The digital age has brought us all kinds of amazing advancements – social media to connect us with family and friends across the globe, unparalleled access to information online, and more professional and networking opportunities than ever before. However, with every pro living life online can bring, there will always be a correlating con. According to a 2018 study from Pew Research Center, cyberbullying is a real problem online. Fake websites make it harder and harder to decipher what’s real and what’s not, and although platforms like LinkedIn make it easier than ever to find new job opportunities, the anonymity of a digital application or email address also gives employers an excuse to abandon the polite formalities that you would come to expect with a face-to-face interaction. Yeah, I’m talking about ghosting. Today, due to the anonymity that online life gives us and the rise of commitment-free modes of communication like texting and Snapchat, the ability to hide behind a screen or keyboard and forget, for a second, that there’s actually a real person on the other side has become easier than ever before. Ghosting — initiating a conversation with someone only to have them completely ignore you, or worse, appear to begin a relationship only to later vanish without a trace — developed as an easy way to get rid of a potential partner without having to utter the uncomfortable words, “I’m not interested.” In fact, Elle conducted a very small survey that found that almost 50 percent of men and women have experience with ghosting. Having met my husband before Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and all of the other dating apps that started to proliferate in the lives of Millennials everywhere looking for their perfect match, I naively thought that I was immune to the gut-wrenching uncertainty and maddening second-guessing that comes with thinking a conversation is going great, until suddenly, the disappearance of those three little dots makes it abundantly clear that, apparently, it’s not. But the truth is, I’m not immune. None of us are. Although I don’t have my romantic sights set on anyone but my husband, I do dedicate a lot of time and effort into my professional advancement, and in a way, it’s not too dissimilar to dating. I try to make my online presence as attractive as possible. I have LinkedIn alerts set up to notify me of when a new job becomes available that fits certain keywords that I’m interested in. I’m a freelance journalist, which means I pitch article ideas to strangers on the internet on an almost-daily basis. I’m working on getting my first book published, which, again, means that I email literary agents all. the. time. I put myself out there, always looking for that next perfect match. It can be scary, and rejection is abundant. However, despite the fact that rejection is a harsh reality that will always be present when it comes to job hunting, I’ve noticed a disheartening trend over the years, and here it is: more often than not, if a hiring manager or editor or agent changes their mind about me or my work, my follow-up attempts are met with maddening silence. I realized that I get ghosted by potential employers constantly. So, how do you deal with professional ghosting? How do you move forward in a world where it’s easier to hit Delete than to say, “I’m sorry, but we’re not interested?” How do you fight the insecurity that creeps in every time that email you spent hours crafting never gets responded to? Here are five tips that I have adopted to help lessen the blow:
1. Use your down time productively.
There is nothing worse than firing off an email or cover letter you feel good about… then having nothing to do but wait. I imagine it’s a similar feeling to making the first move on Tinder, then staring at your phone and second-guessing everything you just said with every minute that passes without a response. Instead of obsessing and overanalyzing, use the down time between job applications to better yourself and your chances for the next one. Build yourself a website using easy resources like Squarespace or Wix. If you’re an artist, you can showcase your work on an online store or marketplace like Etsy. If you can’t get your articles traditionally published, post them on a site like Medium or start a blog to share your thoughts, crafting your online presence as the expert resource in your industry. Refine your resume, tweak your LinkedIn profile, upload your portfolio on PortfolioBox, learn a new skill, take an online certification course, register for a local networking event, ask a friend with a good camera to update your headshots. Forward progress can always be made, and the good news is, you don’t need anyone else to do it.
2. Work smarter, not harder.
As a first step, make sure you do your research on your cover letter/resume/application/pitch before you send it out, making sure you feel as confident as possible before the silence that follows starts to inevitably wear you down. Customize your resume and cover letters to be applicable to the job you’re applying for, using keywords lifted directly from the job description. Read up on the agent, publication, or company you’re interested in and drop in the titles of a few comparable works they’ve represented, similar articles they’ve published, or things they’ve done recently, helping your query stand out among the noise. Use LinkedIn to determine if you have any mutual connections with the hiring manager and consider asking if that connection can give you the hiring manager’s email address, or at least pass your resume along for you, as opposed to relying on an automated system. Then, once you feel confident that you’re sending out material that is the best it can possibly be to the best person you possibly can, invest in some email tracking software to get a little peek behind the digital curtain. Services like Mailtrack and MixMax let you see when an email you’ve sent was opened, as well as when an attachment is downloaded or a link is clicked. If you fire off an application, enabling these programs will allow you to stop stressing about questions like, “Did it land in Spam?” “Did it get lost in their Inbox?” “Did they even read it?” With email tracking software, you’ll know the second they did. If they click on your email four or five times, maybe they haven’t responded yet because they’re forwarding it around to other colleagues. On the flip side, if they open the email but fail to click on any of the work samples you supplied, chances are, it got trashed. But hey, at least you know.
3. Realize it’s them, not you.
Would you really want to date someone that doesn’t have the decency to communicate openly about how they feel? The same goes for employers. If a hiring manager, agent, editor, or anyone else you’re trying to connect with engages with you in the beginning of the application process, but then abruptly stops responding, it’s safe to assume that they are no longer interested (unless, of course, they’re going through a personal issue that’s prohibiting them from responding). Their silence alone should be a pretty good indicator that they may not be the best manager, and it should also raise questions about the kind of culture that company has. I know from personal experience how badly it stings to know that you’re perfect for a position, then to feel it slip from your fingers without even being given the chance to prove it. However, as hard as it seems, try to consider it a bullet dodged — if this is how they treat their employees, you probably wouldn’t have been happy there in the long run, anyway.
4. Think of it not as a rejection, but a redirection.
This one is cliche, but I promise, it helps. If you come to think of every unanswered email or dismissed application as a rejection, your self-esteem will plummet far and fast. Instead, try to think of the lack of response as a redirection — a subtle nudge to focus your efforts elsewhere. Maybe the redirection will force you to think a little differently about how you can position yourself in the future, or even what kinds of positions you’re interested in in the first place. I am a firm believer that if something doesn’t work out, no matter how frustrating or unfair it may seem, it’s probably for the best. Learn from the experience and try something new next time.
5. Pay it forward.
I believe that the single factor that determines success is somehow both impossibly simple and impossibly hard, and it’s perseverance. There is nothing more difficult than picking yourself up and marching ahead after being rejected — especially if you’re in an industry where rejection is constant! But at the same time, there’s nothing easier, either, because it’s totally within your control. If you want to be successful, simply refuse to give up, and one day, that email will be read, responded to and rewarded. And when it does… don’t forget about this feeling, and remember to be courteous to job seekers who may be emailing you down the road. After all, you know what they say about karma.