Professional Ghosting

by Lauryn Polo

If you date in the digital age, chances are you’ve gotten ghosted. Maybe you have done the disappearing yourself, finding it better just to avoid the whole situation rather than create conflict. Ghosting, unfortunately, is one of the most common ways to break up. We do this because we don’t put labels on relationships, so why would we owe them an explanation as to why we are rejecting them?

But, I’ve found that it isn’t only in dating that I have found ghosting in the digital age.

More and more employers are asking for applications online. Unlike in previous generations when we would either physically send in our resumes, or apply in person. So now, after we hit that send button, silence occurs. And this silence sounds a lot like the same kind of silence one might hear in dating.

Rejection. Yeah, I know the word rejection just makes your skin crawl a little bit—just thinking about all the times in which you gotten dumped, or not picked for a team, or gotten neglected in some way. No one likes it. No one thrives on rejection.

But we need it. I know how insane that sounds-- just hear me out.

Recently, I applied for a fellowship that was my dream fellowship—it paid pretty well, it was in New York, it was with a cool and edgy website that I had loved since college. When I first heard about the fellowship, I sat at my laptop, about to apply, looking over the essay questions, wondering if I was even good enough. Each word I typed didn’t seem as cool and edgy as I wanted it to be. I sent my application answers to friends to make sure it was as good as it could be, much like I would if I were crafting a text message to a crush. I wondered if this fellowship was too good for me. But I submitted my application early, and you would think that would be the end of it.

But the real anxiety started when the silence did.

Of course, they weren’t going to get back to me right away—I had applied well before their deadline. But I stopped looking for other jobs and opportunities while I was waiting to hear something.

It was like being in the longest waiting room at a mechanic. I mean, you’re hoping for good news, but in the back of your mind you kind of know already that something is up if you’re waiting this long. Why aren’t they calling?

I gave my number and email, even my address for snail mail. And I checked every form of communication, and still nothing. This is about the time when self-doubt pulls up a seat and reminds you of every dumb thing you have ever done in your life leading up to this silence.

They never sent an email.

Something weird happens in the silence, those of us who used to be strong, confident people, have now become something else.

No, instead I received a message on my Submittable account. Just one sentence saying, "Sorry, the competition was steep this year."

And while it was far from personal, and far from the outcome I wanted, I was one of the lucky ones. They didn’t keep me on their professional hook. That sentence, while it stung immensely, it allowed me to start really searching for something else. It allowed me to get back to my life because while rejection really sucks, the silent rejection is so much worse.

In the past five months, I’ve applied for at least twenty-seven jobs, and of those, I have heard back from five. To make matters even murkier, I’ve been submitting pages and pages of writing to various websites, literary magazines, print magazines, and just about every other form of communications a writer can send to—about twenty articles total. Of those, I’ve only heard back from six.

The silence that comes from professional ghosting is so much thicker than that of the dating world; it gets to the point where there is nothing but silence.

That closure we as human beings so longingly crave doesn’t often come to us in the professional world. When our applications are electronically submitted, automated emails are sent out telling us they received our materials, but that due to the sheer volume, they might not be able to get back to us. And when we submit our articles, they give us a timeline of when we might hear back, but they definitely don’t tell us why it is they aren’t accepting our pieces. Just a generic statement that boils down to, we don’t want this, but thanks for trying.

Something weird happens in the silence, those of us who used to be strong, confident people, have now become something else.

Before I seriously looked into jobs or places to submit my articles, I was a pretty confident young adult. I went to a college I couldn’t afford because I knew I would get a good job after graduation, and would be able to pay off my debt. Before this I was writing so confidently, knowing that it was the best words that had ever come from my fingertips. I was self-assured; I knew who I was and what I was about. And now, it’s like I’ve regressed into this being that has the confidence of a fifteen-year-old with braces and frizzy hair, but the body of a full grown adult.

So how do you get that confidence back?
Someone once told me that you only need one yes. There will be thousands of no’s, but that doesn’t matter because it’s just one yes that can change it all. And while the silent no’s sting the worst, we just have to leave them behind us, and keep looking forward to the possibility of a yes because it has to be somewhere, right? If you simply give up, then all those rejections were for nothing. You’re letting the ghosts win.

So while I’m still waiting to hear back from these job applications, and dozens of articles submitted, I’m not letting them stop me from applying to more. What would you tell your friend who just got ghosted from an online relationship? Just move on; their loss. The same advice applies when it comes to your career. Move on.