Candidates Beware: Phantom Job Postings are Everywhere

February 17, 2016


One thing that we write about often at Argentus is the presence of the so-called “Hidden Job Market.” Just as there’s a vast reservoir of talent who aren’t actively looking for jobs (“passive candidates”), there’s also a large and hidden section of new job opportunities that never get posted, or never get advertised to job seekers. Some estimates say that as many as 50% of job opportunities are filled on an “informal” basis, meaning they go to internal hires, or referrals, instead of being publicized.

So why is applying to online job postings still the most common activity people undertake when they’re in the middle of a job search?

At Argentus, we’re proponents of candidates taking an active and personal approach to their careers. We’ve argued against candidates using online applications for jobs as their main job search activity (feel free to weigh in with how much success you’ve had applying to jobs online). And we’ve offered advice for how to access the “hidden” job market, including networking, personal branding, and working with recruitment partners. There’s one wrinkle in the online jobs-posting-game that doesn’t get talked about a lot, and we’d like to draw attention to it today: the phenomenon of the “phantom” job posting.

Not only are applications for online job postings by companies often routed to Junior HR staff who might not have the experience to filter the best talent, and not only are solid online applications often filtered out of the mix by automated Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) at companies, those applications are sometimes never assessed for the given role in the first place.

If you’ve applied to hundreds of jobs online and haven’t heard anything back (a story we’ve heard often from candidates), it’s easy to get discouraged, to assume that there might be an issue with your career background, or how you present yourself. And that may be the case. But there are also tons of issues with online job postings, chief among them being that often, those posts aren’t real. There’s two instances where you might see “phantom” job postings:

  • HR professionals at companies are often mandated internally to post jobs on online boards even if the actual hiring manager has an internal hire or referral in mind for the position already. As this Wall Street Journal article on the issue outlines, this is often done to protect employers from discrimination lawsuits and ensure fairness and transparency in hiring. But it has the effect of being a make-work project for the HR person, and of causing applicants to respond to a “phantom” job posting that they’ll never hear back for, even if their profile fits the requirement.
  • One active approach to a job search that we recommend (as we are wont to do) is to work with a well-respected 3rd party recruitment agency in your particular field. They have direct access to hiring managers, and can be a remarkably powerful advocate for your candidacy for any given job. But there are several unscrupulous recruitment agencies out there who also post “phantom” job postings. In this case, the recruiter is posting a job, say Supply Chain Manager, without actually having a job order from their client. They might be doing this to try and build their internal database of candidates, or (worse) they might be doing this to try and approach the company with candidates to get the job order. In the latter case, this can end up removing you from eligibility from the job even if you try to apply later – that’s why it’s even more unethical for recruiters to take this approach.

So how can you trust that applying to an online job posting will be worthwhile? The short answer is that it’s hard to assess. If you look at Argentus’ jobs section, (and you should, even though we’ve just spoken about the limitations of online job postings) you’ll see that our posts aren’t overly descriptive. They’re capsule summaries meant to elicit a further conversation with interested candidates. It’s an approach that emphasizes network-building and relationship-building over database-building. And every one of our posts is for a job order we’ve actually received from a client. We’re a boutique player in the Supply Chain space with lots of activity from clients, so we don’t have the time or interest to post fake job ads.

It’s possible that some companies will work with a 3rd-party recruiter just to pay lip-service to the process of external hiring even if they have a referral or internal candidate in mind – a kind of extension of the phantom job posting phenomenon we mentioned above. But in our practice, we almost never see that. Companies contact a boutique player like Argentus because they’re looking for skilled talent in Supply Chain, for particular roles, and that’s the bottom line. That’s why proactive approaches to job search like working with a recruiter in your industry will give you more success than applying to online postings. favicon

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