Have you ever heard the term “ghost job posting”? Journals first started bringing it up at the end of last year, but the phenomenon itself is much older than that.
If you are not familiar with ghost jobs, pay close attention. It may be yet another obstacle on the already windy road to getting a new job. In this article, we will explain what the phenomenon of ghost jobs is all about, why companies do it, and how to avoid falling victim to it.
Ghost jobs are positions that companies are not actively looking to fill. They are posted with the intention of attracting candidates without the immediate intent to hire any of them.
It is important to point out that the term “job ghosting” can work both ways. An employee can ghost an employer just as often as a candidate can be ghosted by a company.
Unfortunately, both occur quite often and generate different kinds of problems on both sides.
When it comes to job ghosting in terms of employers posting ghost jobs, it is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon. It is not new by any means - it has been happening for decades.
However, this practice has grown in popularity to the point where journals and online publications started frequently addressing it in their articles. In other words, ghost job posting has become prominent enough that journalists began to take an interest in it.
Below, you can see a Google Trends graph demonstrating the search popularity for the term “ghost job” worldwide over the last 12 months:
screenshot taken on 01.05.2023
Now that you are familiar with the term, you may wonder why employers willingly and consciously confuse job seekers. The truth is, there are a few different reasons behind ghost job posting.
Clarify Capital ran a survey about ghost jobs, in which they questioned 1045 managers involved in the recruitment process over the summer of 2022. The reason they listed are the following:
In this case, we don’t deal with a position that was never intended to be filled. It is only not meant to be filled urgently.
When a company posts an active job offer, it signals that they are actually in quick need of a new employee for this position. It might be because the person previously occupying it has left, or because a quick development of the business has left it looking for new talent to be hired ASAP.
This is opposed to passive hiring, where an employer advertises a position they could benefit from, but that is not crucial or time-sensitive. In other words, they have the time and means to be picky about the candidates.
In such a case, their reasoning is the following: if a candidate that wows them comes along, they might hire them. But until then, they are in no hurry to consider every applicant.
This is supported by 39% of respondents to the survey saying they practise ghost job posting “in case an irresistible candidate applies”.
This reason is popular in particular in companies actively hiring for other positions. In times of intense recruitment, they may post a ghost job or two in order to increase the brand’s visibility.
The more offers they publish, the more applications they are likely to receive. They could be looking at the CVs submitted to the ghost job postings and contacting candidates who would be a good fit for a similar position they are actually hiring for.
Additionally, job seekers may often be more keen to apply for positions in companies which are (or at least seem to be) visibly growing. Posting a few extra positions could potentially make a better impression on candidates stumbling upon an opening and proceeding to do research about the company.
We all tend to trust more an employer who simultaneously advertises a few positions, rather than another who is only looking to feel one vacancy at a time.
This reasoning is somewhat tied to the previous one. It is not only job seekers who wish to see a company grow. Existing employees also want to know their workplace is undergoing constant development.
When they begin to feel their working environment is stagnant, they will grow anxious - maybe even start looking for opportunities elsewhere.
Similarly, only focusing on certain departments in a business while others remain understaffed may cause unrest among employees in different positions. For example, if the hiring team is only focusing on obtaining candidates for HR, they may also publish ghost job postings for marketing and sales.
This strategy serves two purposes. Firstly, the latter departments won’t feel left out. And secondly, the applications to the other positions will keep flowing in.
Even if they are initially posted as ghost jobs, they might turn into real offers when the recruiters move on to the next batch of talent to hire. When that happens, they won’t have to start from scratch and wait for the applications to gain speed. They will already have a candidate pool to work with from when the position has been passively advertised.
We have begun to touch upon this point in the previous one. Leaving positions open for long stretches of time is a common tactic for employers wishing to leave their doors open.
Companies will often publish an offer which does not currently need feeling, but may in the near future. In such a case, applications will steadily keep trickling in, being saved for a time when they might be needed.
Of course, by then, many of the candidates who had previously applied for this position and never heard back will have found other jobs. If you apply for a ghost job, it is not uncommon for the following scenario to occur:
One day, a few months into your new job, a number you’re not familiar with calls you. You pick up and are welcomed by someone introducing themselves as a recruiter for x company. It doesn’t really ring a bell, so they remind you you had applied for x position with them x months ago.
You vaguely start remembering and realise you have never heard back from them. The recruiter goes on to explain that the position you have applied for (or another, similar one) is open again. They ask if you’d be interested as you seem like the perfect fit.
This may seem like a scam, so do stay alert. However, you should be aware that it can be just a result of a ghost job turned into a real job a few months later.
Whether you agree to pursue the role or decide you have already settled into your new job is entirely up to you. But such a situation is exactly why you should be aware of what ghost job postings are and how to spot them.
This point is loosely tied to point number three. We have mentioned that employees may feel it is unfair to recruit for positions in certain departments within the company more than for others.
However, their unrest might also result from being simply overworked. Few things are more annoying than a boss refusing to acknowledge a team is missing members. It is obvious that an understaffed team cannot deliver the results expected of them.
Creating ghost jobs may sometimes be an attempt at placating upset employees. However, this may be a risky step to take. Seeing a vacancy advertised by the company for a position within one’s team will fill other members with hope.
In a scenario where it is only meant a ghost job for the moment, it won’t get filled for a long time. Soothing employees with false hope is not the right way to go, so managers driven by this reasoning need to remember that a ghost job cannot remain one forever in this case.
It is all right to post it as a ghost job at the beginning in order to passively collect CVs. It is not okay to gaslight employees into thinking they will be welcoming a new team member when there is no intention of finding one anytime soon.
Now that you understand what ghost job posting is and why employers choose to do it, let’s move on to learning how to identify a ghost job.
It is very difficult to distinguish a ghost job offer from a real vacancy, but there are some telltale signs to look out for.
Most job boards allow you to see the date on which a particular offer was published, or the time that has passed since it went live. Clarify Capital’s survey revealed that the most common time range for a job to be published is 2-3 months (40% of responders).
The second most common response is 1 month (20% of responders). The numbers decline for anything above 3 months.
This should; therefore, be your first clue. If you notice that a job has been published for more than 3 months, there are two possible options:
The employer has simply forgotten to take it down (27% of responders)
It may be a ghost job offer
When evaluating the time criteria, you should also take into consideration the size of the hiring company. If it’s a multinational giant, longer-than-normal offer longevity is justified. The bigger the company, the bigger the candidate pool recruiters are required to obtain.
However, if you see an offer published by a relatively small business, even 3 months may be a red flag. It could mean they are either incredibly picky about their candidates or are simply in a habit of posting ghost jobs.
Here is where staying organised in your job search comes into play. Always keep track of when you applied for each position - especially if you are involved in an intense job hunt.
After a certain number of submitted applications, it is incredibly easy to lose track of when you sent a particular one. And knowing this is crucial.
Firstly, it is important to know that 40% of employers are looking to fill their vacancies within 2 to 3 months. The second most popular answer in the previously mentioned survey was 1 month (22%).
Employers looking to find new talent for positions within 1-3 months will usually be very active in their recruitment process. It is not a lot of time to find the perfect candidate (especially for big companies), so they will be quick in their responses.
If you receive no answer for more than 1 week in the case of smaller companies and 2-3 weeks in the case of big businesses, there are, again two possible scenarios:
Your application was discarded and you weren’t informed because only successful candidates were contacted
You applied for a ghost job which is not meant to be filled anytime soon, or ever
This is why it is so important to follow up with the companies you applied to. Not only does it demonstrate your interest, but it may also help you find out if your application is being reviewed, or if you should move on.
In case your follow-up goes unanswered too, it can either mean that the company is too busy to answer or that you’re dealing with a ghost job offer. In both cases, you should move on with your job search process, because both situations mean you are not considered for the role.
The harsh truth is, if a company was interested in your profile, they would reach out to let you know and tell you to wait. If they don’t, it simply means they didn’t think you would be a good match.
If it is indeed a ghost job you have applied for, you may receive an unexpected call in a couple of months (see reason number 4 for ghost job posting), but definitely not right now.
What many ghost jobs have in common is their generic nature. Phantom offers which are solely meant to attract candidates and generate a candidate pool can be very vague because they are not supposed to be filled.
They are often for positions such as customer service specialist, sales manager, or business developer. Those are jobs based on transferable skills, which means they often do not require a specific degree or a particular background. Applying for them is often more flexible, which does not mean it requires no skills.
That is not to say that you should be suspicious of every sales or customer service job you find. Qualifications are still needed for such positions, so our message here is, you should be worried when they aren’t.
You should be cautious when a job description doesn’t mention any specific hard skills. Usually, if not a requirement, certain qualifications are described as “an additional strength”. If an offer only requires you to be “a good communicator” or “a team player” with “decent time management skills” with nothing to support it, it may be a ghost job, or even a scam.
The point of ghost jobs is often to attract a broad range of candidates. Universal jobs will receive applications from people with all kinds of backgrounds - HR, sales, marketing, customer service.
This allows companies access to a broad range of applicants who would be a good match for different positions at the right time. They may be sorted into categories and contacted when recruitment for a suitable role opens.
A role in IT without any technical requirements and at least a basic knowledge of coding would be an automatic red flag. We want to make you aware that positions which are less technical in nature also should come with certain hard skills.
The rule of thumb is, if a job offer seems too good to be true, then that is probably the case.
That is the whole truth about ghost job posting. Now that we have made it and the reasoning behind it clearer, we hope you will be more careful in your job search. Familiarise yourself with ways to spot a potential ghost job in order to avoid them.
Of course, we don’t want to say that ghost job posting is entirely evil. It is definitely controversial, but if a ghost job offer is intended to turn into a real one after some time, it could be justified from the point of view of companies acting in their business’ best interest.
Our aim was also not to make job seekers paranoid. Do not automatically distrust every job offer you find and do not look for red flags everywhere. Ghost job posting is something to be aware of, but it should not generate additional stress in your job search process.
Finding a job these days is challenging enough as it is - let’s not make it even harder by adopting a negative approach! We at Europe Language Jobs are here to make sure your job hunt is as easy and safe as possible.