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‘Can’t be bothered’: Why are Gen Z and millennial jobseekers ghosting potential employers?

Disappearing act: a new survey suggests almost eight out of 10 Gen Z and millennial jobseekers have ghosted a potential interview in the last year  (Getty/iStock)
Disappearing act: a new survey suggests almost eight out of 10 Gen Z and millennial jobseekers have ghosted a potential interview in the last year (Getty/iStock)

You’re pretty sure they’re not “the one”. You’ve spotted a few early red flags, too glaring to overlook. You should do the polite thing, the decent thing, and drop them a line to explain why this could never work. But wouldn’t it be so much easier to just… ignore their messages and disappear? Ghosting is an unavoidable part of modern romance – but it’s happening in the world of work now too.

Just as some potential dates disappear into the digital ether after weeks of back and forth on the apps, jobseekers are giving potential employers the cold shoulder by failing to show up for interviews. When job platform Indeed recently surveyed 1,500 UK workers, it found that 79 per cent of Generation Z and millennial jobseekers (defined in their study as aged between 18 and 39) have failed to turn up for an interview without any warning beforehand; among Gen Z alone, that proportion rises to 93 per cent. On the surface, these stats are just yet more outrage fodder: fuel for intergenerational arguments about lazy youngsters who can’t be bothered to stick to the basic rules of common courtesy – or something along those lines. But the figures also tell a story about how recruitment practices just aren’t working for younger employees – and how those employees are getting bored of being treated badly.

Alice* is a recent graduate who has ghosted potential employers a handful of times. When she finished her degree in advertising and PR, she started “applying to anything within the realm of digital media that I could”. She ended up doing three video interviews and a written test, all for a role at one digital agency. “After spending so much time and energy on the process up to this point, I was told I had made it to the references phase of the interview process,” she explains. “This is honestly when I decided that I was going to ghost this agency, because it felt like a never-ending series of hurdles for an entry-level position that I wasn’t even guaranteed [...] It seemed no matter how many interviews, tests and recommendations I had gone through, there was always another step.” The seemingly endless quest for one entry-level job suggested that this company might be pretty hard to satisfy if she did ever clinch the role.

Soon after this, one PR agency decided that she was a good fit for an internship, after just one Zoom interview and a test. But when her placement ended in early 2023, her employers couldn’t guarantee her a job because of hiring freezes and redundancies, meaning Alice was back on the job hunt. The interview process would often be “terrible for [her] morale”, she says, with multiple rounds of Zoom calls that often went nowhere. How a company recruited its new staff, she thought, might reflect what it would be like to actually work there. Reading reviews from previous employees would help her decide whether to stick with the process or not, or sometimes, she dropped out after realising “that they were asking for one person to do three different jobs with an entry-level salary”.

Employees aren’t the only ones guilty of ghosting: many companies do it too (Getty)
Employees aren’t the only ones guilty of ghosting: many companies do it too (Getty)

Drawn-out interview processes are increasingly common – but companies acting like they’re filming a new series of The Apprentice rather than just filling a straightforward grad job is a turn-off for workers. “If Gen Z are going for an entry-level role, sometimes these roles have three, four, five interview stages,” says Shoshanna Davis, founder of Fairy Job Mother, a consultancy helping young people better understand employers (and vice versa). “There’s all this uncertainty – you don’t know if you’ve got the job, and when they finally come back to you three weeks later, the chances are you could have found something else or you could just be bored. From [the candidate’s] perspective, if the employer has not really had the decency to keep them updated, then why should they have the decency to keep them in the loop?” She also notes that anxiety might be a big factor in younger employees’ no-shows: one-third of 18 to 24-year-olds have reported symptoms of a mental health condition.

It’d be easy to write off instances like these as fresh grads being picky about their first forays into the world of work. But ghosting isn’t the sole preserve of younger workers: Indeed’s stats show that although Gen Z are the biggest offenders, older generations are guilty of occasional ghosting too, with 86 per cent admitting to having done it at least once during their career. And is it really any wonder, when companies don’t always treat their potential employees particularly well during the long interview slog? How many times have you attended a gruelling interview, only to receive a coldly polite template rejection email – or worse, nothing at all? “The candidate process, for a lot of people, is disheartening and lacks empathy,” says David Rice, HR expert at People Managing People.

Often, employers are guilty of ghosting too. Last year, a study from employer review site Glassdoor found that post-interview ghosting had more than doubled since the pandemic, while one-fifth of the respondents in Indeed’s survey said they had made time for a phone interview, only for the hiring manager to never bother calling them. Alice says she has “even been ghosted several times after being asked if I could relocate on very short notice”, which “led to increased stress for no reason”. Bad practices like this benefit no one, and it’s hardly surprising that jobseekers are starting to adopt similar tactics in response: Alice even argues that “ghosting is one form of feedback that shows them how their current practices may be outdated”.

We’re currently in the midst of a major attitude shift in the world of work, and interview ghosting is just one part of that. The pandemic prompted many of us to reassess our work-life balance; its upheaval, coupled with the impact of Brexit, briefly created a labour shortage that gave workers the upper hand. Although that boom time has since subsided, three-quarters of UK companies were still struggling to recruit staff last summer, according to research from the British Chambers of Commerce. Employers, it seems, still aren’t holding all the cards.

It feels good to know your worth and not waste your time, no matter where you are in your career

Alice*

We’ve also seen much-discussed TikTok trends like “quiet quitting” inspire workers to stick strictly to the parameters of their job description rather than going above and beyond, prioritising their needs over those of their bosses. “Employers will make you feel special until you aren’t, and then you are replaceable at any given moment,” says Alice. “This is why I have never regretted my decision [to ghost], because I know there are a handful of other people that they were already considering in my place. It feels good to know your worth and not waste your time, no matter where you are in your career.” Her comments are a far cry from the feeling that many millennial jobseekers might have experienced at the same stage in their career: that they were just lucky to even be considered for the role. Perhaps that’s why they are the age group most likely to feel anxious after ghosting an interview.

Indeed, the very idea of pulling a disappearing act on a potential employer will probably ring alarm bells for some. These conversations, even if they don’t immediately result in a job offer, can be important for building contacts and getting your name out there. Davis says she understands that ghosting can be tempting, but stresses that “it takes two seconds to send an email to say ‘I can no longer make it’ or ‘something’s come up’”. Rice agrees that “it doesn’t take much effort to decline something politely, so why not do that and ensure that your name doesn’t end up going onto some kind of blacklist? Hiring managers and recruitment teams may not look to punish people like that, but it isn’t out of the question.” After all, by not giving them proper notice, you’ve wasted part of their day. And there’s always a chance that you’ll cross paths with them later in your career, when you’re after a different, more appealing role: being notorious as “the one who never showed” isn’t necessarily the best head start.

So how can we get out of this impasse, where companies are ghosting their potential workers only for them to do the same in turn? Davis suggests companies should outline their interview process from the start, so candidates know what they are getting into, rather than being surprised by seemingly endless rounds of Zooms and time-consuming tasks. She also reckons there’s a need for more transparency, “in terms of what the interview will cover, and who’s going to be interviewing you. Even doing simple things like providing the interview questions in advance can help ease anxiety [...] and keeping candidates in the loop as well. If you say they’ll hear back in a week and it’s been three weeks then you’re not really in a position to moan when you, the recruiter, are ghosted.” Employers, take note – and try treating your potential colleagues like you’d actually want to be treated yourself.

*Name changed for anonymity