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What Are Ghost Job Listings & How PhDs Should Handle Them

“I’ve applied to hundreds of job postings” a PhD recently told me.

“Using the same resume?” I asked. 

“No.” they replied. 

“I targeted every resume. I’ve heard nothing back. In some cases I was sent a rejection email within the hour. What’s happening?!”, they wailed. 

“Ghost job listings.” I replied. 

They asked me what a ghost job listing is and I explained that ghost job listings are jobs posted by real companies but they’re jobs that these companies have no intention of actually filling.

Of course, this PhD wanted to know why and I told them that the answer is painful for job seekers but useful for employers. The practice of posting ghost job listings can serve a variety of strategic and practical purposes for companies, helping them streamline their hiring processes and make informed decisions about their workforce. 

It’s hard not to feel like ghost job listings are immoral though when you’re a job seeker. I understand that. We can’t change the existence of ghost job listings, but we can respond to them as PhDs. But first, let’s understand why companies post ghost job listings. 

Why Companies Post Ghost Job Listings

Ghost job listings are job listings that real companies post but that they have no intention of filling any time soon, or at all. 

A report in HRDrive discussed a study by a company called Standout CV that evaluated job listings for 20 in-demand jobs. The study found that 42.4% – 60.0% of the job listings weren’t for actual positions! They were purely ghost jobs. Why would companies do this at such a high rate? 

There are several reasons why companies post ghost job listings. The first is for their future hiring needs. Some companies create job listings months in advance – like 6 months, even if they don’t currently have an immediate opening. This is often done to ensure that they have a pool of potential candidates to consider when a position becomes available. This can be especially useful in industries where the hiring process can be time-consuming and competitive. 

The next reason companies post ghost job listings is to maintain visibility. Posting job listings, even if they’re not currently active, can help a company maintain its presence on job search platforms and company career pages. This continuous visibility can help the company attract potential candidates who may be interested in working there in the future.

Another reason companies post jobs that they aren’t ready to fill yet is to test the job market. Sometimes, companies post job listings to test the market’s response to certain roles or qualifications. This information can help them refine their job descriptions and requirements based on the feedback they receive. 

Yet another reason ghost job listings exist is competitive intelligence. By observing the candidates who express interest in ghost job listings, companies can gain insights into the job market and their competitors. This information can be valuable for understanding talent trends and positioning themselves competitively.  

Companies also post ghost job listings simply to collect resumes for the future, and for valuable demographic data. Companies may use inactive job listings as a way to collect resumes from potential candidates. These resumes can be stored in a database and reviewed when relevant positions open up, saving time in the future recruitment process. 

The final reason ghost job listings exist is legal requirements or regulatory breaks. In some cases, companies may be required to post job listings publicly even if there isn’t an immediate intention to hire. In other cases, companies can get regulatory breaks and even tax breaks for this. 

For example, if a company lays off a bunch of employees and then posts junior positions to replace those employees, even if they don’t intend to actually hire for those positions, the company can get certain regulatory and tax benefits. 

5 Hacks For Identifying & Dealing With Ghost Job Listings

Ghost jobs are not a passing trend. These inactive job listings will only become more and more of a problem and PhDs should be prepared to reach out to companies in person to ensure the jobs you’re interested in actually exist. 

It’s unlikely that knowing the reasons why ghost job listings exist will make dealing with them any easier. But, knowing that ghost job listings is not temporary will motivate you to look for solutions. And there are solutions. Here are 5 hacks that can help you deal with ghost job listings…

1. Look at the date the job was posted.

If a listing has been up for a long time, it’s more likely to be a ghost listing. 

One report featured in Microsoft Careers found that 27% of managers keep inactive job listings up for over four months, often for reasons such as motivating employees or creating the impression of company growth or to feign growth to competitors, shareholders and investors. 

To avoid wasting time, job seekers are advised to prioritize applying for roles posted within the past two weeks. 

Unfortunately, many job posting platforms including LinkedIn and Indeed now allow companies to automatically refresh jobs every week or two. So this hack is quickly becoming obsolete. 

2. Set up alerts. Apply on Sunday night or Monday morning.  

Another hack for handling ghost job listings is to set up alerts on specific job board sites that can help you tailor your search and be among the first to apply for new positions. 

Additionally, applying on a Sunday may increase the chances of standing out to recruiters, as they often review fresh applications at the beginning of the week.

3. Leave LinkedIn and Indeed. Go to the company’s career site.

Another hack is to cross-reference the company’s career website. Many job boards scrape job listings from company websites, so a job may still appear on external platforms even if it’s no longer open on the company’s site. 

So, be sure to try visiting the company’s website directly and applying through their official channels to ensure the listing is still active. 

4. Apply to companies who show employee growth on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn allows you to see the number of employees that have reported working at any company with a LinkedIn page. You can see this on the company page under “People” listed as the “associates” at that company. 

This number will rise and fall with company hiring and firing, and it’s surprisingly accurate as LinkedIn will remove people who falsely report they work at a company. 

As long as you’re comparing apples to apples, finding the same number on the same page, you can use this to see if the company is truly hiring or not. You want to get your resume into companies that are growing the week they show growth. 

5. Avoid job postings that use vague language

A report by Business Insider discusses how vague job descriptions likely indicate a position that doesn’t exist. When reading through a job description, you want to see as much specificity as possible.

The report specifically states that sometimes job descriptions are vague and don’t provide a lot of detail to explain what the role actually is, then it’s possible that someone from the company may have quickly typed something up and posted it to see if candidates will apply and to see the quality of those candidates”.

You want to really key in on the actual quality of the job description. The longer the posting, the more specific and the more overall useful information on the posting, the better chance it’s not a ghost job listing.

6. Reach out directly to a gatekeeper and ask if the job exists.

If you are genuinely interested in a role, the most effective path for screening out ghost job listings is to directly reach out to the hiring manager to inquire about the status of the listing, or potential hiring manager – don’t stress if you don’t get the right person right away. 

This proactive approach can help establish a connection with the company, even if the position is no longer available. It may lead to future opportunities or informational conversations that can benefit the candidate. 

In summary, looking at the posting date, cross-referencing the company’s website, setting up alerts, applying on specific days of the week, and directly reaching out to inquire about the status of a listing are all strategies that can help you identify ghost job listings. Overall, the goal is to be strategic and selective in job applications to increase the chances of landing a job when it is genuinely available. 

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ABOUT ISAIAH HANKEL, PHD

CEO, CHEEKY SCIENTIST & SUCCESS MENTOR TO PHDS

Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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