The Problem of Fake Job Postings

It's unclear how pervasive the practice is — but it is clear that candidates hate it.

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Apr 17, 2023

There is often conflict between job hunters and recruiters, with both sides believing the other is untrustworthy. As a result, horror stories abound.

There is the person who claims to have used ChatGPT to answer questions in a video interview. Then there is the job posting that included “Only Born US Citizens [White] who are local within 60 miles from Dallas, TX.”

With the former, it’s questionable how much the candidate relied on ChatGPT (after all, wouldn’t the interviewer notice the typing?). With the latter, the company claims it was a former employee who set out to damage the organization’s reputation.

Adding to all the mistrust are “ghost positions” — that is, when a company advertises a job posting and allows people to apply but has no intention of filling the role. The Wall Street Journal reports that in “a survey of over 1,000 hiring managers last summer, 27% reported having job postings up for more than four months.”

It’s important to note that having a job posting up for that long doesn’t necessarily indicate it’s fake. Applicants frequently are under- or unqualified for the positions they apply for. Indeed, a Robert Half study in 2019 found that 42% of applicants are not qualified the roles to which they apply.

Roughly half of hiring managers who confessed to putting up posts they weren’t looking to fill say they did so to give the impression that their company was growing. Additionally, one-third of hiring managers engaging in the practice say it is to convince current employees to think that the company was desperately trying to recruit people to relieve overworked staffers.

It’s important to note that this survey was for hiring managers and not for recruiters. There are often disconnects between the two groups. So while these numbers are shocking, it may not be recruiters who are to blame.

The Role of Recruiters

“While understanding the desire to use a ghost position to create a pipeline for high-priority or hard-to-find positions, I think it’s best to be transparent with candidates. We ask that of them, ”says Amanda Strand, an HR manager at Scale AI.

Stroud adds that it’s ultimately damaging to companies to have candidates who don’t trust the organization, which is precisely what can happen with ghost positions.

Meanwhile, Kevin Hubbard, a recruiter at Humareso, has stronger words: “Why would you waste the time, effort, energy, and potentially money of your company and/or the people who are looking for jobs? Now is not the time to play games. You know what they say when you play stupid games.”

Naturally, as this practice is very unpopular with candidates, recruiters aren’t lining up to share why they may engage in it, but there are theories.

Recruiter Paul Jenkins explains why companies do this: While external recruiters want to build their databases, companies prefer not to pay recruiters for access to that data. By gathering as many resumes as possible for positions that they don’t need filled, they can bypass the recruiters who charge a fee.

As a general rule, Jenkins points out, external recruiters only get paid if they are the ones that introduce the candidate. If the company can find the candidate’s resume in their files, that’s a cost-saving method for employers.

Is There Something More Nefarious?

“I wonder if [companies posting fake jobs] are creating a candidate pool,” says Karen Michael, who runs a workplace law and HR consulting firm. “This is a sneaky way to avoid an ‘applicant-to-hire’ discrimination claim — find my best candidates and then just reach out to them.” After all, a person cannot sue for failure to hire if they weren’t considered for a job that was never posted.

Michael adds, “If somebody files a charge of discrimination due to hiring, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is going to ask for the applicants for that particular job.” They typically won’t look at canceled jobs — how could there be discrimination if no one was hired?” She says that this “is a great way to go through the back door of discriminating without going through the front door of running the process correctly.”

Additionally, Michael states that this allows recruiters to skip over recruiting for a specific role. They can instead hand-pick people to interview from the candidate pool. She explains: “If I have a pool of candidates in a fake job pool, I can then go through them, figure out who I want, and then hand-pick the ones I want to recruit and avoid an applicant-to-hire ratio issue. It’s dishonest and manipulative and entirely despicable to those hopeful candidates trying to find employment.”

Finally, job requirements change, budgets change, and companies implement hiring freezes after recruiters post jobs, so the true extent of this problem may never be known. According to Michael, “I don’t think this is happening as much as people claim.”

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