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Swimming with Sharks

Earlier in my career, I was actively searching for a new job. My church had a great a career networking group and I made a point to go as often as I could. After one of the meetings, a gentleman came up to me, told me he was impressed by my "30 second elevator pitch" and invited me to meet some business owners he knew that were meeting for dinner. I readily accepted the invitation. After all, I thought, a bigger network improved my odds of finding a new job.

Dressed for success, I showed up at the address provided. The first clue that something was fishy was that the address was an auditorium buried in an office park. It was not a restaurant like I was expecting. Instead of an “intimate dinner” of handful of people, there were about a hundred people vectoring on this building – all dressed in business attire. I did not want to offend the guy who invited me, so I went in. I was quickly picked out of the crowd as a “new recruit” and led to a check-in table where a woman verified who invited me to the meeting. As a “guest” I was ushered to a seat in the front row of the auditorium, along with several other chumps.

I was beyond confused and too polite to leave.

Then the meeting began. It was like a tent revival on meth. A parade of desperately enthusiastic people came up on stage one after the other and bragged about how much income they made last month. Each undercard speaker whipped the crowd up more than the last.

Then it was time for the main event. The headlining speaker was introduced, a research MD/PHd from Duke University. This man - I’ll call him the Grand Poo-Bah – immediately launched into a huckster show aimed at the “guests” in the front-row. He’d hammer us with rhetorical questions like, “You sir, how would you like to be able to buy any car you wanted” and “Ma’am, how would you like to take your family anywhere in the world on vacation.” The guests in the front row were eating out of his hand…except me. My warning lights were all in the red and alarms were sounding in my head.

It finally dawned on me what fresh hell I ended up in – I was in a recruitment meeting for a multi-level marketing company. (I’ll keep the company name out of this blog as they have a reputation for being very litigious.) The Grand Poo-Bah continued to regale us about how we can “own our own business and be our own boss” and make a ton of money the side for buying and selling products people buy every day. The promises were large but he was very vague on the details.

When the show wrapped up, I could tell it was time to close the new suckers. Fuming at this point, I bee-lined to my car and left. I was furious that I was sucked into wasting my time at a pyramid scheme recruit night. I felt I had been taken advantage of. The guy who originally invited me had the chutzpah to call me the next day and ask why I left so suddenly. I could sense he was not happy he was loosing a sale, so to speak. He could not understand why I was angry – and was not happy when I reported him to the networking group leaders and had him banned. Apparently, he had tried to recruit many people from the networking group, many of them unemployed and struggling to pay the bills.

The epilogue happened several weeks later, when I met a man when out walking my dog on the greenway – we lived in the same neighborhood and chatted for a few minutes. In the conversation, I told him I was on the market for a new job – and he immediately pivoted and started pitching me on “introducing me to some friends of his who are business owners.” He used all the same language the other guy used. Apparently, the Grand Poo-Bah must have had had a ton of minions farther down the pyramid on the lookout for suckers.

I wanted to share this story with my job seekers out there as a lesson that not everyone you meet on your job-hunting journey has your best interests in mind. There are some people out there who will kick you when you are down and take your last dollar in the process.

Being unemployed can be one of the most stressful times in your life. Everything is under strain – your finances, your ego, your sanity sometimes. Desperation can make you susceptible to making either poor career choices or not seeing the scams coming.

I’ve had many candidates tell us of how they were taken advantage of when they were unemployed. I wanted to share with you the most common pitfalls so you can avoid them if you find yourself looking for a new job.

  1. 100% Commission Sales Jobs: Usually this category is filled with car/boat/motorcycle dealers or telemarketing jobs. While there are many reputable companies in this category out there, there are some that are less so and some that are downright shady. Turnover is very high for these kinds of jobs, so they always have jobs posted. They also tend to be proactive, reaching out to job seekers that have not applied. They look for people that fit categories that have a historically higher chance of success, like varsity athletes or military candidates. They will talk about unlimited commissions and earning potential and point out that their top seller made some outrageous sum of money last year. Paid training is minimal (usually a few days) and then you are on 100% commission. Therefore, the cost of putting a new sales person out on the floor is negligible to them, and they don’t have to pay you much if anything if you don’t sell anything. If you are successful, they win. If you don’t, they don’t lose. What they don’t tell you is that usually top sales people in the industry work crazy hours (nights, weekends, six days a week) or have been at it so long that they have a big book of repeat customers. Chances are that won’t be you, and either the lack of money, the work schedule, or shady ethical practices will have you back on the job market in a few months.

  2. Insurance or Financial Advisor Jobs: Selling insurance or financial services takes specific licenses, and most companies will offer a training wage until you get licensed. Many companies will continue to invest in you, pay you a salary and continue your training until you build your business. There are several, that do not – and you’ll quickly find yourself in the same 100% commission boat as selling cars. Which means you will be working for free until you can start selling products or services (often to friends and family) and build a big enough book of business you can make a living from. Some companies in the industry have some counter-productive incentives for trainers & mentors that make them money if you fail – by giving them your customers when you quit. Some don’t even make it as far as giving you a job before taking advantage of you. The second or third interview step is often to work on a “lead list” of everyone you know and their contact information, so you can “hit the ground running.” The fine print is that list is property of the company, and you just gave them leads of all your friends and family, maybe with no intention of giving you a job in the first place. I’ve had many candidates get their career side-tracked and lose six months to a year finding out it’s not the job for them

  3. Executive Marketing Scams: These are companies that claim to have access to a “hidden job market” and for a fee, usually several thousands of dollars, promise to market a candidate to companies and land them a job. These scams were common in the pre-internet days, and while many of these companies have been shut down as frauds, they keep popping up in different forms. The scams are similar – target people for thousands up front with the promise of landing you a job. Reputable recruiters never charge candidates for finding them a job.

  4. “Coaches” – There are no laws requiring certifications for people to hang a shingle and call themselves coaches. Be wary – look at their credentials and experience. Do they have the experience and qualifications to coach you in whatever they are offering? Are they “guaranteeing” anything? Any decent coach should have years of industry experience you can benefit from. And nothing can be guaranteed.

  5. Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Scams: There are plenty of side-hustle oriented companies that you can use to supplement income. However, if you are encouraged or incentivized to recruit others, buy inventory in advance of orders, or purchase training out of your own pocket, chances are it’s a scam. I did some research on the one that tried to recruit me and the average “business owner” makes $115 a month, with the median making $0, and many losing money each month. Better to spend your time and resources on getting a real job.

The most important thing you can do when unemployed is not panic. It can cloud your judgement and can make you either jump on the wrong job opportunity or grab the wrong lifeline. Take a deep breath and evaluate your options, and possible outcomes.

Job transition can be a good time to pivot to a different career (including sales!). Getting a side-hustle job can literally buy you time to find the best job for you. But use common sense and evaluate the risks involved to your finances and career if you are not successful. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it is. If a temp job or side-hustle takes up all the time you should be doing to find a new one, rethink that option.

If you are struggling with your job search or career, we can help – our coaches are experienced and good at what they do.

We’d like to hear from you. Let us know how we can help.

And as a post-script, this showed up in my LinkedIn box last week:

“Hey Ed! I hope you're having a great night. I know this is going to come across out of the blue, but I wanted to run something by you. I work full time in operations management, but outside of what I do full time I've actually been fortunate enough to partner with a group of business owners in Charlotte and Raleigh areas who help put together marketing teams for big companies. We use this opportunity as a way to develop ongoing income outside of what we already do. Right now we're looking to bring on about 2-3 good people who are interested in diversifying their income. Are you at all interested in learning more?”

No…no I’m not.

Keep riveting.

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