The Danger of Artificial Job Listings

Summary: Fake job listings, or real jobs backedby a selection process that filters out everyone, can earn yourfirm adversaries and detractors. They need to be identified forwhat they are — a cheap, transparent gimmick.

A Typical Model

Following a fairly typical business model in this niche, yaflais a small consulting and contract development shop in amid-sized market, using that business income to support thedevelopment of derivative products and businesses (such as thesoon-to-come, along withlicensed ISV technologies.

We love the consulting/development market. We’re extremely goodat it, we enjoy the diversity and challenge, and we have no plansof ever abandoning it (at least until the world’s software and ITneeds have been completely satisfied once and for all). Yet ofcourse we’d also love to build the next great shrinkwrap or web apphit, and are working towards that goal as well.

One thing we haven’t done, however, is to pretend thatwe’re bigger, more important, or more exclusive than wereally are through the cheap but common technique of bogusor never-ending job listings — We haven’t built apompous careers section bulked up with imaginary roles. We haven’tprovided descriptions of how extraordinary yafla talent is thatonly walk-on-water technical magicians with PhDs should considerjoining the ranks of Extraordinary Gentlepeople.

The Lofty Requirements and Imaginary Jobs


What I’m talking about, of course, is the sadly prevalentpractice of many organizations, from tiny to huge, to endlesslylist artificial positions that don’t actually exist, or toadvertise theoretical positions that no one short of a deity couldactually fill. This is a technique utilized by a diverse range ofcompanies, from the tiny start-up that immediately has a prominent”careers” section comprising one third of their web property, tothe huge organization like Microsoft’s Canada division that liststhe same positions for a year on end.

In this case I was spurred to write after seeing yet anothermicro-web firm — one which I know has less than half a dozenemployees and hasn’t grown in years — with a comprehensivejob listing section including endless exhortations for only themost extraordinarily gifted and rare to join this exclusive crew. Iimagine the endless ranks of prospects wasting their time jockeyingfor positions that will never be filled and it saddens me abit.

Advertising false or theoretical positions is a cheap way ofconveying the illusion that the perpetrator is anelite company on the go, so in demand that humanresources needs outweigh the need to acquire clients (sort ofa social proof), providing lofty requirements in hopes that you’llbelieve that all of the existing staff achieves the same. Itattempts to cow competitors into thinking that they’re sosuccessful that they’re chomping at the bit for new employees, butare thwarted by a workforce that is incapable of meeting theiramazing skill requirements.

In response to these ads, countless prospective applicantscarefully craft cover letters and customized resumes. They eagerlyapply, imagining their future with this fabulous organization.

Many times their application either times out and yield anautomated rejection letter, or immediately gets rejected by a humanresources department that is filtering applications by a wide rangeof criteria unstated in the job posting (the classic being thesecret compensation cutoff — ask for less and you’ll get throughand underpaid, but waste your time submitting for a job thatdoesn’t fulfill your financial requirements and you’ll getinstantly rejected).

Not named Smith. Not named Singh. Too much corporateexperience. Too little corporate experience. Too presumptuous inits use of the greeting “A very good day to you”. Thearbitrary and often ridiculous filtering criteria can effectivelyeliminate anyone.

Cheap and easy for HR, so everyone wins. Right?

The Negative Repercussions

Of course they don’t.

On the other end of the equation is a real person that wastedtheir time and effort creating a submission for jobs that oftendon’t even exist, or which they don’t meet due to hiddenrequirements — people who often already have jobsand are sacrificing their limited free time — only for theirefforts to sit stagnating in an inbox or database for years.If they’re lucky they might get rashly rejected despite fulfillingall of the requirements, and then some, when some arbitrarytime-out mechanism fires off a form rejection letter, or ahaphazard HR rep blanket rejects all pending resumes.

The resentment builds. The goodwill of the organizationsuffers.

These rejectees often have decision making authority in theirorganization, and over the years they grow into more powerfulroles. For years they nurse the wound that their perfectapplication for the big XZZ corp position was rejected out of hand,without as much as a phone call or personal contact allowing themto demonstrate their worth. Often it subconsciously colours theirchoices, be it as simple as supporting and advocating open sourceproducts in defiance of the careless Microsoft rep that cannedtheir submission, or second guessing whether the firm shouldautomatically move to .NET, or whether there should be acompetitive showdown between it and J2EE. Even a minorantagonism can substantially change internal advocacy.

Of course choices should be made based upon empirical facts andunbiased analysis, but as human beings we are consciously andsubconsciously affected by emotions and biasSmaller firms of coursehave less ramifications for partaking in this abuse.

Smaller firms often have no downside to printing such fake ads– apart from killing a bit of your soul abusing people like that– given that spurned suitors often have no business relationshipwith them outside of vying for a job. These firms use such ads inthe theory that “no publicity is bad publicity”. Compare this toMicrosoft that relies upon the decisions of millions of people, andsuffers from a million tiny wounds when an HR department getssloppy.

My Personal Experience

I can personally relate to this problem to adegree.

Many years back, when I first moved to the greater Toronto area,I applied to a Microsoft Canada position that was pretty much aperfect match for my skills — the ad seemed like it was writtenspecifically with me in mind: I had what seemed to bea perfect mix of skills, experience, education andcertification.

I had watched this job listing sit on the job site formany months, and figured I’d finally give it a try, so Iwasted an hour of my time putting together a perfect resume, andthen reformatting it for their absolutelyterrible, archaic online resume building tool. I lookedforward to the inevitable telephone interview when I wouldwow them more with my incredible communicationskills and demonstrated intelligence.

A week later I got a form rejection letter informing me that Iwasn’t suitable for the position.

No phone call. No email questions. No follow-ups at all. Just ablanket, uncontestable (from a no-return bogus email address, whichis a classy touch) rejection by the machine of HR atMicrosoft.

The job listing stayed up for as long as I bothered watching.Every day that it sat there unfilled I stewed over the fact that Iwasn’t given even the courtesy of a brief phone interview.

I’ve never been a Microsoft zealot, and nor did thatorganization represent my dream job, but it admittingly did burngetting rejected in such a fashion (I’d much rather have bombed aninterview and had myself to blame). My choices of Microsofttechnology have always been driven by facts and pragmatism, so itwasn’t like I was going to stomp my feet and embrace Linux to spitethe Microsoft machine, but it did make me give alternatives asecond look.

In all honesty it’s probably made me a little more antagonistictowards Microsoft Canada employees, making me question “so what’sso special about this guy I don’t get a phone call yet this idiotworks there?”

For someone more emotionally invested, though, it probably couldhave made them an enemy. I have to wonder how many avowed Microsoftenemies, spreading the anti-Microsoft word far and wide, weremolded when the human resources machine rashly stomped on theirdreams.

The same question could be raised for other organizations withthe same hiring practices, and for startups that build a facade ofsize by listing numerous positions that don’t actually exist.

Not Everyone Is Employee Material

Of course many applicants aren’t appropriate or optimal for theposition they’re seeking, so job seekers have to accept the factthat even getting past the initial filter is a remotepossibility (especially given the one-click applications possibleat many of the job sites: A single listing can yield tens ofthousands of mechanically submitted applications, so even the bestprospect can get lost in the noise, not to mention that listedpositions are often internally filled, and listed only as a matterof process), and as always getting considered is often bestachieved by network contacts and organizational insiders ratherthan cold resume submissions.

Nonetheless, fake job listings are quickly transparent toall, and unfilled roles that waste the applicant’s time canearn an organization lifetime enemies.

On top of that, the practice of keeping some requirements secretwastes everyone’s time. Apart from often unstated diversitystaffing requirements, organizations often fail to publish thecompensation band for a job. For prospects with financial needsbeyond the position, it is an enormous waste of time andeffort, and it fills HR inboxes with prospects that will neveraccept the position.