Everything you need to know about recruiters, ‘ghosting’ and virtual interviews

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New year, new you… new job? If you’re daydreaming of ditching the daily grind and skipping off into the sunset right now, you’re not alone – figures show one in five of us get itchy feet this month. According to a poll of 2,000 working adults last year, 21 January is cited as the most popular date – and if this year follows a similar pattern, today many people will be saying “I quit”.

Last January I, too, hit the job market in search of a better working life. And found it to be a hornet’s nest of bad behaviour, unprofessionalism and incompetence – not just from recruiters but prospective employers. I spent days doing presentations, only to not even be told whether or not I had been successful.

One hiring manager confessed to me 10 minutes into a Zoom (her camera off) that the job had been withdrawn. One (visibly bored) interviewer interrupted every answer I gave so she could race through the meeting.

“The hiring process in the UK these days is a Wild West,” confirms Keith Rosser from Jobs Aware, a support group that protects job seekers’ rights in the UK. Digitisation, the recession and Covid have all led to a fragmentation of the job market – more people going freelance, doing contract work for example – which he says, has “opened up the playing field for a huge range of abuses”.

Following the pandemic, many job interviews now take place on Zoom (Photo: andresr/Getty)

Jobs Aware helps every type of job seeker, from workers dealing with HR in traditional companies to gig, contract, zero-hours and umbrella (temporary workers on fixed-term contracts) workers.

One common complaint is ghosting. I was lucky enough to be in the same boat as two friends, Sarah and Emma, who were also looking for work. Job hunting, we discovered, takes a huge toll on your confidence so we rallied together and formed a mini support group.

We all had similar experiences. “I hated the way recruiters would be all over you, ringing you every five minutes, telling you were a shoo-in for the job,” Sarah tells me. “And then, as soon as you did the interview, you never heard from them again.”

Emma was approached for a job at a big social media brand. “I was flattered and more than happy to go through their process, but I ended up doing eight rounds of interviews – eight! After all that, you’d think I’d get a job offer, but no – all I got was silence. I didn’t hear a word back, despite chasing numerous times!”

If we did get feedback, it was often vague and unconstructive. I was told I wasn’t “enthusiastic enough”, Sarah that she “didn’t have the edge they were looking for”. Or it was downright unprofessional. Emma was told by a recruiter it was “a shame she was white and middle class as they want someone diverse“.

Rosser tells me the pandemic is partly to blame for this. “Nowadays so many job interviews are virtual. No one’s meeting anybody any more, so it becomes much easier for people to behave badly.”

In October and November, Jobs Aware reported on average more than one agency a day to the regulator for “not following certain processes required by law” such as confirming the role they are looking for on your behalf.

Ghosting, however, is not against the rules. “And I would stress that recruiters are actually one of the more regulated groups ” says Rosser. “When it comes to the gig economy, contract work, freelancing, there’s even less regulation.”

Sam Alsop-Hall is chief strategy officer for recruitment company Woodrow Mercer Healthcare, which works for the NHS and Red Cross. Part of the problem, he says, is the explosion of job boards with quick, one-click applications, leaving recruiters besieged. “I will purposely not take on too many vacancies so I can manage it better,” Alsop-Hall says.

“No one minds not getting the job, as long as they have clear reasons why. If people are not communicated with, or not told what the sifting criteria was, that’s where the frustration comes.”

He says it has already been a record year for job seekers. “Last year, for a job such as 111 call handlers, the applicant/application rate last year was about 400 per role. Now it’s nearly double.”

If you’re a jobseeker in your twenties however, the cards could be stacked against you. While it’s too early for concrete data, Alsop is noticing an increase in people seeking new jobs in their forties and fifties. “They’re beginning to feel the pinch and are on the move.”

Employers like them as they can crack on with a job without supervision, in a world where many companies have given up their offices. And they are often cheaper – they don’t need (expensive) training and many are happy to take a salary cut in exchange for working remotely.

Whatever your age, you are likely to come across a “ghost job”. “In 2021 Jobs Aware heard from about 2,000 work seekers about their experiences,” says Rosser. “Seventy-four per cent told us they believed they’d applied for at least one job that didn’t exist.”

There are many reasons for this, Rosser says. “It could be a recruitment agency posting jobs that are actually filled as a way of getting candidates to register with them, for example.” Sometimes companies post job openings as a formality, despite already having an internal candidate in mind.

Or, Rosser says, there could be a darker reason. 2022 saw a rise in fake job scams preying on desperate job seekers. “One that always stays with me is a chap who after accepting a job at a warehouse had been asked to pay £250 for a police check. When he arrived on the Monday he discovered that the job didn’t exist.”

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Then there is the rise of identity theft. “More people are being asked to scan passports and upload bank details. Even if the job is legitimate, the employer shouldn’t be asking for those documents yet, but some do as a shortlisting weeding activity before you reach the interview stage.”

Jobseekers psychologically want to appease the would-be employer, says Rosser, so comply. And while you might think you are savvy enough to spot a fake job ad, have you ever considered that, in the wrong hands, even putting your address on a CV could also be used illegitimately?

So how do you keep your wits about you? From my own experience, I’d say know your worth and do your homework. If you smell a rat – strange interview questions, unusual processes – steer clear. Avoid ads that don’t disclose salaries – you don’t want to spend ages preparing for an interview only to discover the pay is not what you were hoping for. And if you suspect an application is going to be screened by AI for certain keywords, consider whether the extra effort is worth your time.

There’s also a new trend for recorded interviews, says Rosser, where you digitally input your answers to pre recorded questions. “When the company is not even committing half an hour of their time to meet someone, it’s unfair. We think a human should be given a job, or not given the job, by another human.”

Recruiter Sam Alsop-Hall also has this advice to avoid being ghosted: “Pick three or four recruiters and really invest time in forging relationships with them. Go to their office and meet them in person. Traditionally, it would have been the recruiter doing this, but now it’s the other way round.”

Finally, if you’re thinking of handing in your resignation today, don’t let my cautionary tale put you off. Swimming amongst the sharks, you’ll find some brilliant recruiters with your best interests at heart. I did, eventually. Good luck!



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