people waiting for job interviews
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Ghosts are real. They look less like Casper or Moaning Myrtle and more like romantic interests who disappear without so much as a call or a text. Or, in the context of this being an article on a career platform, they look like employers who post jobs and never respond to your application.

And increasingly, they look like applicants who all of a sudden stop responding to a recruiter or hiring manager midway through the interview process—or even after they’ve accepted an offer.

“Candidates agree to job interviews and fail to show up, never saying more. Some accept jobs, only to not appear for the first day of work, no reason given, of course,” writes Chip Cutter, in a LinkedIn article about ghosting.

If you’re currently job searching, this idea’s probably unfathomable to you.

But picture this: You’re hearing back about interviews for multiple roles, maybe even raking in more than one offer. You’re on top of the world! And riding the waves of a job market currently in your favor (if you’re in certain industries) at a time when unemployment has hit record lows.

It’s a good feeling to be in demand, right? You’ve got options now, so no big deal if you drop one by the wayside, right? Wrong. As justified as you may feel considering how badly you’ve been treated as a candidate in the past, it’s only going to hurt you down the line.

“It’s always in your best interest to send a response,” says Lauren Roberts, The Muse’s Director of Talent Acquisition. “We’re exploring candidates as much as you’re exploring opportunities. Not everyone’s going to be the right fit,” she says. “It’s not personal but at the same time it should be human.”

So, she explains, do people the courtesy of letting them know. “The further along you go” in the hiring process—and therefore the more time and investment both sides have put in—“the worse it is if you disappear,” Roberts says. If you ghost, the consequences can follow you in your career. You never know whether you’ll want to apply to that company again in a few years or, even if not, where that recruiter or hiring manager will end up working.


What Should I Do if I Want to Drop Out Before an Offer?

The good news is, if you’d like to drop out of a hiring process before receiving an offer, you can almost always get out of it unscathed. And it’ll only take you about five minutes to write an email that’ll leave the bridges unburnt.

Basically, you’ll want one line thanking the person, one line saying that you’re dropping out and explaining why (no need to get too specific if you don’t want to), and one last line leaving the door open for the future.


The Email Template

Dear [Contact’s Name],

Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to be considered for [role] at [company], and for taking the time to get to know me. I’ve realized that this particular opportunity isn’t the right fit for me at this time and have decided to take my search in another direction. However, I hope we can keep in touch and that we might have a chance to work together in the future.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]


What Else Should I Add?

You can add another line about something you liked about the company or team. Think: It was inspiring to see how you lead your team/your vision.

And you can get more specific with the reasoning, especially if you’re writing to a recruiter who might be able to find a better match for you. For example, you could say: I’ve done some soul searching and taken time to think about it, and I’ve realized that a career in [role or type of work] is not for me. What really motivates me is [role or type of work] and I’d like to focus my search in that direction. I hope you’ll keep me in mind.

Or if you’re a manger applying for an individual contributor role, you might come back after an interview and say: I’ve realized that what I really love is people management.

You can keep it to one email with your main point of contact who can then decide how to share the news. If you felt a particular connection or want to make sure to keep in touch with anyone else you met, you can send them a similar note individually. You might just want to add in a line about something you discussed when you spoke—the way you would for a thank you note.


When and Why Should I Send the Email?

Jill Pante, director of the University of Delaware’s Lerner Career Services Center, emphasizes that timing is crucial. As soon as you know for sure that you’d like to drop out, do it. Give the other side as much time as possible to reach out to other candidates or fill an interview slot you’ll no longer need.

If you do communicate and use the opportunity to strengthen your connections, it could end up helping you in the long run. I can’t stress this enough: You’ll never know when you’ll need to reach out to this person or company again.

“When we put out a job opportunity or an internship opportunity and someone doesn’t show up, I remember that student and so does everyone on team,” Pante says of her own experience on the hiring side. “I tend not to give second chances.”


What Should I Do if I Already Got an Offer?

It’s one thing to decline an offer within the window you’re given to consider it (and if that’s your situation, you can turn it down gracefully and without burning bridges, even if someone gave you an “in” or you might want the same job in the future).

But according to LinkedIn’s coverage of the phenomenon, it doesn’t always stop there. Some candidates actually accept offers and fail to show up for their first day. This might be a good moment to remember what Roberts says. The further along you are in the process, the worse it is to disappear. So ghosting after you an offer is the worst situation you could put yourself in.

In this case, there’s not an easy out. Whether another opportunity has come along or something’s happened in your personal life, “it’s going to be super awkward,” Pante says. “When you’re making that decision, you have to assume some of the worst. You could be burning a bridge.”

One person backed out about a day before he was meant to start in order to pursue a different opportunity. Unfortunately for him, it turned out his two contacts were best friends. When one started venting to the other and it came to light that they’d been dealing with the same person, the second company rescinded its offer. He was left with no job at all. That’s an extreme example, she says, but you have to be prepared for the possible consequences.


What Can I Actually Say?

Still, if you’ve given it some serious thought and decided to renege on an offer, it’s still better to say something than to ghost. And Pante urges you not to hide behind an email, but rather to challenge yourself and pick up the phone (but still do follow up with an email spelling out the same points).

She suggests using direct and apologetic language. Try: I know that I’m set to start on [day/date]. Unfortunately, I’ll now have to turn down the job because of a personal matter/because I’ve accepted another position elsewhere. I completely understand what situation puts you in, but I wanted to let you know right away, as soon as I made the decision. Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity.

Just keep in mind that you’re putting them in a difficult spot, and they might not take it well.

“If you upset the wrong person, and that person is very well connected,” Pante says, they may talk about it. “That sort of sticks with you,” she adds. “Long term it can affect your brand and reputation, especially if you do this multiple times. It’s a very small world, especially if you’re concentrating in a specific location and industry; everyone knows everyone.”


In short, you’d surely hate to be ghosted by dates or employers. So don’t ghost them. It’s as easy as that (plus a quick email).