The Vanishing Advertising Recruiter: A Halloween Horror Story

Top names in talent discuss the problem of ghosting

"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. 
They live inside us, and sometimes, they win"

—Stephen King

Halloween is almost here again. Mwaaaaah-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Aside from my kids flying into nougat-Skittles-meth rages, or that hipster friend yammering about how we "just have to try" the local brewery's vile pumpkin-spice IPA, it's a pretty cool holiday. 

Dating back 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, held on Nov. 1, Halloween was the night when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead was believed to blur, and spirits walked the Earth migrating to the afterlife. Which meant dancing around bonfires, feasts, orgies, drinking and general tomfoolery like dressing up in animal pelts to avoid being possessed by demons (as one does). 

Today, it still retains that creeptastic, Druid-y vibe, with countless myths and legends (urban and otherise) like witches, vampires, creepy clowns, black cats, headless horsemen and/or hobgoblins. Razor blades in Snickers. Kids being yanked into sewers by carnivorous clowns. Apple cider tainted with acid—be it of the battery or Ken Kesey variety. And so on. 

But lately, one particular demon seems to have risen above the rest to terrify us all ... at least in the netherworld of advertising: the Ghosting Recruiter. 

Yes, the eeeeerie Ghosting Recruiter has become equal parts heartless monster, dream-crushing demon and elusive poltergeist. A satanic boogeyman/-woman bent on destroying, or at least delaying or ignoring, our inevitable rise to advertising fame and fortune. 

Which is why I'm appointing myself your personal Ouija board to commune with these allegedly nefarious but—spoiler alert—very human and well-intentioned spirits, and hear their opinions on ghosting from—shiver—the "otttttheeeeeer siiiiiiide." 

Originating in the cyber dating world, "ghosting" instantly became a commonly accepted ritual of our digital age, basically making it easier and faster than ever for us to be even more horrible to each other. As Fast Company explains, this corroded mutation of personal decency was quickly co-opted in the professional world: 

"Being ghosted means you applied, assumed the interview went well, and expected to hear good news soon. And then, nothing. No next steps, no calls, no emails. Just dead silence in response to your follow-ups." 

Clearly an industry-agnostic problem, ghosting seems especially pervasive lately in our world—advertising/branding—judging by the frustration on, say, Fishbowl's "Ghosted!" bowl, a forum "where we warn each other about the companies that vanish after we [candidates] invest time, energy and passion in trying to land a job there." 

These real quotes run the gamut from understanding the recruiter's POV, to darkly humorous resignation, to pure anger; from outright defending recruiters as really owing us nothing, to calling out agencies and even publicly shaming and finger-pointing recruiters like it's the Salem Witch Trials. But mostly, they exemplify the confusion over what ghosting even is: 

• "[Recruiter] at [Agency] is the queen of ghosting."

• "I asked a recruiter who worked at my agency why [she ghosts] and she said, 'If we aren't going to hire them they don't really matter anymore.'"

• "I think of [ghosting] as lazy and cowardly."

• "Had an amazing job interview last year. Just waiting on the recruiter to follow up. Feeling good about it!"

• "If an agency flat out isn't interested and they don't reply, that's not ghosting—it's just not being interested. I've flown cross-country for interviews then gotten no follow-up. That's ghosting." 

• "If you can't manage to send at least a pro forma note that says 'No thanks'—I understand you can't give an analysys of WHY they're rejected—then you shouldn't be a recruiter. Ghosting is simply inexcusable, and if you do it, you're an asshole." 

• "[Recruiter]. Talked a big game about getting me in front of a bunch of shops and then never responded to any follow-up."

• "People don't owe you a response. If they reach out to you that's one thing, but ... there's no social contract that obligates them to get back to you."

• "[Agency], after I was flown in for an all-day interview and workshopped a deck the team was struggling with. Had to bug them for 3 months to get my cab fare refunded." 

• "I'm ghosting a recruiter and it feels great!"

And this final gem from another Fishbowl forum, which isn't ghosting-specific but indicates a perception of recruiters in general: 

• "Recruiters will do anything to sell you and get paid. I've had countless recruiters shit on good agencies and push me to join the shops they repped. Recruiters are whores. All they want is the MON-AAAYY."

I get it. I've been ghosted, by most definitions. Done repetitive phone or Skype calls. Even been flown to agencies, etc.. And then—poof—nothing. Crickets. It happens, it's 100 percent amateur-hour and ragingly insulting. And it sucks. 

But "whores"? Come on now. How would we feel if recruiters gave us the Bridget Bishop treatment, shrieked our names after we'd tanked an interview or botched a job/project? Or called us hacks, frauds or charlatans in public? 

So instead of widening the divide, let's take a deep breath and ask questions like: 

• What even is ghosting—are we all playing with the same definition?

• Are there variables and realities that we, on the "candidate" side, simply don't understand or appreciate about the recruiter's daily world?

• Are vanishing recruiters truly just insidious ghouls and naturally—or supernaturally?—the most convenient to blame? Or are we candidates equally, or possibly more, at fault? 

• If so, what can/should we candidates do—or not do—to lessen the odds of being ghosted?

For answers, I turned to some of the most seasoned, respected names in recruiting. People you've heard of. Maybe reached out to. Maybe heard back from. Maybe even worked with and got hired. But also, maybe people who, in the past, based on whatever your definition is, may have "ghosted" you. 

Let's dive in. 

What is your first, gut reaction to the term "ghosting"?

Lauren Ranke, director of creative recruiting, Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.: "Ghosting is a dating term, adapted to this professional relationship without definition. So, let's define! Recruiter Ghosting happens when you're engaged in a conversation with a recruiter about a specific role, and they stop responding or engaging without explanation. If this happens, you've been ghosted. You are not ghosted if: You cold-email a recruiter and they don't respond. You're in casual chats about possibilities, but not a specific role. The recruiter takes a long time to get back to you. Granted, it's understandable that these are frustrations, but they are not ghosting." 

Barbara Tejada, owner/recruiter, Mighty Recruiting, New York: "For me, ghosting started around 2003-04. It just wasn't called that. I was just out of Miami Ad School and interviewing at Draft in NYC. I'm pretty sure I flew myself up for the interviews. I interviewed in the office at least twice. The next week I was back in Miami and their recruiter asked about salary. I think I told her $35k. She came back with a lower number, and I said fine, I just wanted to get to NYC and start working. She said she'd get the approvals she needed and get back to me ... and that's the last time I heard from her. I called, emailed. I think I even snail mailed! How do you talk to someone and get that far, and then just totally ignore them? I was ghosted by a few different places around that time. But I definitely feel that initial rejection/ghosting/experience helped to shape me as a recruiter." 

Kelly Parrotto, director of talent acquisition, Droga5, New York: "[It means] someone must have gotten busy." 

Anonymous #1, NYC (18 years experience): "My sense is the greatest 'breakdown,' when it comes, is a lack of communication from the client [agency]. The client's priorities to hire can sometimes shift, so [recruiters] are sitting and waiting for feedback and time goes by and we are not given any answer. As a result, we have nothing to report back. Sometimes this can extend a week or two or we may be 'ghosted' by our client. The key is to try and set expectations as best you can to let people know 'We haven't heard anything' or 'Sometimes the client is mercurial.'" 

Anonymous #2, NYC (20+ years experience): "I've had to look for a job, so I know what it's like to be ghosted. I often said to other HR people, it's an advantage to have been out of a job in our field because you will never do the HR job the same again. You know what it's like not to hear, not to get feedback. Having said that, I remain disappointed in myself for not doing a better job myself with candidates who I know are relying on me. Most of what happens is that it's just too much ... much too much comes our way, without a lot of resources, processes are a lot more collaborative now, so more people are involved in interviewing people, weighing in on decisions, and it can be hard to get back to candidates in a timely way. That doesn't mean we don't try hard to do so and we don't feel horrible when we drop the ball and don't get back to someone." 

What do candidates not understand about "your world" or approach that might make them see "ghosting" differently?

Kara Taylor, managing director, FBI Talent Co., USA: "When it comes to making a decision, I'd bet on the candidate who is not afraid to admit they want the job, versus one who is reluctant to make that clear, any day of the week. If you don't seem interested enough in the position, the recruiter will, subconsciously or not, sense that and 'recruit' (or not) accordingly. Candidates need to take some of the accountability for the relationship with the recruiter." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "Like account folks/brand managers, recruiters walk a tightrope between two sides: But instead of a client/agency tightrope, it's the hiring manager/candidate. Like strategists, we're responsible for gathering and communicating market research and making decks about it, but ours are about talent pools. Like creatives, we get briefs but ours are recruiting briefs identifying type of talent needed, based on the business needs. Like producers, we plan and build candidate experiences for interviews, and depending on where your agency's based, you do a lot of hosting of out-of-town candidates, with occasional dinners, etc.. Also: We answer referrals. We give informational interviews. We work with HR on relevant policies: relocation, visa, pay parity and benefits. Sometimes we post jobs on platforms and there's a ton of email management with that. We contribute to agency affinity groups and diversity initiatives. We have a presence at award shows and school portfolio reviews." 

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "Our jobs are not entirely made up of entertaining unsolicited inquiries. Good recruiters are proactively looking for talent. Most often we're looking for passive talent, meaning someone who is currently a rockstar somewhere else and I want them to do that but for my organization. There are meetings upon meetings with hiring managers and CFOs, staffing meetings, a line of talent out the door waiting for 10-30 minutes of time looking for coaching or guidance, industry research, recruitment events, requests from management, greeting and hosting candidates, the list goes on." 

Anonymous #3, West Coast (10 years experience): "I understand the anger and frustration people have when they are being ignored, as it happens to all of us, both professionally and personally. I think recruiters should always give feedback, even when it's negative. And if there is no feedback from the clients, recruiters should share that with the candidates, too. As a recruiter, I've had candidates ghost me at various stages. Once I was ghosted after they received a verbal offer from a company. Talk about burning multiple bridges! And I've had companies go silent, not return phone calls re: candidates, for MONTHS at a time." 

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "I know ghosting means different things to different people. For some people, if you apply for a job or reach out with a cold email and don't get a response, that's ghosting. If that's the case, I get ghosted on the regular. I reach out to potential candidates every day about jobs. Not everyone gets back to me. I assume they aren't interested and I move on. For me, true ghosting is when a conversation is started and then one side disappears. There are a lot of people looking for work right now. Unfortunately, I don't have a job for all of them. If someone keeps reaching out to me with the same book full of mediocre work that never seems to get better over the years, that's when I start to ghost. There are only so many times I can answer the same person with: 'Sorry, I don't have anything for you right now. But I will be sure to keep you in mind.' The hard fact is that there are people I will probably and unfortunately never have a role for." 

Why can't you respond to every single email?

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "There are simply too many. Imagine if every email was an actual piece of mail that needed to be opened, read and responded to. We wouldn't have time to perform our other responsibilities. In general, there's a lack of understanding or appreciating the sheer volume of correspondences we have to manage. If it were necessary for each candidate to call the recruiters, we wouldn't have half as many inquiries. Also, candidates shouldn't email recruiters outside of work hours or expect to hear back from us when we get into the office the following morning. There's just way too much digital noise." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "We try. But when we're overcommitted, we all have to prioritize. Here's my rough inbox priority. Priority #1 is emails from my bosses and hiring managers; #2 is communication with candidates in process; #3 my coworkers and teammates; #4 is referrals from people I know; #5 is unsolicited inquiries from people outside looking to engage on a job." 

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "I just don't have roles for everyone. If someone keeps reaching out to me and I don't think I am ever going to have something for them, then I get tempted to ghost or go dark. ESPECIALLY if that person starts getting shitty with me. I get that it's annoying to deal with recruiters and we are 'gatekeepers' and whatever. But we have been hired to do a job. And if we don't do that job … we get fired. I can't send candidates to my clients that I know are not a match with what they are looking for. It's that simple." 

Anonymous #2: "Not all HR people that candidates speak to only do recruiting. Some of us also do employee relations, coaching, comp and benefits and everything else. So it's one thing among many things we do, and if an urgent employee relations issues comes up, it can take up a lot of time as it gets addressed immediately." 

Anonymous #4, NYC (30+ years experience): "There are many reasons an [agency-side] recruiter doesn't get back to me or you directly. Usually it's because they just don't have any info for us and are waiting until they do. Or they are swamped with emails from candidates due to online postings. I'm unable to go through all of my emails, so I can't imagine what agency recruiters get. It's impossible. It gets tricky when you are building a relationship and moving along and then get ghosted. Sometimes things just fall apart. Or they have a candidate they really like and are waiting to see how that goes. I've had candidates actually interview ... good results ... and then neither of us hears back. So whatever the reason, there is no excuse and there is an excuse ... make sense?" 

Do you think "ghosting" stems from an industry-wide lack of recruiter training and underqualified recruiters? (OK, that was a leading question.)

Kara Taylor, FBI Talent Co.: "No, I do not, but somwhere along the way our culture got uncomfortable with admitting we don't have all the answers, all the time. So much so that it became less shameful to dodge the question completely than to simply admit that we just don't know what the hell's going on. Things change more than they stay the same in this business, and recruiters aren't always the first to know the latest and greatest—or not so greatest—news. That being said, there's nothing wrong with answering a candidate without a definitive answer. But when we can give feedback, we should. Even if it's hard, we have to remember that we're not telling anyone they are dying of cancer, and maybe we can inject them with some knowledge that will help them be right the next time around, or for something else entirely." 

Anonymous #3: "Digital correspondence has made it easier for people to avoid difficult, uncomfortable situations. The professionals, the 'cream of the crop,' take a deep breath and find the time and the right words to respectfully respond." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "Yes, it does seem many recruiters are lacking the savvy to manage their candidate interactions in a way that makes them not FEEL ghosted. Recruiters need to be absolute pros at communication and emotional intelligence. Staying on top of it all is really hard and only gets better with years of practice." 

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "Blame technology and how casually people use it to communicate. And while you're at it, let's teach children how to use a pen and pencil and sign their names!" 

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "Ha. Unfortunately, it's something that's true of many recruiters ... no matter the industry. I constantly hear stories from friends in different industries that get ghosted by recruiters. I was never formally 'trained' as a recruiter, but if you know of someone who trains recruiters not to get back to people, that's a problem. Again, I try to get back to everyone because I have had the experience of people not getting back to me. What everyone—recruiters/candidates/agencies/etc.—needs to decide is that it's not OK to ghost, and to stop doing it. I don't think it's training. I think it's something that people have just accepted as the norm. Even though it's pretty unacceptable." 

Ever been guilty of "ghosting," even accidentally? if so, why did you/your agency "go dark"? 

Anonymous #3: "My speculation as to why recruiters sometimes 'ghost' candidates: The clients didn't feel the candidates are great matches, and the recruiters don't want to spend the time to 'go backwards' to update the candidates, they just want to move forward finding new candidates (rude, yes); or the clients close the search (they fill the roles on their own, or they lose funding), and again, recruiters don't want to spend time letting the candidates know (rude, yes)." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "Yes, I ghosted in my early days without realizing it. When I first started in this job, I'd inquire on someone's interest, then I'd lose track or take too long to get back. Rookie move! I learned to avoid this by buffering expectations. For example, when I reach out I inquire if candidates are interested in being a part of our reviews alongside others, and I tell them I'll get back to them if they're a fit. This tempers expectations by being transparent about the process." 

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "Of course. If you have an email account, everyone has overlooked an email or two. And it's as simple as prioritizing. I schedule time on my calendar to follow up with candidates, but on occasion something overlaps, and searching for talent or attending a meeting with the C suite generally takes priority. Again, if you email a recruiter on the weekends or in the middle of the night and don't hear back, you have not been ghosted." 

Anonymous #2: "There's a candidate several people I respect referred to us, whom I really respect and like. We put him into a process fairly late. He didn't land the job, which we talked to him about and explained. He knows we like him, so he continues to stay in touch. I want to find something, but his next steps are very specific involving opportunities that won't come around a lot and people who are never around/hard to schedule. I feel like I'm always making excuses, but I just can't make things happen for him easily and time passes on. Things may eventually happen, but I am convinced he thinks I'm giving him the run-around, and I swear I'm not." 

You're sitting across from a candidate you might've ghosted, or they believe you did—what do you say?

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "I would want to talk about what happened. Honestly. Why they felt ghosted. There are sides to every story. Again, I don't try to ghost people, so I definitely want to know if someone felt that way. Right now, people just seem more agitated that I don't have a role for them. Which is unfortunately going to happen. I wish I had a job for everyone … but I don't." 

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "First, I would need to know what time frame are we talking about? Are they being ghosted or will they get a follow up but just not in their opinion of what a timely manner is? The net net is, there is one or two of us and thousands of candidates. THOUSANDS. Be practical." 

Anonymous #2: "I've said to people, 'I'm sorry I didn't get back to you sooner, thank you for having patience with me.' Over time, we meet so many people, and it's so hard to keep up. They apply through the applicant tracking system, they send through LinkedIn to make sure you got it, through your email and also through someone you know. Not the occasional candidate—many candidates do all of these channels so they know they got through. Which is understandable—it's so easy to apply now that many people apply for a ton of jobs. It's very hard to not let balls drop. It's not what we want. We really want our candidates to meet everyone quickly, have a great experience and feel good all the way through working for us." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "I would look back at the interactions before sitting with them so I know the context. If I truly ghosted them, I would say, 'I wanted to apologize for not getting back to you about ____. That's not how I tend to conduct my interactions with candidates and I don't want this to reflect poorly on our company. Here's what happened in the process of filling that role.' My biggest struggle is how many talented people I don't get to hire." 

What advice do you have for fellow (especially less experienced) recruiters to curb "ghosting"?

Anonymous #3: "It's very annoying to be ghosted, especially when you feel you're in the middle of a continued conversation with someone. Digital correspondence has made it super easy for people to be rude to each other. And now it seems like people try to avoid phone calls/in-person meetings as much as possible, maybe to avoid the awkwardness that can arise in face-to-face/voice-to voice-interaction. We all need to remember that there is a human at the other end of the email/text and to try to be polite and professional." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "Build your communication muscles, and keep track of everyone so they don't feel ghosted. Simplify your process by minimizing the number of people making the hiring decisions per role; get management to empower the hiring manager to make the final call. This lessens the recruiter juggle of balancing competing interests, so they can focus better on managing talent expectations." 

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "Just write a quick email that says, 'Hey, thanks so much for coming in, but we decided to go with someone else.' It's really just a courtesy thing. I get that it can lead to tough questions and candidates want explanations and details. But the candidate took their time to come in and interview for the job. At least give them the courtesy of getting back to them when they follow up. Ghosting a candidate after they come in [to an agency] for interviews really makes no sense to me. Again, I might have done it to someone at some point in my career. But I really didn't mean to. REALLY! Recruiters get a really bad rap because of the things other recruiters do to people. Please, recruiters! Let's stop doing this! To other people and ourselves! I swear I brace myself whenever I tell someone what I do for a living. If they ever had a bad experience with a recruiter, it totally casts a shadow on how they see me. They just can't help it." 

There are lots of recruiter "horror stories," but any "candidate horror stories" (that might explain why a candidate was ghosted)?

Anonymous #1: "Something I've noticed, especially with international creatives, is when people put their portfolios together, for some reason they choose to leave off their CV, even their last names! And have some random bio. Bios are fine, but your portfolio should make it easy for people to find some basic factual information. In fact, today I looked at a book of a super talented team, but could not even find their full names! In many industries and places, cover letters are important. But you don't need to write a cover letter to a recruiter. The best advice I can give people is to keep their information really simple." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "We've had a candidate send a poetic 'suicide note' to demonstrate how badly they wanted to work with us. But we didn't ghost them—we told them honestly how we felt about that approach. I honestly feel for everyone who's trying really hard to stand out, and don't hold it against people who aren't smooth about it." 

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "There are too many [horror stories] to choose from." 

Anonymous #2: "We interviewed a very senior candidate, several of us—all of us very senior. We were really interested. One of our employees saw this candidate as she left the building. They saw each other. Our employee came to see me later and told me stories about how toxic and horrible the candidate was and if we hired her, our employee would quit immediately. I knew she was serious and we live by our values so the candidate was immediately out. But our employee told us she didn't want it to be traced back to her—the candidate's senior and our employee thought the candidate still had influence in the industry (though she was currently out of work, people who had power can still intimidate). We told the candidate that the opportunity was no longer going to be filled. But thereafter she combs our open jobs and asks to be introduced to hiring managers. I tell her that we don't work that way, HR refers, but I can't really refer her … It's a mess." 

What might candidates do to reduce their odds of being "ghosted" (besides, next time, asking fewer goddamn questions in an already TL:DR interview)?

Kara Taylor, FBI Talent Co.: "The candidate/recruiter relationship is a two-way street. If you have an inspiring conversation with a recruiter, get clarity on the screening process. Ask how long he or she thinks it will take to get feedback on your work, and make a plan with that person on how to best follow up. Take the lead on keeping in touch, and consider every time you follow up as another opportunity to sell yourself. Throughout your entire career, you're the only brand you'll ever have total control of. How you keep in touch with a company is one of many touch points you get to design for yourself. Own it and have fun with it." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "Very rarely is there a case that ghosting—by my definition—makes any sense. Even if someone sends a rude email or is overly pushy, there's a way to communicate about it." 

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "Be nice. Even when you're having a bad day. Feel free to check in, but don't get hurt if they [recruiters] don't get back to you. I like it when people send me their latest campaign or some press they got. That's great. But again, when someone keeps pinging me with the same book that doesn't seem to get anywhere or get any better, I'm probably not going to have anything for them. Also, [candidates], don't ghost. I had a candidate ghost me so hard this year. It honestly shocked me. I spoke with them about a freelance project. Set them up to interview with the agency. They never showed up for the interview. I called, left voicemails, emails, texts. In NYC, when someone doesn't show up for an interview, it can mean many things. But it can mean you got hurt! I have had candidates call me saying: 'I'm so sorry, I just got into an accident in a cab, I can't make it.' I was so worried. The candidate never got back to me. I saw them a few weeks later chiming in on Facebook job boards and such. I eventually had to block them. I was so annoyed. I don't think I would be able to work with that person ever again. I just can't trust them." 

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "Don't email at night or on weekends."

Anonymous #2: "There are candidates that I've talked to and like, but then they think I'm their personal headhunter whose job it is to find them a job. There are going to be stars who are always top of mind—how can we bring them in?—but that's not everyone, we're not all rock stars. So I have people who send me their CVs and ask me to let them know when there's an opening that's a match for them. You want to be polite and help them find the right way to find a job—which they know of course—but it always feels like you're not being as helpful as you could be. But there isn't enough time to be the headhunter for external people when you work within an agency, and I'm sure they feel like I'm not being helpful, I'm not being responsive enough." 

Why might a candidate be treated like a rockstar one minute and (quoting a Fishbowl member) a "piece of garbage" the next?

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "I am confident in saying my level of interest doesn't fluctuate to that degree. Creatives are sensitive people. We love them but can't rely on their emotional responses as a meter to judge our performance." 

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "If I tell someone they are not right for a job and then they come back at me, telling me I'm racist or I don't know what I am doing—I have been told both of those things—then I will ghost them. I will also probably block them on social media, including LinkedIn. I know looking for a job is a frustrating process, but getting mean with people? I just don't have time for it. If I have a job for you, I will tell you about it. I have no reason not to. I know some people just want clarification and/or details about why they are not the right match. And that's fine. Just don't be an asshole about it. An easy way to get ghosted is by being a jerk." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "Hard truth: Recruiters are looking to solve a business need with a specific kind of talent, and they will keep their most viable candidates warm. If you're not being 'kept warm,' it doesn't mean you're a failure. It just means you're not bringing the skills to the table that we need right now. Move on and circle back another time. Recruiting is like spectator chess: The recruiter isn't in control of the pieces, but we're watching all the pieces move and waiting for the right moment to put the right person forth. We have little control over the chess pieces, but we are ideally very good at assessing both sides—the talent, and the business needs that the talent will solve." 

Anonymous #3: "Sure, there have been times when an email gets buried in my inbox, or perhaps dropped during transmission (Internet connection isn't perfect.) In those cases, I hope candidates can understand that we're all human and occasionally make mistakes. Also, people have different ideas on what an appropriate response time is." 

As Spinal Tap said, "there's a fine line between clever ... and stupid." Where does "clever outreach" become "desperate/spammy/annoying"? And is a "stunt" overcompensating for lack of good work? 

Kelly Parrotto, Droga5: "I received an email with the subject line 'Looking for a reference check' earlier today, which is something recruiters take seriously. Guess what? It was a solicitation by a candidate. Don't do that. The 'robo' email every Friday saying 'I just became available for FL.' Don't do that. It's annoying, disingenuous, and you put yourself on the 'list.' Don't write a novel. If you're a CW, remember all written notes are reviewed with a critical eye. Ask yourself, 'Would I respond to this note/email/spam? Would I present this to a CD as a good idea?' If you feel desperate writing it, it will read desperate. If it's spam or addressed to more than one person, it's junk mail. If, say, a friend told you they received the email you sent, would YOU think it's cheesy? If you have to ask, it's cheesy. There is nothing we haven't seen or read. If the theme is ghosting, ask yourself how many times, or in what manner, you would reach out to someone who hasn't replied. Have the same level of empathy you're asking from the recruiter." 

Kara Taylor, FBI Talent Co.: "I've seen plenty of people who have great work do stunts. I think any stunt or attempt at getting noticed by an agency which demonstrates you are a strategic problem solver, in addition to your enthusiasm for that particular agency, is great, especially if your work is great, too! That being said, if that sort of effort is not for you, I've had candidates simply keep in touch by writing simple and engaging follow-up emails, or by sending postcards, interesting art projects or kept me posted on their new work and/or side hustles, etc., just to stay top of mind. As long as the correspondence was thoughtful, well done and in some way unique, I can honestly say it's worked!" 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "The most clever way to get noticed is to have excellent creative work to share. If you don't have excellent client work, make a ton of excellent work on your own. Self-initiated work at its highest level of craft is one of the most important things a creative can do. In terms of outreach, it's simple: Follow up regularly with new work, but no more than two to three times a year. Monthly can cross that line to desperate and spammy and overkilly." 

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "Yes, there is a line. It's somewhere between: 'Oh, this is nice' and 'If this person contacts me once more, I am going to get a restraining order.' A lot of the desperate/cheesy/spammy/annoying has been done and played out. A fake foot to get a 'foot in the door,' etc. Stay far away from these. Good outreach gets press: The Google Job Experiment, Posing as a Delivery Man, Penny Poking, dressing as an advertising icon. And honestly, I feel like this type of reaching out is best reserved for kids coming out of school, trying to break into an agency/the industry. There's a lot of students, so they are trying to get noticed. But the first thing that really gets noticed is a good book. And as you grow and develop within the industry, your work should speak for itself. No gimmicks." 

Any final thoughts/advice?

Anonymous #1: "In the end, recruiting is about personal relationships, and clients, recruiters and candidates being clear on what each other's expectations are." 

Kara Taylor, FBI Talent Co.: "Again, something we need to mindful of, or clarify the difference between, is a candidate who has expressed interest in a job once engaged with an agency recruiter, and then gets 'ghosted,' versus one who just spams the hell out of recruiters with unnecessary emails or gimmicks or whatever. I want to encourage candidates who have been approached by a recruiter about a job they really want to pursue, to take some of the accountability for the relationship with the recruiter, so they don't get 'ghosted.'"

Anonymous #2: "I used to be able to do a lot more work on the weekends. And I think most of us do work hard on weekends. But HR people face the same time pressures—family and life pressures—that everyone else in the industry does. We're not asking for sympathy—everyone in our business works hard—but just some understanding that the limits of resources within agencies and the limits in real life don't always leave [enough time] for great experiences for all people, no matter how much we want otherwise. But we do try every day to make the experience for candidates a really good one." 

Barbara Tejada, Mighty Recruiting: "I hope the article—and even this exercise, that you sent to other recruiters—lets people know that we all really need to be better about respecting each other's time. It's like we were taught in school (or whenever people say this): 'Politeness costs nothing and gains everything.' If someone wants to reach out to me to see if I have anything for them, great. Shoot me a quick note and include your portfolio. Love getting updates on portfolios and work and awards won, etc. But if a recruiter doesn't have anything for you after a few months of checking in, give it a break for a bit. Some breathing room. Reaching out once a month for a year is a lot. Especially if that recruiter never seems to have anything for you. A lot of it is timing. I get it. But don't keep knocking on the same door if you are not getting an answer. And above all, don't get frustrated! A job search is a job in itself." 

Anonymous #4: "I think you and I have been fortunate enough to grow up in this business when headhunter/candidate and headhunter/agency recruiter relationships were personal. When you either met a candidate or spoke to them frequently on the phone. When you knew their goals, when you can guide their career, and when you knew the names of their spouse and kids. When you didn't have dozens or even 100 emails to respond to in a day." 

Anonymous #3: "My advice for creatives would be: Make sure that you produce at least one project per year that you are really proud of. And if you can't get this through your full-time employer, then pick up some freelance/pro-bono work. Keep current on technologies/software. If you don't know how to use a particular program, learn. Take classes, tutorials, etc. Don't get left behind by being out of date. Establish/maintain outside creative projects. Paint murals, develop video games, play in bands, do standup comedy. Creative directors love seeing extracurricular activities, as this keeps you growing and bringing in new creative influences and perspectives. And on LinkedIn, if you are looking for an ACD-level or higher position, have a photo of yourself that you would want your clients to see. By all means, don't look like you work on Wall Street, but goofy photos are not a big confidence builder." 

Lauren Ranke, W+K: "The job search is a private hell, and recruiters are the ones positioned to act as guides through it. I do think many recruiters aren't stepping up to the guide role of the job, as it's not emphasized enough. Bigger picture: The world needs to be more forgiving and less 'blamey,' full stop. The industry would do well by clarifying what actually qualifies as ghosting, and stop using it as a rally cry used too widely. If ghosting literally means dropping the ball on communication midstream, I do think it's messed up when recruiters do that." 

Thank you to all these pros for taking the time to share their thoughts, opinions, useful advice ... and yes, tough love. I hope every reader understands how much of a limb each of them went out on to try and clarify "ghosting" for us. Because recruiting is all about relationships—with their agency clients, with us candidates, etc.—and even well-intentioned honesty can be taken the wrong way. 

I hope that, a) we can all take their input in the non-ghostly spirit in which it's intended—to help everyone. Candidates. Agencies. Fellow recruiters. And b), I hope, in its small way, this piece leads to a little more positive, productive dialogue and success for all involved. We have enough vitriol and divisiveness in society already. There's no need for the tangential rage, personal attacks and tantrum-throwing I've seen and heard lately—mean-spirited posts that point fingers and "name names" and generally move us backward to Druid times, not forward.

Bottom line, trying to cross those not-so-blurry lines between the world of the dead (unemployed/unhappily employed) and the living (happily employed) without the help of our best, most dedicated, experienced, overloaded but well-meaning recruiters?

Now that would be a horror story.

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Mark St. Amant
Mark St. Amant is a freelance executive creative director/creative director/copywriter and author based in Boulder, Colo. All his work and info is conveniently housed at

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