Should you be scared of the ghost job trend?

Jun 12, 2024

5 mins

Should you be scared of the ghost job trend?
Sophia Constantino

Freelance writer

Job seekers browsing online job boards can find a host of seemingly open positions, from entry-level to senior roles. However, for some, after taking the time to apply, submitting a resume, updating their cover letter, and answering application questions, there’s a chance they will never hear back from the hiring manager.

It seems that alongside a rather bleak job market with increased layoffs and budget cuts, there is a troubling trend on the rise - that of ghost job postings, the practice of hiring managers advertising positions that are not actually open.

Unsurprisingly, job seekers are becoming frustrated by the growing number of fake job listings muddying the already murky waters of the job market. Ghost posting only elongates the job search process, which is grueling enough as is. If that weren’t enough, applicants are also becoming wary of data fishing schemes as they hesitate to hand over their personal information for application after application.

Understanding the disconnect

After the pandemic-era Great Resignation, in which many workers left their positions to take care of their families, start their own businesses, or retire early, there was a swell of job vacancies that made dream jobs seem ripe for the picking. Today, that’s no longer the case as the number of job seekers continues to rise, seemingly beyond the demand for new talent.

The Job Openings and Labor Market Turnover Survey (JOLTS), a report detailing U.S. employment and unemployment rates, hirings, resignations, and layoffs, was first issued to the public in 2002. It has gained prominence over the years following the pandemic, showing inflated ratios between unemployment and open positions. As of August 2023, the unemployment rate has been hovering around 3.8%. However, in April 2024, the total number of available jobs hit 8.1 million, as unemployment crept up to 4% percent (or 6.6 million people). In other words, if every unemployed person were to be hired, there would still be 1.5 million open positions. Sounds great, right?

Still, even with a seemingly ample amount of “open” positions, those job seekers have expressed frustration over the lack of response from hiring managers after they apply. If there are qualified job seekers to fill the open positions, where is the disconnect? One study found that the percentage of hires per job posting dropped to about 50% in 2023, meaning that only half of posted job openings actually get filled.

Why are recruiters posting fake openings?

One recent report surveyed over 1,000 managers involved in the hiring process to find out why so many open positions were not being filled. They found that 68% of managers had job postings active for more than 30 days, with 10% of managers having had a job posting open for over 6 months.

Although forgetting to take down a listing once a position has been filled could explain a few inactive posts here and there, only 27% of hiring managers reported this as a reason, leaving plenty of other motivations that could be contributing to this trend. So, why on earth would someone advertise a job that they aren’t actually hiring for?

  • Resume pooling
    Over one-third of those interviewed admitted that their motivation involved wanting to have an active pool of candidates in case of turnover. In a digital-first era, it’s now much easier for a company to gather a bank of resumes through an online advertisement for a position.

  • Employee motivation
    Perhaps the most sinister motive, keeping current employees motivated during budget cuts and layoffs was another common reason, with many saying it was done to placate overworked employees with no real intention of hiring someone to support them.

  • Self-advertisement
    A large percentage also cited that self-advertisement was behind the decision. In other words, an attempt to make it appear as though the company was growing, either to its competitors or prospective hires.

  • Data collection
    Others have speculated that some unscrupulous organizations are using fake job listings to collect personal information from applicants, which can then be used for identity theft, phishing, and other fraudulent activities.

All of this spells out frustration and anger for job seekers as reports of being ghosted by a recruiter after an interview have increased by 120% over the past 5 years. The reality is that many employers have become more lax with their hiring and interview etiquette, as less and less common courtesy seems to be paid to applicants putting in a great deal of time and energy into a process that rarely gives them anything back. Coupled with a tight labor market and increased economic uncertainty, ghost jobs are yet another unnecessary hurdle for job seekers to overcome.

How to spot a ghost post

Luckily, there are several ways to determine if a job posting might not be active. Michael Ryan, a leadership coach and managing consultant says to keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

  • The neverending hiring spree
    “Companies constantly listing openings but never filling them? That’s a red flag. It suggests they’re more interested in looking busy than actually building a team.” Watch out for company pages with a suspiciously large number of openings, as well as specific listings that you see popping up for months on end.

  • A vague job description
    Job descriptions that lack details about the company, the role itself, or the hiring process are suspect. If they’re being secretive, it’s probably because they have something to hide.”

  • Impossible requirements
    “Job postings with ridiculously high qualifications or unrealistic expectations are a dead giveaway. It’s a way to deter qualified candidates while making it seem like they’re conducting a super competitive search.”

  • The application abyss
    “Submitting applications and getting nothing back, especially after applying to multiple positions at the same company, is a strong indicator of a ghost job. Don’t waste your energy.” It sucks to realize that you’re being ghosted, but don’t spend anymore valuable time on a company that isn’t reactive.

What can job hunters do?

As someone who suspects he has been the victim of a ghost job posting, Ryan says that although this kind of experience makes job seekers feel like they aren’t valued candidates, instead of getting discouraged, they need to be more selective in their search. “We need to leverage our networks, target our searches, and become more discerning about the opportunities we pursue.” He says that although traditional job boards have become inundated with posts advertising ghost positions, there are plenty of other ways to search for and ultimately land a job.

  • Use your network
    “Building a network and connecting with people at industry events and online communities opens doors to hidden opportunities, cutting through the noise of unreliable job boards.”

  • Reach out directly
    “Direct outreach can be powerful too. Don’t wait to be found – reach out to companies that excite you! Send emails, connect on social media, or even request informational interviews. Show them you’re a real person with real skills, not just another resume lost in the digital void.”

  • Look elsewhere
    “Niche job boards and industry-specific platforms are your allies. They offer a more targeted search, reducing the chances of encountering ghost jobs. Joining relevant professional associations also unlocks exclusive job boards and networking events within your field.”

The job hunt can be exhausting at best, and discouraging at worst, and the frustrating trend of ghost jobs can make a difficult job market seem impossible to crack. Still, it’s important to remember that poor communication or nefarious motives from a recruiter aren’t a reflection of your worth. Knowing how to spot and avoid ghost jobs can help you narrow down your search and focus your efforts on the companies that actually want to hire you; because they are still out there!

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