When You Take a Job and Get Scammed

What we don’t know about our employers can hurt us.

Photo credit: Jitze Couperus, CC BY 2.0.

Today’s must-read longread:

Telling my story isn’t going to be easy. Oftentimes I feel embarrassed, enraged, and regretful when I have to relive it, but in the end it is a story and life lesson which should be shared so that others may know major red flags to look out for when choosing to work for a startup or new business. What you are about to read is true and happened within the last four months. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty.

What’s amazing about Penny Kim’s story is that you keep thinking it’s going to be a certain type of scam, like the “ask potential employee to develop strategy as part of the interview process, then use strategy without hiring or paying the employee” scam, but the essay keeps going and the actual scam turns out to be something very, very different.

It’s also worth reading because it reminds us how little we know about our employers, especially if we’re dealing with a relatively new company or startup; we can look information up online, we can use the interview to look for red flags, we can seek out recommendations from friends if possible, but we really don’t know what we’re getting into until we show up and start working.

Also—and this wasn’t part of Kim’s story but it’s worth noting anyway—in an “employer’s market” where jobs can be scarce, some of us feel like we have to ignore red flags because any job is better than no job, right?

Those of us who find ourselves in a job that isn’t what we expected, whether it’s an actual scam or just a company that uses a liberal interpretation of “other duties as assigned,” also often stay longer than we should, as Kim notes:

There’s this default human condition to trust others and give the benefit of the doubt. Some may question why I took the job in the first place or continued to work for them when there were so many red flags. To those people I say this: there is also a default human condition to not give up. In hindsight, yes I could have probably saved myself the heartache, but in the end I took a risk I thought worth taking.

In addition to her rationale, I’d add “and you don’t want to look like a job-hopper,” or “and you don’t want to quit a job until you have another job lined up,” or simply “and you can’t afford to resign.”

Read Kim’s story. Then let us know if you would have taken this job, and at which point you would have quit.