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Indeed and other top job sites, like Microsoft-owned LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter Inc., insist they use both technology and human teams to scour their millions of listings to ensure legitimate job requirements. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Government data indicate there are about 9 million jobs available in the US right now, but you wouldn't know it from talking to some jobseekers.

Their frustration stems from being "ghosted" by employers who, for various reasons, don't actually intend to fill all of their posted job openings. Revelio Labs, a workforce intelligence firm, says reported incidences of ghosting have doubled in many industries versus pre-pandemic, while the average job posting is only about half as likely to result in a new hire today.

Such anecdotes have helped fuel skepticism of the government's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which provides the official count of vacancies in the US "- especially since the Federal Reserve has elevated it as a key piece of evidence that the labor market has been too tight.

"Job postings and job openings are certainly imperfect measures. In a period where things get cast into the spotlight, their weaknesses show up more," said Nick Bunker, head of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab. "You will never be able to capture the true breadth of the labor market if you're relying on one statistic that can be fragile."

Like Zoom calls and mask mandates, the monthly "JOLTS" report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the spotlight during the pandemic. Millions of Americans decided to switch jobs or leave the labor force entirely, taking advantage of a robust hiring market and Covid-related government relief funds.

The phenomenon was dubbed "The Great Resignation," and Fed Chair Jerome Powell often pointed to JOLTS as a sign of labor-market heat as he and his colleagues embarked on the most aggressive tightening cycle in decades. At the peak last year, there were more than 12 million job openings across the economy, and two jobs available for every unemployed person, according to the BLS.

Its newfound importance as a key benchmark for policymaking brought increased focus to the dataset from the scores of Fed watchers paid to analyze and forecast the central bank's every move, as well as plenty of complaints about its reliability.

Former Fed economist Julia Coronado earlier this year criticized JOLTS for its small sample size relative to other government reports and for its low response rate, equating it to "basura" "- or, translated from Spanish, "garbage." She and other private-sector economists recently organized a call with experts at the BLS to review their concerns.

Indeed and other top job sites, like Microsoft-owned LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter Inc., insist they use both technology and human teams to scour their millions of listings to ensure they reflect "legitimate intent to hire for a bona fide job opportunity," as LinkedIn's user agreement states.

"Inactive or 'ghost' job postings are not a prevalent issue," said Indeed spokeswoman Jyotsna Grover. The site removes "tens of millions" of postings each month that don't meet its guidelines, she said. Violators can be suspended or permanently removed, a ZipRecruiter representative said.

Keeping Tabs

Paul Calhoun, the BLS supervisory economist who oversees JOLTS and was involved in its inception more than twenty years ago, said the agency surveys 21,000 firms to compile its numbers, and doesn't scrape online job postings. While it can't confirm that every job opening leads to a hire, it does keep tabs on the firms' overall employment levels.

"If there's deviation in those numbers, or if the hires don't jibe with the job openings, we check to see if everything is still valid," Calhoun said. "And we will kick out the outliers."

Still, recruiting experts and jobseekers maintain that some postings don't have actual jobs behind them. Sometimes a company will post a role in advance of an opening becoming available to build a pool of applicants, said Jamie McLaughlin, founder and chief executive officer of recruiting agency Monday Talent.

"Even if you don't have jobs, you can start pipelining and filling for roles when things pick up," McLaughlin said. "It all adds up to why these jobs stay online, but doesn't make it any less frustrating for the candidate."

Jordan Hughes started applying to jobs earlier this year - at least 50 over the course of six months, he estimated. He only heard back from about a dozen.

One of them was a local gas station in Rochester, New York, to work the overnight shift. He received a verbal offer from the district manager, but never heard back again. The job posting disappeared from Craigslist about a week or so later, only to then reappear in about another month.

"If someone doesn't want to hire me, that's fine. But you don't usually tell people those things, then drop off the face of the earth," said Hughes, 29, who has 10 years of experience working in various retail jobs. "It was so much more frustrating than it needed to be.

To be sure, ghosting can go both ways. Recruiters tell their own tales of people accepting job offers, then never showing up for work. Those instances may be diminishing, though, as the job market softens and the balance of power shifts back in the direction of employers.

In July, the BLS data indicated there were about 8.8 million vacancies in the US, down about 27 per cent from the March 2022 peak. (Data for August are scheduled to be released on October 3, though an impending government shutdown is making that look unlikely.)

Large US employers have in recent months conducted layoffs, slowed rates of hiring and pushed back the start dates of those they are bringing on board. Meanwhile globally, the average time to hire was more than six weeks in the first quarter of 2023 "- a record high "- according to an analysis by The Josh Bersin Company, a workplace consultant.

For his part, Hughes was able to eventually land a job, working a few overnight shifts at a different gas station. He still has "a million" applications out to other positions.

"I wanted a few more shifts than this, but right now I'm just happy to have landed anything," he said.