That's not a real job opening: Some companies are posting 'ghost jobs' but don't actually plan to hire you — or anyone
- The number of job openings has been sky high over the past year in the red-hot labor market.
- But some job seekers are still striking out, especially as the economy faces headwinds.
After applying to more than 300 jobs in the last six months without a single bite, Will no longer bothers to read job descriptions or research companies.
It's just a waste of time at this point, said Will, whose real name is withheld but known to Insider.
He spends six to 10 hours a day on LinkedIn churning out applications, but says that he and his peers with similar credentials — master's degrees and MBAs from top schools — are having no luck getting interviews.
"I'm seeing all of these articles about how companies cannot recruit people fast enough and how there's all these job openings," said Will, who aims to land a consulting role. "But I'm also seeing my own personal experience and seeing other highly qualified candidates who can't get interviews or can't get jobs and I'm like, 'Something is wrong with the system.'"
It is a puzzle in this remarkably tight labor market. While many employers can't find enough workers, some qualified candidates are applying to open jobs and aren't hearing anything back.
That applicants are, on occasion, ghosted by employers is nothing new, of course. But lately questions have been raised about whether a company's job postings are reflective of actual open positions, or instead "ghost jobs" — listings that employers are no longer actively hiring or recruiting for.
According to a recent survey of roughly 1,000 hiring managers conducted by Clarify Capital, a boutique lending firm, 40% of managers have had a job posting open for over two to three months; one in five managers said they don't plan to fill their current open job positions until 2023; and half of managers said they keep job postings up because they're "always open to new people," even if they're not actively recruiting.
"We have over 150 million people working in the US economy," Kathryn Edwards, an economist at the RAND Corporation, told Insider about the Great Resignation. "Whatever can be true is true for at least one person. Having that many workers means that you can have two true stories that are in absolute conflict, and it totally makes sense that they're both in our labor market."
Some researchers say that "job openings" might mean something different today than it used to, and that companies routinely adjust to forces in the economy and their industries by ramping up and down the intensity with which they recruit. Others, meanwhile, have speculated that companies today are posting jobs but not trying hard to fill them, perhaps due to uncertainties about the economy. But at a time when many workers are still quitting their jobs at elevated rates emboldened by the apparent strength of the labor market, the ghost job phenomenon underscores the idea that employers still have the upper hand.
"Evergreen" postings in an uncertain environment
There are many reasons why companies might post vacancies with seemingly little urgency to fill them, recruiters say. Sometimes they want to give the impression that the company is growing — but in an inflationary economy, growth is expensive, so they're hedging their bets.
Sometimes they leave listings open with dreams that the perfect, unicorn candidate might apply. Other times they might post jobs to pacify their exhausted employees and demonstrate that they are indeed at least trying to hire more help.
There are also some jobs that are so in-demand — think: mobile developers and software engineers — that employers might leave up openings 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 sourcing and hiring platform, said that companies are more often posting "evergreen requisitions" — listings for jobs that, in theory, they always need even if they don't have the budget to hire. "That way they have a pipeline to leverage when they're ready," she said.
Of course, candidates don't know that. They apply in good faith, ignorant of this strategy, and when the company eventually calls them, she said, "the talent is either not interested, has moved on, or is annoyed."
Some recruiters say that ghost jobs are on the rise due to the heightened level of uncertainty that's persisted for the past two and a half years. With the enduring labor shortage and high turnover, they can no longer accurately predict candidate behavior and flow. That, combined with a slowing economy, has created an air of tentativeness.
"The companies I talk to are struggling with how they think about how to get strategic work done because the contours of their business are changing rapidly," said Pat Pettiti, CEO of Catalant, the online platform that connects independent consultants for projects at large corporations.
"They don't understand who or what they need — and so they're hesitating when it comes to hiring."
Moreover, fears of a looming recession have made them hesitant to commit. "That's why you have some managers thinking, 'My boss told me to hire someone, but am I going to have to lay them off in three months?'"
William Stonehouse, the president of Crawford Thomas Recruiting, the Orlando staffing firm that matches jobseekers with Fortune 1000 companies, said that he often coaches employers on the perils of posting ghost jobs.
"A lot of businesses don't understand the impact that a negative hiring process can have on future applicants," he said. "If your listings are a graveyard of old positions and candidates are uploading applications 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 jobs posted"
Andrew Flowers, a labor economist at Appcast, the recruitment advertising technology company, expressed skepticism that "ghost jobs" are a widespread problem. "Some employers no doubt are fishing — they have a job opening, but aren't planning to hire — but I think this is a small minority of employers," he said in an email interview with Insider.
Flowers pointed out that the overall job fill rate, the ratio of hires to openings in each month, remains very low, which reflects the tight labor market. Meanwhile, other economic research shows that recruiting intensity matters less for the job search-and-matching process than factors like candidate skills and quality and the macroeconomic environment.
"It seems plausible that the job openings figures overstate the amount of active recruitment going on, and perhaps by more than in the past," he said. "But it's also very clear that there are lots of openings right now."
When employers first started grumbling about a labor shortage, Erica Groshen, a senior economics advisor at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was a little suspicious of the high number of job openings. But as she watched wages rise and job switching soar, she was sold on the phenomenon of real hiring.
Even so, "the advent of the internet means that applying for jobs is much easier," Groshen told Insider.
"You can apply to so many more jobs, which then means that companies have to sort through so many applications — many more than they ever used to before — which means that they employ algorithms to do this sorting," Groshen said. "Those algorithms are going to be fairly crude."
The number of openings and ease of applying are cold comfort for Will, who's still fruitlessly job hunting day after day. For jobseekers like him, who come in with degrees and specific qualifications, the reality might have to be abandoning those ghost jobs altogether and seeking out poorer matches. After all, about a third of college graduates are underemployed, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, meaning that they're in roles that don't typically require a degree.
That's because, even as workers are in a red hot labor market, they 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 housing, and have health insurance, employers have what's called monopsony power, which allows them to dictate wages, working conditions, and scheduling — and it lets them post jobs they might never fill or accidentally filter the right candidates out of.
"There are too many jobs posted," he said. And the "websites — some of them are just broken and some just don't work. It's almost comical."
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