The multi-level marketing companies misleadingly recruiting new graduates

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By Jennie Copeland, English Literature MA

I’d come to the end of my seasonal zero hours contract job and was in desperate need of a job. With an inbox full of rejections, I saw no harm in agreeing to an interview from a company I had never heard of.

I’d been frantically applying for jobs for a few weeks to no avail when I was contacted by a marketing recruitment company who seemed eager to speak to me. They had texted and emailed me over a couple of days with phone call requests which looked more like spam than a professional invite.

They had ‘headhunted’ my CV on Reed and my skills apparently matched their criteria, though they never detailed what that criteria was. Nor did they, in their relatively lengthy email detailing the company’s success and values, ever give an indication of what the job would involve. I ignored these messages, but a week later I got a phone call and it was them again. I decided to see what they could offer me and called them back.

They said I was ‘exactly what they were looking for’ and asked me a few preliminary questions before offering me an interview. It was a slight relief from the string of rejections I’d had so I thought I may as well, even if just for the experience.

The interview was strange. There was another candidate on the video call, which had not been mentioned beforehand. After asking us a bit about ourselves, the interviewer then showed us a presentation about the company, which looked like it had been made in a rush ten minutes before the interview.

There were vague explanations of the stages of career progress available, none of them having any distinctive differences except titles. There were no skill-based questions. The interviewer only asked if this sounded like something we’d be interested in. When we both, after a confused pause, said yes, she began enthusiastically explaining we’d have another interview the very next day.

Unsplash / Scott Graham

The next interview followed the same format but with a different member of the team, whose role was again not clear. The interview was also recorded – at the time I put this down to their hiring practice. Again, we were asked very few questions, and I got the feeling the interviewer didn’t want us to ask any either.

This time, the other candidate bought up the company’s negative online reviews and lack of social media presence and asked how they might explain this. The interviewer’s response raised even more red flags. They became defensive and blunt, bumbling something about how people online think they are not legitimate, but they are because they ‘work with the government’.

Later I found out that they were not registered anywhere on the Gov UK Company’s House list, and therefore not a legitimate company.

Their level of unprofessional conduct became apparent when the interviewer accidentally disclosed mine and the other candidate’s email addresses to one another when he copied us into a follow-up email. Fortunately, the other candidate bought this up as a breach of privacy, as well as the fact the interview had been recorded without prior consent. We didn’t receive any response.

I came out of the interview more confused about the role than I had been before.

I decided to search for reviews of the company and the top results were reddit threads on marketing scams filled with experiences identical to mine. One even mentioned the same names of these company members and was posted only the day before. It’s clear that this company is currently seeking to recruit similarly vulnerable people in an exceptionally difficult economic period.

It turned out that this company has been operating a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) scam for a few years, managing to stay afloat by frequently changing their company name to shake off bad press. They recruit ‘sales reps’ based on no skills or experience, with the bait of an unrealistic starting salary and fast-track career development.

In reality, the job is door-to-door pressure selling with little pay. The business functions like a pyramid scheme, with varying levels of ‘companies’ that ultimately work to the benefit of the highest company, which ends up with the majority of the money.

They target students and new graduates with little experience of the job market. Most are making their first steps into work eager to use their degrees and, in a saturated job market made worse by the pandemic, the search can be daunting.

Job adverts promising high salaries and career advancements for graduates with little to no experience can be very appealing. It’s these sales tactics and motivational techniques used throughout the recruitment process that can mislead graduates into commission-based door-to-door selling.

I started to wonder about the people working in the scheme, who had seemingly succeeded and become associates and managers. For some, who can get past their questionable recruitment methods and accept the job for what it is, they can succeed and work up the ladder. Some thrive off the idea that they can one day achieve this.

But, for most, it’s hard work for little pay with no real respect for the individual. I’m glad I learned about these underhand recruitment techniques early on in my job search. It’s far more rewarding to be hired for your unique skills and experience.

Always research the company you apply for and, if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.


Featured Image: Flickr / Mike Lawrence

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