Know Your Worth: How To Avoid Scams When Applying for Jobs

Watch out for vague descriptions, being pressured, and overly excited headhunters

Caitlin Knudsen
Sep 4 · 7 min read
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I’ve worked as a freelance writer and dog babysitter in a part-time capacity since October of last year. In October I also left my full-time position as a wound care nurse. That position was my source of insurance, income to pay my bills, and my purpose Monday through Friday. I left that position for good reason with the intention of taking a forced sabbatical to drastically reduce my stress so I could be more effective at any job going forward.

After a few months dedicated to meditation and deep inner work, I started applying to jobs in February, this time pivoting from nursing to positions involving writing. I’ve always loved writing and spent my free time exploring different formats: poetry, short stories, social media posts. While I make no claim to be a nationally renowned writer or even an expert in my field, I’m adept enough to write frequently and well.

Changing Careers Is Difficult

Not only do you contend with all your own complicated emotions surrounding the matter, but you also have to confront an inherent power disparity. You have to prove yourself beyond your inexperience on paper to a company that can dismiss you with a half-second click on the computer. You have to dig deep, suffer the disappointments — and they come like a deluge — and keep putting yourself out there.

This isn’t even taking into account the energy toll applying for jobs has on a person. The hours spent rewriting and reformatting your resume. The days spent answering the same questions on a dozen different applications. The individualized writing prompts you spent half the morning toiling away at.

I’ve become proficient at recognizing when my stores are running low. I know when I have to stop the hunt so I have time and energy to clean, make dinner, attend to my dogs, and embrace my hobbies to preserve my balance, my relative peace of mind.

I know it’s a process. Nobody owes me anything, least of all their time. I know it’s a hurdle finding a new job, especially when you’re doing a complete 180 from your previous one. I’m depending on getting an interview because it would provide the space for me to elaborate on why I’m a good fit for a writing position. But after months of job hunting, I was so desperate for an interview I almost fell into a situation where I was taken advantage of.

In one week’s time, I was scammed on a freelance website and had two offers to interview at companies that turned out to be MLMs (multi-level marketing schemes) conveniently located in my very own city.

People want to work. They want a purpose. They don’t want to feel left behind; they want to be part of society. From that place of desperation, whether emotional or financial, companies take advantage. I can explore why this exists in our society, but it doesn’t even matter. What matters is that I don’t want anybody else to be taken advantage of when they embark on their own job search.

I want all of us to know the warning signs and waste no more of our time on companies that don’t have our best interests in mind.

Warning Signs

To avoid loss of time, what do you look for when applying for jobs?

Vague descriptions of what the company does

This one happened with the two MLM’s that reached out to me last week. They messaged me saying they received my résumé and wanted to set up an interview. My first red flag: I had no recollection or record of sending my résumé to these companies because I hadn’t; they were looking for vulnerable people to cold-call for interviews.

I looked up both companies on the internet and found websites full of stock photography and words that sound pretty, but don’t really mean anything. I perused the entire website, and after ten minutes I couldn’t tell you what these companies do. They seemed to be involved in marketing, but in what capacity, I could not tell you.

There was no portfolio.

There were no examples of clients they work with.

I found a couple of Reddit threads about both companies. The marketing they do is sending their employees to sell magazine subscriptions or the like to unsuspecting people via phone calls or direct visits to their homes.

If you’re desperate and just need some income fast, no judgment from me, but if you have a college degree, I recommend you look elsewhere.

You spent four years of your life paying thousands of dollars to learn marketable skills. You don’t need to spend your days trying to convince people to buy things they don’t want.

The first MLM I was in contact with called me via telephone. When I asked them to elaborate on what the position entailed, since the email description told me nothing about the job whatsoever, they brushed me off and said it was a “position they wanted to train somebody in with the hopes they would advance into a management role.”

I’m not interviewing for a job that has no description and neither should you. I like surprises, but not when it comes to jobs I’m applying for. This isn’t a Dum Dums mystery flavor of a job situation, where I get there and maybe I’m interviewing for a marketing job or maybe it’s grooming dogs.


If you cannot figure out what a company does from their website or their own descriptions, move on.


Both the freelance client and the first MLM that contacted me were extremely urgent to set up an interview. The freelance client asked me to be in contact on Google Hangouts. As soon as I messaged them asking when we could set up a time to do an interview, they pressured me to do the interview then and there.

The first MLM texted me, emailed me, and then called me an hour later to set up an interview.

When I answered the phone, they used an accusatory tone about how I hadn’t answered their text or email (I may be looking for a job, but I still have a life, guy.) When I told him I was busy the next two days but would be available that Friday, he questioned me and asked if I was sure I couldn’t make Wednesday work. I repeated I was not available Wednesday. He became somewhat irritated and implied the opportunity to interview wouldn’t be available come Friday, which was in two days.

Don’t let anybody pressure you into interviewing. Your time is valuable too. You may have a family. You may have medical appointments. You may have household responsibilities you have to honor. It is completely feasible to find a time that works for both you and the prospective business, and you don’t need to compromise on that.

Over-the-top positivity

If you speak to somebody about a job or read the description on the website and they go on and on with empty platitudes about how positive a work environment it is, run.

It’s kind of like when people say they aren’t racist. Or somebody says they don’t like drama on their Tinder profile. It is most certainly the opposite in reality.

In my experience, people (and companies) that walk the walk don’t spend extensive time explaining themselves. They show it through their actions, and this includes spouting how positive a work environment they have.

When I started noticing this weird trend in my job search, I learned that using overwhelming positivity is a tactic MLMs and cults (!) use to create an environment where there is no room for dissent. If you express concern about their practices, you’ll be accused of betraying the company culture and being a bad employee.

I personally believe everything in life should be subject to healthy accountability, relationships and governments included, and I have no interest in working for a company that doesn’t provide room for feedback from their employees.

Unpaid labor

I received an email yesterday, actually multiple emails, asking me to apply to an unpaid writing internship. I immediately looked up the company. It was unclear what they do, per usual. But beyond that, if anybody is asking you to work for free, just tell them no.

If you’re in college and you have the financial support system to do unpaid internships, by all means; it’s up to your discretion. However, if you’re an adult-type person and you have bills and need to eat, do not sign up for unpaid labor. If you want to arrange to do a few hours unpaid here and there to learn a new skill or cultivate relationships, sure!

Your time is valuable. Your needs are valuable. You deserve to be paid for the work you do.

No job experience is worth sacrificing your ability to take care of yourself.

Your Gut Is Telling You Something

Throughout this whole process, I was getting pings from my gut whenever one of these companies reached out to me. There’s all this talk about healing your gut through diet, but I think one of the most revolutionary acts we can do to heal our gut is to just listen to it.

Listen to it!

If your gut tells you there’s something off about a job, do not pursue it. Spend your time investing in job applications that excite you, that are legitimate, and that seem like they would yield beneficial experience.

I’ve learned that not only does my gut tell me I shouldn’t pursue a job because it’s a scam, but it also tells me if it’s not in alignment with my values.

This is important and time-saving too; don’t waste your time applying for jobs just to add another application to your list of “Jobs Applied For” — especially if you can’t actually see yourself working there.

Spend time applying for jobs that make sense to you.

Bottom line: If something about the situation feels off, it probably is. Don’t let them try to convince you otherwise. Listen to yourself first and foremost and walk away earlier.

Perhaps the job you really want will come through sooner because you were a boss at setting boundaries with jobs that didn’t deserve your time of day.

Thanks to Niklas Göke

Caitlin Knudsen

Written by

Full-time pug wrangler and freelance writer covering topics from mental health to lifestyle. Find more writing at

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade