Career advice

What's behind the current rise in 'ghost jobs,' and how can you avoid them?

As we roll into the second half of October and spooky season approaches, an unnerving trend is appearing on the job market: ghost jobs.

These are posted advertisements for positions that never seem to be filled, for which no candidates are actually hired. How does it happen that as employers struggle to find enough workers during a labour shortage, qualified candidates are applying to jobs and never receiving any response?

The reason is often 'ghost jobs.' These are jobs advertised by companies that they have no intention of filling – at least not right now. There are several explanations for why this phenomenon occurs. Here is a look at what is behind the trend of ghost jobs and how you can spot one to avoid wasting your time.

What is causing the rise in ghost jobs?

Why would a company bother writing up a job description and posting a want ad online if they aren't actually planning to hire a new employee? It seems like this practice would be as much of a waste of time and resources for the organization as for the job seeker.

Hiring freezes. Uncertainty in the market often causes companies to rethink their strategies. Plans to increase staff and launch new projects may be put on hold. Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing talk of a potential recession looming have many organizations feeling cautious. This can lead to upper management calling for a pause on all new hiring until further notice.

Jobs advertised before the freeze may remain online until the posting expires or someone manually takes them down. Despite these live want ads, no one on the hiring side is actively reviewing applications or following up with candidates. Sometimes companies will deliberately leave these job postings active in the hope that the hiring freeze will be lifted shortly and there will be a substantial pool of qualified candidates to sort through when the time comes.

Perennial positions. Companies will sometimes leave job postings active indefinitely for certain positions that are hard to fill or for which they have an almost constant need. For example, some service industry and customer service roles have such a high turnover rate that an employer may find it easiest to simply advertise for replacements constantly. This doesn't mean that they are actively hiring at any given moment that a job seeker may see the ad online.

The same may happen for in-demand positions that are challenging to recruit for. Knowing that there are a limited number of candidates available for these roles, employers may advertise constantly to generate a pool of applicants to choose from when the time to hire comes. In the meantime, those candidates may be left wondering why they are not getting a response to their application for such a hot role.

A recent survey of employers found that half (50 percent) of participants will leave a job posting active, even if they are not currently hiring, because their firm is "always open to new people."

Token postings. Often when a hiring manager wants to ad a new member to their team, they already have a candidate in mind. This could be a personal connection or an internal referral. Many companies have hiring policies that dictate that new opportunities be open to the public to ensure fairness in the recruiting process and that the best candidate for the role is selected. In these cases, the job can be advertised, but very little – if any – attention may be given to the applications, because the hiring manager had their chosen hire in mind from the outset.

To give the impression they are hiring. The employer survey on the causes of ghost jobs found another, more surprising, reason companies might post ads for jobs they do not intend to hire for any time soon. Posting ghost jobs makes it seem like the company is growing their staff – even if they aren't. There are several reasons why an organization might want to create that impression. It can send the message to potential clients and investors that the company is growing and business is booming. This can be a powerful message to communicate in uncertain times.

Fake postings can also placate overworked staff. Employees who have been asked to put in overtime and take on more work during lean times may be encouraged by the job postings indicating that more help will soon be hired.

Sometimes ghost jobs are simply a result of a disconnect between what candidates and employers think of active hiring. For example, 96 percent of the employers surveyed said that they are currently trying to fill an open position fast. However, 20 percent of these don't actually plan to hire someone until 2023. Candidates applying for jobs generally hope to hear from the employer within a few days or a week. Three months of silence is ghosting.

Less interestingly, 27 percent of ghost jobs posted online are simply a result of the employer forgetting to delete the advertisement after the role has been filled or cancelled.

How to spot a ghost job

One of the key indicators of a ghost job is how long it has been posted online. When you are looking for opportunities, check the posting date. Jobs posted in the past few days – or a few weeks at most – are far more likely to be actively hiring. When a job ad is a month or more old, it has likely been already filled or is a ghost job left online with no one actively trying to fill it.

If during your job hunt you see the same job for the same firm posted repeatedly, that can also be a red flag. Even if the job ad is recent, the fact that it keeps being reposted could indicate that the company has a very rapid turnover rate and new hires don't stay in the role. It could also be a sign that they are resume farming – simply collecting information on potential candidates but not hiring any of them.

Check the company's website and social media profiles to look for indications that they are actively hiring. See if anyone in your extended network has experience with the organization. Having inside information – or better yet, a referral – can increase your chances of being hired. Steering clear of ghost jobs can help your job search by avoiding the time wasted on applying for positions that aren't actively being filled. Applying for inactive jobs can also hurt your self-confidence by making it seem like your resume doesn't even warrant a response from potential employers.

Don't let ghost jobs crush your spirit. Target fresh, active job postings. We have thousands live on right now.

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