightning round of interviews, Matt suddenly stopped hearing from the company. He assumed it was a general slowdown from the holidays and didn’t think much of it at first. Then weeks passed without a word.

Over a month later, he finally received an email from the recruiter. She reiterated that he was still the ‘top candidate’ and they were interested in moving forward with him, but they just needed more time. That’s also when things got weird. The recruiter came back with a ‘quick question’ asking if Matt could handle high-volume hiring, as that would be ‘essential’ for the role. However, not only was it clear on his resume that he’d handled thousands of hires for clients in his consulting job, he explicitly spoke about volume hiring with the Head of HR in his interview. Matt thought this was a red flag, but for the sake of keeping a positive relationship, simply answered that he could handle high-volume hires and left it at that. Then another month passed, and he received a second follow-up email saying they still needed more time before making a decision.

After that, Matt never heard from the company again.

A lesson learned

With the job unfilled and the posting still on the company website, Matt said he has no idea what went wrong in his recruitment process. Weirder still, he’s not sure why they would call him a ‘top candidate’ then ghost him.

Thankfully, he liked his current role and no one knew he was interviewing elsewhere, so he settled back into his job. However, he was rattled by the job experience — less so because it didn’t work out for him and more because it put a mirror up to some of his own practices as a recruiter.

As an HR professional, Matt admitted he needed to improve in multiple areas — as everyone does over time. But being on the other side of the table as a candidate helped him isolate these issues and reaffirm his commitment to the candidate experience: specifically, it renewed his focus on closing the feedback loop in candidate journeys.

“It’s important to handle candidates with respect and dignity, and to be honest with people,” said Matt. “You need to keep top candidates warm, but also provide feedback to those candidates who are not the one.”

Making changes for the future

In addition to improving his own recruitment process, Matt used his experience to better train his team and his clients on communication with candidates. He also forced the hiring managers on his team to make decisions instead of waffling on candidates so that recruiters could deliver news quickly. Fortunately, he said his team was ‘very receptive’ to this new process, and appreciated Matt’s understanding of the difficulties of being a recruiter sandwiched between the interests of hiring managers and candidates.

While frustrating, Matt’s negative candidate experience ultimately allowed him to become better at his job as a talent acquisition professional. And while bad recruitment stories are a tale as old as time, for Matt it opened his eyes to a system in need of change. The best part? He was in a position to fix it — at least for the high volume of candidates, he interacts with.

“Did I miss an opportunity? Maybe,” said Matt. “But am I happy about the outcome and personal learning? For sure.”

* Names changed to protect anonymity.

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