Job seekers beware! Yesterday, a client (we’ll call him John), messaged to tell me how excited he was about the most amazing job offer. He’s a recent graduate from ASU with a degree in computer science and is a great prospect in today’s job market. For an entry-level software engineer, it represented an unlimited future with solid compensation at his dream company. John would finally be setting out on his professional journey and he was over-the-moon excited.
What should have been an incredible moment in his life was stolen by a FAKE job offer. Turns out it was a scam. He was job-offer-catfished.
I couldn’t believe it. I’ve heard of scam job ads, but to take someone all the way through the interview process including offer letter? To get their hopes up only to snatch it all away? They were subtle, however, there were warning signs.
Here’s the first way they tricked him.
There was a real job ad online and what appeared to be a real online application. The job description was thorough, detailed, and honestly looked like every other job ad for a software engineer. THIS is why you should always apply directly on a company’s website. (To create an online job application would take a ton of effort and I doubt that it would be worthwhile for job offer scammers.)
Pro-Tip: Utilize job boards (LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, etc.) but when possible, go directly to the company’s career page. This will do two things – help you validate that the company is real, but also that the job is still available. If you see 70 applicants on LinkedIn and the ad has been pulled on the company website, don’t waste your time.
The next clue the job offer coming down the pike was a scam?
The interview we had practiced for turned out to be an online questionnaire.
Two hours of interview coaching later, John was prepared. Traditional first interviews are by phone and followed by virtual or live, in-person interviews. In short, they involve an actual human and human interaction. (Obviously, this was the part he was most nervous about.) All that prep was tossed out the window when he got an email explaining that the interview was “virtual” and consisted of detailed questions which required written responses. He worked hard, checked his grammar, and submitted his answers. As a recent college graduate, this didn’t raise any alarm bells. He simply dug down and basically treated the exercise as if he was writing a paper.
Even worse, the “interview” questionnaire had the real company logo on it and appeared to be real company collateral. There is no company I am aware of that eschews person-to-person communications during the job interview process.
Clue #3 that the job offer was a scam?
The person he was corresponding with was not using a personalized email address. It was always “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
In my experience, recruiters and HR folks have actual email addresses. The mailbox HR@company.com is usually a loosely attended catch-all for general questions and not an addy where interviews are set up or jobs offered.
Pro-Tip: Be sure your contacts at prospective employers have actual email addresses which contain some form of their name. If not, it is either a scam or they are probably too junior to be negotiating your salary and you should aim higher. I have never, throughout my entire career, seen a job offer come from email@example.com.
The job offer itself was simply typed into an email. There was no place to sign and it was in no way a formal contract.
Most job offers require a signature and are formal contracts. They spell out terms of compensation, benefits, and are legal agreements. At some point, lawyers were involved and consulted.
If you – at any point in your career – end up with an offer letter simply typed into the body of an email, I would strongly suspect that the company you are dealing with lacks structure, leadership, and compliance. In short? RUN.
The last clue the job offer was a scam?
The check they sent him to set up his “home office” didn’t clear. When he emailed them (he’d still never spoken to anyone over the phone), they replied that he should send them a check and they would reimburse him for the equipment. Clearly, here is the scam. They attempted to get him to send a check for thousands to set up a remote workspace.
Pro-Tip: If you are ever in doubt about a job ad or offer, email whoever originally posted the job. They will be able to tell you if everything is legit (or not). Incidentally, this is how John verified that he was scammed.
So ends the tale of the fake job offer. (If you are in the market for an entry-level software engineer, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know a recent graduate currently looking.)