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Monday, May 5, 2014

Job seekers beware! Scammy, sketchy companies are looking for you!

Being unemployed is a frustrating, frightening, and often humbling experience. If you’ve been in the job market more than a few years, chances are you’ve had some memorable job interview experiences, ranging from great to abysmal. 

Today I went on a job interview that was so shockingly sketchy, I must share it with others in hopes my experience will help them avoid a colossal waste of time and energy, and to be aware of the multitude of disreputable “business” practices being used to snare talented people into less than professional job interviews. 

If I wasn’t unemployed at this time, I would never have responded to the request to set up the interview with this firm. It was the typical cold call- “We saw your resume on CareerBuilder, and feel you would be a great fit for our organization. We’d like to set up an interview.” The young woman on the phone told me they are a marketing firm and their boss is in need of someone to help him with all his responsibilities. 

After a few back and forth questions, I ask about the salary and the responsibilities. The caller is vague and won’t commit to telling me either, but keeps repeating that the hiring manager will explain all things when we meet.

I continue to press her and insist on knowing what I am interviewing for. Her words were, “He needs someone to be his right-hand person, assist in all duties of running the office, and will be working to help free up his time.”

I explain that I am a communications and social media person, and will they be needing website content or marketing work for the firm. She replies that there may be many opportunities, but I will have to discuss it all with the boss during the interview. 

I finally agree, with some hesitation, but only because it is very close to my home- less than 10 minutes driving distance, and because per the requirements of receiving unemployment benefits, I must be ready and willing to accept employment. So going to an interview will satisfy that requirement for this week. I have nothing to lose, and who knows, maybe it is something new and different! And the commute would be a dream!

So I think, why not? Go for it! Think positively!!! What have I got to lose, right?

I receive this email, which said: 

 Hi Diana,

Congratulations on being selected for a preliminary interview with our company!

Your interview is scheduled on 05/05/2014 9:15 AM. The interview will give the Hiring Manager, Ramses, the opportunity to get to know you and tell you more about our Company.  

We are located at 4801 B Eisenhower Ave in Alexandria, VA 22304.
Parking in our lot is free and does not require a permit.

When you enter the building our Office is located on the second floor, the first door on the left. Please check in with Kristine at Reception, and be sure to ask for Ramses. The dress code is business professional, and remember to bring a printed copy of your resume! 
 In the event that you are not able to make your scheduled interview date & time, notify me prior to your appointment, preferably by email so that we can give the appointment to someone else. If you have any further questions feel free to reply to this email or contact me directly, (703) 762-6271
 We look forward to meeting with you! 
                                     Thinking positively and willing to see what it is all about. 

As I was preparing for the interview this morning, I kept getting this bad feeling in my gut. It was an uneasy feeling, and I started to wonder if it was a good idea to pursue this mysterious job. Being unemployed is very similar to being unhappily single. You really want to FIND the right job. You put yourself out there and hope there will be a good match. Interviewing feels an awful lot like dating. Will it be a good fit? Are we compatible? Do the expectations match up? How do I see myself in this “relationship” in the future?  So many questions, so much hope, so much promise… or not. 

As I drive the 10 minutes to the interview, I am becoming more suspicious. The location is in an industrial part of Alexandria, but I keep telling myself not to be so negative. It is close to two Metro stations, and many areas are in transition! They are building expensive new apartments right around the corner from this area. 

I arrive at the location five minutes early. I walk in, sign the book at the front desk, and realize IMMEDIATELY that something is amiss. FIVE names are in front of mine, and they are ALL scheduled to meet with Ramses (You gotta love that name) at 9:15!!!!

I ALMOST say something, but decide to keep cool, and let it all play out. They hand me a form to fill out, which is pretty standard. I continue to observe the surroundings. I notice all the staff are extremely young- no one is even close to 30. AND they are very questionably dressed. Considering the email instructed me to wear “business professional” I am getting the impression they have no idea what that really means. 

                                                           Becoming skeptical

I am still waiting to be called, and I am listening to people in little offices talking on their phones. ALL the conversations are about coming into the office to interview. They are in the business of setting up interviews, that’s all!!! They have a standard canned speech, asking the exact same questions, “Where do you live? When can you come in for an interview? The boss needs assistance because he is very busy, and isn’t able to perform all of his duties.”  

Now I am 100% sure this is a scam. There is no way possible they are interviewing ALL these people for a single position. I continue to wait, and observe. Honestly, at this point, I have to see how this is going to play out. My curiosity has now completely taken over!

                                                      Hey, What's going on here?

 FINALLY, my name is called. But wait? Where is this infamous Ramses???? I am shaking the hand of a twenty-something with an ill-fitting, cheap suit named… Trevor! And he looks every bit of his name. Now I know this is going downhill so fast, I worry I may lose my temper and tell everyone in this place off. But I keep my composure and follow Trevor into a little office. 

 He asks me questions I have already answered on the form- “Are you currently employed? When can you start?” I answer all his questions, and wait, wait, wait for what he is going to ask me next.

“So we are a marketing firm, and we have clients who are in the home improvement business. Are you familiar with home improvement?”    (Is this EVEN a real question??)

I respond sardonically, “Well, I own a home, so I guess I do.”

Trevor continues, “Our main client is Home Depot. Have you heard of Home Depot?”
You can now imagine the look on my face. If you actually know me, you are laughing as you imagine my expression. 

“Yes, I have heard of it.”  

Trevor now ramps up his game- “So, what we need is people to go into the Home Depot and talk about home improvement…”     
STOP! RIGHT NOW!  I interrupt him.

“Excuse me, but I believe there has been some mistake. I was contacted by Christine to meet with Ramses, and you are Trevor. I think you have me confused with someone else. I have not applied for a position to go to Home Depots to talk about home improvement. I am here to interview for an Office Management position for the marketing executive. Is he available to speak with me?”
Trevor replied, “Well, all the positions here have to start out as ENTRY LEVEL and…” 

I interrupt him again. 

“You’ve made a terrible mistake. I am leaving now.”

                                                             WHAT did you just say?

And I walked out the door. I considered telling everyone in the waiting room that this place is a giant scam, but then I realized that many of them may be keen on the idea of talking about home improvement in the Home Depot, so I simply marched forward. 

For the record, there is absolutely NOTHING in this world wrong with a job that involves talking about home improvements in a Home Depot, EXCEPT if you have been told- SPECIFICALLY- that the job was something else entirely, AND if you are far beyond an entry-level position. I have been working for 25 plus years, and my skill-set does not involve selling home improvement to Home Depot clientele. 

 The long and short of this tale is BE AWARE, be careful, and ask questions up front. I asked questions, and I was lied to. I knew there were many red flags, and as I stated previously, I wouldn’t have gone on this interview had it not been less than 15 minutes from my home, and because I have an obligation to seek employment opportunities in order to satisfy the conditions of my unemployment payments. 

Had I traveled further, and especially if I had to get childcare or incur another expense in order to go to this interview, it would have been much more upsetting. 

There are many reputable and upstanding businesses and organizations, but be aware that there are also bad and dishonest ones. Believe me, I will not be afraid to ask more questions, and insist on more answers the next time someone cold calls me about a job opportunity. 

Most of all, listen to your gut. If it feels creepy or shady, don’t ignore those feelings. Let’s hope this was my last negative job interview fail! This one will be very hard to top! 

 So LIVE and LEARN!  And here is to better days, and better experiences. And hopefully, a NEW job which is a perfect fit for my talents and level of experience!