As we coast through September and really dig our heels into this school year, many of us (like me!) may be thinking back wistfully to summer vacations on the beach. However, just like a red flag on the shoreline warns that you shouldn’t swim due to rough waters, you may also encounter “red flags” as you navigate your career path. These “red flags” may indicate danger that could be lurking around the corner with a potential employer. In this digital age, and with the rise of remote work over the last several years, college students have more opportunities than ever before to explore potential job openings and kick-start their careers. However, especially when using online platforms, students should be on the look out for fraudulent offers that can target unsuspecting job and internship seekers. Recognizing and avoiding these scams is crucial to protect your personal information, finances, career planning, and overall well-being. Here are some essential tips to help steer clear of fraudulent job offers and make informed career decisions.
- Thoroughly Research the Company:
Before getting excited about a job offer, conduct thorough research on the company. Visit the company’s official website, look at their LinkedIn page, check their other social media channels, and read reviews from employees on Glassdoor (www.glassdoor.com). Legitimate companies will have a professional online presence with clear information about their mission, values, and job openings. Sometimes start-up companies, in particular, can be difficult to research because they are so new, so before accepting an offer it would be perfectly fine to ask to talk to current employees or previous interns (especially if they are Penn students or alumni) and ask them about their experiences at that company. In fact, some companies may not be trying to scam you at all, but it may be that they just aren’t ready for prime time. In other words, their desire to hire you may not be malicious, but they may not be organized enough to bring on interns or new hires, and therefore won’t have the type of work or projects they promise. Or worse, they can’t actually pay you even if they say they will. So, conducting research and speaking with other employees will help you hopefully sleuth enough to assess the environment of the organization and viability of the job before accepting an offer.
- Beware of Unrealistic Promises:
If a job offer promises unrealistically high salaries, minimal work hours, or guaranteed success, it’s a red flag. Legitimate job offers are based on skills, qualifications, and market realities. Be cautious of anything that sounds too good to be true.
- Use Reputable Job Search Platforms:
Stick to well-known job search websites and platforms that have a reputation for legit job listings. Handshake, LinkedIn and Indeed.com are examples of good sites. Avoid clicking on random job offers received through email or social media messages, especially if they seem out of the blue. Even if a platform is reputable, like Handshake, fraudulent jobs can still slip through, so be sure to incorporate the other tips listed here when analyzing whether a company is to be trusted.
- Verify Contact Information:
Legitimate companies will provide you with clear and consistent contact information, including a professional email address (including the company’s domain name), phone number, and office address. Be wary of vague or inconsistent contact details. If the company contacts you by phone but there is no clear way to call them back, it’s a red flag.
- No Personal or Financial Information Upfront:
Legitimate employers will never ask for personal information like a photo of you, Social Security numbers, bank account details, or credit card information during the initial stages of the application process. Avoid any job that requires you to provide any of this information before the formal job offer is made. If a company asks to send you a check or wants to wire money to your bank account before you start working, it is a major red flag and you likely should not pursue employment with that company.
- Trust Your Instincts:
If something feels off or makes you uncomfortable about a job offer, trust your instincts. Scammers often use pressure tactics to rush you into making a decision. Take your time to evaluate the offer and seek advice if needed. You can try googling the company name with the word “scam” to see what pops up. This website can be helpful to check up on scams: http://www.ripoffreport.com. You can also use the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org/us/consumers/) and Hoover’s (http://www.hoovers.com/) to assess the legitimacy of an organization.
- Interview and Hiring Process:
A legitimate job offer will involve a structured interview process. Be cautious if the hiring process seems disorganized, lacks clarity, or if you’re offered the job without any interview at all.
- Check for Legitimate Job Descriptions:
Fraudulent job offers often have vague job descriptions with minimal details about the role’s responsibilities, expectations, or qualifications. Legitimate job listings will provide clear information about what the job entails.
- Research Compensation Trends:
Understanding the typical salary range for the role and industry you’re applying for will help you identify offers that are either too high or too low. Research compensation trends to ensure the offer aligns with industry standards. You can look at Career Services’ First Destination Survey which includes data on Penn students (https://careerservices.upenn.edu/post-graduate-outcomes/) or Salary.com for more general information.
- Seek Advice from Career Services:
Career Services is here to help! We can be a valuable resource when evaluating job offers as we can provide insights, advice, and even help you verify the legitimacy of a company or offer. When in doubt, come to us!
Think you already may be involved in a scam? Contact the police and take legal action as needed. Also, notify Career Services immediately in case the employer has posted to Handshake so that we can block the employer as soon as possible to avoid other Penn students applying. If you have sent money or financial information to the employer, contact your bank immediately to make them aware. You can also report scams to the FTC: ReportFraud.ftc.gov. For more tips and advice about fraudulent jobs, visit https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/job-scams#report.
There are many, many good opportunities out there for Penn students, so don’t let this blog post scare you away from finding a job or internship. Building solid professional experience is very important for your career development and growth, and it helps you learn what types of jobs you like (and what types of jobs you don’t!). But as a college student stepping into the world of work, it’s important to exercise caution and critical thinking when evaluating job offers. By staying vigilant, following these tips and practicing awareness, you can avoid falling victim to fraudulent job offers and make confident decisions about your career. Remember, a legitimate employer values your skills and qualifications and will provide a safe and respectful hiring process. Happy hunting!