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Ghost jobs explained: Everything you need to know

Companies leave job postings open after hiring or create listings with no intention to hire. Known as ghost jobs, companies use these postings to gauge the talent pool.

Many job seekers are applying to jobs that never seem to get filled or have been posted for months. These postings are known as ghost jobs.

Despite layoffs, the job market is still red hot in some areas. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 3.7% in August 2022. Still, qualified candidates are applying to jobs and not hearing back.

While ghost jobs are posted online, they don't really exist -- which might explain why qualified candidates aren't hearing back from companies.

What are ghost jobs?

Companies post ghost jobs with little or no intention to fill them. These "open jobs" might be posted early for an upcoming position not currently available, or not exist at all. Postings might also stay listed after someone was already hired for that position.

The rise of people quitting during the pandemic -- known as the Great Resignation -- and its economic uncertainty might have increased the number of ghost jobs, according to a Harvard Business School study, and this might be due to companies being unsure of the future and hiring new people. And many companies with hiring freezes still have job postings listed.

Sixty-eight percent of managers had open job postings listed for more than 30 days. And one in five of these managers have no plans to fill them in the near future, according to a survey by Clarify Capital.

Why do employers post ghost jobs?

Around 50% of hiring managers said they leave job postings active because they are always interested in finding potential employees, according to the Clarify Capital survey. Moreover, this survey found that 43% of the same group left listings open to give the impression that the company is growing and stable during uncertain economic times.

Some positions may be considered evergreen -- meaning companies have some opportunities to hire if the right applicant comes along. Companies also keep resumes on file to have a pool of candidates should an employee leave or have a new position open.

In a sense, posting ghost jobs is a method of recruiting new employees and isn't really a new practice. Businesses can also use ghost job postings to gauge the potential talent pool, so they can determine how easy it is to replace an employee. Moreover, these postings can help determine if the salary is right based on the number of applicants.

Learn more about talent acquisition strategies.

How to avoid applying to ghost jobs

To avoid applying to ghost jobs, use job search platforms that indicate the initial job posting date. Jobs posted longer have the highest potential to be ghost jobs. For example, a job posted within the past 24 hours is less likely to be a ghost job compared to one posted a few months ago.

Job seekers can sort by posting date on most online posting sites such as LinkedIn, Indeed and Glassdoor, moving older listings to the bottom of the search. Look for postings that are live in the past month. For older posts, search the company's website to see if those jobs are still listed on their site.

Also check out the company's LinkedIn profile to look for any potential connections. Send a short and respectful message to ask them about the position. Let them know of interest in this position and ask about the company.

How ghost jobs affect a brand

Ghost jobs can have a negative effect on the hiring process and discourage applicants. If several old postings are listed, here are examples of how they can affect a brand:

  • Job seekers might not get a good impression from the company and might not apply.
  • Employee referrals might decrease because employees might be embarrassed by the company's lack of response.
  • The best candidates might not apply for an active position down the road if a company didn't previously contact them.
  • A job applicant might be upset when not hearing back about a job and choose to not do business with this company or tell others about the negative experience. However, applicants are twice as likely to be customers after a positive candidate experience -- whether they got the job or not, according to an IBM report.

Learn more about the best practices for a positive candidate experience.

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