Does something smell suspicious when you see that job posting or open an email from an employer or recruiter who has a great opportunity for you? Here's how to tell if you should follow your nose, ignore the "opportunity," and move on.
Job search scams come to you via email, but you also find scams posted on websites as well, from the big name job boards and social networks to a small local employer or recruiter. Independent recruiters often legitimately recruit for employers, but the recruiter should be open about who they are.
You need to know who is really behind this job posting. The recruiter or the employer's name is required information for you to verify that applying for the job is worth your time.
Recruiters may not tell you who the employer is because they are afraid you will go directly to the employer, eliminating their commission for finding you. But, they have no need to protect their name from you, and legitimate recruiters will be open about what is happening.
If you are unsure of a job opportunity you may find, or that may be sent to you by someone you don’t know, use this Sniff Test to see if the opportunity is real. Yes, it is a P-I-T-A (as in, a pain-in-the-a…) to do this research, but right now you really don’t have other viable options to protect yourself.
Avoid job scams by doing this sniff test. Don't take the time and go to the effort to apply for a job posting unless you know it is legitimate.
This is a variation on the old trust-but-verify saying. Trust AFTER you have verified that a job is "real" by being sure that the employer passes this sniff test.
Be very cautious if there is no name associated with the job posting.
Do NOT respond until you know the employer or the recruiter is legitimate!
Google the employer’s or recruiting company’s name, address, and phone number, or other contact information you have, to see what you find.
If they have a Website, Google should find it for you.
However, do NOT automatically trust them because they have a Website (see # 3, below)!
If the only results from that search are job postings on many different job boards, that is a very bad indicator. A legitimate company, to stay in business, must have more of a presence on the Web than just job postings.NOTE: Be sure that you match the exact spelling and wording in your query! “Smith’s Restaurants” and “Bill Smith’s Restaurants” may or MAY NOT be the same organization.
For more tips, read 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers.
Once you are positive you have a name match, look for concrete, verifiable contact information on the Website, on the home page or on Contact or About pages - a street, city, state, and Zip plus a non-800 phone number.
If you only have an email message from them, look for contact information in the signature space at the bottom of the message. If there is nothing or only a phone number, do NOT assume that the requestor is legitimate. IF there is information, verify it (more below) before responding.
Do a quick look up using the company name on Hoovers.com, SuperPages.com, or the Better Business Bureau to see if the address and/or phone number for the employer or recruiter are listed. Compare with the job posting or Website to confirm that the contact information belongs to the employer or recruiter.
If there is an email address for response, check to be sure it is from the employer’s domain name, e.g. HR [or recruiting or a person’s name]@[employer-name].com and not [employer-name]@gmail.com / @yahoo.com or some other public email provider.
If there is a Website associated with the job posting or even just an email address for responding, check that the domain name really does belong to the employer you think it does by doing a “WhoIs” (literally the words "who" and "is" squished together) lookup at DomainTools.com.
If the domain name was registered very recently, a few days to a few months ago, don’t trust it. [For more information about domain names, read Job-Hunt's "Understanding Domain Names" article.]
If you still aren’t sure, contact the employer, using the SuperPages.com or Hoovers.com official contact information, to confirm that the opportunity is real. If they haven’t posted the job, they will appreciate knowing that someone is abusing their name and identity. If they have posted the job, you’ll get a chance to talk with them to see if it’s still open and how friendly they sound.
If the situation doesn’t feel right to you, follow your instincts and walk away from the opportunity. It may be your smartest move.
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.