Ghost-Busting Online Job Ads
Joyce Lain Kennedy
DEAR JOYCE: Online job posts that don't identify the employer are probably a waste of time. I usually don't hear back after applying. Why bother? -- G.K.
What I call "ghost posts" -- online recruiting announcements for supposed job openings where there's no clue to who's asking for your resume -- are digital reiterations of what in print media have long been called "blind ads." Here are four things you need to know about ghost posts:
Why do advertisers post ghost job ads?
Examples of legitimate mystery offerings include an employer's desire to eliminate a paralyzing crush of applicants; to keep a fading employee in the dark until replacement plans are completed; to avoid tipping off competitors too an expansion or new product line; or to make it easier for a headhunter to line up candidates for a client employer.
On the other hand, a mystery posting by an employer may be less than admirable from a job seeker's perspective.
Examples include posting the ad merely to fill a company's resume database with thousands of resumes to consider when a job actually opens. Because each resume is date-stamped, the company can tell a contingency headhunter, who earns a placement fee by presenting the winning candidate, to take a hike when the new hire's resume is already in the company's database.
Headhunters also use ghost posts to fill up their own databases, later turning the fruits of their inventory into placement fees. Moreover, headhunters may save recruiting costs with a single posting of composite requirements for a bogus job that reflects skills for several jobs.
Ghost posters also may be merely testing the market to find out how little they can pay to bring a good employee onboard. Sometimes it's an effort to cover employment discrimination tracks. Rare, but it's happened.
Should I play the ghost game?
Ancient statistics measuring the job-finding effectiveness of replying to blind ads are dismal -- a puny 4 percent in a 1981 report. (I know of no contemporary studies of how ghost posts fare in channeling employment.)
What's more, some career coaches advise clients to flat-out ignore ghost posts because too many of them are scams that could lead to identity theft, a truly frightening concern.
Other coaches say that blind ads -- and presumably ghost posts -- produce fewer responses, so there's a competitive advantage for the job seeker who answers them.
My take: Minimize the time you spend responding to ghost posts, and only cautiously share private and personal information about yourself with a stranger when you don't even know the stranger's real name.
OK, but I really need a job and will chance a reply. So how can I protect myself?
Establish a dedicated free e-mail account (Hotmail,
Try to identify the placer of the post by Googling its e-mail address and phone number. When you need to be more Sherlockian, browse for a detailed how-to article, "Who's Behind the Blind Ad?" which originally appeared on
If, horrors, you fear that your own employer placed the post, play ghost buster by enlisting a friend to reply to it. Or just ask your boss, "A friend handed me this post. It sounds a lot like my job. Is it?"
How can I stand out?
If you do unmask a worthy mystery company, include a cover letter with your resume. But do not mention the ghost post. (Think of your approach as just good timing.)
Address the hiring manager by name, noting that in researching the manager's business, you learned that it successfully distributes xyz products, which is why you're writing.
Your letter's second and third paragraphs describe your qualifications. A postscript says that you will call soon at a given time to see when an interview would be convenient. For more ways to show initiative, see my book, "Cover Letters For Dummies, 3rd Edition."
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(c) 2010 Joyce Lain Kennedy, Careers Now