Spotlight for Career Services Professionals, February 1, 2012
The ad is enticing: “Earn up to $50k while you go to school!” it blares. It’s enough to make a cash-strapped college student quickly fire off a resume and provide any information asked for, even money, in response. But is the job it boasts or the employer that is posting it legitimate?
“A universal and timeless adage with a career-search twist is that if the job opportunity seems too good to be real, then it may not be real, and needs to be evaluated very carefully before submitting anything,” says Kevin Gaw, career services director at Georgia State University (GSU).
One of the career center’s many responsibilities is to ensure that organizations that want to post jobs and internships through the college’s job board are legitimate. Michelle Garrett, Southern Illinois University’s (SIU) recruiting coordinator, estimates that her career services office receives one or two requests to post per month from employers that are not.
“From my experience, most employers that are not offering students legitimate full-time, internship, or cooperative education experiences are merely seeking free labor,” Garrett says.
“Also, I have recently become aware of several organizations that offer international internship opportunities, but charge students several thousand dollars to participate. Not only are these internships unpaid, but the students must pay the organization to intern with them.”
The SIU career services office takes several steps to ensure employment opportunities are legitimate. First, staff members check that the primary contact’s e-mail domain matches the company’s website. If the primary contact’s e-mail account is through Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo, for example, it’s an indication that the employer is potentially illegitimate.
SIU career services staff members also review the employer’s website and do a Google search on the employer to find out some background on the company. When reviewing the employer’s website, Garrett and her colleagues take several steps, including:
- If the organization is a staffing firm, determining that it does/does not charge the job seeker. SIU always sends the employer its third-party employer policy for signature to verify that the company does not charge job seekers.
- Making sure contact information—physical addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses with the company domain, and more—are present, consistent, and accurate.
- Locating and reviewing the organization's EEO and privacy policies.
- Browsing the organization's additional content pages, especially the “About Us,” “Services,” and “Careers” sections. Garrett says it’s typically a red flag if the company has only a front page and no additional content pages.
“When I Google an organization, I look for comments regarding employment experiences,” Garrett adds. “I usually search for the term ‘working at’ and the employer’s name. I do not become concerned when I see that an organization has generated a few negative comments; however, I do become concerned when the overwhelming response is negative or when I see postings that refer to scams.”
When SIU denies an employer access to its job-posting system, the career services office sends the organization an e-mail explaining why it has been denied as per the SIU Career Services Policy Manual.
“We refer them to the specific policy in question,” Garrett notes. “Our policies are based on NACE’s Principles for Professional Practice.”
At GSU, Gaw and his staff also have developed policies and internal checklists to identify illegitimate opportunities and employers.
Another element to this problem, however, is that while career services offices can be the gatekeepers of their own job boards, they can’t monitor the job-search activities of all students.
To help make GSU students and alumni more aware and savvy about identifying illegitimate employers and opportunities, Gaw and his staff have developed the Fraudulent and Scam Job Postings booklet that offers information and resources, for example, about what illegitimate employers might ask for and what they’re really seeking, resources to use to identify scams, and information about what to do if the reader has been scammed.
“Helping students learn how to discern what may be real or legitimate opportunities from what may not be is key,” Gaw says. “Of course, this and our other tools are always being improved as we all learn more about this issue.”
Note: For information about your rights/responsibilities as they relate to job postings, see “Legal Q&A: Job Postings and Recruitment Policies” from the November 2009 NACE Journal.