3 Ways to Identify a ‘Ghost’ Job Posting

3 Ways to Identify a ‘Ghost’ Job Posting

Job hunting is a process full of so many lows that when you come across a position that matches your skillset and sounds interesting, it feels like a minor victory before you even apply. But that feeling usually doesn’t last very long, after days and eventually weeks pass, and you haven’t heard a peep from the company—not even a rejection.

Perhaps a friend tries to console you, saying that, in all likelihood, it was always going to be an internal hire, but they were required to post the job. And while that may have been the case, it’s also possible that the opening—or even the role itself—never existed in the first place. Also known as “ghost” jobs, a recent survey from Resume Builder found that 40% of companies posted a fake job listing this year so far. Here’s how to spot ads for nonexistent jobs, and why companies post them in the first place.

How to identify fake job postings

To be clear, when I say “ghost” job postings, I’m not talking about postings that are actually scams aimed at getting jobseekers to fork over money and/or their personal data. (But if you’re looking for tips for spotting those, you can find them in previous Lifehacker articles.) Instead, I’m focusing on postings for nonexistent jobs with legitimate companies. Here’s how to identify them.

1. Look for details

Sometimes companies post ads for jobs that don’t exist in order to become more familiar with the talent that’s out there, and identify potential candidates in the event that there will be actual roles to fill in the future. For this reason, ghost job listings are usually pretty vague, both as far as the specific qualifications they’re looking for, and the responsibilities associated with the role. When in doubt, contact the company’s HR department and ask for additional details about the position to help you determine whether you’d be a good fit.

2. Check the date

As a general rule, it’s best to apply for the job within a week of it being posted. Of course, re-listing a job—so the post gets a new date—takes little effort, so a recent date isn’t a guarantee that a role is real. However, if a position has been posted for more than a month or two, it’s typically not a good sign.

According to a 2023 report, it takes an average of 44 days to fill an open role, so if you find one that’s been advertised for that length of time or more, you may want to contact the hiring manager or HR department and ask if the job is still available. Another possibility is that at one point, the posting was for a real job, and—intentionally or not—it wasn’t taken down after it was filled.

3. Look for duplicates

In an attempt to attract a broad pool of talent, some companies create two (or more) slightly different listings for one open position, career coach and former hiring manager Mandi Woodruff-Santos told CNBC earlier this year. To avoid wasting time applying for both—and having more realistic expectations about the opportunities with the company—check their full list of openings and look for potential duplicates.

Why companies post fake jobs

So, why are companies messing with job seekers in the first place? One reason, it turns out, is to boost morale among current employees by tricking them into thinking that new hires will be joining their team soon to help alleviate their workload. Along the same lines, according to the 649 hiring managers who participated in Resume Builder’s recent survey, posting fake jobs also helps convince employees that they’re replaceable and should be grateful for having a job at all. Other times, it’s to stockpile resumes for potential future openings. Finally, it could be for optics: In other words, the company wants it to make it look like it’s growing and thriving, and someone decided posting fake jobs was the best way to do that.

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