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What is Ghost Recruiting: It’s Not What You Think!

Date Published: June 16, 2022 | Last Updated:September 15, 2023 | By Accurate Background
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There’s been a lot of coverage and chatter lately about “ghosting” during the hiring process—by both recruiters and job candidates. In an employee market, like we’re in now, employees have lots of options, lots of offers and may not feel the need to maintain contact with employers who are wooing them.

But there’s another type of ghosting that recruiters are leveraging to find top talent in a tight market—low-key, behind-the-scenes, reach out to passive candidates.

Ghost recruiting is the idea of using internal or external recruiters to proactively fill positions. Businesses aren’t actually posting all of their open positions on job boards anymore. This is especially true for higher level and tough-to-fill positions.

And, say some, it’s really nothing new.

A New Twist on a Time-Tested Approach

Theresa Balsiger is VP and recruiting consultant at Carex Consulting Group, a staffing firm that places talent in all industries, but specializes in healthtech, insurance, and startups. With ghost recruiting, recruiters seek passive candidates, says Balsiger. “Recruiting occurs in a more intentional way, with recruiters reaching out to potential candidates—based on their background and skill set—and engaging them in a conversation.” In these situations, she says, they’re often not targeting individuals who are searching for jobs, but those who have the background and skills they’re looking for.

Patricia Lenkov, a New York City-based executive recruiter with 25 years of experience, says she has always practiced “ghost recruiting,” although she adds—“we in the industry have historically never referred to it in this way.” Searches for senior executives, she says, are often done through retained executive recruiters. “We work on behalf of the hiring company to identify qualified candidates without ever posting anything online.”

Business owner Teri Shern, co-founder of Conex Boxes, agrees. Ghost recruiting, Shern says, isn’t so much an emerging trend as it is an emerging term. “Ghost recruiting is essentially headhunting—something which has been around for a very long time.” In fact, Shern shares: “We recently recruited an individually through this method to head up the management of our warehouse.”

In Lenkov’s case, she says, “I typically use LinkedIn as well as other proprietary databases and my own network to identify target prospects. I then reach out to them and try to have a conversation about the opportunity I’m working on.” These types of opportunities are not posted online because, Lenkov says, “we are hired for our ability to proactively target the best candidates rather than reactively respond to those who send their information in response to a posting.”

In a digital world, the ability to find passive candidates is obviously far more straight-forward than it was before channels like LinkedIn emerged. The ghost approach offers some compelling benefits for recruiters.

Benefits of Taking the Ghost Approach

Erik Hansen is a management consultant at the Right People Group, a London-based IT recruiter. With ghost recruiting, says Hansen, “rather than posting all of their open positions on job boards, recruiters are now actively reaching out to candidates they fine online.” Instead of waiting for candidates to come to them, “they can actively seek out the best and brightest talent,” he says. The result: “A better overall pool of candidates—and, ultimately, a better hire.”

“Advertising roles on a job board can be expensive and time-consuming,” Balsiger says. In addition, she notes that: “Many times, hundreds of candidates apply to the job post and few, if any, are qualified.” It’s faster and more effective, she says, to “hand select those candidates that you think would be a strong fit for an opening, rather than relying on a job ad.”

Taking the “stealth” route, Balsiger says, “also allows recruiters to talk with candidates that aren’t active job seekers.”

There are, though, some potential downfalls.

The Downfalls to Being a Ghost Recruiter

Taking the ghost approach, says Balsiger, might not help you find what you’re looking for, “or it may take hundreds of messages to find one candidate who is open to considering a new job.”

The time and effort required for taking a ghost approach is why it’s an approach generally used for high-level or hard-to-find talent.

In addition, Hansen says, “ghost recruiting can sometimes come across as creepy or intrusive.” For people not expecting to be contacted by a recruiter, he says, “it can be jarring—especially if they do it in a way that feels like they’re stalking you.”

Best Practices

When taking this approach, Balsiger recommends building a pool of similar profiles that you can seek referrals from. She doesn’t recommend mass messaging or spamming people. Instead, she says, “make outreach personal and custom tailored to the recipient.”

Finally, Hansen says, “don’t be afraid to let candidates know that you found them through ghost recruiting.” Being upfront, he says, “can help build trust and rapport from the outset.”

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