It’s not your imagination: Finding a job is harder than ever. Not necessarily because of a lack of jobs, but because the interview process has become what scientists call awful. It begins with the requirement that you upload your résumé and then replicate all that information in a wonky online form; and leads you through various tortures like endless rounds of draining interviews, outright lying from prospective employers, and demands to complete complex projects without compensation.
Worst of all, it’s become disturbingly common to be ghosted by recruiters and hiring managers after an interview (or even a series of interviews). That’s bad enough for your mental health, but a more insidious trend is starting to creep into play: breadcrumbing, when a hiring manager or recruiter strings you along with vaguely positive responses for weeks or even months—and then abruptly tells you the position’s been filled. The experience is disorienting and uniformly negative, and chances are you’ve had an experience with a recruiter or employer that matches that description:
Dealing with ghosting and breadcrumbing in your job hunt can be challenging, because it feels personal, and your gut reaction is emotional. To survive, you’re going to have to go against your instincts.
Be honest with yourself
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First and foremost, don’t gaslight yourself. The moment you suspect you’re being breadcrumbed or have been ghosted, you probably have. Stop making excuses for the recruiter or hiring manager who hasn’t bothered to respond to your last two emails, or who keeps promising a third interview but can’t seem to get everyone’s calendar organized. You very much want to believe all the nice things the recruiter or hiring manager said about your prospects, and the sunk cost fallacy comes into play once you’ve put hours and hours of your life into pursuing this job.
Second, admit to yourself that this is distressing. Anyone who tells you that you shouldn’t take a job hunt personally is gaslighting you: Our jobs are our lives, in many ways. It’s how we pay our bills, and it’s also an intrinsic part of our personal identity. Pretending you’re not bothered by poor treatment like this is just repressing your emotions, and it’s not healthy. At the same time, admit to yourself that you’re kind of powerless in this scenario. Admitting powerlessness isn’t being weak—it’s acknowledging reality, which gives you the clarity to make constructive decisions.
Next, remind yourself that employers and recruiters need you as much as you need them, and perform some due diligence. If you suspect you’ve been ghosted by a recruiter or employer, contact them and ask them directly if the hiring process is ongoing and if you’re still in the running. If you think you’re being breadcrumbed, contact your point person for the position and ask for specifics—dates for future interviews, comments from hiring managers on past interactions, and next steps.
A lack of response will confirm their status as a ghost, and a vague, low-effort reply will confirm that you’re being strung along. On the other hand, this gives the recruiter or hiring manager the opportunity to jump in and explain if something’s going on in the background—personal issues, or chaos within the organization. Either way, at least you’ll have some clarity.
Finally, move on—but stay classy. Once your due diligence has convinced you that you’re being ghosted or breadcrumbed, just walk away. Angry emails won’t serve you—the recruiter that wasted weeks of your life stringing you along may very well contact you about a new position a few months from now as if nothing ever happened. You can’t control how other people behave, but you can get a sense of control through your own actions. Making the firm decision to stop worrying about this job, no matter how heart-breakingly close you felt to it, will make you feel like you’re in control because it flips the script: Instead of you being miserable and passive, you’re making a decision and taking action.
Ghosting and breadcrumbing may be the new reality of job searches, but that doesn’t make the practices okay. Dealing with the experience means going outside your comfort zone, but you’ll have a much healthier job hunt if you do.