Is The Job You're Applying For A 'Ghost Listing'? Here's How To Spot One.

The silences you may hear after applying for a job can be demoralizing and frustrating; too often, they are out of your control.

You could be hearing silence because you have just encountered a “ghost job” or “ghost listing,” a trend where employers keep up a job listing for a role that they are not actively hiring for or where the search has stalled. These inactive job listings can happen for many reasons, said career coach Becca Carnahan.

“Perhaps a company decided not to fill the role or has already filled the role and hasn’t taken it down yet on all platforms, or the posting may still be up, but the company is far into the interview process with top candidates, so they aren’t actively considering new applicants at this time,” Carnahan said. “Postings may also be shared publicly, but there are internal employees who are considered top candidates for the role.”

As a job seeker, you want to be strategic about avoiding ghost listings that haunt job board sites and are less likely to lead to you actually landing a job when you need it most. Here’s how to spot them and dodge them:

Look at when the job role was posted. 

To spot a ghost listing, look at the date the job was posted. The longer a listing has been up, the more likely it could be a ghost.

According to a 2022 survey of over 1,000 managers by loan provider Clarify Capital, 27% acknowledged keeping up a job listing for over four months. In that survey, 43% of managers who said they keep inactive job listings up said they did so to motivate employees or to give off the impression that the company was growing.

To be clear, this is not a great hiring practice that is fair to job seekers who may believe the listing is active.

“People who have been out of work for over six months, they apply, and they get their hopes up. And then just to sit there in that situation where they know that they’re just never going to hear back from them, that is extremely discouraging,” said Eddiana Rosen, a human resources specialist with recruiting experience who coaches job seekers.

So to avoid wasting your valuable time, be selective about which jobs you apply for.

“I recommend to coaching clients to prioritize applying to roles that have been posted within the past two weeks and ideally submit applications within the first few days a posting is live,” Carnahan said. “Spending time on applications for roles that have been posted for a while likely won’t be the best use of your time.”

Cross-reference the company’s career website. 

Angelika Karachristos, associate director of talent acquisition for the University of New Haven, noted that many job boards that job seekers use to search for jobs “scrape” jobs from the careers page of organizations’ websites.

“Because of that, it is possible that the job closes on the company’s page but lingers out on the web much longer,” she said. “So the first thing to do when you want to know if a job is still available is to go to the company’s website and see if it is still posted there. And while you’re there, always apply through the company’s site. Avoid any sort of ‘quick apply’ or application through a search site or job board. If it is no longer posted on the company’s site, you found a ghost posting.”

Set up alerts and times when you send your application. 

If you know exactly which company or industry you are hunting for, Rosen noted that there are specific job board sites that can help you tailor your search. She cited the recruitment platform Otta, which can push alerts to job seekers interested in tech jobs, as one example. “That way, you’re one of the very first fresh applicants,” she said.

Here’s one more pro-tip to having your application stand out to recruiters: Try applying on a Sunday, Rosen suggested.

“As recruiters, you know, we come in Monday morning, the first thing that we like to do is clear our inbox and take a look at fresh applications from the weekend,” she said. “So if you apply on a Sunday night, you most likely are going to be the very first bucket that that recruiter or sourcer is going to be taking a look at as well.”

Ask directly about whether the job listing is still active. 

Carnahan said she rarely sees applicants being called in for interviews when applying to job listings that have been up for several weeks. But if you are really interested in a role, avoid the guessing game and directly find someone at the company who can tell you if the listing is active.

“If a job seeker is interested in a company and there is an active but older job posting, I recommend reaching out to the hiring manager or potential hiring manager based on a LinkedIn search to express interest and ask directly if they are still considering applicants for the role,” Carnahan said. She said reaching out can be a win-win for candidates even if the answer is “no.”

“If not, you are still connecting with the company and letting them know about your interest which can help you stand out for future roles, particularly if you turn that initial outreach into an informational conversation,” she said.

Karachristos said those reach-outs could help job candidates build valuable relationships with hiring teams.

“I’ve had job seekers reach out to me directly to ask about a posting, and one of two things have happened,” she said. “If the job search is closed, I let them know but also inquired about their qualifications and interest to consider for future opportunities. If the job was still open, I still asked them about their interest and qualifications and then asked them to apply.”

In other words, if it’s a job or a company you want to pursue, it doesn’t hurt to make that interest known, regardless of whether it leads to a job right away.

“The lesson here is whether the job is open or not, recruiters are always looking for talent or potential candidates,” Karachristos said.

If a potential ghost listing is a job you really want, it might be worth applying anyway.

Don’t lose all hope if the listing that seems like a ghost is for your desired job. It is sometimes possible to get a job through an older listing, depending on which industry you are applying for. Karachristos said she’s seen candidates get jobs from older listings with high demand and high turnovers, such as customer service roles like servers, bank tellers or salespeople.

“Because these positions are in demand but open up often, recruiters will use a standing posting to recruit candidates as positions become available,” she said.

Karachristos said that in these cases, the best practice for employers is to let job seekers know that this is a “‘General Consideration Application’ that clearly states they are always looking for people and to apply for general consideration as positions open up on the future.” That way, job candidates apply with the right expectations of when they can expect to hear back.