I think I went to a fake job interview

A reader writes:

I applied for a job on Craigslist online three weeks ago. I was called to come in for an interview and learned it had been posted by a temp agency. So I went in for the interview and I thought it went really well. The recruiter who interviewed me told me that that particular position had recieved many applications and she wasn’t sure if they would be doing any more interviews. She said she thought they were close to hiring someone, but that she would keep me in mind for any future opportunities.

This was on a Friday. After the weekend, I got up and logged onto my computer to start my job search again. Lo and behold, the exact same ad had been re-posted that Monday morning.

Now I don’t know what to do. The recruiter lied to me about the availability of the position and now I think the whole thing was just bait for them to sign me up with their agency. Should I email the recruiter who interviewed me and tell her I’m concerned? Or will that minimize my chances of finding a job with that temp agency in the future? I find this really frustrating.

There’s a strong likelihood that it was bait to sign you up with their agency, because this is how many, many staffing agencies work. They post boilerplate ads for jobs that don’t really exist (although they’d probably tell you that they have many jobs similar to it that they fill all the time) in order to build a database of candidates who they can call on in the future. Sometimes they call on them for jobs that are indeed similar to the one you applied for. And sometimes they aren’t. But yeah, they’re often fake ads.

It’s also possible that that’s not the case here. It could be a real job, and they are indeed close to hiring someone for it, as the recruiter told you — but most places keep their job ads active until they’ve made an offer and had it accepted … because offers sometimes fall through: candidates turn them down, they can’t come to terms over salary, etc. So you do sometimes see this happen, and it doesn’t indicate anything deceptive is happening. But when you see it from a staffing agency, odds are good that it was just a bait ad.

By the way, staffing agencies that do this don’t see anything wrong with it. If you asked about it, they’d tell you that since they fill similar jobs all the time, there’s nothing devious about the practice. (Of course, that conveniently ignores the fact that they make up lies like “Oh, that job has just been filled.”) So I wouldn’t bother complaining to the recruiter — first of all, she won’t agree with you that there’s an issue, and second, yes, she’ll just discard you as a pain in the ass after that. (And third, if they actually did tell you the truth — which is possible — then you’ll look crazy.)

If you don’t want to work with a staffing agency, you of course don’t have to. But there’s no harm in hearing from them in the future about what they might be able to offer you. You’re always free to take it or leave it.

{ 72 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa*

    Bait ads. The more you see them the easier they are to spot. It’s a great way to get yourself in the door with a recruiting agency. That way if they post an ad later that looks like a fit you have the name of someone to contact. I’m convinced this is just the way the big-name recruiting agencies work.

    1. Chinook*

      I agree with Malissa that it just seems to be the what these agencies work. On the plus side, if they truly have added you their database, you may get interview opportunities you never would have heard of at no extra cost to you. You are still going to continue your job search but now you have other agencies doing the same thing with the added bonus that, if you do get a job offer through them, my experience has shown me that time between job offer and job start are much shorter (probably because the references had been prescreened).

  2. Lilliput*

    I sympathise SO MUCH with this! I’m currently job-searching and have found it incredibly frustrating to wade through the sea of ‘fake’ job postings filling up job boards. I try to avoid Craigslist, but I’ve seen several good, verifiable vacancies posted there (some that have led to genuine interviews), and I’d hate to dismiss it altogether as a resource.

    Just today, coincidentally, I found a perfect opportunity working with a specific academic department at a local (unnamed of course) university, but the agency that posted it has an absolutely terrible reputation for lying and deceptive tactics, and I despair of anything coming of my application. I’ve sent my resume and left a phone message, but I feel quite powerless, even though my background is in the same rather unusual area of study. I’m tempted to try speculatively sending emails to academic departments, trying to bypass these middlemen.

      1. Lilliput*

        I’ve searched all likely universities but the job is not listed.. unfortunately it’s also a temp contract (which again, I wish I could avoid, but for this job I’d make an exception). It’s possible that universities use these agencies for their temp positions, thereby not listing them under their regular employment pages – who knows! I’ve decided to write a polite query to the HR department of the college I strongly suspect the vacancy is for, asking if they can clarify. Brilliant advice though – I often try google-sleuthing to see if the agency job posting has been listed elsewhere!

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Sounds like you may have done this already, but I do know of some universities that have a separate “temp” section on the HR page that is definitely not part of the regular “Job Opportunities at CTU” site.

          CTU? Stands for Chocolate Teapot University, of course!

  3. Allison*

    Similar thing happened to me too when I was searching for a job. But the posting wasn’t for a specific position, they just said they had “several” nonprofit positions open, but when they brought me in they just wanted to “chat” about what kind of job I wanted. Maybe they did have jobs they were looking to fill, maybe not, but they didn’t mention anything specific. Anyway I may have been entered in a database for temps, but I never heard anything from them after the “interview.”

  4. Sniper*

    When it comes to job boards, Craigslist is the free version of Career Builder, Monster, etc.

    Most jobs (I’d say in excess of 90 percent) are bogus and they are just looking to stock pile resumes, obtain information for mailing lists or some other non-legit reason.

    You certainly can find legit jobs amongst all of the crap floating out there, but there are far too many people looking to prey upon desperate people. Look elsewhere in your job search.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I think 90% is way too high a figure for fake ads. Maybe in smaller markets, but not in the big urban ones. Craigslist charges for job ads in larger cities so you don’t see as many fake ones or the dreaded repost of the same job every hour.

      1. Jamie*

        Yep – Craigslist is inexpensive, but not free. I think we pay $25 per ad, somewhere around there.

        And there are legit jobs. I got mine on Craigslist…and every company I’ve worked for used it to post ads. When I posted ads I made sure I listed the name of the company because I wanted people to know it was legitimate – but a lot of companies don’t.

        Maybe it depends on the niche. There isn’t a big call for fake ads in my industry …but far more in the general IT jobs. You kind of just have to have a feel for how they are written and make sure you know who you’re dealing with before exchange of personal information.

  5. Kelly O*

    I got very frustrated during my last experience temping through an agency. The company I was temping for had gone into a hiring freeze, and while they had not yet let temps go, it was obvious what was going on.

    I contact my recruiter and told her I would really like to explore other openings they had, and even referenced ads I’d seen online and in the paper. She basically told me those were “boilerplate” ads they always ran, and there was not a position.

    A few weeks later, I was the first temp out (last in, first out) and had nothing to fall back on. I have to admit, it burned me on agencies in general, and I am very hesitant to connect with them.

    Full disclosure, since moving in closer to Houston, I have had zero luck with agencies. I’ve gone on a couple of interviews, and one interview with an actual company, but nothing has actually happened, and I keep getting the recruiter revolving door, which is additionally frustrating. (One recruiter moves on, they bring in someone else, who wants you to come back in to talk about the same things the first recruiter took copious notes on… rinse, repeat. One agency contacted me no less than three times in three months because they got new people.)

    1. Lily in NYC*

      How frustrating. Kelly, you are an EA, right? Keep trying different agencies. I found that the smaller boutique headhunters are way better than the big ones. The larger ones forget your name the minute you walk out the door. A tiny agency placed me at my last two jobs and they were so much more responsive and professional than the big headhunters. They usually all have the same openings so it’s not like the larger agencies have better positions available…Good luck!

      1. Malissa*

        I’ll second the boutique agency route. That’s how I got my soon to be new job. The recruiter was informed and targeting specific jobs, rather then gathering resumes. She was helpful and followed up with me at least once a week.
        The big agencies would contact me like I was something very desirable once or twice and then drop me like yesterday’s left-overs when I didn’t fit into their exact mold. That mold seemed to be very experienced in some obscure skill and willing to work for far less than I was currently making.
        Never mind the ones that would dial a out-of-the-area number and act all offended that I couldn’t meet with them for a talk the next day.

    2. LMW*

      I had a similar experience…except with the addition that I was waiting three years for my temp-to-hire position to actually make the magic switch. At the end, there were a lot of temps asking our recruiters for help and it was really awkward (my recruiter was at least honest with me, but man, was it frustrating). I don’t think I’ll ever trust the temp industry again.

  6. Excruiter*

    Because clients expect temp agencies to have huge portfolios of candidates sitting ready to go and because almost zero candidates want to go through the process of interviewing and orientation to be “ready”, recruiters resort to this. It comes down to ridiculous demands from clients* and a lack of understanding of what a temp agency actually does from the candidates**.

    *Especially in low skill temp staffing. A client once expected me to hold all of my most qualified candidates for an undetermined amount of time for “possible” openings. I was formally reprimanded for refusing to treat candidates like that.

    ** A temp agency is not an employment agency. An employment agency is paid by the candidate to market their resume. A temp or staffing agency is paid by the client to fill positions. You work for a staffing agency, an employment agency wworks for you.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Wow! I’m shocked (not surprised) by clients expecting you to hold qualified candidates. And annoyed that you got reprimanded for doing the right thing. Thanks for the look from the inside.

    2. Kathi*

      Thanks for the inside look; I’d wondered why they did things that way. Have you seen that change at all, with the total glut of candidates for every job? How long do agencies actually hold onto candidate information?

      1. Excruiter*

        I saw no change at the time I left the industry about 7 months ago. Strong candidates we’re generally assigned within a month assuming they were able to comply with all our (unpaid….) orientations and able to drop everything to work with maybe 24 hours notice. Ok candidates who were at least impressive in interviews would be assigned slower. Candidates were told to call in available once a week to keep them on our available lists – assuming they did that, they could stay in the system indefinitely.

        This was all low or no skill temp industrial staffing, by the way. It’s likely different for lower volume staffing. I started 15 or so new candidates weekly on average.

  7. Jessa*

    A good agency however, will post something and if they don’t have it at the time you come in, will tell you so, and ask if you want to be on file for something else. They don’t bait and switch like that. I’d be very nervous of an agency like that having my information.

  8. MiketheRecruiter*

    Welcome to the fun staffing world!

    I’ve done both staffing and corporate recruiting, and let me tell you, staffing sucks. Clients basically think candidates have nothing to do all day except answer calls and answer sometimes absolutely ridiculous academic questions that have next to nothing to do with the actual work. They also cancel budget, reject people because their resume isn’t in a certain format (I’ve seen Ivy league grads rejected because they didn’t have specific experience in 1 technology – something someone at their skill level could pick up in a weekend). And staffing recruiters are forced to hit pretty stupid metrics at the sake of tracking “achievement” – someone who makes 100 phone calls and finds 1 good person is a better worker then someone who makes 20 good phone calls and finds 2 viable people.

    Staffing recruiting is sales, plain and simple. It can be fun at times, but it’s also high stress, and there is shady crap going on all the time.

    1. nyxalinth*

      Wow, thank you for putting this out there! In your experience, why do recruiters suddenly poof into the ether and refuse to contact a candidate and let them know what’s going on? This happened to me twice: One was for a call center position and the client’s online test didn’t work. I called and let her know, she’d said she’d contact the client, and poof. Gone. Then she was constantly contacting me to come in and update my resume, and finally I’d asked her “Are there any positions actually open that meet my skills?” and she wouldn’t be straight with me. Finally I said, “I haven’t held any positions since the last one” and she stopped emailing me. I later found out it was basically resume farming. Last time I heard form her, she emailed me asking to refer friends for a customer service position and have them send her their resumes; I said I’d be interested. No response.

      As for the bait and switch thing, yeah, it’s happened to me. The two most egregious cases were with an agency here in Denver called Primesource. they would always call me describing some position that sounded great to me, paid well, didn’t take forever to reach on the bus. I’d go for the interview, and their B and S (how fitting) version was “Oops, sorry, just hired someone for that position five minutes before your interview, but here’s this crappy job, paying 3-5 dollars less an hour, and twice as far!’ They pulled this crap 3 times before I refused to deal with them again.

      the second time I was told on the phone that the position was immediate hire. I got in there, and before the interview even began, she tells me “I will need to pass your resume on to them, and they’ll decide if they want to interview you or not.”

      “I thought you’d said on the phone it was immediate hire?”


      *I shut up and do the interview*

      I’m pretty sure my resume was forward to the round file as soon as I left. I dressed, looked, and conducted myself professionally, so…

  9. Financial Black Sheep*

    Yes I have seen them post fake ads all the time. That said, the also post real ones that have to be filled, but the hiring company takes their sweet time getting candidates from the temp agency. Either way, you have to make the decision if it is worth your time.

  10. Raj*

    One thing to note though-sites like Craigslist have an option to repost an ad automatically every x number of days without any intervention from the original poster.. The option is given when you first post it. It could be the sheer number of ads they posted that they didn’t go back in and delete it. I know this from personal experience when I sold stuff on there.

  11. Cara Carroll*

    Recruiting can be rewarding in the right setting. I work for a smaller company so I am always sure to hire someone who is not only right for the job but shows a passion for what they do. Thus, win-win, and higher chance of loyal employees.

    However, I do not agree with the way staffing agencies operate. Calling themselves recruiters but really selling positions not careers, putting bodies in jobs, treating it as profit for them. I think it is a horrible practice and in the long-run probably results in lower chance of satisfaction from the candidate. Is it money for the candidate sure, but is it really a career or will it turn into one? Perhaps some do find/end up in good situations, but it’s a risk. And bottom line these are people’s lives we are discussing here. Job hunting is stressful and painful enough without all the teasing and false hope from staffing firms.

        1. JM in England*

          +1 Billion!
          I’ve been messed around like that in the past and boy does it suck!

          Slightly off-topic, I asked to be reassigned some years back by my then agency due to being bullied by my then boss. They eventually did but at first they insisted that they simply couldn’t pull me from one contract to another. I countered by saying that I was making their money for them and it was in their best interests to keep their staff happy!

      1. Cara Carroll*

        Thanks! I work in a pretty competitive industry, software development is what my company does. Handpicking the candidate that can do the job and love the job is essential to building a happy and healthy long-term professional relationship, in my opinion. Sometimes that means they might not have all the skills right away, but a willingness to want to learn. Sometimes that means the recruiter WAITS for the right person to come along…it’s worth it trust me!

    1. Chinook*

      I worked with a recruiter like this in Ottawa and I positively loved her. It was a win-win situation for everyone: I was rarely out of work (she even found work for me after I missed a job due to kidney stone attack on the way to work. Her words were “call us when you are fit for work” and I was employed the day after I was ready), she and her company made money and the clients were always satisfied a d would always go back to the agency. When it works, it works well.

      1. Kelly O*

        My best recruiting experience ever was for someone I never met in the flesh until I’d been on the job a few weeks. We emailed, spoke on the phone, did all the paperwork via email, and she set me up with a great company with whom I would have had a fabulous growth opportunity had we not had to move for my husband’s job.

        But she really cared about putting the right person in the right job, and it showed in everything she did.

  12. JR*

    This happened to me a few years ago. Job definitely didn’t exist, BUT they did call me for a ton of really good opportunities (that led to a salaried position).

    1. Jamie*

      Hate to say it, but that’s how I found my agency too back when I temped. I’m sure the job for which I applied was boilerplate but I had an excellent experience with them overall.

      I really hate that this isn’t a viable avenue anymore. Times have changed so much since I was temping in 2005-2007. In almost 2 years there were 3 days I wasn’t working and I had some nice, long term assignments that really helped me enter the workforce. I know the economy has changed, but it really used to be a way to support yourself while gaining experience and job shopping. Test driving a job was awesome – now you just have to hope you didn’t get a lemon.

  13. VictoriaHR*

    Another possibility is that the client has hired more than one staffing agency, and has distributed their standard job description to all of their agencies, and all of the agencies are posting the same job description in their ads on Craigslist.

    I’m with MiketheRecruiter – I used to work in staffing and the metrics were stupid. Sales sales sales, oh yeah try to find people jobs, then sales sales sales.

    1. GenericGen*

      This. A few years ago when I was working with five agencies, all five of them were talking about sending me on an interview for the same job. I could tell because of the way they described the job and the company. Even so, I didn’t get the job.

      I got tired of working with agencies. The “temp-to-hire” jobs never worked out. Most of the positions I worked were promoted as “they’re great; and they hire most of their temps”. So, it’s temp to hire? “Uh, they’re great; and they hire most of their temps.” Sigh.

  14. AmyNYC*

    There are honest and wonderful recruiters out there who are great and finding the right person for the right role. This is not directed to them:
    I absolutely HATE replying to an ad and it turns out you just gave all you information to “XYZ consultants” who want to talk about their “various opportunities for someone with your skill set.”
    If I wanted to work with an agency, I would contact an agency, but since I want a job, I applied for a job.
    EERRRGGGG! Rant over.

  15. Kim (Career Advisor)*

    Here’s a random (arguably related) question: when should I refer job seekers to temp agencies? As a career advisor (hopefully one of the good ones!) who works with college students, I rarely chat with students about temp agencies. But it has come up a few times, and I just have no experience with them other than a) knowing a college friend who found a full-time nonprofit one from her temp job and b) (perhaps incorrectly) thinking of them as a plan “B”, something that job seekers do when they’re not finding full-time work.

    I don’t know how to evaluate an agency’s legitimacy, determine how quickly a job seeker might get hired, generally explain the process or know whether this process is worth my students’ time.

    Any insight?

    1. Claire*

      Personally, I temped all through college on my breaks (found the agency by googling temp agencies in the area and just calling) and I think it gave me a serious advantage over my peers when competing for entry-level jobs – I already had office experience when I graduated, and temping after I graduated definitely led me to the skills that netted me my current positions. I don’t know how to pick up a good agency though, sadly…I went to two (both cold, not for any postings); one never called, one did.

    2. Chinook*

      Ask your HR department or managers you know if there are any agencies they like to hire from and ask any temps working in your organization. For someone looking for that elusive experience, I think agency experience can help and, like everything, word-of-mouth is the best way to find a good organization.

      1. Cara Carroll*

        This is a good question. I would be interested to know how you advise the students when looking for jobs or experience! I also work with students a lot, my company has a internship program. When I go to campus and advise students on getting some kind of experience before graduation I always suggest internships. The cool thing about internships versus a job is you can learn so much about the field you *hope* to one day enter that you most likely will never get in the classroom. On the plus side the internship will most likely end, if you hated it well then maybe you should look into another field. If you loved it then perhaps the internship could lead to a full time position. Either way internships can a really good *peek* inside what work life will be like.

        Additionally, I firmly believe students should start building a network and get involved with the organization(s) on campus that aligns with their major. Seems like these would be better ways to build professional relationships with companies in their field that could come in handy later.

        1. Kim (Career Advisor)*

          Thanks for the input, all! Chinook, your idea to ask the recruiters who come to campus is great; I’ll definitely use it.

          Cara, we definitely spend a LOT of time discussing internships with students, as well as other exploratory/professional networking-building activities like informational interviewing, job shadowing, volunteering and joining students orgs and associations. I think oftentimes students tend to think of those activities as ancillary to or optional in the job–as opposed to very real, very effective methods of figuring out what you want to do and building a professional knowledge set/network!

          I could certainly see temping being part of that resume-building, exploratory process for students–or at least something that students should be savvy about when they are released into the world of work. I work with mostly liberal arts students (and come from that background myself), and they tend to flounder or seek out part-time work before finding their “real” first post-college job, so I feel like this is an area I should know more about…

          1. Anonymous*

            I’ve worked as both a Corporate Recruiter/Recruiting Manager and at agencies (both lower level and boutique). While I’m in the Corporate realm now, folks often come to me for advice, networking, referrals, etc.

            From being in the biz for so long (15 dog years), I have gotten to know most of the successful agency recruiters in the area. If someone comes to me looking for advice on where to go/who can help, I always refer them to one of my trusted 3rd party contacts. I do it myself-I’ll have the candidate email me their resume, we’ll have some dialogue about what they’re looking for, and then I’ll send it along to my contacts with the appropriate email. Once I’ve done that, I’ll email the candidate back, letting them know what I did.

            The key here is that I ONLY refer them to my TRUSTED contacts; there are many, many salesy-sheistery 3rd party recruiters out there, and I wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole.

            So my advice for the Career Advisor is to invest some time really getting to know the 3rd party recruiters in your area. Find out what fields they specialize in, what a lot of their jobs are, and ideally, who some of their client companies are. If a large, highly respected company uses them a lot, odds are they’re worth your time getting to know. And they probably have access to open a lot of doors for new grads. Plus, as a new grad, temping is a good way for them to find out what they like or dislike in a company/job.

  16. Joey*

    Want the truth?

    Staffing companies are paid to find people quickly. The only way to do this is to continually recruit. So you have to realize if they can’t provide you specifics this is why they’re contacting you- to recruit for a job that may or may not ever come. If you’re lookin for clerical or light industrial they almost always have to bring you in to basically make sure you’re presentable and not crazy- there are just too many people out there who don’t know basic professionalism. But if you’re looking at higher level positions you can frequently get away with doing everything over the phone if you ask. It helps tremendously if you have social media accounts (so they can see you’re normal) and some desireable harder to find skills. The key is you should look at them as 1 contact of many you are trying to make. Call a shitload of staffing companies while you job hunt. They won’t get their feelings hurt. In fact you typically become more desireable if you get placed by a competing firm. But yes, they are in the business of “selling” jobs so the best thing you can do is realize they probably won’t give you a totally accurate picture of the job.

    1. Excruiter*

      Yes, this. You cannot rely on one agency. Too many candidates would “sign up” (aka apply) with my old company not understanding that we had no obligation to hire them. It’s one possible route to consider but would you apply for just one job when seriously job hunting?

    2. Kelly O*

      You know, to a point I understand that.

      One of the problems I have is with the idea that I need to fill out a W2 before I ever even know more about the position. I have not been to an interview with an agency where this was basically not required. I have to give you all my references (and in some cases, they are called) provide my drivers’ license, social security number, and all those other things, and then I never hear back.

      I’m not a black helicopter/tinfoil hat sort of person, but it does give me pause.

      1. Excruiter*

        You have to give that because the point is to have you ready to go. Not ready to go except…. ready period. Clients want temps to start NOW, it’s just the nature of the industry. I do understand not liking it, though.

        1. Kelly O*

          Yeah, but if I’m not interested in temping, what is the point? If I clearly communicate that I am already employed and am just contacting you about permanent placement, why do I have to be ready to go at the drop of a hat?

          Not asking to be belligerent, I am just curious. Or is it just a factor of the way these places work?

          1. Excruiter*

            It’s business as usual as far as I’ve seen. I wouldn’t have dealt with someone not interested in temping as they were,in general, not going to be interested in anything we could offer. I was up front about that but not all the staffers I knew were. Basically, if you aren’t interested in temping and you haven’t got an in demand skill (which I have no idea if you are in this camp so I mean a general you), you probably won’t be happy with staffing agencies. It sounds like you wanted probably wanted employment agency – someone who would shop your resume rather than someone who would be driving placements with existing clients?

            1. Jamie*

              I think you being upfront about that probably saved a lot of headache for your clients.

              Calling someone who has a job and has clearly stated they aren’t looking to temp is just pointless. It’s like the realtor who found the perfect house for us and just HAD to show it to us so I took off early from work….to find a house with one bathroom. That’s fine – if I hadn’t made it clear verbally and in writing multiple times that I wouldn’t look at a house with less than 2.5 bathrooms.

              It’s the not listening part that pisses people off. And clients with options leave agents (employment or real estate) who don’t listen.

              1. Excruiter*

                Oh, I agree. Unfortunately, it was more important to theupper management that I have a bloated portfolio of warm bodies than that I drive candidate satisfaction. It wasn’t anything that was sustainable long term with decent companies but many clients weren’t really concerned about the job satisfaction of their temporary staff.

  17. mel*

    I think something like this happened to me… it’s rare to see an admin job that I’m qualified for so I was already a bit skeptical. Got a phone call a few days later, she left a message that said “That position is no longer available, but I would love to meet with you anyway to see if you are a match somewhere else.”

    But when I called back, she seemed completely disinterested in talking to me and gave the the brush up. It was just a little weird and kind of a waste of time.

  18. Louis*

    Temping has been a positive experience for me.

    When I was young (18-21) I did a couple of manual labour job through a temp agency (Kelly Services). Minimum wage, but I had no qualification at the time and was happy for the income.

    After a few part time job assignment while in school, I got a call from the temp agency which basicly said “We know you are studying in computers, we always have positive feedback when we send you someone, we have a client that is looking for someone in IT this summers, could you go meet them”. The helped me with my interview skill and I managed to get the job. So without even looking I went from 8$/h to 15$/h working in the field I was studing in.

    The summer contract turned into a 1 year deal so school became part time night school. Then they found me another contract 18$/h for almost 2 years.

    By that time I had 3 year of solid experience in my field so I was able to leave the temp agency and land a 60k$/year job… all of which wouldn’t have been posible if I didn’t temp part time doing manual labour.

  19. Steve G*

    OMG I love this. I had one agent put me through a 1 1/2 computer skills then give me listings for $10/hr jobs in 2008 in NYC. I had 5 years work experience and BBA – in NYC. It was insulting, first of all. But also, I didn’t even suscribe to her notion that there were absolutely no jobs paying anything due to the recession.

  20. B*

    I went on one of those interviews years ago when I first started going after contract-to-hire IT jobs. They talked me into signing an exclusive contract with them to apply for this “job”. After I left I started to think about all of the big local employers they mentioned and realized I could now not take any jobs with these companies on my own or through another agency. Heck, other agencies might not even want to talk to me now. Obviously they told me that job had been “filled” and then a week later the same generic ad was reposted. I was incredibly angry when I realized what had happened. I decided to just ignore their calls and sort of pretend I never met with them, although I was aware signing that contract could still come back to haunt me.

    The reputable agencies I worked with after that made it clear that each time I applied for a job I had to sign a contract but it was for that job only so I couldn’t submit through multiple agencies. Nobody else even tried to get me to sign an exclusive contract. There are also a lot of shady agencies trying to be the first to lock you down for an individual job too. I’ve had many say “just send us an email saying you agree to the rate and we represent you and we’ll discuss the details tomorrow.”

    After a while, I got very good at spotting these fly-by-night agencies and easily avoided them. I can now tell within the first minute or so of a phone call whether it’s worth my time. The biggest sign of the bad agencies is they start immediately trying to get you to sign something. And they don’t care about you, your career goals or whether you will be a good fit for the client. They only care about the placement fee.

  21. Lily*

    This was my question. I haven’t had the chance to read all the responses yet, but I just wanted to say thanks for the thorough answer. I feel a bit better knowing that this is a standard thing, and I feel like a bit less of an idiot for thinking it was a real job.

    I’ve been signed up at 3 agencies this year and none of them has contacted me with a job. I signed up because I don’t have a lot of experience and I was told by many people that temping is a way to get a foot in the door when you’re starting out. I’ve been applying for jobs outside the agencies like crazy, too, but I haven’t had any other bites in the last month since I became unemployed.

    Whenever I call the temp agencies to see if they have anything, they give me the same spiel that they will keep me in mind if anything comes up. I thought I would find some short term contract right away, but no luck.

    1. Kerr*

      Finding temp work is a lot harder than it used to be, to be sure.

      Are you calling every week? In the case of temp agencies, sheer persistence/phone time often *does* work. (And don’t be afraid to shamelessly call each and every one, once you get a job with Agency #1, and update them on your availability: you have a temp job right now, but you’ll be available and ready for work after X date.)

  22. Arla*

    I know agencies can really suck, but I want to tell my story, and explain why I strongly feel you shouldn’t dismiss them completely.

    I avoided agencies like the plague for a long time during my recent job search because one of my past experiences with them was like the reader’s. I am very familiar with the bait and switch tactics and the fake job postings, and after you’ve been looking for a while you get to where you can tell the boilerplate ones from the real ones (and there are a discouragingly small number of real ones). But I am glad I finally caved and started talking to agencies, and here is why:

    I lucked into a great relationship with a staffing firm and a permanent job through an advertised position that the client ultimately ended up putting on hold. So yes, it was a situation where after I interviewed with the staffing firm they called back and said, “sorry, that job’s not going to happen.”

    However – they got me temp work almost immediately and marketed me very aggressively for a permanent position. I think there were 7-8 companies they put my resume in front of, I interviewed with 3 companies. One of them was a terrible fit, but the next two were both great opportunities. I ended up getting two offers within 24 hours and getting to pick one, and the staffing firm negotiated a salary that I would never have had the balls to ask for. Like, never. I still can’t believe it, even though it’s definitely real – I just got my first paycheck. All of this happened within a two month timeframe. I just started my job a week and a half ago and it is a great fit. (And as a side note, I credit this blog with my interview success, since I started reading it about the same time I started interviewing. I got to ask the Magic Question in the interview for the job I have now!)

    I did end up working with multiple recruiters at the agency, but they were very transparent about the reasons for that with me and super supportive and communicative in general. They gave me resume and cover letter feedback. They gave me plenty of feedback on my interviews and told me exactly what the interviewers said about me. They asked me for feedback on my temp assignments (did I enjoy the work, were the people pleasant, etc). One of the recruiters even gave me her cell phone number because she was going to be out of the office on a morning I interviewed and she wanted immediate feedback from that.

    I was unemployed for almost a year, and I got almost zero results on my own (and I am a highly-skilled, experienced admin with a solid job history and many professional contacts – it was completely bizarre, but I guess yadda yadda yadda the economy), but I was working three weeks after contacting the agency I work with, and now have a job that’s perfect for my experience and skills. Those recruiters worked their butts off to get me a job, and I am very impressed with them and the company they work for.

    Also, temping in the interim was an excellent networking opportunity. If you do a great job and have a good attitude when you’re temping, people remember you – multiple people I have worked with over the last few weeks wanted to stay in touch and even offered to be references. Agencies love it too because you’re making them look good.

    So I think the big name agencies are often a waste of time- I know I didn’t have any success with them. The smaller ones that specialize in an industry or even just a geographical area seem to be much better. If you can make a personal connection with a decent recruiter, it can be a hugely positive thing.

    1. Arla*

      And that should be “I was working three weeks after contacting the agency I have worked with.” Verb tenses, schmenses.

    2. Ron*

      Any tips on finding the more reputable staffing firms? Maybe in the DC area for writing/editing types, if anyone cares to share?

      1. Arla*

        I’m in Houston and don’t have any DC connections, unfortunately, but generally speaking here is what I have found:

        1) Of the major job sites, I found Monster had the most “real” jobs from agencies.

        2) If you are experienced, look for industry-specific agencies, rather than ones who cater to a particular category of employee (clerical, accounting, etc). I looked for agencies that specialized in oil/gas and engineering, even though I am an admin, and I did get interest from multiple agencies that way. Google and LinkedIn can help there.

        3) When you are interested in an agency posting, look at ALL their postings. If the job descriptions are lacking in detail that give them “personality” or are obvious keyword dumps, be very suspicious and steer clear.

        4) Always apply for a specific position they are recruiting for, not general calls for candidates. You are much more likely to be contacted that way.

        5) Look for postings that have a specific person’s email or phone contact, rather than a generic email (info@, jobs@, careers@, etc) or a link to “apply at our site” where there’s one of those awful generic you-are-entering-a-black-hole forms to fill out.

        6) Look up those contact names on LinkedIn. If they’re hopping around from agency to agency, you will find out quickly. If the recruiter isn’t on LinkedIn, I’d be suspicious. If the agency has a presence there you can get a sense of its size and most of the time who their clients are. (The agency will follow any major clients on LinkedIn.) Also, people who temp for the agency will list them as an employer, so you can look at those people to see what caliber of person they typically place. Agencies frequently have presence on Facebook as well.

        7) If you know any office managers or admin-y types, ask if they’d be willing to give you a referral and an introduction to a recruiter or know someone who can help put you in touch. When I was an office manager I was approached weekly by staffing firms and always asked for their information to keep on file even if we had no interest. I had probably 20 or 30 contacts at any given time.

        8) Likewise, ask around your network in general and see if anyone has worked with a good recruiter in the past.

      2. Anonymous*

        I am not from DC, but as a customer (not a worker), I have worked with both The Creative Group and Aquent for creative types.

  23. Chaucer*

    I haven’t had much luck with temp agencies either. The thing about them is that you have to realize that agencies are not there to help you, per se, find a job; they are there to help their clients find bodies to fill their vacancies. In layman’s terms, as has been mentioned above, they are specialized sales reps., and just like sales reps in other industries, there are those who are honest and pursue their industry with an aura of integrity, and there are others who engage in questionable tactics, like this particular agency. I admit to being a bit biased against agencies as I haven’t had much luck with them, but like with anything else, do what you can when it comes to researching agencies and job postings, and as hard as I know it sounds, having struggled with it in the past myself, when you get burned by things like this, just roll with it. Allowing yourself to ferment in anger does nothing but hurt your own mental health.

  24. Canadian mom*

    It’s not just recruiters who do this.

    A few weeks ago I answered an ad for a government corporation and was invited to a group-interview, which included tests. But it turned out that they had no openings for this particular position at that time. There are about 50 employees who work in this department, and they simply want to keep a few applicants “on ice” when a position becomes available. I’d think that this would be kind of counter-productive – what if, in a few months, all of their cherry-picked applicants have since found other jobs? Then they’d have to start all over again.

    But I’ve been monitoring online ads, and it seems that this government corporation is always advertising for many positions. As weird as it seems, obviously it works for them.

  25. Andre*

    Once I applied for a job at a major consultancy company throughout an agency. The recruiter said at the interview I was a good fit and w’d contact me to have a meeting at the company in the following weeks. And for 2 or 3 weeks we indeed communicated by e-mail and he was saying that the manager didn’t have yet decided for the dates. But all of the sudden he stoped contacting me. I sent couple of e-mails, but decided to not do it anymore because I was feeling like an idiot! Talking to the wall! Couple years later I attended a event organized by the consultancy company in one of major universities in the region where the position was intended for and the hiring manager told me that never heard about their company using hiring agencies, at least in that region. So, I’m pretty sure that I went to a fake interview!

  26. Judari*

    I think OP is taking this way too seriously. Yes there are fake ads, but I find more often than not the ones posted by recruiting agencies on pay to post job sites like criagslist or indeed are not fake. The ones that are “fake” are the ones on the actual recruiters site and a lot of the times those aren’t necessarily fake just old job listings they keep up as examples. However unless you having a glowing above the moon qualification for the position it isn’t likely you will get the initial position that attracted you.

    This is because the more popular/successful staffing agencies want you to have an in person interview with you so they can feel you out and better suit your needs to a certain position (also so you can fill out your W-4 since you get paid through them not the client). Often clients of staffing agencies need positions fast, (I have been contacted on a Thurs, interviewed on a Fri and started that next Monday) they needed someone yesterday. These recruiters might already have a bunch of really qualified applicants and like I said unless you have some stand out achievement it is unlikely they would create extra work for themselves and rush your initial interview process.

    As well, lots of times recruiters give resumes to clients in batches, top 10, then the next 10, etc. You can’t think of the process like a normal job interview where every resume will get looked at by the client and considered. It is the staffing agency’s job to give their client the top few resumes out of that pool. Maybe you didn’t make the cut because there was too many other overqualified or equally qualified applicants who happened to note interest first. Or maybe you did make the cut but the client passed on you so now the agency is looking for more applicants and reposted the listing

    Bottom line though you should treat temp agencies as another job tool and not put so much extra faith in them because you are actually talking with a person and not submitting something blindly to a company yourself. I speak from experience. Your situation happened to me as well. But I’ve gotten a few well paying assignments from my agency. My recruiter was also pretty open about the process too. Things are often likely to fall through too when working with recruiters and their clients. Something good to keep in mind is, especially if working in any creative/ad industry, is needs change constantly. They are using recruiters instead of doing it internally because they lack the time and need some one quick. Often projects can get cancelled or projected workload wasn’t as dire and you can be let off before you even start (that also happened to me). Best when dealing with recruiters to have a thick skin.

    (Agency I am referring to is notorious CC for those that know lol)

  27. ITPuffNStuff*

    If staffing companies truly believed there was nothing wrong with fake interviews, they would have no reason to lie or invent stories. They would just report that there is no job and the interview is just a pretext to build a database of candidates for possible future jobs. The fact that they lie about it tells me that at some level, they know what they are doing is dishonest.

    Unfortunately, headhunters are paid a commission based on the number of positions they fill, which means that in reality, headhunter is just another type of salesperson. Salespeople, unfortunately, lie for a living. They justify it to themselves and others however they have to in order to get through their day. The best salespeople can’t even tell the difference between lies and the truth, and are genuinely mystified as to why the rest of us practice honesty despite what they feel are the obvious benefits of lying.

    For any salespeople offended by this, I’m sorry to have offended you but this is the way I see it. Even those within the industry have to admit that dishonesty is a very, very prevalent pattern in sales.


  28. Kristina*

    Whoa! I started reading some of the comments and my mind is bouncing all over the place. I just recently made a move out of the staffing industry and can say that my office NEVER posted a fake job… I would like to think that most of them don’t, however if they do don’t deal with them. They should be up front and honest with you and if they are then it’s not a fake job posting. When a temp service is placing an ad for a position that is contingent upon award of a contract they should tell you (and we would). Not only is it important to be completely honest with your candidates and not mislead them, but to let them know how important that first impression is for the staffing service to their potential new client. We never wanted to bait people to apply for positions that didn’t exist to up our candidate pool. My goal was to have a pretty small candidate pool-in the perspective that it was shrinking because we were putting people to work. As far as the sales thing goes-yep we have to do a lot of sales in staffing, but I never compromised my values and lied to sell. If I couldn’t do something I was up front and honest with my customer/candidate. It turned out to be the very thing that the majority of my customers appreciated and drove referral business through the roof. I also believe that recruiters in every company (whether it’s contingent staffing or not) are sales people, but by no means does that mean they are all liars. I suppose our operation was different because I didn’t use corporate metrics, we built our business around our clientele and what our local market was experiencing, there is no one size fits all solution to anyone’s recruiting needs.

  29. Elizabeth*

    I have gone to recruiting/staffing agencies for years and find most of them to be no help at all. Most of them waste my time and ask for everything under the sun (references/phone numbers/tests, etc..) and I never hear from them again! It’s like taking advantage of those who they know need work, almost like a game.. very unprofessional and very frustrating.
    I am thinking of starting my own virtual employment agency where there’s no lies/no bull and I tell the candidates the truth with what’s available/what’s not. I have always said that I could run this type of business different and better. I wouldn’t even have the candidates come into the office because I think this is a waste of people time. They would be able to do everything online. I have been on this side too long and would love the opportunity to Help people get jobs and not lie to them. What do you all think? Good idea.

  30. Abby*

    I was hired on as a recruiter by a local staffing agency. I was so happy to finally get my career started! It was a salaried position, but it was fine with me. I quit after two day of training…

    – They wanted me to lie to the people that I was cold calling off resume database, telling them that we have a position that fits their experience, and to come in right away or this position will be gone… When really, there were no position available.
    – They wanted me to post fake ads, and make up companies just to get people interested to come in.
    – My trainer told me to have no emotions, no matter how much these people want the job.
    – Their company policy was to get 25 people in the door per week or work the weekend to meet that goal.
    The tactic they wanted me to use was heartless, conniving, insensitive, and cruel. The lack of integrity sickened me, so I quit. It wasn’t worth the money. I wanted to become a recruiter to help struggling people find a job, not give them false hope. I am sure all staffing agencies are different, but be careful.

  31. William K.*

    I stopped sending resumes many years ago when i saw this trend. I then placed my resume in acrobat, with protection and accounting enabled. I send a disclaimer with a receipt that states the resume is intended for the specific position and that my written permission is needed for it to be sent to any other party. My lawyer drafted it as best as he could devise. three years ago I took a firm to court for passing my resume. I was able to prove who sent it and show that they had agreed not to, I was awarded in excess of 5000.00. If you could prove damages one could gain potentially far more!

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