Does job hunting make you vulnerable?

I clicked on the LinkedIn app on my phone. It didn't take too long, after scrolling through the posts celebrating International Women's Day, before I saw a vacancy being advertised. I recognised the company name, and not for the right reasons. 

You'll notice I asked if 'job hunting' makes you vulnerable, not if unemployment makes you vulnerable (that's a different kettle of fish altogether.) To someone that grew up in the age of MSN, Myspace, and where Youtube was a place you watched the evolution of dance rather than a viable and lucrative career option, the notion of meeting up with someone who approached you online was a justifiably grim prospect. But today that is a very common and legitimate social transaction, especially when it comes to job hunting. You send a document with lots of details about you - where you went to school, where you've worked, your contact details - to a complete stranger, in the hopes they invite you to an interview. This is a perfectly legitimate dynamic these days. Isn't it strange how times change? 

Drawing a parallel between modern methods of seeking employment and the context of most horror stories from the early 2000s has made me wonder: does job hunting make you vulnerable? It's unlikely, but I do have a horror story of my own to share... 

So, back to LinkedIn: I recognised that company name. I'm obviously not going to share it, but it was bland and generic and didn't tell you anything about what the company does. This company invited me to an interview not all that long ago, and it left me feeling so deeply uncomfortable that as soon as I walked out of the building I blocked their phone number. I'm not sincerely saying I think that it was, I'm just saying that I wouldn't be surprised if it one day transpired that they were a front for human trafficking. 

Before they contacted me and invited me to interview - in the very unusual fashion of text message, I might add - I had never heard of them. I had not sent them an application and at the time, I hadn't been interacting with any recruiters. Their text didn't have a preamble about who they were, and just said "We received your CV and wanted to get in touch regarding an interview in person" with a link to an online calendar. To my surprise, the only appointments that were available for me to book were for the very next day! So I booked in (had I not been applying for jobs on bulk around that time, I'd have been very sceptical, I think.) Later, when sifting through my junk mail folder, I found an email from them - which is perhaps rather telling, given how it unfolded. That being said, mail gets erroneously sent to junk inboxes all the time, so I didn't think anything of it. 

Their e-mail told me that the interview dress code was strictly professional wear, and was extremely complimentary, reading "With your experience you would be a great candidate! You have what we are seeking... we want to meet with you as soon as possible. We are drawing a close to interviews, but I've cleared some time for you tomorrow afternoon between 1.30pm and 5.00pm". Notice how they stressed they were nearly done with interviews but they desperately wanted to see me?  Not only did it flatter me, it gave me a sense of urgency. I went to their website to research the company before I went to meet them. (I thought it was rather unkind they'd given me such short notice because I couldn't effectively prepare!) Their website looked sleek and professional, albeit very uniform. The usual headings you can expect from corporate companies: "our culture" "our approach" "why us?" etc. It didn't stand out to me as such, but with hindsight it does look like it's a template for a business website - if that makes sense. 

Anyway, so I turn up for my interview. I don't own any typical business professional clothes to be completely honest. A pencil skirt has never been near my wardrobe and I haven't worn a blazer since I was in school! My best effort made me nervous, but black leggings, a nice white blouse and some nice, flat ankle boots would have to do. I felt massively overdressed despite the fact the woman on reception was in a business suit. The office was disgusting. I was already horrified when I saw that it was accessed by a dingy stairway by the side of a betting shop (which was below their office) in the seedy part of the high street. It made me feel unsure but I tried to remind myself that looks can be deceiving. 

As it turns out, they weren't deceiving. I walked into a small 'office' divided into smaller 'offices' by frosted glass (not in a fancy way, just trust me.) The walls were painted dark black, except for an accent wall that was bright, neon green. This colour combination would look tacky in the best of lighting but it was practically anxiety inducing in the oppressive, fluorescent overhead lights. The furniture was mismatched and littered with fake plants and sports magazines, the leather sofa - quite frankly - looked like the kind of couch porn is filmed on. There was a snooker table there (perhaps that was the inspiration for the neon green?) and it was, just generally, messy and unkept. All this was complimented with ridiculously too loud, literal club music. I'm being serious. The same music you'd hear at a gross nightclub (for fellow Kent dwellers, think Tap n Tin) was playing in an 'office'. The receptionist shook my hand which felt far too formal in this setting, and her business attire was giving me second hand embarrassment. 

She handed me a form on a clipboard and asked me to fill it out. I expected it to be a sign in sheet, or a confidentiality disclaimer...to my surprise, it may as well have been an application form. It was asking for details on my qualifications and my employment history. But I thought they'd seen my CV and were really impressed by my experience? It asked why I wanted to work there. But I'd only heard of them last night - it's not like I applied!  I hurriedly texted my mum and my boyfriend about how awful it was. I was very close to just leaving because I'd made up my mind that nobody could ever pay me enough money to work there, but I resolved that I'd driven all that way, and interview experience is still interview experience. I sat and continued to fill out the application form (giving bare minimum answers, thinking that, after all, they should know all of this already) and whilst I was sat there, the receptionist was making phone calls and saying the exact same thing the e-mail I received said: "we've seen your CV and we love your experience, you have everything we're looking for, we'd love to meet you - are you free this afternoon?" (not kidding, she was requesting same-day interviews!) and then she'd start explaining who the company was and where they are located; the inference being that she wasn't talking to an applicant and, like me, the person on the other end of the phone had never heard of them either. The receptionist made several phone calls like this in the short time I was sat on their porn-sofa. It dawned on me: she was cold calling. In essence, that's what they were: cold calls. 
A man appeared and asked me to go to his office. It was a cubicle, by the way, not an office. I passed a couple of other 'offices' and I noted a very strange feature: there wasn't any stationary. The desks were black glass with silver legs; it reminded me of the TV stand my grandparents have, and I thought that was a really tacky choice of furniture, especially for a company with a "strictly professional wear" dress code. So this fella sat me down and told me they were a marketing company. Very broad umbrella term, isn't it? He started asking me generic questions. "What skills should a leader have?" "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" - it became apparent he knew nothing about me. For anyone that's been to a job interview - well, ever - knows that the format is generally them going over your CV, just asking you for more information about what you've put on it and how it could apply to that role; and it's typically quite informal and friendly. Don't get me wrong, the bloke interviewing me was friendly. But too friendly (no, that's not me trying to side step 'sexually harassing') - it was forced friendliness. It was like I'd stepped on the set of QVC, he was smiling so hard and was so impressed by literally everything I said. Honestly, what I said wasn't that impressive. He was being completely overzealous and creepily enthusiastic.

After I'd been in the room just a few minutes - maybe 4 minutes? - he started to tell me that they'd want me within a management position within a few months which, let's be honest, is such bullshit. This bloke clearly knew nothing about me except what I'd told him just then; and the way he phrased it felt like he was up-selling me! I felt the interview was winding down to a close and I honestly just wanted to get out of there. Then he asked me if I'd come back in tomorrow. Going to a job interview and being asked to come back in - on the spot - within less than 24 hours is unheard of! He said something along the lines of 'for a group training session to see where you'll fit in the company'. I just said can I check my diary when I get home and get back to you, to which he responded yes and he'll ring me this evening to confirm. 

But as I mentioned earlier, I blocked their phone number (and email address) as soon as I walked back down the stairs. By the time I was passing the betting shop they wouldn't be able to contact me!  I'm not saying I genuinely think they're in the trafficking business (but I honestly wouldn't be surprised) - perhaps they're recruiting people to make cold calls ("marketing"?) and possibly they got my details from a third party who had sold them on (like a CV checking service I'd used.) Regardless, it was honestly one of my most unusual and discomforting experiences to date. My gut instinct was just screaming at me from the second I saw the entrance. The vague details, cold calling, the aggressive recruiting and the urgency was so alarming to me - not to mention questionable location, decor and uncomfortably fervid interviewer. Everything about the scenario just felt completely and utterly wrong; my insides were screaming. I can't stress enough here that I am not a nervous person; interviews and meeting new people do not usually make me uncomfortable at all

As I was walking out, I saw a young lady - younger than I am, perhaps 19 or 20 - sat on the sofa filling out her form, dressed in a pencil skirt, blazer and kitten heels, her 'professional wear'. I wondered if she was clocking all the red flags as I was. Actually, I really hoped she was. I think that the fact I sincerely hoped her own alarm bells were ringing - more than just a hope, it felt quite instinctive - speaks volumes.

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1 comment

  1. In situations like this it's always best to trust your gut instinct. Almost certainly this "job" involved commission-based sales for some dodgy service, like those dreadful PPI calls we all got.

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