• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

Why Do Some Companies Interview Candidates for Fake Jobs?

Why More and More Companies Post Fake Jobs and Actually Interview Candidates For Them

An illustration of a row of five men in business suits, with a large hand selecting one from above.
“Ghost jobs” are prevalent in tech, finance and media, according to a recent survey. Getty Images

When Ashley Burns left his media job helping build a prominent platform covering the latest trends and topics in music and pop culture, he was ready for something new and began searching for a job in travel writing. He was recruited by another well-known publisher and jumped into what he had imagined was his dream journalism job in travel, only to find out that the company’s financials were somewhat questionable. Burns did his best to help keep the publication afloat through the pandemic, but travel journalism typically pays less than other jobs in media, thanks largely to the influencer effect–wherein unpaid influencers are given priority over journalists because of their reach. Covid-19 further undermined the entire media industry, and layoffs have been rampant in the business for the last few years.

Since Burns saw the writing on the wall with his new employer, he kept an eye out for other opportunities. He found an editor position he was excited about at a travel outlet owned by a digital marketing company. He applied and, over the course of eight weeks, interviewed eight times with eight different people. “I had given them some of my best ideas. The ones I’d been sitting on that weren’t good enough for my employer,” Burns told Observer. But after the final round of interviews, he said he woke up one morning with a bad feeling. “Sure enough, I got an email from the recruiter saying that we will not be moving forward with hiring for this position at this time,” he said.

A few months later, as Burns was scrolling through his newsfeed, he saw one of the stories he’d pitched during his interviews published on the outlet’s site. The discovery prompted him to see if the editor job he’d applied to was still open, and sure enough, it was. Burns had applied for and interviewed for a fake job. “I just cannot believe this happened,” Burns said.

Burns’ experience is not uncommon. A survey by ResumeBuilder last month showed that nearly 40 percent of companies posted fake job listings in the last year, and more than 85 percent of those companies interviewed candidates for those fake jobs. “In some parts of the recruiting and staffing world, it’s not new. People are posting a lot of fake jobs right now,” Stacie Haller, chief career advisor at ResumeBuilder, told Observer.

The practice is prevalent in tech, finance and media, according to ResumeBuilder data. Over the last year, 56 percent of tech employers and 57 percent of finance employers reported posting fake jobs, while 29 percent of media employers posted fake jobs, the data showed.

Data from the workforce intelligence company Revelio Labs found a similar phenomenon last year. “Around 2020, eight in 10 job postings led to a hire. Nowadays, around four in 10,” Lisa Simon, the chief economist at Revelio Labs, told Observer. “The decline is pretty dramatic.”

In addition to fake job postings, many job seekers are being solicited via phone calls and text for fake jobs at nonexistent companies. A few months ago, Jonathan Pacheco Bell, an urban planner and lecturer at CalPoly Pomona, received a random phone call from someone impersonating a recruiter for an architecture firm that didn’t exist. Bell said he was in the midst of dealing with some stressful housing issues when the fake recruiter called. After the call, Bell quickly searched for the phone number of the so-called recruiter and the firm’s name. Neither came up. “Although I thought that my initial, kind of harsh reaction to the person may have been the reason why they didn’t respond when I dug further,” Bell said,  “I was like, I think this is a fake job.”

Bell never heard back from the recruiter after suggesting that they reschedule a call for another time. He also never got a reply to the follow-up text message he sent to the fake recruiter’s number. He believed he was targeted because he invented the concept of “embedded planning,” an innovative way for city planners to think about and approach their work.

What incentivizes companies to post fake jobs?

“The word ‘fake’ should not come up in any conversation regarding the hiring process,” ResumeBuilder’s Haller said. “I find that reprehensible, but I think now because ‘fake’ is something that everybody talks about, there seems to be more acceptability in fake things these days.”

Both Haller and Revelio Labs’ Simon say there can be legitimate reasons companies post fake jobs. Some jobs have high turnover, while others are gearing up for a wave of hiring. Still, some companies put job listings out to “skim the cream off the top,” as Simon puts it, looking for excellent candidates, even if there is no real job for them at the moment.

“I think a lot of this has to do with the labor market that we’ve gone through. Somehow, everyone is sort of like a deer in the headlights. Nobody really wants to hire, but also, nobody wants to admit that they’re not hiring,” Simon said. “A lot of startups are incredibly cash-strapped, and they would do just about anything to convince their investors that things are going just peachy.”

Simon also points out that the employee-employer relationship has changed. “I do think that since the pandemic, trust has been broken on both sides,” she said, noting that while the labor market appears stable according to economic data, fake jobs can undermine that stability. Haller echoes her thoughts. “HR is responsible for the hiring process,” she said. “Human resources can’t have a reputation for not being truthful to people.”

One of the things that Haller found most alarming about the results from the ResumeBuilder survey was that a majority of the people posting fake listings today think the practice is acceptable. “If you’re putting up a job that you’re not hiring for today, but you have an honest reason, be honest, but don’t do it because you want to scare your employees into working harder. That’s reprehensible,” she said.

In the long term, the practice of posting and interviewing people for fake jobs could significantly harm everyone in the labor equation. Simon said it will invariably come back to bite companies once they’re actually ready to hire again. Haller agrees but says that there may be a silver lining thanks to younger generations. “My hope is that Gen Zers who are upsetting the apple cart, who care about mental health, work-life balance, who aren’t afraid to speak up, I am counting on them to make this not acceptable because clearly, we’re going in the wrong direction,” she said.

Rather than seeing it as a setback, Burns took his experience with the ghost job as an opportunity to focus on work he really wanted, and he is building a new editorial platform called thegolfgetaway.com. “I have taken that rejection and turned it into the impetus to start my own project and see if I can prove my long-standing point that sometimes individual journalism can be the most successful, lucrative for someone who takes this job seriously,” he said.

Why More and More Companies Post Fake Jobs and Actually Interview Candidates For Them

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