Have you ever been "led on" or ghosted by a prospective employer?

Hi NGI community!

We have a topic (which almost all of us have personal experience with) which we’d love to hear some of your stories about. Our research topic for the next month or so is on the future of work.

We’ve been thinking a lot about how job application processes have changed over the past decade. We want to talk about the emotional experience of the application process in the digital age – whether it be for a full-time job, for medical school, academia, or any other position you apply for. Here are some questions we’d love to hear your experiences on:

  1. Have you ever felt like you were being “led on” by a prospective employer? Or felt like you were kept “on the hook” and not knowing what was going on? Did you ever receive conflicting information (like you were told you’d hear something by a certain point but didn’t)? Did you later realise you were their backup plan rather than their first choice, and how did you find out? How did this make you feel? Did you request any feedback and if so, were you able to receive any?

  2. Have you ever been “ghosted” by a prospective employer or a school, never hearing back about whether you were rejected, or hearing back a long time later? How did you maintain contact with the potential employers while you waited? How long did it take before you took your position/made a decision to move on? How did it feel? If you ever heard back, at what point did you hear, and what information were you given? How often has this happened to you?

  3. What are your views on the job application process and the current culture around how employers communicate with applicants? How has it affected your approach to jobs and to employers? Has this affected the way you feel about your employee-employer relationship (or the institution you applied to work in), and if so how? Has this affected how you feel about yourself as an applicant?

  4. How do you think the application and communication medium (the internet, email, etc) affects this relationship between applicant and employer, and/or the experience of applying for positions, if at all?

  5. Did you find potential employers’ communication and behaviour surprising? What expectations did you have for how they would interact with you? What do values like loyalty, respect and honest communication mean in the digital age re work and employment, and how have those values changed over time? Were they ever in play or relevant?

We’d love to hear any and all stories you have about application experiences, addressing any of these questions or any others you yourself have! And what you think about the state of the relationship between job applicants/employees and employers are these days.


I don’t know about European rules on this, so what I and others experienced in America may or may not apply to Europeans. Here in the USA, and even more so in certain states such as California, any company or organization, either government, private, for profit or nonprofit, has to follow certain diversity guidelines in how you advertise and conduct interviews for jobs that you offer. If you are a big company with an HR department that knows what it is doing, you do these things as much for your own protection as anything else. If you are a small private enterprise it probably doesn’t make much meaningful difference. But if you receive any government funding the rules apply strictly. And in most cases, these practices are subject to an audit.

From 2008-15 I was the Executive Director of a public radio station, a nonprofit organization, that received federal funding, I had to be able to prove that any job I offered was posted in a wide and diverse set of outlets, both online and in print. I had to interview a minimum of three candidates who came to us via those postings, and I had to prove that with logs containing names and addresses. Not doing this meant getting fined.

I think all of us know, or have experienced one way or another, that much hiring is via personal networks instead of ads to the public. And I imagine that most of you understand that sometimes who you know means as much as or more than what you know. And many companies and orgs prefer to hire within their own ranks, bringing their talent up through the hierarchy. So, if you also have these rules you must follow, what do you do?

The employer has to interview three or so people from the general public. But they already know they want someone already working there. So they do the ads and the logged interviews as well as with the person already in the company. There is no maximum number of people you can interview and there are not rules saying that you have to hire someone who came in via your ads. So you dutifully follow the rules and hire the person you planned to hire the whole time. I admit that I have done this myself, although I have also hired people who came in via ads.

When you have someone who is talented, qualified, and has a good attitude and social skills, what happens is they can become a sort of perennial bridesmaid in the world of hiring. “Oh we liked you so much. You were absolutely our second choice. So we’ll keep your information on file and contact you if something opens up.” You can hear this so much you could stop them and just recite it back to them yourself.

When my wife and I aged into our 60s, the need for good heath care increased. Health care in the US is inconsistent and always super expensive. So my wife figured out that if she switched her career from working admin at a hotel to working admin in a hospital company, we could get better health coverage. She did succeed at this eventually (thankful because it turned out both of us really needed it soon enough), but not after ‘coming in second’ maybe ten times. She head that bridesmaid speech many times, when the company bothered to call her back, that is.

I experienced another variation of this when I interviewed for a few positions in the early 2000s after having run a large-scale news website. Having run such a large enterprise meant I could really only apply for senior leadership positions. So, in several cases I found the interviews to be basically them picking my brain about strategy and ideas, without intending to hire me. By then I was already aware of how the game works in many cases, but I went along anyway because for one thing, what else could I do besides show them what I had to offer? Maybe that was a kind of conscious ghosting, or allowing ghosting to happen. In a couple of cases I walked out of the interview being told I had pretty well nailed it, and didn’t hear from them again other than a perfunctory form email. (I never did that as an employer by the way…just so you know!)


John this is exactly the kind of stories we want to hear! Your expression “become a sort of perennial bridesmaid in the world of hiring” is golden. It really captures that uncertainty and optimism. You also highlight the important political/legal elements that shape the process, how employers are bound by institutionalized procedures that, ultimately, may not actually have candidates’ best interests. Candidates also don’t necessarily know about or understand these obligations, which only exacerbates the uncertainty and frustration.

This bit really stood out to me:

Diversity requirements are completely valid and worthwhile. And I don’t know how I would do it differently if it were up to me to devise some rules for it. And applied to a general population, print is still an important way that some people stay informed. And it could well be that the person best suited for a job is the one who reads about it in Spanish in a local paper, as one example. But, if the job you offer is highly specialized and you don’t live in a big city, those odds get pretty slim. And you might have someone already prepared to take on the job. But you still have to go through the process and it is wrong to be cynical about it. Each person interviewed deserves a fair chance. But again, the odds are really slim sometimes. It was for me offering radio jobs in a rural county.


ping @atelli, this seems to be a topic that could be relevant for the issue of precarious employed academics you brought up last year.

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Right on! These all apply to diaspora or exile academics who have to go through the cultural boundaries with their temporary; mostly short-time stipends. Once these stipend periods end, we/they are left with almost no option other than competing with the already competitive white-male dominated faculty positions or keep opting for temporary, badly paid research positions. Of course there is a third option, too, but not very favorable for most academics since they have spent too much resource on studies (leaving academia for NGO work, freelance work such as start-up or the industry). Therefore, these employment/recruitment procedures must definitely be transformed to allow diversity of actors in decision-making and not just the most senior heads who have no idea what the new staff/academic will do if s/he gets the job. Of course quotas and other vulnerability measures also play an important role and still not set well in many countries.

There is also another factor that becomes a challenge in recruitment. Once you’ve chosen to go freelance, going back to the job market as a staff candidate for company/university X becomes more difficult since the recruiters are biased against you. They do not consider competence or experience, but rather your work history to prove you are unfit to be working under control.


Please share your experiences here:
I was employed by a professor at my department (I’m a PhD student) for some work she wanted doing, which was initially meant to be during August 2020 and was clear bounded work – interviews, for a maximum of 20 hours. This was meant to pay quite well which I needed because my funding situation is precarious. She engaged another department to write a contract for us, by which point it was already September. After months of poor and unclear communication, where I had no clue what was happening, she finally reached out in December for a short period of work (max 2-3 hours). I had not heard from her before and when I submitted the work I didn’t hear from her afterwards either. (I have not yet been paid for this work). After being chased again and again by the people hired to draft the contract, I eventually had to drop out, because I hadn’t heard from the professor and I had no clue what was happening. This was quite embarrassing and the contract draft team were irritated by me doing this. By this point it was March 2021 - 7 months after I had thought I would be doing this work. I feel incredibly awkward and unsure about what I signed on for and feel cheated out of the money and experience I was meant to gain. I never had open and clear communication from the professor and she has never apologised for the confusing lack of dialogue.

The worst thing about this is that this professor professes to care a lot about honesty, clarity and not exploiting PhD students. But during my time on this ‘contract’, I had the sense I was being strung along; that the professor needed PhD students on the contract for some reason, but didn’t want or need me to actually do work for her. I think in the future I will choose not to work with her again. Perhaps worst of all, I feel this strong sense that she is annoyed at me for not ‘playing along’ with her game and I’m not in her good books.

The Internet played a strange role in this employment. Had we been ‘offline’, I am sure we would have met to discuss this issue over coffee. As it was, I was added to countless email threads which I could not understand fully and this was perhaps taken to be my only introduction to the role.


Please share your experiences here:
1. I have been led on, I’ve felt like by jobs before. Theres a thing where they’ll have you research in sales positions likely leads and then pitch them to the company while you’re in an interview. I got ghosted on a position that I brought them 10 leads for and I can’t help but feel like I was used during the interview process to find them new leads without them paying me for the work.

  1. I have been applying to jobs since January of 2019 and just now got a full time job offer. I have been contracting for about a year and have gone through countless rounds of interviews. I think notable is recently a recruiter had reached out to me they had set up a time for a call and we had discussed over LinkedIn dm a bit about the role and I had sent my resume. When the time came for the call I didn’t hear anything so I messaged the recruiter and they said that actually another recruiter was taking over my account, that other recruiter had added me within minutes of getting that message. I messaged that recruiter about movement and got ghosted. No explanation and no understanding why for a company that had initially reached out to me and didn’t follow through with a phone screen they set up. It was confusing, I assumed they had filled the position and just didn’t want to tell me. A similar thing had happened to me with a start up, I had gone through 4 rounds of interviews only to get ghosted and when I reached out for more information I received no response. After FOUR ROUNDS, you would think you’d get a “we have decided to pursue other candidates” email.

  2. My current views on the employment process is pretty cynical. I currently work in a tech company and I am moving to another one. I know how easy it is to have set up automated emails that spew the same line about company culture and fit and yet companies aren’t doing that. Why? It’s pretty discouraging to get ghosted and I feel like its worse than knowing you’ve been rejected. Since going through all these different interviews and contracting I’ve tried to assure that I have a communication with the hiring manager, not the recruiter, because the hiring manager tends to give you the decency of telling you. It has also definitely affected the way I feel about my current employer because they only give you confirmation of hire or rejection if you make it to the “loop” interview, which is 8 hours of interviewing hell.

  3. I think the internet makes the ability to communicate so much easier. And as I said in my last question it is pretty easy to make automated responses, heck I made a twitter bot using a website called “cheap bots done quick” and can get it to slightly tailor responses with no knowledge of coding but these companies, a lot of which have some form of tech team, can’t even do that? It kind of speaks of a lack of caring about the employee to me.

  4. I do find this behavior surprising, again, especially working in tech when I know how simple it can be. An honest simple, to automate a response when someone is no longer in the applicant pool. I think that this lack of communication shows that there is not “honesty” or “respect” in the hiring process which also just causes me to be more cynical about the whole job search process. If a company wants loyalty, they need to show honesty and respect and in one form that is the hiring process. I can go on a whole tangent about other ways companies do not show honesty or respect but at this point when I feel as if I’m being taken advantage of by a company or get bad “vibes” from an interview process I’ve learned enough to know that that is not a company I want to work for. In the digital age I think this company mentality is why millenials (and assumedly Gen-Z) change jobs so much. I heard a lot about people my parents age who get one job at a company and stay there for the rest of their lives but thats not really a thing in our current climate. I’ve always gotten the advice to change companies every 3-5 years or else you’ll be taken advantage of and I think this sense of mistrust comes from those three values highlighted in the question. People aren’t transparent about pay, people aren’t transparent about the hiring process, and they aren’t giving their employees what they need in forms of communication or other needs.


Welcome @ntpr and @SpicyTiconderoga. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

I think if after 4 interviews a company stops communicating with you then that is not a company that I would want to work for. I guess this is what they call a ‘seller’s market’ but still, that is plain rude. I hope such behavior is not becoming the norm. As an employer I communicated with every person who was interviewed even if just once. That was pretty standard 20 yrs ago. I have seen some tech companies adopt an attitude that suggests “you’re lucky to be selected as part of our team.” And maybe one would be. But it is still rude and disorienting to anyone who comes in for an interview. Maybe with everything on Zoom things have become so casual that the usual polite gestures no longer apply?


Please share your experiences here:

Please share your experiences here:
A couple years ago I applied for a job where they told me they would get back to me in 2 weeks. After that time passed, I diligently followed up as I was interested in the positions. They said they were still in rounds with another applicant, and asked if I had any other offers from any other companies. They made it sound like they were interested in hiring me but just wanted to finish up with interviewing the other applicant. This back and forth went on for weeks and then I realized I was just their backup plan. The experience felt very up and down, a bit like a rollercoaster and a feeling that they wanted me and then didn’t. It was hard on my self esteem. At one point they finally decided to go with another candidate. I asked for feedback but they never got back to me. Overall this was also frustrating as I had put a lot of effort into the process and would have at least liked to hear some constructive feedback for next time.