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Companies Using ‘Ghost Job’ Postings to Impress Robust Growth Amid Economic Downturn

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: March 22, 2023
Companies are using Ghost Jobs to recruit for jobs they aren't filling to make their situation seem better
A file photo of a job fair in Washington, D.C. in September of 2017. A new trend has emerged in the post-Coronavirus Disease 2019 disrupted workplace: ghost job postings. Employers both post and leave recruitment ads for jobs they have no intention of filling up for long periods of time in order to boost internal morale and give the appearance their company is growing. (Image: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Companies are posting ads seeking to recruit workers for positions they have little or no intention to actually fill for the purposes of keeping their options open and making their economic situation look better than it is to both internal and external parties, according to a recent study.

A survey of more than 1,000 managers conducted at the end of August and the beginning of September 2022 by Clarify Capital, a company specializing in small business loans, discovered the trend.six

1 in 5 managers told Clarify that they had no intention of filling positions until the new year, while 50 percent of respondents alluded to using the practice as a resume collector for future considerations.

The second largest reasons for the practice were to “keep current employees motivated” and to “give the impression that the company is growing” at 48 percent of respondents each, the study added.

Psychological impact on job seekers who have noticed the trend during a period of frustration stemming from an economy that just isn’t as robust as it once was is notable.

On March 20, The Wall Street Journal interviewed one D.C.-area “technical and marketing writer” out of work since August who said that ghost postings have become a “waste of time.”

“I first thought of it as an anomaly, and now I see it as a trend,” the man added.

A Nashville-based recruiter was paraphrased by the Journal as stating that the issue is simply that many companies are looking to fill the void in the third and fourth quarter of this year, and are thus collecting potential candidates ahead of time.

Another co-owner of a marketing agency told the Journal she uses the method all the time, because otherwise if an emergent need to replace a position transpires, “You’re suddenly in a position where you need to spend a lot of money on LinkedIn ads to quickly drum up interest.”

Another factor, the outlet states, is that college seniors tend to enter the market between April and June.

In another instance, a former member of the company Wayfair told the Journal that Wayfair used to keep recruitment ads up for positions it had no intention to hire for simply because of internal bureaucracy and a lack of coordination.

The Journal recounted the painful story of a 23-year-old Texas woman who succeeded in earning a master’s degree in business and administration in 2022.

She told the outlet that she’s applied for more than 500 jobs, rarely receives a response, and if she pushes to talk to a human at the companies she’s applying to about her application, she’s told they’re not actually hiring.

Mainstream ghosting

It’s not just college graduates and administrative positions subject to the chaos. A more dramatic let down was recorded in a November 2022 article by Forbes, where a career counselor recounted the story of a client who was an Operational Vice President seeking a new position.

The man said, “I applied for a job that had been posted for more than 60 days. I was a great fit, and the COO, the hiring manager, reached out to me and began the interview process. I was so pleased when he made me a verbal offer which I accepted.”

“Then, the very next day, it fell apart. He said something about the company not meeting the projected earnings, so the budget was now ‘frozen’ and he withdrew the offer,” he continued. 

“I was shocked,” the VP lamented. “He had to know these potential problems in advance, so why did he waste my time?”

Another case described by the counselor, this time that of a female manager looking for a salary increase, sounded more like a stint with an online dating app than it did a job application.

“As she looked at the openings, she saw one that looked like a good fit. When I reviewed her top choice I became suspicious, as I thought it looked like a ghost job. She applied anyway and got an initial conversation with the recruiter,” the author wrote. 

They continued, “At the end of the conversation, she was told she’d be called in for another interview. Then the employer disappeared, and Marie’s follow-up emails were ignored.”

Hidden workers

Yet a 2021 study published by the Harvard Business School found a corollary to “Ghost Jobs,” for which they coined the term “Hidden Workers,” defined as those capable and seeking employment, but who are plagued by “distress and discouragement when their regular efforts to seek employment consistently fail.”

The 74-page analysis categorized hidden workers into three categories: those trapped in part time gigs but who wanted and were capable of full time employment, those who had been unemployed for a long period of time but wanted to work, and those who were away from the workforce for a long period of time and not seeking employment, but willing to work for the right company and the right position.

Harvard states that America alone holds 27 million potential candidates falling into these categories, but notes that they include “caregivers, veterans, immigrants and refugees, those with physical disabilities, and relocating partners and spouses,” in addition to those with mental health and neurological or physical impairments.

The school recommended that companies could solve the problem with a change in their internal mentalities, such as regarding hiring from this demographic as a return on investment play rather than from a social responsibility standpoint, and employing a filtering metric that used a positive instead of a negative basis for discernment.

Harvard stated that making these changes was a critical step for companies to fill roster gaps in the current economic situation, “In simpler times, a shortage of talent was a sign of prosperity. During economic expansions companies would hire, the talent pool would shrink, and unemployment rates would fall.”

They stated that after a waxing period, a wane would begin and companies would launch a series of layoffs, but noted that as time has gone on, especially in the wake of COVID-19 societal disruptions, more and more working age adults are no longer available for the workforce.

Harvard said employers should “foster a culture of inclusive hiring practices that enable them to access the broadest skilled talent pools” and declared that for a company’s culture, “It is the active management of leaders, enabled by technology, data, and digital nudges that change outcomes.”