One terrible thing that happens in professional circles is “ghosting” — failing to reply to someone after an exploratory conversation. It’s rude after a date, but inexcusable after an interview. Let’s talk about who deserves a reply and what kind of reply you owe them — or don’t.
Who deserves a reply? Not everybody.
If you’re in sales, I’ve got bad news. Nobody owes you a response to your unsolicited email or phone call. (You already knew that, but despite the pledge I’m about to describe, I’m not promising to respond to you, and nobody else is, either.)
Here’s who doesn’t deserve a follow-up call or email:
- People who send generic pitches.
- People who send unsolicited pitches, even if personalized.
- People who you’ve already told you’re not interested.
- Anyone who makes a call that wasn’t mutually scheduled.
- Anyone who uses LinkedIn, Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, TikTok, or any other channel at all to contact you without an invitation.
“You really ought to look at . . . ” — No reply needed.
“I know you said no, but I’d like to understand your reasons . . . ” — Nope.
“I know you don’t know me, but I hope you’d consider looking at my resume/PowerPoint/280-page manuscript/drawing of your mother’s house.” — Don’t owe you a thing.
“I contacted you last week, so I’m bumping this back up to the top of your inbox . . . ” — Nope. Nope. Nuh-uh. No way.
“I have an opportunity for you to gain a broader exposure for . . . ” — Are you crazy! Just go hide in a hole, please.
So who does deserve a response? People you’ve had a conversation with.
How to say no, or at least, not right now
We connected. We set up an exploratory call and discussed what I do. Or maybe, you had me in for an interview. Now you’re deciding if we’re going to work together (or at least, that’s how it appears to me). Do you owe me a call?
Kicking the tires and then ghosting somebody is just rude. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Gen Z who’s afraid of conversation or a Baby Boomer who’s hiring an assistant. If you agreed to talk to someone, you owe them an answer.
That’s why I want everyone reading this to take the “No Ghosting” pledge for 2020. I’ll help you out right now with some responses you can use.
Why is ghosting rude? It’s my experience that the person potentially being hired or contracted with or providing a product or being asked to review something takes the time in the call to provide actual value, as a sort of audition. We give free samples of personalized advice. The objective is to say “This is what it would it be like to work with me.” That’s work for us, but most of us contribute it gladly. Holding back on good advice is just not in our natures.
After you speak with us, you may decide to work with us (in which case, hurrah!, let’s talk scope of work and price). Or you may decide we’re not right, we are too expensive, or somebody else is a better choice. Or you may just not be ready to decide right now.
Really. Don’t make us beg. And don’t just send a perfunctory “nice” note either. Tell us why.
Here’s a little table that help you know how to reply with rejections that would actually be useful.
You know what? It’s a pain in the ass to actually respond. It’s a lot easier to do nothing. But after I put in the time to do a call with you, you owe me a response. If you ghost me — even after I hound you for an answer — you’re disrespecting me. Word gets around. People will know you’re an ass.
The “nice” responses seem easier to give. But as a freelancer, I don’t get hundreds of opportunities to pitch. I only get a few, so I’d like to learn from each one. I’d be very grateful to get one of the more useful responses. I want to know what you think of my pricing, whether I lack skills, or whether your boss just said no. You might think the “nice” responses are more polite, but trust me, all of us freelancers would much rather have the honest responses.
There’s a reason you don’t send these substantive responses. It’s because you’re afraid of getting into an ugly conversation with someone you rejected. That’s why we have a responsibility, too.
How to respond to a rejection
The person you pitched owes you a response. They don’t owe you much more than that. They gave you an answer.
The correct response to a rejection is something like this:
Thank you for considering me. I think your project is on a great path, and I hope you succeed. If you have work that’s better suited to my skills in the future, or you know someone who might need that kind of help, feel free to refer them to me.”
If I’m too expensive, I always offer an alternative with a note like this:
I’m sorry I’m out of your price range. Would you like recommendations for people I know who can do this work well, but more inexpensively than me?
That often creates both a grateful potential future client and a professional friend who owes me one.
Here are some bad responses to a rejection (and they are the reason people are afraid to be honest):
You’re making a big mistake. I hope you’ll reconsider. I actually came off badly in the interview . . . I’m much better than it appeared. . . .
I’ll cut my price.
Can we please have a further discussion about what you didn’t like about me and why you think this was a bad fit?
Who did you end up choosing?
Please answer this survey about your experience with me and the reasons you rejected me.
Here’s the deal. You tell me that I didn’t get the work, and why. I’ll thank you graciously and go away until you tell me you need me again.
Just don’t ghost me, because after our conversation, I deserve just one thing: an answer.
Are you with me? Will you take the “No ghosting” pledge for 2020?