Ask the Headhunter: Beware of pay-to-play job interview scams

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Businessman on phone at desk in office with hand on forehead. Frustrated employee, worker. Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Please learn this lesson now: No legitimate recruiter will ever charge you a fee of any kind for a job interview, writes Making Sen$e columnist Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


A few minutes after a visitor to my Ask The Headhunter website posted a public comment about how he got scammed out of $2,500 by a phony recruiter, he asked me to delete what he’d posted. Turns out he’d received a threatening email from a lawyer.

The lawyer told him to “cease and desist” from posting critical comments about the recruiter. Then the recruiter emailed to tell him that if he removed the comment, he wouldn’t get sued.

READ MORE: Ask The Headhunter: Avoid Employment Scams, Ruses and Rackets

The surprise is that the victim got scammed not once, but twice. The whole story is here: “SevenFigureCareers: Threats and fraud.”

Degrees of scam

We often discuss lazy, sloppy, inept recruiters in this column. (See “Rude Interview? Don’t work there” and “Why do employers play ‘telephone’ with our lives?”) You know the type — they solicit you, they’re in a huge rush to fill a job, you respond and provide the information they need, but you never hear back from them.

That’s really a recruiting scam in itself: recruiters who are dialing for dollars rather than really recruiting. The scam is a matter of degree.

That’s really a recruiting scam in itself: recruiters who are dialing for dollars rather than really recruiting.

Worse are the ones who get you into an interview for a job that’s totally wrong for you, but you don’t find out until you’ve wasted hours of your time, if not a trip to another city. And worse still are those “opportunities” where you attend several interviews and suffer lengthy wait times after employers tell you an offer is imminent — then nothing happens.

The penultimate is when a job offer is extended, then the offer and the job suddenly disappear. (See “What if my job offer was rescinded after I quit my old job?”)

These are all scams to one degree or other, because what’s promised is never delivered: an honest chance at a job. The recruiter, meanwhile, is playing the odds by sending as many applicants as he can to an employer, hoping the employer hires one and pays a fee. It’s no skin off the recruiter’s back — you’re doing all the work.

The inept employer scam

There’s a kind of scam employers run too. Lazy, inept employers lead dozens of candidates through the selection process, because they have no idea what kind of person they need to hire. The job has not really been defined. They waste your time while they figure out what they don’t need. (See “Why employers should pay to interview you.”)

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: How did recruiting become so perverted?

In these cases, the employer hires no one, but all the candidates pay. The employer simply hasn’t done its job to determine whether (or whom) it needs to hire. You’re scammed out of your time — and you pay in unnecessary frustration.

The fee scam

From time to time, job seekers get scammed for money, too. This is the worst kind of recruiting scam, and the above-mentioned story is a good example.

A recruiter contacts you, says he found your profile on LinkedIn and that you’re an amazing match for a job he’s trying to fill.

Then the recruiter informs you that there’s a fee involved — maybe it’s a “processing expense fee” — if you want access to this “hidden, highly confidential job opportunity” that only he has access to.

Thrilled, you either visit his office for a two-hour meeting or have lengthy phone discussions and email exchanges that hint at an incredible opportunity. Sometimes these guys will forward email threads from their “clients,” who say they need to interview you immediately to fill a job within a week.

Then the recruiter informs you that there’s a fee involved — maybe it’s a “processing expense fee” — if you want access to this “hidden, highly confidential job opportunity” that only he has access to.

Most people walk away. Others, frustrated by other interview failures, rationalize that the best jobs are of course not free — there’s a cabal that controls them. So they fork over the money.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: I’m waiting for a job offer… Now what?

After a few phony phone interviews and email exchanges, they realize they’ve been had. It might be a $30,000 job or a six-figure job, but I’ve seen more high-income people scammed than lower-level workers. The higher up the income ladder we go, the more susceptible people seem to be. Top managers and executives are accustomed to paying “consulting fees” for specialized help. Who wants to do the work of finding a new job? Of course there’s a way you can pay to have it done for you.

But those pay-to-play opportunities are all phony. The lesson is a painful one. I’ve seen executives lose upwards of $15,000 in these scams.

Walk away

While I was researching the story about the person who got scammed out of $2,500, the victim — a savvy executive — said to me several times, “I was such a dumb sh*t!” Even after he realized he’d been scammed, he believed the scammer was going to sue him.

Please learn this lesson now: No legitimate recruiter will ever charge you a fee of any kind for a job interview.

There’s a psychology behind these scams — it’s about human nature. It’s about wishful thinking. It’s about frustration. It’s why the scams work often enough that scammers keep using them. So please learn this lesson now: No legitimate recruiter will ever charge you a fee of any kind for a job interview. Walk away and toss your wishful thinking in the trash before you toss away your money.

Dear Readers: Have you ever been scammed out of money for the promise of a job? What kinds of scams have you encountered?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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