Half of cybersecurity jobs might not be real, wasting time for everyone

With “ghost jobs” on the rise, applicants for cybersecurity – and tech positions in general – are particularly affected by the trend to keep placements open for jobs they have zero chance of ever getting.

Ghost jobs refer to fake job listings that lead nowhere, meaning that you won’t be invited to a job interview even if you’re a prospective candidate.

A recent study by Clarify Capital revealed that 68% of hiring managers had job postings active for more than 30 days, and one in ten had positions open for over six months. More than half of recruiters keep job postings active because they’re “always open to new people.”

The situation is even worse in cybersecurity and tech in general.

In the US, the Information industry had 139,000 job openings in November 2023, down from 213,000 a year ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals. 66,000 specialists were hired in the industry during the same month, hires were at 112,000 a year ago.

The ratio of job openings to hires in the Information industry was 2.1, meaning there were more than two job openings for one actual hire. The ratio in the total economy was 1.6 openings for one hire.

Many recruiters even believe that posting “ghost jobs” is beneficial, as it helps keep current employees motivated or gives the impression that the company is growing. For many, this is the way to maintain an active pool of applicants for natural turnover.

However, job seekers are increasingly frustrated by wasted time and effort as it may take months for their application even to be considered, and experts warn the practice may hurt their reputation.

“This phenomenon significantly impacts the job market and the industry, as it creates frustration and prevents qualified individuals from applying for jobs that “aren't really there.” Overall, companies should transparently display their recruiting process, avoiding the creation of fake or unnecessary job postings that waste the time of both the organization and the job seekers,” said Ben Goodman, Chief Executive Officer at 4a Security.

Larry Whiteside Jr., CISO at a continuous controls monitoring platform RegScale, called this trend disconcerting.

“This phenomenon has been observed by numerous individuals in my network, ranging from individual contributors to executives,” Whiteside said. “This trend raises concerns about the integrity of the cybersecurity job market, highlighting the need for due diligence among job seekers and organizations alike.”

Cyber pros should send two CVs to apply once

Andrew Fennell, Director at StandOut CV, an online resume-building tool, shared with Cybernews some worrying statistics for cybersecurity professionals from the study in the UK.

“45.7% of cybersecurity jobs were found to be ghost jobs', the third-highest in the study. Software engineers were the second most likely job to face ghost jobs (46.5% of listings),” he said.

Similarly, web developer roles were found to be ghost jobs 42.3% of the time. For comparison, in the UK’s overall job market, “ghost jobs” had a share of 34.4%.

Fennell defined ghost jobs as an unscrupulous recruitment practice that wastes job hunters’ time and effort.

“Ghost jobs can save hiring teams’ time as they have a database of people to go to, but unfortunately, it can mean job hunters are wasting valuable hours tailoring their CV for a job they have zero chance of ever getting,” Fennell said in the report.

No law specifically bans ghost job adverts, however, many experts warn that ghost job postings would not reflect well for ethical concerns and could sometimes lead to legal consequences for misleading advertising.

The study asked recruiters for reasons

Joe Mercurio, project manager at Clarify Capital, which surveyed 1,045 managers involved in the hiring process about ghost jobs in 2022, explained that employers post “ghost jobs” for a variety of reasons.

“Around half of companies keep job postings open because they are always open to new people, but 43% aren't actively trying to fill positions because they want to keep employees motivated or they want to give off the impression that the company is growing,” Mercurio said.

Around a third of managers even admitted they “forgot to delete the job,” or there were no reasons in particular to keep job openings active, the Clarify Capital study revealed.

ghost jobs reasons

Goodman added that some possible contributing factors for ghost job positions include a lack of budget, unclear job titles and responsibilities, or simply a lack of qualified candidates.

Josh Amishav, Founder and CEO at Breachsense, believes that ghost job posts leave a bad impression on the company, potentially affecting its reputation and leading to a decrease in employee referrals.

“Having said that, it's important to note that not all long-standing job postings are ghost jobs. There can be many reasons a job post is active for a long time, like long hiring cycles or company policies on job postings,” Amishav noted.

Whiteside Jr. thinks that a prevalent issue arises from organizations posting job openings despite having pre-selected candidates in mind.

"Despite having a preferred candidate, these organizations go through the motions of publicly advertising the position, allowing the listing to persist for extended durations. Concurrently, they subject numerous candidates to interview processes with no genuine intention of hiring anyone from the external pool," Whiteside said.

How do you distinguish ghost job postings from the real thing?

To save some time and headspace for actual positions, recruiters have some recommendations.

Firstly, it is wise to check the date on a job board.

“We advise job hunters to avoid anything older than 30 days without verifying it’s still live. Some job boards don’t indicate if a job was posted 30 or 60 days ago, they’re simply labelled ‘30+ days’,” Standout CV writes in its report.

Similarly, heading to the company’s website for their career page lets you check if the position is still open. Often, it may be labeled as “accepting applications” or similar.

Application closing dates are usually buried right at the bottom of the job description – check that.

Or, you can just ask.

“Contact the hiring manager or recruiter directly on LinkedIn to ask. You can say that you are interested but want to confirm if they are still taking applications,” Fennell recommends. “Search on LinkedIn/Twitter to see if there have been posts from someone celebrating their new job which matches the role you want to apply for.”

When deciding if the opportunity is worth the time, it is better to prioritize fresh listings posted in the last weeks.

“Anyone looking to avoid applying for ‘ghost jobs' should pay close attention to when they were first posted. Despite 96% of employers claiming they're actively trying to fill an open role quickly, 40% of employers don't expect to fill their active job posts for 2-3 months. In fact, one in ten managers reports having job openings posted for over 6 months. This can happen for many different reasons, but checking to see when a job was posted could help prevent job seekers from applying for ‘ghost jobs. A job that was posted 48 hours ago is more likely to be actively hiring than a job that was posted 3 months ago,” Mercurio said.