Experts in the Media

Ben Hamer – TODAY Extra & ABC



‘Ghost jobs’ advertise fake positions and offer companies big benefits, while workers pay the price.

A woman with frustrated expression seen looking into laptop screen with blurred kitchen behind her.
Not hearing back about your job applications? It could be because they’re phantom jobs.()

Then you never hear a thing.

Don’t take it personally. It could be that the job never actually existed.

“Ghost jobs” are advertised positions that an employer has no intention of filling — or that have already been filled — and there are potentially thousands of them in Australia.

They are not only wasting people’s time, they risk damaging mental health and skewing job market figures.

So here’s how to steer clear of them.

How to tell if a job posting is a ghost job

Ben Hamer, a futurist and commentator on work issues, and host of the Thinker Tank podcast, says it’s difficult to give a precise figure, but he estimates that in Australia up to one third of all job listings could be ghost jobs.

One of the biggest indicators that a job is a ghost job is if its ad has run for more than 30 days, he tells ABC RN’s Life Matters.

“Things are really tight; they’re spread really thin. [Companies] can’t afford to go months and months without someone sitting in a job.

“So if it looks like an ad’s been there for more than 30 days, it’s potentially a ghost job.”

Another indicator is if you don’t get a response to your application for a couple of months — that’s potentially a ghost job, too, Dr Hamer says.

The level of specificity about the job itself can be another clue, he says.

“If it seems like [the job ad] is a little bit vague, then it’s potentially a ghost job. If it’s quite specific, it gives you the impression that there’s a genuine role that they’re trying to fill.

“Some of those may be ones where the recruitment process was just delayed. But a fair chunk of those are [positions] that were never intended to be filled in the first place.”

What’s the point of a ghost job?

You’d be forgiven for thinking a fake job ad is a big ol’ waste of everyone’s time.

Man in bright indoor space frowns slightly looking at computer screen just visible.

There are plenty of clues to look out for when trying to avoid fake job ads.(Unsplash: ThisIsEngineering)

But for employers, there are advantages, Dr Hamer says.

Advertising fake jobs also helps to give the impression that an organisation is thriving.

“If you’re recruiting, then it looks like you’re growing or increasing,” Dr Hamer says.

Another benefit is to keep a “warm pool of candidates … so that if and when a role becomes vacant, the [employers] have got all their CVs sitting there that they can tap into”.

Listing ghost jobs can also be a tactic “to placate overworked staff”.

“It’s their bosses saying, ‘Hey, don’t worry. Look, we’re advertising, we’re trying to get you support. Don’t stress’,” Dr Hamer says.

Sugumar Mariappanadar, the head of discipline in human resources and management at Australian Catholic University, says we know ghost jobs exist because there are more job advertisements than there are jobs.

Jobs and Skills Australia’s job vacancy index shows that there are more advertisements today, while we have a 4 per cent unemployment rate, than in 2019, when the unemployment rate was lower but there were fewer job ads.

He says that doesn’t add up.

Dr Mariappanadar says that discrepancy means job ads exist today despite the roles likely already being filled.

Unintended consequences of fake job ads

For employers seeking to placate staff, a ghost job ad is “a Band-Aid fix”, Dr Hamer says.

“When the [new] staff don’t actually rock up, you will see employees who will quit.

“And in Australia, we’ve still got relatively low unemployment. As much as it’s going up, it’s still only at 4.1 per cent. So there are other opportunities for people to move on to, and particularly younger generations who are noticing [fake ads] won’t tolerate it.”

But consequences extend beyond staff retention.

“There’s really adverse mental health and wellbeing impacts,” Dr Hamer says.

“And we are seeing a steady increase in the rate of burnout with Australian workers and workers across western countries as well.

“So … there are some really serious consequences that can come as a result of it for the existing employees, let alone those who are applying for roles and feeling like they’re not getting anywhere because they’re not hearing back.”

Dr Mariappanadar says ghost jobs are also distorting our understanding of the current employment landscape. And he’d like to see the government take action to curtail the trend.

“We need some sort of regulation from the government to say, OK, 30 days is [the limit to leave a job ad up], beyond which the jobs are to be removed if it is not filled, or it has to be stated that yes, we are openly looking for varied competencies,” he says.

“So at least the job seekers are aware of it.

“If there is no regulation, probably this will continue and job seekers … will be negatively impacted.”

Dr Hamer argues it’s rarely worth applying for a position you suspect is a ghost job, even if it’s just to enter that “warm pool” of candidates.

“What I would suggest if it’s a job that you’re really keen on is just pick up the phone and talk to the hiring manager. Every job ad should have a point of contact.”

He suggests asking questions like, “When do you intend to fill the role?” or, “Can you tell me more about the position?”

“The more specificity that they can give you, the more likely that it does actually exist, but [otherwise] I just don’t think it’s worth people’s time applying for those jobs.”