You Could Be Applying to ‘Ghost Jobs,’ Some Companies Don’t Plan to Hire

  • The number of vacancies has been sky-high over the past year in the red-hot job market.
  • However, some job seekers are still striking, especially as the economy faces headwinds.
  • This could be because some companies advertise “ghost jobs” that they aren’t actually hiring for.

Having applied for more than 300 jobs in the past six months without a single bite, Will no longer bothers reading job descriptions or researching companies.

It’s just a waste of time at this point, said Will, whose real name is being kept secret but is known to insiders.

He spends six to 10 hours a day on LinkedIn writing resumes, but says he and his peers with similar qualifications — masters degrees and MBAs from top schools — have had no luck getting interviews.

“I see all these articles about how companies can’t hire people fast enough and how there are all these job openings,” said Will, who is aspiring to a consultant role. “But I also look at my own personal experience and I see other highly qualified candidates not getting interviews or not getting jobs, and I’m like, ‘Something’s wrong with the system.'”

It’s a conundrum in this remarkably tight job market. While many employers cannot find enough workers, some qualified candidates apply for open positions and receive no response.

The fact that applicants are occasionally ghosted by employers is of course nothing new. Recently, however, the question has been raised as to whether a company’s job listings actually reflect vacancies or are instead “ghost jobs” — lists that employers are no longer actively hiring or recruiting for.

According to a recent survey of around 1,000 hiring managers conducted by Clarify Capital, a boutique lending company, 40% of managers have a job opening open for more than two to three months; one in five managers said they do not plan to fill their current vacancies until 2023; and half of managers said they keep job postings up because they’re “always open to new people,” even when they’re not actively recruiting.

“We have over 150 million people working in the US economy,” Kathryn Edwards, an economist at RAND Corporation, told Insider about the big resignation. “What can be true is true of at least one person. Having so many workers means you can have two true stories that are completely opposite and it makes perfect sense that they both appear in our job market.”

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Some researchers say that “vacancies” may mean something different today than they used to, and that companies routinely adapt to the forces in the economy and their industries by increasing and decreasing the intensity with which they recruit. Meanwhile, others have speculated that companies are now advertising vacancies but are making no effort to fill them, perhaps due to uncertainties surrounding the economy. But at a time when many workers, emboldened by the apparent strength of the job market, are still quitting their jobs at high rates, the phenomenon of ghost jobs underscores the notion that employers still have the upper hand.

“periwinkle” posts in an uncertain environment

There are many reasons companies post open positions with seemingly low urgency, recruiters say. Sometimes they want to give the impression that the company is growing – but in an inflationary economy, growth is expensive, so they hedge.

Sometimes they leave open lists of dreams that the perfect unicorn candidate might apply. In other cases, they may post jobs to soothe their weary employees and demonstrate that at least they are to attempt hire more helpers.

There are also some jobs that are in such high demand — think: mobile developers and software engineers — that employers might leave vacancies open in hopes that someone, anyone, will apply.

Allyn Bailey, a former recruiting strategy executive at Intel and now a director at Smart Recruiters, a talent search and hiring platform, said companies are more frequently posting “evergreen job postings” — lists of jobs they theoretically always need, even if you do don’t have the budget to hire. “That way, they have a pipeline that they can leverage when they’re ready,” she said.

Candidates don’t know that, of course. They apply in good faith, unaware of this strategy, and when the company finally called her, she said, “The talent is either not interested, has changed, or is upset.”

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Some recruiters say ghost jobs are on the rise due to the heightened level of uncertainty that has persisted over the past two and a half years. With ongoing labor shortages and high turnover, they can no longer accurately predict candidate behavior and progression. That, combined with a slowing economy, has created an air of hesitancy.

“The companies I speak to are struggling with how they think about how to do strategic work because the contours of their business are changing rapidly,” said Pat Pettiti, CEO of Catalant, the online platform that provides independent consultants for projects of large companies.

“They don’t understand who or what they need, so they hesitate when it comes to hiring.”

Additionally, fears of an impending recession have made them reluctant to get involved. “That’s why some managers think, ‘My boss told me to hire someone, but do I have to fire them in three months?'”

William Stonehouse, president of Crawford Thomas Recruiting, the Orlando-based staffing firm that matches job seekers with Fortune 1000 companies, said he often coaches employers on the dangers of publicizing ghost jobs.

“Many companies don’t understand the impact a negative hiring process can have on prospective applicants,” he said. “If your job postings are a graveyard of old jobs and candidates are uploading resumes into a resume black hole, it doesn’t set a good tone. People want to be treated with dignity and respect.”

“There are too many vacancies”

Andrew Flowers, labor economist at Appcast, the recruiting technology company, expressed skepticism that “ghost jobs” were a widespread problem. “Some employers are certainly fishing — they have a job offer but don’t plan on hiring — but I think that’s a small minority of employers,” he said in an email interview with Insider.

Flowers pointed out that the overall employment rate, the ratio of hiring to vacancies each month, remains very low, reflecting the tight labor market. Meanwhile, other economic research shows that recruitment intensity is less important to the job search and matching process than factors such as candidate skills and quality and the macroeconomic environment.

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“It seems plausible that the number of job openings overestimates the level of active recruitment, perhaps even more so than in the past,” he said. “But it’s also very clear that there are a lot of vacancies right now.”

When employers began grumbling about a labor shortage, Erica Groshen, a senior economics advisor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and a former commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was a little suspicious of the high number of vacancies. But as she watched wages soar and job turnover soared, she was enthralled by the phenomenon of real hiring.

Still, “the advent of the internet means that job applications are a lot easier,” Groshen told Insider.

“You can apply for so many more jobs, which then means companies have to sort through so many applications — a lot more than ever before — which means they use algorithms to do that sorting,” Groshen said. “These algorithms are going to be pretty crude.”

The number of vacancies and the ease of applying are cold consolations to Will, who still searches for jobs day in and day out. For job seekers like him, who come with degrees and specific qualifications, the reality may have to be to give up those ghost jobs altogether and seek inferior partners. After all, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, about a third of college graduates are underemployed, which means they’re in positions that don’t typically require a degree.

That’s because workers, even when they’re in a red-hot job market, still don’t have the upper hand when it comes to work. Because workers in the US ultimately need a job to eat, pay for their home, and have health insurance, employers have so-called monopsony power, allowing them to dictate wages, working conditions, and hours — and allowing them to buy jobs to publish that they might never have had the right candidates fill in or accidentally filter out.

“There are too many vacancies,” he said. And the “websites – some of them are just broken and some of them just don’t work. It’s almost comical.”

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