You Might Be Chasing Ghost Jobs And Not Even Know It

In February 2024, the U.S. blew past estimates of adding 198,000 new jobs to a high of 275,000, a difference of roughly 32.5%. Unemployment also rose alongside it, hitting 3.9%. If you're on the latter end of that, the last thing you need is to waste your time chasing ghost jobs while on the hunt for a career. If you've applied for a job posting online only to never hear back, you may have already encountered a ghost job. That's according to Business Standard, which conducted a survey and found 73% of 1,000 participants had experienced this at least once. Like many modern cultural phenomena, multiple social media threads from job seekers, HR professionals, and recruitment agents revealed this narrative to the world.

A 2022 study found that 68% of employers had job listings up for over 30 days with 10% of employers having listings up for six months or more, even though 20%, or one in five employers, had no intention of filling those positions for at least a year, if at all. The issue is so prevalent that the untrustworthiness of job openings as an indication of the job market is complicating the Federal Reserve's ability to navigate inflation and a soft landing for the economy — more employed Americans means more money is being spent, the opposite means less. Here's why employers post ghost jobs, and how to avoid them.

Resume banking for future needs

Management consulting firm Korn Ferry surveyed APAC (Asia-Pacific) employers about their hiring patterns and found that 59% of participants hired specific employees for desired skills, although the job they were hired for didn't actually exist at the time. On the other hand, 78% of participants hired employees recently for jobs that didn't exist a year prior. Rapid technological advances, globalization, and a rising premium on customer satisfaction and user experience are driving these job posting patterns. This aligns with the experience of ghost jobs in the U.S., where resume banking — the storage of job applicants ' resumes — is a factor in posting for jobs they don't intend to hire for right now.

The importance of employers being prepared for the non-existent job market spurred by the aforementioned factors and the second machine age, one that predicts augmented reality, AI, robotics, and advances in cloud computing will create 85% of the new jobs by 2030 that don't currently exist. Along the way, a workforce with key skills to bring them to that stage will be of utmost importance. What that means for job seekers is encountering job postings that are less concerned with hiring for the needs today than the needs of tomorrow. That's great for the employer, but if you need to pay your bills today, being included in a slush pile of potential recruits won't be very helpful in the present.

Maintain brand presence

Employer branding consultancy Blu Ivy Group advises employers to consider job postings a viable form of amplifying their brand presence. By talking up their workplace culture, achievements, and leadership to impress prospective employees, the humble job post can become a form of brand research and ad campaign incorporating SEO optimization and even video. This idea has obviously drawn traction, with 43% of employers admitting to ghost job postings that help give the impression the company is in a growth phase.

According to 2022 stats compiled by LinkedIn Talent Solutions, it may be your fault — sort of. Employer branding statistics show that 72% of recruiters globally agree branding has a huge impact on hiring, with 75% of job hunters considering an employer's brand before applying for employment. Since 77% of companies use LinkedIn for job posts and employer branding is all the rage, it's no surprise that some of these are more about branding than immediate hiring. Tailored job descriptions, visuals, hashtags where applicable, and social media automation tools are all part of the suggested strategy to elevate an employer's brand through job posts.

Job analysis

Part of the branding puzzle is the job analysis piece. Think of job analysis as a way for employers to figure out the effectiveness of their job posting strategy in attracting the right talent to their organizations. Employers gain valuable, competitive insights into the job market to fill skill gaps within their organizations, refine their job descriptions through comparative analysis of competitor job posts, figure out the need for new job roles, and recognize where they currently, or will in the future, be short on necessary talent. Companies are often advised to lean into job analysis by tracking the number of applications they get on their posting, hiring numbers, and retention, since the latter two are indicators of the effectiveness of the job description and expectations. There is a return on investment applied to job analysis for organizations that calculate the cost, time to recruit and onboard, and the quality of their candidates.

On its own, that sounds perfectly reasonable for the employer, but when 50% of employers cop to keeping a job posting up for no other reason than a reason to stay open to new employees, that could just be a way for you to end up a key performance indicator in a market analysis. In other words, a waste of your time.

Tax breaks

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the average cost of hiring an employee is around $4,700, with employers explaining that amount can sometimes be three to four times the salary being offered. A $50,000 salaried position becomes a $150,000 recruitment expense that includes the time spent by human resources and leadership to meet, go through several rounds of interviews, and sift through applicants. It also takes into consideration what's not getting done by these individuals, which takes away from the effectiveness of the organization. For example, depending on the organization, an HR manager's median salary is around $136,350 per year. An external recruiting agent charges 15% to 25% of the recruited employee's initial salary, so with the $50,000 example, that's a $7,500 to $12,500 fee. That doesn't include the cost of posting to a platform like ZipRecruiter or LinkedIn.

Expenses related to recruitment like advertising your job posting and consultation are tax deductible. This is a big deal for companies and one of the main ways millionaires avoid paying taxes without breaking the law. Remote work has led to empty office buildings, a concern for businesses that have negotiated tax breaks based on their employees contributing to the local economy, so some are offering employees incentives to return. Businesses know there's a big difference between tax evasion and avoidance, and ghost job postings could be just part of that strategy.

Unexpected hiring freeze

Here's a statistic that may be hard to imagine: 27% of employers simply forget to delete their posting, and not necessarily because they've filled the position. A hiring freeze can impact your prospects in several ways. As an external candidate, you're unlikely to be privy to a hiring freeze occurring at a company recently in the market for new employees. Priorities shift, and hiring freezes can give an organization time to move budgets and internal roles accordingly. 

While some employers forget, even worse are the employers who choose to ghost job hunters. Author, keynote speaker, and founder of Three Ears Media, Katrina Kibben, recounted the story of a friend and recruiter who was approving hundreds of new hires and in the process of scheduling interviews when they were advised of an immediate six week hiring freeze just days after posting the roles. Senior leadership ordered the recruiter to leave the postings up until hiring resumed with the benefit of having a larger pool of candidates to choose from. Of this incident and others like it, Kibben says, "Don't you dare post a job with titles and descriptions that get scraped out to every job board on the internet if you don't intend on hiring the best candidate that comes along. It's inhumane in a million ways."

Poor recruitment

As per IT industry marketplace Spiceworks, 47% of companies surveyed had paused or cooled down on hiring due to economic pressures. In comparison, 71% of recruiters blamed scheduling, poor communication, and sluggish evaluation for inefficient recruitment. This tracks with complaints on the Glassdoor forum, specifically a comment from a senior copywriter on the board posing the question, "Are recruiters the most incompetent people?" A few disparaging comments down, Creative Director 2 replies, "I don't care how busy they are — ghosting is unprofessional and a bad look. It takes seconds to say thanks, but we went in a different direction (or whatever)." While we don't know the identities of the forum members making the complaints, if nothing else, it points to a commonly shared experience.

Before reaching for the torches and pitchforks, however, playing devil's advocate means looking at this from both ends of the spectrum. According to Human Resources Director, almost three out of four human resources leaders are coping with burnout from the challenges of hiring. A survey of 300 plus HR leaders in the U.S. discovered that 50% of the problem is a misalignment between the hiring manager and the HR professional. While this is related to several factors, it makes sense that this dissatisfaction occasionally spills over into the recruitment process, and receiving blame for ghost jobs created by their employer certainly doesn't help.

Pay attention to posting and closing dates

Now that you have some sense of why employers post ghost jobs, here's how to avoid them. The first thing to consider is when the job in question was posted, usually found in the posting on platforms like LinkedIn or Indeed, and preferably — for not getting ghosted — not posted much longer than 30 days ago. This gets a little complicated after research conducted by LinkedIn found it now takes an average of 61.7 days or just over two months to fill a posted position on the platform, with marketing roles taking the least amount of time to fill at around 48 days.

You can also pay as much attention to the closing date for a job posting. It makes sense since you'll know if the posting is still active, and if you apply close to the deadline, you can have a little more expectation of hiring news within the next week or two. If you're applying for a role at a massive organization, you should raise your expected wait time to as much as a month. Whether you wait two weeks, one month, or two, keep your options open and your applications to other companies flowing. Consider taking on one of these easy online side gigs for extra money while you wait.

Read the job description

Aside from the posting and closing date of job postings, pay extra attention to the description. The job description is a key tool for clarification and expectations of the job, compliance with labor and government regulations and laws, corporate planning, and an important way to measure an applicant's overall performance post-hiring. With that much importance tied to a job description, it's a fair bet that a company truly invested in the hiring process will have a solid description of the role they are recruiting for.

In a breakdown of what you should look for in a legitimate job description, Indeed lists a summarized explanation of the role and your title, the prerequisite experience necessary to succeed in the role, educational background, key skills beyond education that include social, technical, and hands-on experience, the manager who will guide and support you in the role, your responsibilities to the team or department you'll be working with, salary range, workplace culture, and potentially environmental or physical requirements of the job. As mentioned, look for a posting and closing date, and an obvious way to apply for the role. The effort put into the job description is indicative of the legitimacy of the posting and is just one way to help you avoid ghost jobs and other online job scams.

Research the company

Researching an organization before applying for the job posted is essential. 1,943 companies made mass layoffs public between January and March of 2024. Apple laid off over 600 employees in its car and smartwatch divisions as of April 5, 2024. Now, if you came across an Apple job posting from 30 days ago for a role in its smartwatch division, what are the odds it is still hiring for that job? Layoffs aside, several beloved retail chains have filed for bankruptcy post-Covid as well. Their financial troubles were all well documented before they collapsed, and something as simple as browsing news on those companies in the months prior would have tipped off any job applicants as to their prospects with those chains.

Online university Purdue Global suggests the best way to research a company is to read the "about us" or "team" pages on its website, use resources like Crunchbase for an assessment of the organization's financial health, follow their social media posts for a sense of how the company markets itself to the public, employ the power of LinkedIn to find leadership and other people in the role you're considering to get an idea of the experience and skill sets of key people in the organization, and if you know somebody working at the company, their experience is invaluable to assessing whether it's a company worth applying to work at.

Contact the hiring manager

While you may be tempted to reach out to the recruiter for the role, it's important to understand the difference between a recruiter and a hiring manager. While the recruiter is paid to sift through and discover the best candidates for the job, it's the hiring manager within the organization who will have the final say and ultimately make the hiring decision. In a LinkedIn article, career coach Caroline Castrillon suggests looking for a hiring manager on LinkedIn by typing or copying and pasting the company name into the search bar, going to the organization's "people" page, and then modifying your search by location and keywords. You could also reach out to an employee — we suggest someone in the human resources department — and ask directly for a name. The company website may also provide answers on a "team" page, or you could call the company directly and ask an admin person. Platforms like offer a techy way of obtaining email addresses whether by name or company.

Castrillon also suggests that any message you leave be short and to the point out of respect for the hiring manager's time and recognition of the number of calls they are likely being inundated with daily. Be sure to ask for some time — 10 or 15 minutes — to discuss the position.