Ghost Jobs: The Truth Behind The Resume Black Hole

Around 4 million jobs are posted online each month, and an average of 245 people apply to each listing. Now, what if we told you that many of those jobs don’t exist at all?

Before we got into the hiring game, we’d never heard the term “ghost jobs.” We assumed that any job listed online was actually up for grabs (unless, of course, it had recently been filled). But the more we’ve learned about the ins and outs of hiring, the more frequently we have come across this phenomenon. 

If you don’t know what a ghost job is, here’s your primer on what they are and why they exist.

What is a "Ghost Job"?

In essence, a ghost job is born when a company posts a role for which they are not actively seeking candidates. For example, you might come across an opening for a product marketing manager on a company’s website, but the company may not actually be actively looking for a product marketing manager. That doesn’t mean if you were theperfect fit they wouldn’t hire you, but they aren’t actively devoting resources to hiring for that role today. 

Why Do Companies Post Ghost Jobs?

Companies post ghost jobs for a variety of reasons. Some of these include:

Unicorn Net:

The company might not absolutely need to fill a position right this very second, but they’d still love to talk to super-qualified candidates. In other words, it might not be a ghost job for the right person.

Passive Searches:

The company could simply be interested in seeing what candidates are out there for a certain role, regardless of whether they have the budget set aside for it now. This can be a way for employers to educate themselves on the applicant pool and plan for future hiring.

Padding the ATS:

The company may be hoping to fill their applicant tracking system (ATS) with a variety of interesting candidates. This way, they have a wide pool to search from later when they do need to find someone who meets the qualifications of a particular job. (This can also save them money in recruiting fees down the road because if an external recruiter happens to find someone who is already in their ATS, they often can get out of paying the recruiting fee). 

Change of Heart:

The company might think they want to hire for a given role, but then, after putting it out there, change their mind for any number of reasons: budget, shifting priorities, an internal candidate who is perfect for the role, etc. 

Oversight:

The company might fill the role or decide to hold off, but forget to take the job down. Often, there’s no major incentive to be prompt about this, so ghost jobs can just be “stale” listings a company hasn’t bothered to remove.

There are other reasons why companies might post ghost jobs, but these are some of the more common scenarios that we’ve come across.

How Can You Spot a Ghost Job?

In many cases, it can be difficult to tell a ghost job from a “real” listing. One trick, however, is to look for the job across multiple job boards. If you see a job listed in several places, especially on websites that charge money for job listings, that’s a pretty good sign that the company is actively seeking to fill the role. Most companies won’t invest money in listing a ghost job.

On the other hand, if you see a job listed only on the company’s own website, and not on any paid job boards, there’s a good chance it’s a ghost job. Keep in mind that some job boards like Indeed simply scrape the web for job listings, so a job may appear there simply because it was posted to the company’s own site. This is where the free vs. paid distinction can be helpful. Of course, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but it can be a good starting point.

How Should Job Seekers Approach Ghost Jobs?

Beyond verifying listings in different places across the internet, there’s not a whole lot you can do as a job seeker to avoid ghost jobs. Mainly, you just want to be aware they exist. If you apply for a job, believe you are well-qualified for it, and don’t hear anything back, it’s possible you’ve applied for a ghost job and aren’t hearing back through no fault of your own. 

That said, don’t give up without finding out for sure! We’re big believers in transparency and communication during the job application process. We recommend that you reach out to the company via email to inquire about whether the position is still open. Don’t have the hiring manager’s contact info? Here’s a pro tip: 94 percent of recruiters are active on LinkedIn, and many will accept an invitation to connect. Once you’re connected, you should have access to their email addresses, since most recruiters post these in their bios. 

You can also use your network—online and in real life—to find connections who can help you verify the role discreetly through a backchannel. That way you’ll know whether it’s worth the effort to keep checking back in with the company, or whether you’ve applied to a ghost job that may not materialize.

Finally, if you use ReferralMob, rest assured that we vet every single job we post directly with the hiring company, so there are no ghost jobs on our platform.

How Should Hiring Managers Proceed?

If you want to make sure applicants know that a role is truly open and that you are indeed seeking to fill it, it’s a good idea to post the job to paid services like LinkedIn or CareerBuilder and referral networks like ReferralMob. Ponying up for a job posting signals to in-the-know applicants that you are serious about hiring, and helps increase the amount of qualified candidates you receive. 

Are Ghost Jobs Here To Stay?

While there are arguments both for and against the practice of posting ghost jobs, the reality is that they exist, and they probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So, we believe it’s important for both candidates and hiring managers to be open and honest about them. Transparency in the recruitment process can lead to better outcomes on both sides.

The more honest companies can be about who they are looking for (and, how much they’re willing to pay), the more qualified candidates they will have to choose from. While ghost jobs may serve a purpose for some companies at certain times, it’s a good idea for both sides to understand this practice and the role it can have in the job search process.