Are ‘Fake’ Job Ads Inflating US Employment Data?

Taylor Goucher is urgently seeking to hire accountants and customer service technicians to work at Connext Global Solutions, the offshoring consultancy where he leads customer services.

But those aren’t the only job listings the company has posted. They also have five additional listings, for engineers and a vice president, who he plans to leave indefinitely.

“For really tough openings, the right people only show up so often, so we have to leave them open and just wait and hope that at some point a good candidate comes along,” said Goucher, who said he adopted the strategy 18 years ago. months after working in vain to fill a position for nine months.

Some economists suspect that Goucher may be among a growing number of employers posting so-called purple squirrel job openings to leave them indefinitely in hopes of finding the kind of perfect candidate who is as rare as woodland creatures with pastel fur. If true, it could help explain why job vacancy numbers remain high.

“These are purple squirrel vacancies,” Christopher Waller, governor of the Federal Reserve, told reporters after a speech at the Institute for Monetary and Financial Stability in Frankfurt. “They are not real”.

For Waller, such vacancies strengthen the case for the US central bank to tighten financial conditions. If long-term job listings are inflating vacancy numbers, the workforce may not be in as much demand as it seems. That could make it possible to reduce the number of vacancies advertised by companies without significantly altering the unemployment rate. The Fed is raising rates to control inflation, but fears remain that steep increases could cripple the labor market or trigger a recession.

US employers added 390,000 jobs in May, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Most of the 11.4 million job vacancies reported in April are not waiting for “purple squirrels.” An analysis by Goldman Sachs found that two-thirds of current listings were published in the last 90 days, a higher proportion than before the coronavirus pandemic. However, the number of vacancies employers fill each month hit an all-time low in March.

“That’s not because companies are getting more choosy,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at job site ZipRecruiter. “Instead, many are lowering experience and education requirements.

“It’s because, despite lowering the requirements, employers are still not finding enough interested and qualified people per job opening,” Pollak added. “A lot of employers are making offers to multiple candidates and seeing them all turn down offers from other opportunities because they’re being outbid.”

Some frustrated job seekers share Waller’s suspicion. Julia Laico searched for months for a job to start after her graduation from Emory University in Atlanta in May. She said she expected the process to go quickly due to a shortage of workers, but instead she spent hours sorting through the inactive job listings. Ultimately, she landed a two-month scholarship with a nonprofit educational organization.

“I was expecting a little more professionalism from a lot of employers,” Laico said. “There was a lot of non-response, even after the interviews. And I fully understand that companies cannot respond to all applicants due to sheer volume.”

Patricia Lenkov, an executive recruiter in New York, said employers are becoming increasingly choosy about who to hire after a year of experimenting with less-qualified candidates due to worker shortages, which could explain hiring processes. slower and more frustrating hiring.

Other companies have yet to “clean up” their job postings after spending months scrambling to replace employees who quit during the pandemic, said Cathi Canfield of the industry staffing group EmployBridge.

That’s the case with OSP International, a Tuscon company that produces training courses for project managers.

“We understand that it is impossible to find a candidate who has all the skills you need, but we keep those openings in case we are lucky,” said OSP President Cornelius Fichtner. “However, we don’t get lucky too often.”

Recruiters and economists agree that job seekers still have the upper hand in today’s job market. Joe Mullings, executive director of talent acquisition for The Mullings Group, warns that employers are finding it harder than ever to attract “purple squirrels.”

“Honestly, the best people generally don’t look for jobs and blindly respond to job postings or send their resumes to Human Resources,” Mullings said.

Goucher said his “purple squirrel” openings have helped him hire qualified engineers that he otherwise would have missed out on.

“It’s a different strategy,” Goucher said. “Instead of hunting, you can fish.”

Additional reporting by Joe Rennison