That job you applied for might be a fake. Here's why.

Fake job ads are proliferating online, with more companies admitting to posting realistic-looking job openings that don’t actually exist. 

Forty-percent of companies said they have posted a fake job listing this year, according to a survey in May of 650 hiring managers from career site Resume Builder. Three in 10 companies currently have fake listings on their sites or on job boards, according to the survey. 

Unlike job scams in which criminals seek to obtain applicants’ personal information, hiring managers themselves are often behind these “ghost jobs.” 

While seven in 10 hiring managers say that they believe the practice is morally acceptable and beneficial for business, it complicates job seekers’ searches for work, and can also erode their trust in companies. 

“It’s not something new, but it’s being taken to a whole new level from what we’re seeing,” said Resume Builder’s chief career advisor Stacie Haller. “It’s very concerning, and they’re doing it to create a certain impression to the world and to their internal employees. But the word ‘fake’ shouldn’t apply anywhere in the hiring process.”

Hiring managers told Resume Builder their companies’ human resources departments, senior managers and executives and, in a few cases, investors or consultants have come up with the fake job schemes. Of the companies that engaged in the practice, 45% posted between one to five fake job listings; 19% posted 10; 11% posted 50; 10% posted 25; and 13% posted 75 or more. The roles spanned all levels of seniority, from entry level openings to executive-tier jobs.  

“You better work harder”

Companies harbor several motives for running the deceptive ads, according to the survey. First, some aim to trick current employees into thinking that the business is not only growing, but also making an effort to hire more workers and alleviate their existing workloads. 

In some instances, hiring managers said their goal is to signal to current employees they are replaceable. 

Nearly 60% of companies surveyed said they collected resumes to keep them on file for a later date, with no intention of immediately hiring anyone.

“They may do it to suggest that they’re hiring so if you’re an employee you’ll think, ‘We’ll relieve you of your workload’,” Haller said. “It may also be to say, ‘We’re a growing company.’ On the darker side, it could be to say, ‘We’re looking to replace you, so you better work harder’.” 

As far as hiring managers are concerned, most say the morally dubious tactic works. Nearly 70% of them said posting fake job listings boosted revenue. Sixty-five percent said the job ads had a positive impact on morale, and 77% reported an uptick in productivity among workers. 

The rise of these kinds of postings could explain why so many job seekers say they never heard back from recruiters after submitting their resumes. However, some companies go to great lengths to keep up the ruse, even going so far as to interview candidates for the fake jobs. 

Almost 40% of companies said they always contacted candidates who applied for the fake roles. Of those companies, 85% said they even interviewed candidates.

Forty-five percent of companies say they sometimes contacted candidates, and 17% either rarely or never did. 

Hiring managers are largely on board with the practice. Seven in 10 said they believe it’s morally acceptable, despite misleading both jobseekers and existing employees. But it can be hard to keep the ploy under wraps, especially internally. Two-thirds of hiring managers say employees, investors or applicants found out about the fake job listings. 

When they are exposed, the consequences can be detrimental to a company’s recruiting efforts. 

“It will definitely hurt your reputation, because I don’t know anyone who wants to work for a company that lies to them,” Haller said. “And if employees find out, in today’s world, everyone knows everything — people talk.” 

Can you spot a fake job ad?

It can be hard to distinguish between real and fake listings, particularly when a company decides to go through the rigmarole of interviewing applicants. And even if a hiring manager keeps your resume on file, perhaps for reference at a later date, a post is considered fake if the company has no intention of immediately filling the role. 

For that reason, job posts that have been active for longer periods of time, such as months, might be disingenuous, according to Haller. If a role’s salary range is overly broad, that could also indicate the company is not serious about filling the role. 

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