Ghost Jobs

Recently, a friend of mine quit her job because she objected to the ethics of her most recent employer. For one thing, he’d ask her to post job positions on Craigslist, with no intent of ever filling the job. For him, it was a cheap research tool–he’d cull the incoming resumes for the most qualified candidates, and then call them up and ask them what their expected salary/rate was. What he got was solid information on the current salary range for a variety of positions; what the job seekers got was false hope.

It’s a low-down thing to do, especially now, when more than a few people are out of work and willing to work for less than they normally would. But I’ve seen worse in the publishing and advertising field.

I particularly remember going in for an interview for a p.r. position at a monitor manufacturer when I was still young, unemployed, and hungry. After a cursory review of my resume, my interviewer told me she’d like to see me write a sample press release for an imminently shipping product, and set me at a desk with a computer and the spec sheet. I diligently worked away, and had a good draft done within half an hour. Then, I went to find my interviewer.

After hunting around for her in vain, I finally found an engineer who told me she’d left about 20 minutes earlier to go “work from home.” Lost and puzzled, I headed home myself. When I finally got a hold of her in a follow up call, she asked me for my consulting rate, told me she’d get back to me, and never did.

However, a month later, I did have a job at a magazine and received a press release from that company. It read suspiciously likeĀ  the one I’d written as a “test.”

It could have been even worse, however. I worked for a few months at an advertising agency in Oakland, and the owner didn’t hesitate to remind me that more glamorous agencies, in downtown San Francisco, got much of their work done with volunteer labor. They merely had to create an internship, dangle out the promise of a job in the industry (which they themselves would not provide), and change out interns every 3 months.

He wasn’t lying or exaggerating–from London to San Francisco, we’ve heard reports from people who were happy, nay, even thrilled to be getting experience in such a glamorous field. As for those interns, I know none who ended up with a career in p.r. or advertising, much less for the client they’d labored for for free; and why would they, when the agencies can easily find fresh volunteers with stars in their eyes and a smile on their lips, month after month, and year after year?

It must be terribly tempting for unethical employers to play such tricks with “internships” and jobs which will never be filled, especially when hiring is soft and it’s all too easy to take advantage of job- and career-seekers. As for my part, I’ve been lucky enough to land work with honest companies. And though it’s been 15 years sinceĀ  I was conned into writing a press release for just a promise, I’m still happy that that monitor manufacturer went under just a few years later.


  1. Shiaw-Ling

    It’s now illegal in California for employers to offer internships without compensation unless the student is most definitely studying a subject in the industry and there is direct education value in what the student performs for the company. (Which also means student must be in school.)

    Unfortunately, that still leaves most interns out there vulnerable to preying companies like this because no one is going to whistle blow on the boss they’re trying to get references from, and most students probably aren’t told that they need to legally be paid for work they do. But it’s a way to gauge the quality of the company to see what their stated policy is. Large, reputable companies will offer some compensation (minimum wage to about $12). Small companies who can’t pay will list the education requirement in their ad. Everyone else is either painfully ignorant or out to take advantage of you.

  2. Joel Meadows

    Job interviews are a nightmare and I always hate them. I’m sure it’s no different in the US to over here. Having had the first month of my 12 month contract at Which?, full-time work is a bit of a culture shock after freelancing. But some companies out there do take the piss when it comes to why they hire people…

  3. Chris

    My cousin’s husband is a restaurant manager. After he got laid off from Hunter he went on numerous interviews. At one, he was asked to help the waiters serve meals. He was puzzled but complied for over an hour then the ‘interviewer’ said he was going on break and Reuben could take over until he got back. Um, no thanks! He hightailed it out of there; needless to say he never got paid for his labor much less hired for the apparently non-existent position.


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