to get an interview, I have to spend a week at a writing retreat at my own expense

A reader writes:

I recently saw an ad for a job that sounded great: reviewing creative writing manuscripts and giving the authors feedback. This is my field, I have the required degree and publications the posting asked for, and I’ve done work like this before. The money being offered was good, but not unbelievably, out-of-line-with-the-market good. I checked out the organization’s website, where I found out they also offer a series of writing retreats in a popular (but distant) vacation destination; the job ad said preference would be given to applicants who were willing to attend and teach at some of these retreats, in addition to doing the (remote) manuscript reviews. I sent off a resume and cover letter, and waited to hear back.

A few days later I received an email (which did not address me by name) telling me they had received over a thousand applications and had many highly-qualified applicants. This wasn’t hard to believe, given that the writing field is difficult to break into and they were offering good money for a work-from-home position. However, the email went on to say that because of this, they would proceed by holding in-person interviews at their next retreat, a few months from now. I was receiving the email because I was being offered an interview. All I had to do was reserve a room using one of the links provided (a mere $300), and come for the entire week-long retreat. Prior to this there would be no phone or email interviews, though the person writing did provide a personal phone number I could call with any questions. They clarified that anyone who got the job and attended future residencies as an instructor would have all travel/lodging expenses paid, but that seemed to just be a roundabout way of confirming that no travel expenses would be covered for the interviews.

Am I right in thinking this is a scam, or at least a completely unethical hiring practice? I know you’ve answered questions in the past about paying your way for out-of-town interviews, and have said that sometimes if you’re really interested in the job, you have to do that. But that would only be after some preliminary phone conversations, right? And wouldn’t apply in a situation where everyone is an out-of-town candidate? And for an entire week? Also, I realize there might be few lodging options in this specific area, but the fact that they’re directing candidates to book specific rooms makes it feel like they’re just trying to fill spaces in a retreat package that isn’t selling well. To be honest, when I first received the email, I wondered whether the entire organization was fake and they were just using a nicely-designed website to lure people in, but after checking into it more I see that the people running it do in fact have a history of working in similar positions elsewhere. And I have worked in academia most of my life, where the norms are very different, so maybe I’m just out of touch.

I immediately declined the offer for an interview so I have no personal stake in it at this point, but I’m curious what you think.

Here’s my reaction when I first read your letter:

100% a scam.

I actually thought it might be a scam from the first paragraph; it already sounded a little too good to be true.

But yeah, there’s exactly zero reason they’d need you to attend a week-long retreat in order to interview. Oh and look, you have to pay $300. Neither of these things are something any reputable, non-scammy employer would do.

And you’ve got to make that commitment without so much as a phone interview first.

There’s also no reason that they’d need to hold interviews at their next retreat at all, or wait a few months to interview people there.

It’s a scam.

* * * * *

And then you sent me more info (their website), and I’m now I’m second-guessing myself.

Because these do seem like real people with track records in this industry, and they don’t seem terribly scammy. They seem to be running real retreats, too.

So I think what’s going on here is that they have no idea how to hire, and what is and isn’t reasonable to ask of applicants, and how gross and elitist is it to expect candidates to take a week off work and spend $300 for an interview. They’re coming across like scam artists because they’re running this exactly like scam artists would.

I’m interested to know what would happen if you wrote to them and pointed out how unreasonable and out of touch with hiring norms this is and how it will screen out people without a bunch of economic advantages (like a job they can off take a week from, $300 plus a plane ticket for a place that’s not cheap to get to, and for some people overnight child care for a full week). If they’re a decent place to work, they’ll listen. If they’re not … there’s your answer.

In fact, I would happily send them this post myself if you’d like, so that it’s not tied to your name.

{ 378 comments… read them below }

    1. WakeRed*

      Yes, send it Alison! 1,000 apps is overwhelming for what is likely a small business, but the way to narrow down applicants ethically and equitably cannot be “applicants pay $300+travel out of pocket.”

        1. valentine*

          Plus teach some classes for free!
          Yes. It’s possible there’s never a teaching job or expenses paid because the “applicants” do the teaching.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Like shady design businesses that use “sample projects” from applicants for client work, on a larger scale.

      1. Snuck*

        Yeah… We’d love a ‘third party safe level update’ from this!

        I hope you are right Alison and it’s just tone deaf lack of quality recruitment…

    2. sacados*

      Yes please, and if the company does reply I would be really interested to know their answer, ie whether they get defensive or seem to actually appreciate constructive criticism and take concerns seriously.

    3. dr.n*

      I’m an academic in a field that routinely does in-person interviews for faculty at an expensive conference. While I think this is an outrageous practice, I suspect this is where these people got the idea. I would be interested to know how many people were invited. Typically, only a few finalists are offered f2f interviews at the conference, after phone interviews.

      1. Librarianne*

        At least the people being interviewed at the conference might already have planned to attend. (Though I agree that requiring people to pay travel & registration fees for an interview is a terrible practice.)

      2. une autre Cassandra*

        At least in academia, won’t most applicants be showing up at MLA (or the equivalent) regardless? I genuinely don’t know but I always thought the “everyone goes to MLA, so English departments interview there for mutual convenience” was the rationale.

        1. Sarabeth*

          Also, academia is moving away from conference interviews towards Skype, etc., largely on the grounds articulated in this post. It was bad enough when you paid a lot of money as a candidate but probably got a job at the end of the process. With the current scarcity of tenure-track jobs, it’s wholly unjustifiable.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          That is the rationale, but it’s founded on the assumption that grad students and recent Ph.D.s can afford to be there anyway even if they’re not on the program. It leads to a lot of scrambling on the part of folks who weren’t planning on going (for whatever reason, but saving money is a big one), because suddenly they get a request for an interview two weeks before the conference and now they have to find flights, lodging, whatever. One professional org in particular used to require that folks with interviews register for the full conference to have access to the interview suites. That was…Not Cheap, especially after the early bird rates expired. It’s not a good choice: spend money they may not have in the event an interview comes through, or panic and end up paying more money they don’t have when an interview unexpectedly materializes. Academia is nuts.

        3. An Academic in English*

          It’s really not the case that everyone goes to the MLA. Because so many different sub-fields are part of MLA, there are relatively few panels of interest to any one attendee, and you are far more likely to have a fruitful conference experience by going to one that is more focused. Junior scholars typically only go to MLA to do job interviews (although they will often put in paper proposals as well because it gives search committees an opportunity to see them in action if they are so inclined and it can help with networking at the conference to be giving a paper). It’s so uncommon for junior scholars to go to MLA that if you encounter senior scholars in your field, they typically assume that you are there for job interviews. Senior scholars often use the conference for networking, but it’s a conference that is artificially propped up by the job market.

      3. Harold Otis*

        This was my first thought, too. I don’t want to think about the amount of money I spent joining professional organizations, registering for their conference, paying for airfare, and renting a hotel room (always in a expensive, big city) all to be one of two dozen candidates they spoke to that day. Trying acting professional in an interview when you are perched on the edge of a hotel bed.

        If I didn’t have to interview there was no way I would have spent the money to attend the conferences. My limited grad school funding (below poverty level in my area) was spent on living expenses and necessary research trips.

      4. TootsNYC*

        after phone interviews

        And do they have to attend the conference, or just be in the city at that time?

    4. Clorinda*

      If they’re in the creative writing field, they’re used to the ‘pay for play’ model, such as contests with entry fees; that’s how small publishers and magazines stay afloat. Transferring that to ‘workshop for interview’ is unreasonable, but it probably seemed like a good idea to a committee of poets at 1 am.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, but contest entry fees are typically cheap (up to $20 for some top literary magazines), and those fees are what they use to award the winning author(s) monetary prizes, so at least applicants have the potential of recouping their costs should they happen to be a winner.

        There’s no tangible benefit to the majority of the job applicants in this scenario at all. With the contest example, sure the majority will probably never get their $20 back, but that money not only goes towards the winner(s)’s award, but also the upkeep of the magazine/journal to make sure they can pay their staff as well. But the people who opt to pay $300 to attend this retreat, plus whatever the cost of their flight will be (and possibly meals if they aren’t included in the retreat cost), will not likely recoup this cost if they’re only trying to fill one slot and where in the world is their retreat fee going? It’s unlikely it’s going towards the successful candidate’s salary (but maybe it is?), and there doesn’t seem to be an transparency about what they plan to do for the unsuccessful candidates at the end of all this based on this letter.

        Basically, I hope they aren’t trying to apply contest rules to this because a writing contest is typically low stakes and low cost for entry (and many of them are free to submit) – I’d rather be out $20 than $300+. It does come off extremely shady.

        1. TootsNYC*

          that money not only goes towards the winner(s)’s award, but also the upkeep of the magazine/journal to make sure they can pay their staff as well.

          And presumably as someone interested in reading that journal or entering future contests, there’s a benefit to them in contributing to the organization.

          But job candidates? not so much.

        2. Properlike*

          I am a professional writer, and I would 100% flag this as a scam. And now I’m curious about who it is, because all it takes is a few professional writing organizations to call attention to this and I think it would get nipped in the bud REAL quick, regardless of who’s running it.

        3. Annie*

          I’m a professional writer and I would not ever enter any writing contest with a fee to submit. They are not scams and some of them can really boost your career if you win, but they are so unnecessary and based on exploiting desperation.

      2. Tisiphone*

        Money should flow to the writer, not away. I never submit to contests that require fees. Small publishers might pay a token $3, but they do pay. Some are non-paying, but they will tell you that upfront.

        There are a lot of predators out there in creative writing land, and it pays to be on the lookout for scams.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          I submitted to Glimmer Train twice in their paid categories because it was only $15 per story, and the prizes were something like the following:

          1st Place: $2,500-3,000 plus publication and 20 free copies of the book
          2nd Place: $1,500-1,000 plus publication and 20 free copies of the book
          3rd Place: $500 plus publication and 20 free copies of the book

          And $700 for all non-winners that were selected for publication out of the non-paid submission category. (I submitted to the free category more often than not.)

          In that case, I knew where the money was going and the benefit to the writer was clear – in those cases, a blanket “money should always flow to the author” doesn’t really hold water. But generally, I agree with you. Paying to get published, paying to have the privilege of editing others’ manuscripts, paying to teach classes (!) – yeah, nah, that’s not okay at all.

    5. AngryAngryAlice*

      Also chiming in to say PLEASE take her up on her offer!!! This is so gross and such a bad practice; they deserve to see this post and all the comments calling them out on what a bad policy this is.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Pretty please, if they reply in the comments, can you flag them somehow? Or pull into a post? Of course, not if it’s hassle/work for you, but I’d love to know their response!

      1. Anna*

        Hey now, there are plenty of lovely Drow out there. Also, jaw elevator to the surface is not how I pictured that invasion.

        Other than that, I want so bad to see what happens when/if Alison sends the post.

  1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

    This totally sounds like a scam. What a great way to drum up business, by promising people a shot at an amazing job if you just buy our product!

    I find it hard to believe any reputable company would operate this way.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I can believe they can pick from among former participants and find people who will be paid reviewers. Meaning, they shouldn’t post the application the public at all. I can’t believe they didn’t realize how completely crappy this was to send to OP.

      1. Ella Vader*

        Yes, I would not be surprised if this is what they started out intending – they want people who already understand and appreciate their system, so they want to hire from among former participants. Someone later on used the summer-camps model, where either they only hire former campers, or they only hire former campers who have stuck around as teenagers and paid to do their long leadership-training program.

        However, the extension here, where they invite applicants to participate in the program and then be interviewed, is wrong-headed for reasons pointed out by others: they aren’t doing any screening of applicants except for letting them self-screen into whether they choose to spend a lot of time and money doing the program. But also it doesn’t seem to fit for people who maybe participated in the program 10 years ago, benefited from it, and are now successful writers. Do they want those people to do it again??

        Even the more benign version, where only people who have participated in the program can be considered for employment by the program, is not always ideal. When I was director of a summer enrichment program for teenagers, I always tried to hire a mix of former participants, returning staff who had not experienced the program as teenagers, and people who were brand new to our program. I wanted to encounter new ways of doing things and I didn’t want faculty and counsellors who just reproduced the program they’d experienced as participants. University departments usually try to avoid hiring people who have done all their degrees in the department. On the other hand, I think probably everyone who teaches military basic training has experienced the training, and I think probably everyone who teaches psychotherapy has undergone it. Is that a good thing? I dunno.

    2. Emily K*

      After having talked my coworkers down from some incredibly bad and occasionally illegal ideas on several occasions in my career at reputable organizations, I fully believe that it could happen.

    3. Abe Froman*

      I guess I can see where a group of people without hiring experiences get overwhelmed with the amount of response they receive and flounder their way through the next steps. People experienced with hiring would know how to whittle that pile down. I’m guessing they had a meeting with the main goal of trying to make this easier on their busy selves: make everyone come to them! And hey, our conferences are really great, so its a win-win! And again, because of the lack of experience or insight, no one raised (or was willing to raise) the prospect of a what a humongous tone deaf red flag this is. Unfortunately, because I think this is a field that people really are clamoring to get in to, they will probably get a fair amount of candidates (maybe even some good ones) that will take them up on this and reinforce this bad behavior.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Totally off-topic, but I love your user name and think it’s great the Sausage King of Chicago is posting amongst us mere mortals!

    4. Kathleen_A*

      It’s horrible, of course (and *ridiculous*), but once I thought about it a bit, I realized it’s really not more horrible than, say, “Try prospective employee for one week unpaid” and other gumption-oriented advice that comes up from time to time hear at AAM. And some of that gumptionness comes from perfectly well-meaning, legitimate employers, but they’re well-meaning, legitimate employers who are very bad at hiring (and also a little shaky on employment law).

    5. Tequila Mockingbird*

      This has nothing to do with interviewing for a job, but I went through a similar odyssey when I was pregnant last year and I was looking for a doula (birth coach). I emailed a bunch of doulas who came highly recommended by others, and I was shocked at the number who replied with things like, “I only work with clients who take my six-week hypnotherapy course” or “I’m holding a day-long seminar next month – sign up for the seminar and I’ll talk to you afterwards.” These people were just funneling bodies into their side businesses. It is unethical and just gross. (I obviously did not ultimately hire any of those people.)

      This is A. SCAM. Even if this company is well-meaning, as Allison said, they’re running a scam without realizing it. This is not how you hire people. They’re just drumming up people to attend their retreat, and if you don’t get hired, you’ve spent $300+ for nothing. Personally, I would post this on glassdoor to warn other applicants.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      Save you the wait….

      “Dear Allison, thanks so much for your interest in our patented hiring process! We have great success with our retreats and we would love to invite you to come experience first hand the highly beneficial process. Please use this code for 25% off your purchase today, don’t wait, as space is limited! We can’t wait to work with you at Cult City Retreat!

      Cult City Retreats customer care”

  2. Psyche*

    Wow. The best possible spin I can think of would be that after getting so much interest, they realized there was an opportunity to make a profit while interviewing for the position. I don’t think I would want to work for an organization willing to exploit job candidates.

    1. GooseTracks*

      Being very generous, I could imagine that the decision-makers are clueless about logistical and financial realities, and thought it would be a good way to test “dedication,” or even think that they’re benefiting the interviewee by offering the opportunity to attend the retreat. Still terrible, though.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Maybe they just thought the best applicant would be somebody involved in the org and didn’t take two seconds to think through the problem. I see it in nonprofits, where they really only want to hire people who are already volunteering with them or are donors (which – fine! up to you! Just … don’t create a public jobs post then).

        1. nonymous*

          Or at least be clear about that requirement in the job posting! I worked at a company that posted internal vacancies to an external-facing page, with the idea that current staff who were doing jobs that did not involve sitting in front of a computer daily would be able to peruse listings from home. USAjobs is set up that way too.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I wonder if these are the same people who think that if someone really wants the job, they should work the first 2-4 weeks for free. *taps chin* Not just for free though, pay the paltry sum of just $300 to attend our wonderful cult team!

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              “You thought this was a job interview! Well you’re even luckier than that, you’re going to get the opportunity here to be! your! own! boss! No more punching the clock! No more people telling you want to do! You’re in charge! Raking in the Big Bucks!”

              1. Third or Nothing!*

                You forgot the hashtags and emojis!

                “Hey [wave] hon! Have I got an opportunity for you!! How would you like to work [briefcase] from home [house], earn tons of cash [money bag], and BE [clap] YOUR [clap] OWN [clap] BOSS [clap]!??! #bossbabe #corporationsaretherealpyramidschemes”

            2. Working Mom Having It All*

              Honestly, there are a LOT of writing-adjacent jobs, publishers, retreats, “schools”, etc. that are basically MLMs. Or at best are just trying to get money out of people to teach them a skill that doesn’t need to be taught (or a service which doesn’t need to be paid for) and which will offer absolutely no return on investment.

      2. pamela voorhees*

        It could just be clueless about logistical and financial realities + that they didn’t consider the candidates for a second. The only thought was wow, this is a lot of people, I know, I’ll be at that retreat anyway, I’ll just interview whoever shows up, how convenient for me, I’m so clever!

      3. OP*

        I think this too. And I mean, I can see that if you’re going to be doing week-long retreats, you want to make sure the people who’ll be teaching will be good in that kind of environment. I think lots of people have had the experience of interviewing a potential employee who seemed great and then proved to be a nightmare once they were hired. That’s probably less likely to happen if you spend a week with all your candidates before you hire. But I don’t think this is the solution. And I do realize this is a charitable interpretation of the whole thing.

      4. Massmatt*

        It’s possible the employer is run by a host of clueless trust fund beneficiaries. It’s telling that this is pretty much the most generous hypothesis.

    2. OP*

      I have to say that my response timeline went a lot like Alison’s. My first impulse was to jump on social media and put this org on blast. But I took a deep breath and the more I thought about it, the more I thought they might just be misguided. I also made a mistake initially and thought they were asking for $300/night, which made it seem extra scammy. But after seeing that it was $300 total, I felt different. I could imagine them thinking that’s a bargain for a week spent at a lovely resort, and maybe getting a job out of it to boot. I still think it’s a bad approach, out of touch with people’s economic circumstances, and I especially feel bad for anyone who’s less experienced and thinks “that’s what I have to do to get a job.” I think the organization should know this is an unfair financial burden to place on anyone in a generally low-income field. But maybe they don’t. Or maybe they don’t care. Hopefully Alison will find out!

      1. Prof*

        But getting there could cost $1000+ from some places!

        Also the idea of paying to sit in on a conference I am capable of running sounds…boring? Horrible? A waste of time? Hell on Earth?

        1. valentine*

          How long do they give “applicants” to prepare classes? It also seems like a scam on the students: “Together, the teachers have 365 years of writing experience! You’ll never know we assigned topics by room number and they stayed up all night preparing the lessons!”

            1. Massmatt*

              No, the OP says “preference would be given” for those that teach at the retreat. It is definitely an expectation.

              1. Vemasi*

                I think they mean people that are willing to teach at later retreats (in addition to the job duties of remote writing feedback), not the retreat where they interview.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Hm, it’s a little unclear whether they expect the interviewees to teach, vs. just to attend. (Which might involve doing some critique, as it’s common at some kinds of writing retreats for attendees to critique each other in addition to getting feedback from the instructors, but it’s not the same as being an instructor.)

            Not that it makes it in any way shape or form okay, but it’s even worse if they’re expected to do free work instead of (as I interpreted) going as an attendee.

    3. Working Mom Having It All*

      This was my read as well. At best, they think there are probably a few applicants for this job who were already prepared to fork over for this retreat, and they have to narrow it down somehow, right?

    4. Old Admin*

      The most charitable interpretation I can think of is that they were overwhelmed by the responses and made some bad decisions in trying to cut down numbers to something manageable…

  3. GooseTracks*

    Yes! I would love to hear what thought process (or lack thereof) went into this. It’s an utterly terrible hiring practice – you’re going to screen out so many good candidates who don’t need to put up with your shenanigans, along with good candidates who couldn’t fulfill such a burdensome interview requirement even if they wanted to.

    1. Tom & Johnny*

      The only candidates you get will be (a) desperate and (b) clueless.

      Which if you’re a culty recruitment group, is exactly what you’re screening for.

      But if this so-called employer is the slightest bit legit (maybe clueless too) they are shooting themselves in the foot.

  4. Sloan Kittering*

    Unfortunately, when there are a glut of applicants who want the job no matter how unreasonable – and anything in the arts field can run into this – hiring people don’t have any incentive to be practical. Acting is the same way, there are just so many people willing to do it for free or even pay to gain experience. They probably can pick from only former retreat-ers to hire for this position. That doesn’t mean, however, that OP should even consider this, at least if she has any other options (and everybody has better options than this).

    1. Lily Rowan*

      But then they should just start with people who have already been to their retreats! (Not that that would be a great practice, but better than this idea.)

            1. Jay*

              This was actually my take, exactly.
              When I was living in the rural South and scraping by with any work I could get, I ran into a slightly scaled down version of this regularly. Interviews in restaurants that only the upper middle class and up could afford, or even have access to the kind of clothes you need to get in the door. Trips to ‘events’ that cost more than my monthly rent. I quickly found out it was a tactic to weed out the “undesirables” AKA any minorities or us ‘poor white trash’. I had to move clean across the country to break that cycle.

              1. wittyrepartee*

                Wow. Okay, that’s something I’ve never experienced. I know the clothes thing can be difficult, but I’ve never been asked to interview in a restaurant or go on a trip to get a job. @___@

              2. wittyrepartee*

                But yeah, originally I had written “rich white ladies with investment banker husbands”, but thought maybe mentioning the (likely) racial component might cause some sidetracking.

    2. Naomi*

      Yes, my thought when reading this was that they’ve decided to make applicants “prove” they want the job the most by coming to the retreat. Which, while not quite a scam, is a different sort of red flag–are they the sort of bosses who think you should be grateful they deigned to hire you? Or, as Alison said, they’re just terrible at hiring.

      Either way, they’re taking the lazy way out by reducing the pool this way, instead of, you know, reading resumes and conducting phone screens like everyone else.

    3. Oh No She Di'int*

      I am glad you said this. I work in a literary-adjacent field. This country (US) is just OVERFLOWING with English majors, half of whom imagine themselves landing exactly this sort of job–reading literature and giving an opinion or interpretation of it, which is what they’re trained to do. There are so many, and so many more every year, that it’s shamefully easy to use even the worst of hiring practices and still end up with someone completely smart and dedicated.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        English B.A. here. I will defend English as a perfectly marketable degree, but not because you will end up reading literature and commenting on it. The value is the training in reading, and particularly in writing. Prove that you have the ability to produce intelligently constructed written work product and the world is your oyster. Just don’t expect to be reading or writing Faulkner.

        1. Stub*

          I have worked with a lot of English majors, and most of them don’t really know how to write a compelling article. Academia doesn’t prepare them for the real world of writing.

    4. Clay on my apron*

      If they have no incentive to follow ethical hiring practices, I’m guessing that it’s not a barrel of laughs to work there either.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        It’s kind of terrible when your employer believes (justifiably) that if you leave there are 300 more where you came from.

        You get this problem in some of the “cool” parts of tech, too. Super desirable companies and even specific areas (game dev anyone?) are so popular they end up treating employees like crap because anyone who objects can be replaced with someone who’s thankful just to have the opportunity and doesn’t rock the boat.

        1. Anonnonaanon*

          Academia also works this way (hello, job market that’s been crashing, for, like, decades; hello, adjunctification!)

    5. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yeah, but it’s not just about being practical, it’s about not having a minimum of values, not even enough to avoid coming across as a scam artist. A fraudster. Someone close to or even across the line from illegality.

      There should be non-economic incentives for that.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yep. There are some companies and organizations where, as Wendy Darling says above, “if you leave there are 300 more where you came from.” It *is* possible to treat the people who work for you decently even though you could easily replace them – some such businesses do. But that requires that management actually cares about being ethical, or at the very least wants to maintain an image of being ethical.

  5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This smells like someone thought that they should double-dip and get a butt in a seat at the seminar retreat and also offer an interview. Someone somewhere thinks this is brilliant and they deserve some kind of trophy.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      Agreed. If you’re in the place to call them out, please do so (or take Alison up on her offer!) because otherwise I fear that this will be seen as such a “””brilliant idea””” that they’ll make it standard practice (if it’s not already).

    2. Clay on my apron*

      In fact I’m guessing someone got a bonus or a promotion based on this stroke of genius :-/

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Or they could be getting kickbacks for anyone who signs up using that link they sent to book the room =X

  6. Nope*

    “I found out they also offer a series of writing retreats in a popular (but distant) vacation destination”
    hmm… this sounds kind of scammy…

    “preference would be given to applicants who were willing to attend and teach at some of these retreats, in addition to doing the (remote) manuscript reviews.”
    hmm… this sounds kind of like a pyramid scheme…

    “All I had to do was reserve a room using one of the links provided (a mere $300), and come for the entire week-long retreat.”
    pretty sure I heard something like this on one of those 2am infomercials about how to get rich quick by investing in time shares.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah…this is screaming “Amway” or timeshares so loudly. “Come to our retreat for a job!” “Welcome to our conference on how you can be your own boss!!!”

      1. Mama Bear*

        Yes, it smells like a timeshare thing. We recently turned down a “free” breakfast because it turned out to be a sales pitch and we clearly had our family in tow. On vacation.

        I’ve worked from home. No way would I travel for a week to someone’s retreat and sit through that whole song and dance for a maybe reasonable but not outstanding job offer. Surely OP can find a job without these hoops (or the $300+ because I bet there will be way more fees/costs than the reservation for the event).

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They only offered a free breakfast? L-O-L at least when my parents attended one, they got a free hotel stay out of the nonsense. They knew exactly what it was and are happy to take the freebie, sit through the hard-sell and say “LOL nah bye.”

          1. WS*

            My dad got free meals and hotel stays out of this so many times that he eventually got banned from all the timeshare and share investment companies he can find! Still, he enjoyed “getting free stuff” as a hobby for a few years immediately after he retired.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Oh man, did he play them? “Oh, that does sound interesting, but I’ll need to talk to my wife tonight and then look over the details in the morning.”

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      To be fair, it is reasonable for a company like this to have as part of the job description for a given position that you will also be leading seminars at retreats the company puts on.

      I’m part of my local improv and sketch comedy scene. There are like 3-5 different comedy theaters that offer this (as opposed to standup, acting classes, or whatever else) in my city, and basically to get in with them you have to take classes. After a certain number of classes you can audition to be one of the theater’s regular performers. Once you’ve done that for a while (and with some other qualifications under your belt), you have a reasonable shot at being asked to direct the shows, or to teach comedy classes. It’s rare that they hire people from completely outside their system or one of the other theaters in town that has the same basic model. If your dream in life was to be an improv coach or comedy theater director or what have you, you would go in with the understanding that, if you got the job, you would be expected to immerse yourself in this theater’s approach to comedy. And you’d also know you were up against people who’d come up in that same theater.

      If anything I think in the arts it’s considered weird to be hired the way a corporation hires people, where IBM honestly doesn’t give a shit if you’ve always used a Mac, they just want someone who can design computers. You are expected to relate intensely to the mission, output, and approach of the organization that hires you.

    3. Annie*

      I’m very familiar with these retreats, and I think it’s very unlikely to have anything to do with timeshares. These retreats are very common. They are not technically scams but they are not worth the money and prey on people’s desperation.

  7. Stephanie*

    Yeah, it sounds like they are trying to figure out how to reduce the applicant pool…but there have to be better ways to do this. (Or they just need to buckle down and read through all the resumes.)

    1. Combinatorialist*

      I mean, randomly would be better than this because at least randomly doesn’t put a financial burden on the candidates. So yes, literally any other way to reduce the candidate pool is better.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Even reducing the candidate pool by eliminating resumes written in a font they don’t like is better than charging candidates $300 to be interviewed.

  8. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    This is exactly what the security guard, medical admin specialist, insert other fake job here.
    I’d check glassdoor and linkedin on the people running this. How many people employed there got the job after paying to work at their retreat. (I know “candidates” won’t be running the events/classes, but you will be doing practice/test work on other participants’ writing. So, their job.)
    So yeah, my vote goes for elitist: People who can afford to play games with their time and money working for people who have no respect for other people’s time and money.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      To me it sounds like yoga, or at least my impression of how you get to be a yoga instructor — spend weeks at a time at fancy yoga retreats spending $$$$.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        Fancy teacher training retreats exist, but aren’t really necessary or standard. Most teachers do their training programs with local studios on evenings or weekends. These programs do usually cost $$, but that’s because the instructor is running a 200-hour program with all the prep work and management that entails. But it’s still not really comparable – it’s paying for job training, not paying to get the job itself. If a yoga studio was asking qualified teachers “come on this retreat that you pay for out of pocket to interview for a job teaching with us,” that would be just as shady and unethical as LW’s situation.

      2. Librarianne*

        As Kalros says, most yoga teachers get credentialed at local studios. If I wanted to be a yoga instructor and had the time and money for it, I honestly wouldn’t say no to a month of training in Bali or somewhere similar. Why not learn in a beautiful setting instead of a regular studio? And at least you’ll have a teaching certification in hand by the end of it!

        Requiring people to spend a week and $300+ for the mere *chance* of getting a job/license/etc., however, is a different ballgame and completely unethical.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s usually the “newest fitness fad” that will do the fancy-retreat “come get your certification to teach these programs and you’ll make 100x your training fees once you start selling out all your classes!”

        It’s basically like people who buy degrees from diploma mills in that way. It’s not the standard way of doing it but they will always be scammy setups out there to take your money if you want them to.

      1. TootsNYC*

        there are a ton of arenas where those are the only people who can participate.

        Magazine publishing is leaning that way. Newspapers will be in that situation soon.

        1. Anonforthis*

          Eh publishing was kind of that way ten years ago. All the jobs are in high cost of living areas and the pay is either non existent or minimum wage. Realistically you couldn’t do it unless someone else was bankrolling you.

  9. Harper the Other One*

    Just because it’s a legit company doesn’t mean it’s not ALSO something of a scam. They may in fact have real work to offer, but if they’re having trouble filling their retreats, it’s probably costing them, and making employment with them dependent on attending is a great way to boost their attendance. It’s not a scam in that the job is fake, but it IS a way to make their retreats “sell out” (for marketing purposes) and end up more profitable (for financial reporting purposes.)

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, my thought exactly. As modern events demonstrate, it’s possible to not technically be engaged in indictable criminality while just grifting your atrophied little heart out all the same.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        Yep, and also, well-intentioned people ~innovate~ shitty ideas all the time. It’s totally possible that someone thought this was an entrepreneurial and creative win/win, and it didn’t even occur to them that it might not be practical, doable, or desirable for candidates that might otherwise be the best prospects.

      2. MayLou*

        When I was a teenager and in a desperate job search, I signed up to work for a cleaning agency. I never actually got any work (probably because I lived in a rural area with no transport and almost no availability around school…), but I was taken on by the agency.

        Separately, my dad is/was a website designer. He had been approached by the very same cleaning agency with a view to him taking over their website, and also setting up a side website for their new venture: an escorts agency.

        He didn’t take them on as clients, and I never got any work through them, so neither of us ever had the opportunity to discover how much bleed-through there was between the two branches of the organisation. But I have always wondered.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This story made me shiver and think that you dodged getting sold into human trafficking. “Cleaning agency” my butt.

        2. Annie*

          Come on now, trafficking exists, but only a tiny minority of escort agencies use trafficked women. And almost all sex trafficking victims are from Eastern European or developing countries. The only women in countries like the US who are vulnerable to trafficking are women who are homeless, substance abusers, girls in care, and women and girls already in the sex industries. Ie women who are already intensely vulnerable and can be vanished without anyone noticing.

          I know there’s a lot of hysteria in the media about “if someone asks you the time in a Walmart parking lot mace them and run before they traffic you!1!1” but realistically the chance of a middle class American being sex trafficked is basically zero.

    2. Antilles*

      All you need to know about this letter: “Well, it’s only like 50% a scam” would actually be relatively positive on the range of outcomes from this posting.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      It’s probably a scam that developed from a desperate company that had a legitimate business model that probably isn’t making a profit and this is their last ditch effort to remain solvent.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s like an origin story: The moment the legitimate business became a scam.

        (Just started S3 of Fargo, and the first episode has such a moment. Or so I assume, not having seen how it plays out over the season–maybe they are already a scam, and that’s why they don’t go to the cops, my husband’s theory.)

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The Godfather (the book, though I don’t think the movie) has a discussion about how Vito Corleone transitioned from an ethically challenged olive oil importer into a Mafia boss.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          I think this also is what happened with Theranos. It started out intending to be a fairly standard Silicon Valley tech company, including the standard Silicon Valley “fake it till you make it” ethos. While this can work if it just means you release a buggy app, but buggy medical test equipment is a different matter entirely. At the same time, it got a bunch of senior Republican statesmen on its board of directors. These guys had neither the inclination nor the desire to provide oversight for a tech company, but they were great at bringing in more investment. The result is that the whole operation devolved from an over-optimistic tech startup into an affinity scam.

      2. Grand Mouse*

        I can’t think of any names, but I know of at least a few legit businesses that have been taken over/sold their name to scammy companies. I encountered one while I was job searching for example- used to have a good reputation but digging around showed that things had taken a drastic turn the past year

    4. Heidi*

      Agree to this. I think that this is a major issue in scientific publishing. There are some journals out there that do in fact publish your work, but charge exorbitant fees and don’t really do a peer review. This company may produce a product, but their operations include a number of scam-like features.

      My own workplace recently had a discussion about ways to whittle down an enormous number of applications for a job into a workable number of applications. It’s not easy. But the ways in which some companies do it (like this one) end up excluding really well qualified candidates.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Downthread has the answer: divide them into two piles. Toss out one pile, thereby eliminating the unlucky ones. Continue until you have a reasonable number of applicants remaining.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I just realized that this is essentially the actual screening technique used in Ringworld to breed for luck. If you can get lucky through 8 applicant divisions, or 8 generations of third-child lottery winners, then you are truly lucky.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I JUST was talking about that book tonight. Here’s hoping my copy wasn’t in the basement flood a few years ago…

    5. smoke tree*

      I may be jaded, but in writing/publishing I feel like the slippery slope on this kind of thing is more of a gentle incline. Writers are used to paying to submit work, literary magazines are used to boosting their numbers by requiring all submitters to pay for a subscription, anthologies love to offer authors the honour of being selected to have their work used for free. Writers are conditioned to accept their work being undervalued.

  10. Summertime*

    This reminds me of a letter earlier this year where the OP wrote in about attending a cattle-call interview. Talk about absurdity! I’m glad both OPs knew that candidates should not be treated this way and got out quick!

    My parents will often give me (not so sound) career advice about how you should be jumping through any hoops presented to you during the interview process and come from a culture where the power dynamics of candidate and hiring company are magnified. So it’s always uplifting to hear others out there are rejecting companies who have out of touch hiring practices! As Alison often says, we are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing us.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, there are industries where cattle calls are the norm (modeling, acting, sometimes manufacturing) but that practice is waaaay out there for most jobs. I remember being called into one interview for a dental office that needed a receptionist. They told me to come to a nearby hotel conference room at 5:00 pm, which I thought was strange. I figured it was a group interview and they didn’t have the space at their office, hence the hotel. When I showed up, I saw two women at a table in the hall. They handed me a paper application and directed me into an auditorium.

      There were over ONE HUNDRED PEOPLE in that room. For a receptionist job. I sat down, stared at the application, then got up and left.

      In hindsight, I wish I’d stayed; it could have been entertaining to see the shitshow that followed, lol.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        In high school, as I was trying to get my first job, I ended up at a MLM cattle-call type interview on total accident. I phone interviewed, and was so darn proud of myself….until I got there, dressed all sharp (well, as best a very awkward 16 year old could be), with so much preparation done, and there were 30ish other people in what looked like a lecture hall. With a ppt up on screen.

        I am sad to say I stayed because I had no idea how to get myself out without being very, very awkward. It was incredibly boring and it looked like no one else knew what they were walking into either. It was for some reception-y type job, I forget exactly what. I didn’t fill out the application. I just wrote in “No thanks” for my name.

        I got home and cried at my mom because I was so mad I took that much time out to prepare and ‘interview’.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*


        Some retail jobs also do cattle calls, if they’re hiring a lot of people. But for a dental office?! Nope nope nope nope.

        I’m curious – was it just an employer that was really clueless about hiring, or was the “reception job” a mirage to lure you in for an MLM or something else scammy?

  11. animaniactoo*

    Please please please give Alison permission to send them the this post! I am wildly curious what the outcome of that exchange would be.

    [runs off to make popcorn… uh. headcount?]

    1. Antilles*

      I certainly hope it gets sent and I’m also curious to see what the outcome will be. Personally, I’m guessing the outcome will be one of the following:
      1.) Thanks for your interest in Wakeen’s Scampots! We would love the opportunity to discuss your comments in person at our next seminar! (translation: we did not read your email and never will, but we’ll take the opportunity to shill our $300 seminar again)
      2.) I appreciate your input, however, our methods are working fine. We had over 400 candidates at our last writing seminar, many of whom leapt at the opportunity to become a Scampotter. While your opinions about our methods may be relevant for other industries or our inferior lesser competitors, here at Wakeen’s Scampots, our product is so incredible that people would crawl through broken glass to be part of our illustrious, award-winning team. (translation: you just don’t get how great we are)

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Those are the likely options.

        But I wouldn’t rule out them showing up to make angry comments, destroying their own anonymity.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        Oh, that reminds me of some lines from a truly classic Al Yankovic original. (Much like Dilbert and xkcd, there is almost always an appropriate Al Yankovic quote.) It’s called “One More Minute” and this is the couplet you reminded me of:

        “‘Cause I’d rather spend eternity eating shards of broken glass
        Than spend one more minute with you”

        And this is the line that is burned into my brain cells:

        “I’d rather dive into a swimming pool filled with double-edged razor blades
        Than spend one more minute with you”

        It’s kind of a break-up song.

  12. S*

    I had a similar issue with a training and development job. I was more than qualified, but I HAD to attend a training in a “destination city” before I could begin work. There were no interviews prior; if you went to the training, you were in. I couldn’t get any information about the demand for the position within my general area–are people in this company being hired to run professional development sessions regularly around here? If the training were done within a reasonable driving distance of where I live, I would have gone, but no way was I going to pay hundreds of dollars to basically learn more about a position.

    I have been hearing of jobs asking people to travel, often on short notice, to attend an in-person interview more and more frequently. And, of course, they won’t be paying any travel expenses. It almost feels like a trap–if we can get you to do this, we can get you to do more unreasonable things for us in the future. Distance interviews are what Skype was made for!

      1. Jadelyn*

        I once did a 2-day training/interview for a (sales, outbound) call center job. I left halfway through the first day, when they started hyping up the bonus structure and “people who are hungry do really well here,” at which point I said to myself “they’re literally looking for people who have no other option than to put up with their abuse,” and nope’d on out of there.

        The company was raided by the feds and shut down on fraud charges less than 6 months later. Rarely in my life have I felt that vindicated.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          There’s a great scene on the Good Place where Michael claims to be a fed, and Eleanor immediately responds that she has a LOT of experience working for places that get raided by the feds and this isn’t how they do it.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          The shadiest company I ever worked for hired recent college grads, recently homeless people, and people brand new to its field. They tended to screen for desperation and for people who wouldn’t be put off by the unprofessional behavior of the owner – conspiracy theory political rants at anyone who walked in the door, and so forth.

          1. Jay*

            Was this a donut shop in rural North Carolina in the mid to late 1990’s?
            Because we might have been co-workers ;)

    1. Quill*

      I’ve gotten a few of those and I work in STEM. Every single one I have run screaming because I’m 90% sure they want to harvest my organs.

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      Wait, so mere attendance at the training was the full hiring process? If you showed up, you had the job?

      Sounds like you dodged a bullet, there.

      1. S*

        Yep, it was shady. I mostly wanted to go out of curiosity. It’s not every day you get to see a cult recruitment!

  13. MMB*

    I wonder if actual scammers have hijacked the names of reputable people and/or their website to lend themselves legitimacy? Similar to the situation this summer with the male movie star who thought he was making a reservation at a nice resort overseas. Sorry, can’t remember details. If not……wow. Just wow. Although if you think about it some MLM’s use a similar ploy.

      1. MMB*

        Just looked it up. It was James McAvoy and he thought he was making a reservation at the Ritz Carlton in Spain.

    1. EPLawyer*

      I wondered this too. Just because they are on the website does not mean they actually work there. Scammy places have no qualms about creating fake websites to appear legit. They KNOW people are googling.

      Jacob Wohl ran a “security” company that used headshots harvested from the internet with made up names to make it seem like he had employees. The company number was his Mom’s.

      I would be tempted to call the number given to see how the person answers the phone.

      1. Works in IT*

        There are also lots of places (like MLMs) that balance on the line between scam and legit business. Mom’s been to several “house parties” that are really demos of random stuff with the expectation that you buy. Some of it was legitimate kitchen supplies that were worth buying.

        It’s possible for a place to be simultaneously a legit business, and also a scam. After all, lotteries are legal!

    2. Annie*

      I doubt it. These kinds of writing retreats are very common and they are not “scams” in the traditional sense (meaning people get, broadly, what they sign up for) they are just really shitty and exploit the fact there are a lot of desperate wannabe writers out there.

      No different from the zillions of submission-fee writing opportunities, many from well-known and respected organisations.

  14. Nicki Name*

    Am I the only one who isn’t convinced that they actually had “over a thousand” applications?

      1. Color-coding snowflake*

        Full-time, decently-paid, editorial work (which “reviewing creative writing manuscripts and giving the authors feedback” absolutely is) not requiring one to be in NYC? 1000+ applicants is pretty believable.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Eh… lots of people would consider this a dream job. Work from home, reasonable pay, reading stories all day. And perhaps getting a foot in the door for their own half-finished novel. If they advertised it right, I could see that kind of response. And once they winnowed it down to those with relevant experience who could spell, had enough people to round out the next writing seminar.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, this is a dream job for a ton of people.

        Writing jobs in general draw a huge number of applications.

        I remember once advertising for a writing job that could be done remotely and getting around 1,000 applications, and this one has even more draws.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, I’ve seen WFH proofreading and editing jobs get upwards of a thousand applicants, and that was for stuff like “proofread this boring manual about llama circuitry,” not “read creative writing and provide constructive feedback.” Totally believable.

      3. Working Mom Having It All*

        For the record, jobs like this are pretty miserable and not really a dream job at all.

        When I did this, I basically spent 10 hours a day 5 days a week reading horrible books on a deadline. I love to read, don’t get me wrong, but this job not only sucked all the joy out of it, I also had no time to do literally anything else if I wanted to meet deadlines. Also, I didn’t get to pick my assignments, so I was reading ~5 novels a week, at least 4 of which were nothing I would ever be interested in reading. And that fifth one was usually unreadable garbage, anyway, even if the genre and logline were up my alley.

        I think people hear “read stories all day” and think that would actually be a fun thing to do.

        I’m curious how long the average slush pile reader sticks around in the field, because it was a miserable 18 months for me.

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          One of my BF’s first jobs as a WFH editor/proofreader was reading military manuals on how to repair tanks. Boring as hell but attention to detail paramount.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        I think it might just be a WFH thing. I’ve worked for distributed companies advertising for very specific niche work and positions regularly got over 500 applicants. 95% of said applicants did not have a single one of the 4-6 required skills we listed, and none of the nice-to-have skills either, but for some reason they applied anyway. I think something about WFH postings makes people turn their brains off and spam apply even though they have none of the qualifications.
        In this case I’m guessing probably a larger percentage actually do have the qualifications, or something that might look like the qualifications. Still I think the WFH aspect has a tendency to inflate the volume of applicants in general.

    2. Lance*

      They may have, going by this sounding like a work from home position… but even then, they wouldn’t have anything remotely close to that number in terms of actual qualified applicants, I’m sure.

      1. Naomi*

        This. You can absolutely get that many applicants for a WFH position in a desirable industry, but some percentage will be totally unqualified, and even more will be a little bit qualified but not very strong candidates. Just reading resumes and narrowing it down to the most promising candidates should have reduced the pile by a lot before anyone said anything about interviews.

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          I work in a field that is in demand on this same level, and my sense of how someone who is good at hiring winnows down from hundreds or thousands is to just call the first 10 qualified people in for interviews.

          They don’t make you travel cross-country on your own dime just to see who they can fuck with the most, or anything.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Since it’s WFH/remote work, it makes sense. They posted it on every major city job board to farm applicants.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I don’t buy the “we’re overwhelmed with applicants” any more than I buy the “but we picked only a small number of them to receive this special offer!”

    5. Samwise*

      Completely believe that they had that many applications. It is a very desireable sounding job (to me, and I imagine to many people who would love to be an editor / have a job where they read books). I have friends in the publishing industry — jobs like this are exceptionally hard to get. You often need an in. And there are training courses that do up your chances very significantly. Check out the Columbia (University) Publishing Course; there are a few others like it around the US.

      Heck, for some positions (student services, academic support, etc.) at the university I work at, it’s common to get hundreds of applications. Even after an initial go through to chuck out apps that don’t meet the minimum requirements, we can still have 100 – 200 apps to review more closely. And these jobs don’t have the intellectual cachet that a book editing job has.

      1. Librarianne*

        It’s similar at the universities I’ve worked at, too. The benefits–especially tuition discounts/remission–are so good that some people will take literally any job.

      2. Color-coding snowflake*

        Except in my experience, the training courses don’t up your chances significantly. I’m in editorial and am regularly screening editorial intern applicants, and neither things like the Columbia publishing course nor the handful of master’s programs in publishing count for anything beyond “okay, they do actually want to work in publishing” (not a guarantee, lots of people apply to editorial internships because they think understanding publishing will help their writing career). It’s not that we don’t notice it on resumes, but it’s an afterthought–it’s not something we actively look for sit up and take notice when we see it.

        At least in my corner of the industry.

    6. Michael Valentine*

      We get hundreds of applications for our admin jobs, which are all remote and pay better than most (unless you’re in a VHCOL area). Last time I think we had close to 1000. It’s not even an amazing job either, so I wouldn’t be shocked if this type of position would get even more attention.

  15. GCox*

    I have a simpler and more ethical way to winnow down large numbers of applicants. I take all the resumes, and sort them into two piles. Then I throw away one pile, because I don’t want unlucky people working for me.

    1. SC*

      It actually is simpler and more ethical. At least you’re not charging applicants to end up in the “lucky” pile!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, that’s funny until it’s not. I agree.
        Wouldn’t it be simpler just to have a shorter window for accepting applications?

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Sometimes they come in within days, it’s not just from having a large window!

          But the easiest way is to actually eyeball a resume and toss out anyone who’s not a contender. I can tell with a glance if someone is a no. So you have three piles. Yes, Maybe and No. Then you look at your Yes pile and see how thick that one is before you re-visit your Maybe pile. If you have a stack of Yes. You then start really drilling it down by say years of experience. Then you go to being picky about industry or if you need a specific software or your most desired background.

          So really it’s about being picky and actually using things like “their cover letter isn’t generic” to go on.

  16. Falling Diphthong*

    I think this is like the companies who ask you to design a logo as a test, then take it. Or who make everyone do general interest half hour lunchtime presentations open to the entire company. Or make you cater and entertain at their executive retreat. They need a thing… and hey, there’s a bunch of job applicants over here eager to get on our good side… Put ’em together! Genius!

  17. Dan*

    Alison has posted enough weird interview stories where I can actually believe this is legit (but totally misguided). Hell, there was that non profit that wanted their applicants to cook a meal for 24 people or something like that, and the non-profit wasn’t even in the food service business.

  18. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    I really think they need the reality check of Alison contacting them and sending the post (if they sent it to a ton of applicants, no way they can narrow it down/pin it on the OP). I am also absolutely nosy and want to hear all about it if they respond, because that practice sounds sketch as hell.

  19. Military Prof*

    I have seen dozens of reputable academics get caught up in crazy moneymaking schemes, trading off their academic credentials in exchange for their cut of the profit. Often, it comes in the form of academic conferences being put on my professional organizers, who are essentially promising a share of the gate income to one or more “big names” who agree to give a talk at the conference. (The payoff is called an honorarium, but in some of the situations I’ve seen, it has been attendance-dependent.) The fact of the matter is, in our over-credentialed society, having a doctorate or other terminal degree can create lucrative opportunities, particularly if you are tied to a prominent institution.
    You can see universities putting on conference programs on a regular basis and trotting out their superstars. Often, it’s some form of “leadership conference,” targeting executives of large corporations who will get to bask in their affiliation with Prominent University X, complete with a very nice printed certificate of completing the course on Leadership, all for the bargain price of several thousand dollars…

    1. professor x*

      I was going to say that this all just sounds academia-adjacent to me. Many of our conferences/annual meetings have some kind of interview process, aimed at connecting graduate students with institutions that are hiring. But not all graduate programs provide funding for their students to attend these conferences, which are really expensive – registration fees, hotels, and travel could easily be $1k. So, it really ends up being a culling mechanism in a very competitive market.

  20. Mssqueakr*

    If it’s a legit opportunity I would not be surprised if they had over 1000 applications. As a rider myself jobs like this are really hard to come by – reading manuscripts while working at home? As a playwright, I volunteer to read scripts at no cost for many local theaters and I don’t know any theatre here who actually pays script readers for that kind of work.
    I’m not trying to excuse what is a really crappy process, but I wonder if some of the work might be involved with being at the retreat and they want to make sure people who take the job are willing and able to do that. If that’s the case they should do phone or Skype or some kind of interview process first, and then invite perhaps the top applicants to take the retreat at no cost.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      I had a job as a reader for a company like this, for money.

      1, the money wasn’t actually that great. It was freelance piecework on tight deadlines, and I had to read an outrageous volume in order to make ends meet at all. Reading is an honor and a delight till you find yourself reading 400 pages a day.

      2, while I worked from home, the company didn’t put out a nationwide job listing or advertise that it was a remote position. We had a home office in my same city, I just didn’t have to go there. In fact, I got the job through a friend; it wouldn’t surprise me if they literally never listed this job anywhere public.

      3, the interview process was completely typical. Not to mention, the entire hiring process was basically an exercise in “how the sausage gets made”. The company honestly didn’t give a shit if you loved literature, had a million terminal degrees, had written books of your own. Nobody sat around talking about how important and vital literature is. They just wanted someone who could do the work.

    2. Annie*

      That’s honestly really shocking. I did a lot of play reading when I was starting out but I was always paid for it.

      It’s definitely true though that theatre and writing have strong “expect to work for free” cultures.

  21. EW.*

    This story reminds me of when I was much younger and more naive to hiring practices. I responded to an ad on Craigslist and had an in-person interview for what sounded like an entry-level job in an industry that I wanted to work in. They said that I was moving onto “the next step” which was seeing how many people I could invite to one of their venues on a Saturday night. The job was for a company that was in charge of event planning for some of Major City’s bars/nightclubs so I didn’t find it unreasonable, even if the job itself wasn’t “club promoter.”

    Thankfully, there was no cover charge and I invited my friends along (approximately 10 of us) who had a decent time at this place. I called one of the women that I had met at the in-person interview when I got there and she basically told me that she was “across town” and that she wouldn’t be stopping by. That’s when I knew it was a scam. But UGH.

    1. Goldfinch*

      This is a common way to scam small bands, too. You get a cut of the door, but only if the gross is above “impossible number” and/or you bring “number of people allowed by fire code -1” on your own. Then, oops! You didn’t make your numbers, but at least you got one free watered-down beer to play for four hours!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Ooooh that seems like so much work, giving excuses and such. When usually a truly scummy promoter just conveniently cannot be found at the end of the night because they ditched out with the handful of cash in tow.

  22. Alton*

    You know, I’m not sure “scam” and “real” business are mutually exclusive, here. An unfortunate reality in the publishing industry is that there are plenty of companies that technically do what they say they do but have exploitative, unprofessional, or misleading practices. This includes publishers that aren’t upfront about the fact that they’re vanity presses, “contests” that will declare anyone a winner in order to get them to buy anthology copies, and companies that have good intentions but end up screwing people over (it’s disheartening to see how many small presses that I’ve considered submitting to have ended up getting embroiled in drama because they weren’t paying authors their royalties or the editors were caught engaging in unprofessional behavior). This isn’t meant to badmouth the industry by any means, but you do have to do your homework and avoid a lot of red flags sometimes.

    1. lemon*

      Yes, I was going to comment the same.

      A few weeks ago I received an email from Well-Known Multinational Corporation telling me about a great opportunity– a six week, unpaid tech boot camp where you’d be rewarded with the *chance* to interview for a tech role at their company. Sounds like a six-week long job interview that’s actually a way for them to get free labor. It was a legit company and program– just a terrible and unethical hiring method.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, I was just about to say pretty much this. Unfortunately in publishing there’s a wide swath of gray area between “completely aboveboard, legitimate business” and “pure scam.” There are publishers with unreasonable contract clauses that count on writers’ naivete – don’t, for example, give a publisher rights to your work without an end date or a rights reversion clause in case of their bankruptcy or closure. There are publishers who tell writers that they’d love to accept their manuscript, but it just needs some revision… and for that revision they’ll need guidance and an editor… and oh look, they recommend this particular freelance editor, who just so happens to have a financial connection with them. There are businesses that *start* legitimate, but eventually end up stealing royalties or stiffing vendors as they fall into financial trouble or as their owners get greedy.

      Whole websites are devoted to exposing scams and semi-scammy businesses targeting writers. I hadn’t heard of ones that target editors, but it doesn’t surprise me that they exist.

    3. wittyrepartee*

      Two friends used to work for a place like this. They were some melding of a vanity press and a legitimate business who couldn’t get it’s shirt together enough to meet it’s obligations.

  23. Assistant to the Regional Manager*

    Also, every scam sounds legit to some degree. That’s why they work. Anna Sorkin/Delvey, Elizabeth Holmes, Billy McFarland also all seemed like real, not terribly scammy people with track records in their industry.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is a great point to remember.

      Lots of scams are really well thought out and can last for decades if done smoothly enough. It’s not all the sketchy websites with poorly written emails with phishing links everywhere. Some really invest time and effort into looking legit and having a facade so people will trust them.

      It’s standard to take advantage of those in vulnerable situations. Job searching and looking for decent income is always something that will catch a decent amount of fish, so if you do it “right” like these guys, you can rake in a good chunk of change and a captive audience.

    2. Jennifer*

      And Elizabeth and Billy ran real companies that employed people. There can be an actual job AND they can also be running a scam.

    3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Many scams are run by people are have great track records. Bernard Madoff served on the board of directors of the Securities Industry Association and was chairman of its trading committee. Elizabeth Holmes had Henry Kissinger and Jim Mattis on her Board of Director. Jeffrey Skilling graduated in the top 5% of his class on Harvard Business School. Having great credentials in no way removes the likelihood this is a scam.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Yes. Also Holmes and possibly Billy McFarland too illustrate the danger of scams that those at the top don’t fully think of as scams per se. They work as scams because the architects of them do tons of legitimate work before a scam ever emerges.

        Elizabeth Holmes did not wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll start a scam today.” Instead she put herself at the head of a company whose reins she didn’t hold onto tight enough. She got in over her head and figured she’d dig her way out and make things right before anyone discovered the truth. Same could be said of McFarland. He kept borrowing money with the thought that there’d be a huge payoff eventually that would make all the problems go away. Both of them fell victim to believing their own hype, and believing that hype could somehow override the iron laws of finances.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Nah, McFarland knew he was running a scam with FyreFest. He had already had one scam with his credit card which was basically a ponzi scheme. FyreFest was his next step. He knew he wasn’t going to deliver on all that was promised. But he got OTHER people to fall for the hype which is the definition of a con man. Then while out on bail, he started another scam with discount tickets to major events like the Met Gala which is invite only.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Thank you. The dude set out to con his target group of victims. He was scamming from the very start with a fake AF credit card vanity “club”, bro just charged a bunch of people a membership to put a logo on their existing cards, rme.

    4. Lovecraft Beauty*

      This. The book The confidence game: why we fall for it… every time, by Maria Konnikova, is an incredible study of how and why people fall for scams, and how hard they are to guard against (if they’re done reasonably well).

      1. Arabella Flynn*

        I had no idea Konnikova had another book out! I read the one she wrote on how to think like Sherlock Holmes. I found it a well-laid-out explanation of how to pull it off, made extra fascinating by the way she writes very much like her original language was Russian.

  24. A Simple Narwhal*

    I read the title and was like oh eff that noise. Then I read the actual letter and was like scaaaaaaam. The fact that this is a well-established company has totally knocked me for a loop! I would LOVE for Alison to contact them – the practical side of me thinks nothing will come from it but that small glimmer of hope is enough to string me along.

  25. Ab c da pupez*

    I use an on-line lead generator for my business and recently had several “leads” that worked like the Nigerian prince emails, but it took a while to dig through and make sure.

    The first contacts were reasonable, with applicable facts, budget and requests to support their inquiry. The text exchange was a tennis match of Great! and HUH???, with some grammatical errors. I took those with a grain of salt because I often have clients with English as a second language. It was so possibly a viable lead that I went so far as to provide a proposal (altho I did go with my highest pricing! and knew I could use the research for a viable lead) while I continued the exchange. Then came time for them to “*hit or get off the pot”. And that’s when it became clear it was a scam, especially when they became angry that I would not change my accounting system to accommodate them. They even came back to me days later after I reported them to the agency and said “No”.

    Weeks later I received another lead that started to follow the same pattern, altho they weren’t as practiced as the first person.

    My take-away is that scammers have become extremel polished by including enough facts to sound legit, but then comes the time finalize an agreement – and that’s when reality strikes. It is very disconcerting, I can understand your feeling pulled in both directions!

  26. Detective Amy Santiago*

    These feels like some kind of MLM.

    Come to our retreat! If you bring a friend, you get a discount. Bring multiple friends, attend free!

  27. blackcatlady*

    But wait! Not only do you pay for the retreat BUT they want you to teach and do some reviews. You get to work one week for free!

    1. Close Bracket*

      How fun it would be to pitch a class and ask whether they want to move forward with a contract …

  28. Jennifer*

    I think it’s a real job AND it’s a scam. Real companies that employ tons of people run scams. This retreat may not be selling as well and they need to fill space, as the OP suggested. I’d never pay to go to a job interview when I hadn’t had a phone screening and maybe Skype interview first.

    I’m sure you have a great resume and qualifications, OP, but out of thousands of applicants, your resume blew them away so much that they want to meet you in person without any kind of previous screening? Sounds too good to be true.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      I wouldn’t pay to attend a job interview, period. If the company wants you bad enough, they’ll pay for it themselves.

    2. Anna*

      Agreed—seems like both. As many have said, rampant in the creative fields. I remember when I was applying to MFA (creative writing programs) and paid the $100 application fee to one school. I’m sure I was one of hundreds, as the school had a well-respected writing program. Later, I learned that the school had accepted exactly one candidate…who had already been enrolled in the school’s MA program.
      Taking $100/pop applications from hundreds when you know you’re going to accept ~1 candidate and the candidate that makes it has an ‘in’? Not quite scam, but it sure isn’t not a scam.

      1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        In my opinion, it’s still a scam. Do you know that the applicants have zero chance of success and still take their money? It’s dishonest and unethical and worse because it’s a well-respected program.

  29. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

    Plus how big is this retreat? If you had over a thousand applicants and 10% attend the “interview”, you’re looking at 100+ people. For a small enough retreat, the number of applicants could easily overwhelm the number of actual attendees.

    I guess that’s one way to sell out your retreat. Is the second round of interviews at the next retreat?

    1. Jennifer*

      I think less than 10% will show up. You have to cut out the people who will dismiss it as a scam immediately and the people who can’t afford to take a week off work and pay $300 just for a job interview. But even if all 1,000 try to book a room, eventually they’d sell out. I don’t think the retreat would be overwhelmed.

      1. banzo_bean*

        Yeah, but even if 1% of people go for it thats $3000 and assuming there is only one position available $2700 wasted.

  30. Buttons*

    Could it be both- a scam and a legit company? Maybe they are having trouble filling up their retreats and use it as bait to get retreat attendees?

  31. CardCarryingMember*

    This is how you hire teenage summer camp counselors: require that they have attended that camp and gone through it’s Counselor-In-Training session (at the attendee’s expense), and then rank the CITs and offer the better ones counselor jobs for next summer. It’s ok-ish as a right of passage for 15-year-olds aging out of camper status and into the workforce. It’s ridiculous for adult professionals.

    1. A tester, not a developer*

      Glad to hear it’s not just my kid’s summer camp that does that. I’m profoundly on the fence about it… unless my kid has a real passion for camp councilling, we’d prefer not to commit around $4000 to two more years of CIT programs.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I almost just drown on the water I was drinking.

        I read the original comment and went “oh okay, summer camp.” and then you put a price that I was not expecting at all. Are they building rocketships, $2000 a year, so they can hopefully maybe make minimum wage?!

        1. banzo_bean*

          Normally CIT programs are expensive because they cover multiple sessions of a summer camp. I worked for a summer camp for several years with a CIT program. I was not a graduate of the CIT program and I did not attend summer camp at this camp. For this camp it was not required to graduate from the CIT program to work in the camp. In fact, it even worked against many of the CITs as we got to experience their work ethic (but as a 15 year old) and when they applied as adults their teenage shortcomings were definitely discussed in great detail among other staffers.
          Overall, in my experience, the CIT program did not consist of a lot of actual work, but instead focused on things like leading story time for young campers and painting murals on tables and walls. All of the hard labor (and much less of the glory) was given to the staff.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Ugh. There’s one camp that I know if I ever apply to it again, I’m going to have to use a second email, and maybe a false name. I worked for them mid-college, and kind of just got cut loose by the instructor I was TAing for. *cringe*

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Like, I wasn’t organized enough to do what I was being asked to do, and didn’t have the support I needed for it.

        2. Harper the Other One*

          Honestly, here CIT programs cost that much but also they’re at camp for 8 weeks.
          Compared to the $500 a week for overnight camp fees, sounds like a bargain! (Note: my attitude to this may have been affected by spending the summer trying to work from home with the kids around.)

          That said, my son is highly interested in military cadets and he’d get paid for attending their summer camp, so I know what I’m going to recommend when the time comes!

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I’m probably looking at this through my no-kids lens and growing up with parents who would have laughed me out of the room if I even tried to suggest it. But since then you just made me start thinking about the ransom y’all end up paying for daycare and after school activities during school anyways, so I can see how it’s a bargain in the end to parents if they have the capital to fund it.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              Oh, definitely. It sounds crazy, even to me! Because by CIT age you no longer have to pay child care. And I’m very fortunate that my WFH setup allows me to avoid it altogether already.

              Still, if I had a kid who loved the camp, I’d consider it – but not from a future job perspective, just from “well it costs the same for you to go for 8 weeks as for 3…”

        3. Agnodike*

          $1000 a month is not a crazy price for room and board plus programming. $2000/summer is certainly not on the high end of summer camps; in my area, they mostly run $300-$500 per week. It’s extremely weird if you think about it on the employment side, but not so weird if you think about it as an extended camp program.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            With a business mind and knowing what overhead look like for a summer camp, those margins are outstanding. However since it’s a seasonal venture, they have to rake it in when they can to sustain themselves and have reserves.

            They’re paying $1000 for a bunk bed and food that is pennies on the dollar because it’s camp cafeteria food, massive cans of “stuff” cracked open and heated up. Then they make more money because I know most have “snack shacks” where you can go buy extra food that they’ve farmed from Costco.

            The wages for the people working there is the biggest cost and nobody is making much except the highest coordinators perhaps.

            I know that parents are just used to paying the ransom but y’all are getting robbed blind in a lot of ways. Just like the wedding industry, spiking prices on things they would sell you for any other day for 3x the price because it’s a cash-grab set up.

            [Summer camp was awesome and I liked it, so I think the experience is worth it but yeah, those numbers are making my mind swirl.]

        4. Alex*

          Eh, it doesn’t work exactly like that. I went to a camp that did this (except being a CIT was not a requirement to become a counselor, it was just a thing you could do) and really, being a CIT was being a glorified camper, and for the most part, CITs were former campers who had aged out of the summer program but still wanted to come to camp. They did some training (acted as assistants to counselors) and projects around the camp, as well as their own fun activities. It was more like “camp for teens” than “career training.”

          $4000 probably covers four months total? So like, $250 a week to supervise, feed, and provide activities for a teen who isn’t quite old enough to really work yet (I did this when I was 14 and 15) isn’t all that bad. In my day it was about half that, but that was two decades ago. I actually held a yard sale myself to pay for my own second year of this!

    2. CardCarryingMember*

      When I wrote this comment I was thinking of my own camp counselor experience: the camp I went to hired its counselors exclusively from its former CIT pool (except for a few foreign exchange program counselors) – but my camp’s CIT program was only 2 weeks long, and cost a few hundred dollars, and those who completed it were invited back to be “staff assistants” (no pay, but no fees either, and free room and board) for the remaining weeks of the summer, and then the top 40% or so of those were offered paid counselor jobs for the following summer, when they were old enough to work legally and per the camp’s insurance limitations.

      I don’t think I’d feel this was as ok if it were a camp that charged thousands and made CITs go for 8 weeks and didn’t even necessarily pick their staff from the alums…

      In any case I certainly don’t think this kind of system is anywhere near appropriate for hiring writers, or for getting butts in seats at retreats.

  32. Jennifer*

    Maybe there is no retreat but some kind of weird, fight to the death to get the job Survivor/Fear Factor set up when you get there? And the next boat off the island doesn’t leave for another week…

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Oh, I totally see this retreat going down as an unrestricted Hunger Games. Like when you bring on 20 law interns and tell them that at the end of the summer, one of them will be offered a position.

  33. Olive Hornby*

    I’m in publishing, and this sort of thing sounds familiar. Often they are run by people with real credentials–former editors or agents who can say they spent over a decade at Legitimate Publisher X, worked with Famous Author Y, etc. Usually, this experience was many years ago. They will even recruit editors and agents who are currently at legitimate publishers and agencies (though usually at a low level) to attend as experts and offer panels and in-person meetings. This helps encourage prospective authors to attend these conferences and to pay extra for an in-person consultation on their manuscript. Best case scenario, it’s kind of sad–most of these writers have no real shot at publication and are paying hundreds of dollars for notes on a manuscript that will never sell.

    Worst case scenario, it’s kind of sad, the promised benefits never materialize, and also the editors and agents never get the cut of their individual meetings that they were promised (which if you’re an agent on 100% commission can be pretty catastrophic.) Even in these cases, the people running the conferences aren’t necessarily mustache-twisting evildoers out to exploit people–sometimes they’re just people trying to make a dollar off a skillset that’s rapidly losing market value, and doing so without fully thinking through the financials. But your landlord doesn’t care about that person’s plight, and neither should you.

    (Note: this doesn’t go for all conferences! Some are great for networking/dealmaking/learning, particularly ones that are more genre-targeted, like in romance. But there are a lot of scammy ones.)

    1. Skelvin*

      ^^^Yes, I’ve seen these too, and this description sounds right. The organizers are not exactly Snidely Whiplash, but they’re OK with making money off people 98% of whom won’t get anything out of it. It’s a small step from there to expand it and milk people hoping to get paid to work from home reading books, 98% of whom won’t see any return on their investment either. It’s not a scam, but it’s exploitative and sad. Avoid.

    2. Claire*

      Exactly this. Aspiring authors are so often desperate for some key to the publishing industry. And trying to break into publishing as an editor is a long hard road as well. The part that screams scam to me is that they aren’t bothering with any kind of interview. They’re happy to profit off job seekers.

    3. londonedit*

      Wow, I also work in publishing (but in the UK) and I’ve never heard of anything like this. The OP’s letter was screaming ‘scam’ to me!

      Of course we have the ‘Earn money as a proofreader!’ adverts in the back of magazines (or I guess, now, online) where you have to pay to take a scammy proofreading course that isn’t really recognised by anyone, and they won’t tell you that any publisher worth their salt only hires freelancers with years of experience and personal recommendations, but I’ve never heard of an ‘interview’ process like this.

  34. TrustNoOne*

    I’m interest to know if the “real” people running this company actually know they’re running this company? Someone could have snagged some random legit names off the ‘net for their faux website.

    1. Deborah*

      I also never figured out the identity of the theater summer internship program on a farm, and I’m still wondering.

  35. Amethystmoon*

    I’m middle class and have so many bills most weeks that I would never have an extra $300 to spend. It’s definitely classist.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think that they’re banking on the idea that people will “find” $300 or [worse] skip paying some bills to take the opportunity because “It’s an investment”, since you spend $300 and you “get” a job in return! *barf*

      They’re actually taking advantage of the working poor in the end.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, I think that’s where screening for desperation comes in–people who feel they have options will tend to give this a pass. People desperate to have it be real will come up with $300 somehow, as an investment in their career.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’m crying inside knowing that some people would put this on their already piling up credit card because of the “return” they’d envision.

          I’ve seen so many stories on American Greed about people who are wrecked by credit card debt and foreclosures because they decided to go that route to “get in” on scams that require more capital than they actually had to spare.

      2. Snark*

        My feeling is that they’re weeding out the working poor and selecting for the kind of applicant that’s just desperate enough for their own career to apply, and come from just enough privelege to have someone to borrow $300 from. Not to mention just enough privelege to accept underpayment.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I usually just assume they are the kind of people who don’t actually understand socioeconomic s in general. I have met a whole lot of humans in my years who blissfully think that everyone has credit cards and bank accounts with sufficient funds at all times.

          There’s a lot of ignorance in the world.

          It reminds me of the teacher who’s principal was all “Oh you can’t find that 3k in your budget?! Let me do it for you, bring me in your bank statements!” *screams*

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I think there’s some conscious or unconscious class filtering here, same as with certain types of jobs where you need lengthy unpaid internships to get a foot in the door. To them, “only the comfortably well-off” might be an advantage, as regards ‘fit’ or ‘optics,’ even if they’d never say it (or necessarily even ever realize that was what they were doing).

  36. Allison*

    Now I’m so curious who it is and what made Allison turn!

    I work in an industry that invites editors to speak at writers’ conferences — 100%, THEY should be paying YOU to attend and present here. If you were also a writer and wanted to get a sense of the org by attending and observing, that would be your choice, but it sounds like you’re clearly on the editor side, so should be treated as staff. They are presumably charging other people to attend, and any presentation or service you provide will be added value for their participants and how they market the conference. I actually got into a dialogue recently with a conference that was only offering to pay my basic travel (yes on flight and no on cab to airport) and wouldn’t give me a stipend — though I considered it (I wanted to visit the city) and I supported the organization, I decided to decline because though I get some benefit from the networking (…mixed with the opportunity cost of missing work and/or not having a free weekend to relax or do life errands), they get a very tangible benefit from my attendance and my professional time should have a certain worth. Here, they are likely charging writers both to attend and specifically for these critiques. If I were up for a job, the travel-only offer may be acceptable (or if it was in my city and only took a day of my time), but I think you’re getting into sketchy territory if you are paying them for the benefit of consideration.

    1. Close Bracket*

      I really sincerely doubt that people have to pay to attend if they are teaching. I don’t think that’s the correct interpretation of the ad, even without reading the ad itself. Teachers might be expected to pay their own airfare, but can probably attend and even get housing as part of their payment (might even be the only payment).

      Now, I highly doubt that someone would be accepted as a teacher if they haven’t attended at least a few, but that’s not quite the same as, “Pay to attend this conference and you can be a teacher!”

      Likewise with the writing position, in fact. Clearly, nobody will be extended an offer without having attended a few retreats and having some retreat-teaching experience, but that is not the same as “Pay to attend this retreat, and you can interview for this position!”

  37. K. A.*

    It sounds like someone at the company is connected to this writing retreat in some way, be it a business connection where they make money by referring people (kickback anyone?) or a personal connection where their employees have been instructed to require people go to this workshop because it’s run by a friend for whom they’re doing a favor. Either way, it’s bonkers.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        How about a double chocolate malted*, can you indulge in one of those? I’m going to break out the blender when the popcorn starts popping.
        (*Cue the Jonathan Richmond song, yeah yeah yeah!)

    1. Close Bracket*

      the person writing did provide a personal phone number I could call with any questions.

      Did you call them?

    2. Qqq*

      In the spirit of scams, Alison please verify that it is really the op who wrote this comment.
      (Just to make sure they are ok with sending it)

  38. Will Review Books for Food*

    this is actually extremely telling of how bad the job market is for folks with terminal degrees in English is. like, it didn’t really surprise me at all.

    1. Anon For This*

      I’m a musician and visual artist and there are SO MANY people who want you to pay for x, y or z “opportunity” that, really, you should be paid for, not paying for. There are tons of people running companies that look established and fairly professional but are actually scams. We all have to watch out for this stuff constantly, and sometimes, they do get you. It’s hard to completely avoid. I’ve found that the trick is to trust your instincts and to be quick to distance yourself from anyone who is doing anything scammy, no matter how charming and well-intentioned they may seem, who they say they know, or anything else extraneous. Just take things for what they are and go by what is actually happening, not the image that people create.

    2. Autumnheart*

      The job market is fine for people with terminal degrees in English. Just because you have an English degree doesn’t mean you can only apply to jobs in publishing.

      1. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

        Thank you. I have an English degree. I’ve worked in all sorts of industries, all sorts of positions. My degree hasn’t ever hindered me. We with said “terminal” degrees are wordsmiths of varying levels, a skill that’s infinitely valuable when applying for any position in any industry.

        1. bleh*

          Exactly. English majors end up making more money than business majors after a few years out of university. The crisis is in the cultural representation, not the reality of the job market.

  39. Today Anon*

    I’m an author and I get these kind of solicitations all the time. I don’t hate the people asking, but it’s a scam all around. I teach classes in writing and publishing, as a side gig to my books, but I get paid to do that. Would you want to take a class from me if I had to pay to teach it?

  40. Proofin' Amy*

    Alison, there is actually a group that ferrets out scams just like this, mostly for writers, but editors often benefit as well. It is called Writer Beware, and it is sponsored by SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). They don’t restrict themselves to that genre. Might be a good idea to check in with them.

    1. Quill*

      Ninja’d! Writer Beware will also often catch publishing houses that don’t end up paying their authors – I’ve had friends in writing that had the rug pulled out from under them by a variety of these allegedly legit businesses / small prints that would pass the smell test in any other industry.

      1. Proofin' Amy*

        Victoria Strauss is FIERCE in pursuing authors’ rights, as was the late and dearly missed Ann Crispin.

    2. OP*

      I hadn’t heard of this, but it doesn’t surprise me that SFWA is doing it–SF writers generally are pretty great at the business end of writing.

  41. Ashley*

    I’ve had this happen with places that offer resume services — ie, here’s our fake job posting, in looking at your resume, we think you have the skills but need some polishing on your paperwork, here’s a link for our services. They got a mouthful from me about taking advantage of vulnerable people during a recession (this was circa 2008)…

    I’ve never seen it outside of those fields, though. Ick.

  42. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    It is possible that the company is legit and this is also a scam. I mean, I gain my knowledge about illegal practices being run through legit businesses via Sopranos and SOA, but I’m sure that type of stuff exists in the real world too.

  43. GlassAlwaysEmpty*

    I’m wondering if it’s possible it’s both? A scam and not a scam

    Every once in awhile our company email list gets hacked where I receive random emails from “one of the managers” at our company but on closer examination, it’s not any of their regular email addresses.

    The ad said, ” applicants who were willing to attend and teach at some of these retreats” but depending on the specific wording that could just mean applicants who were willing to teach them (and unlike other benefits you would teach at the retreat, not remotely). Does the link in the email (though I do not think you should test it), lead to the same page as the website–and where does the phone number lead (maybe call from a landline)

    Long-story-short I’m wondering if looking further into it the job is real, but the follow-up email was a scam (where someone hacked in)

  44. Anon Librarian*

    There are plenty of organizations that seem legit and have a track record but are a little scammy if you scratch the surface. Especially in creative fields! Yikes, creative fields are a minefield for that kind of thing.

    I would assume that they are like that and would avoid doing business with them or even continuing to communicate with them. If anything, I would warn other writers.

    They’re probably a little scammy with the retreat participants too. They’re probably getting by on the (so far accurate?) assumption that no one will complain, or if they do, that it won’t be taken seriously.

    Also, THOUSANDS of applications? That sounds really unlikely and reminiscent of scams I’ve seen in other creative fields.

  45. Quill*

    This kind of scam is really, really prevalent in jobs surrounding creative writing. OP, get on Writer Beware IMMEDIATELY any time you get any job offer or invitation to interview, before replying.

  46. NMRN*

    I think maybe another way to check it out is to send another CV from a different email. Have that CV be totally unqualified for the job and see if you get the same response. You can even make it so any person reading it can see that it’s a joke one- write that your name is Batman and your job experience includes saving Gotham. If you get the same response- definitely a scam

  47. Safely Retired*

    I wonder if I got this right… You pay $300 to go to a seminar in the hope that you get a job giving that seminar to the next batch of prospective employees who are hoping to get the job you have, presenting the same seminars?

    That can’t be right, can it?

    1. Close Bracket*

      No, I don’t think it is. I think anyone can apply, and you have to physically present to interview. I think you pay $300 for a hotel room so you can be in the physical location where interviews are happening. I don’t think attending the retreat means you get to teach, and I don’t think being accepted as a teacher at the retreat means you get to interview.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, my read was that the retreat was not exclusively (or even necessarily primarily) aimed at job interviewees, just that you have to attend to interview. Basically that the Venn diagram is a large circle of ‘attendees’ and a smaller circle of ‘interviewees’ within that circle.

        For people interested in a writing retreat, $300 for a week-long retreat isn’t bad. I see that for 2- to 3-day retreats all the time, and some major retreats that are weeklong are well upwards of a thousand dollars. If the instructors are people with a track record in the industry, they could easily get people who are attending just to attend rather than solely job seekers.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Or just that you have to be onsite to interview. As in, “We are holding interviews in Jakarta during our retreat. If you want to interview, you must come to Jakarta. Here’s a link to the hotel where we have a block of rooms.”

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        Here’s a question:

        would they consider interviewing someone who didn’t pay to attend the conference, who just happened to live in the town where they hold it, and who commuted over to attend the interview just like anyone else would for any other job?

        If not, scam.

  48. Patty*

    This is, in effect, how academic hiring works — many times the first-round interviews are held at national conferences with expensive rooms and fees to attend the conference. Of course, that leaves many people unable to attend.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      But even there, you’re not interviewing to work for the conference. The conference is just a convenient networking point. I agree it’s bullshit, but at least there it makes a degree of sense and isn’t a straight up scam. The same universities would probably be equally happy to interview someone who happened to live in the same city as the conference and just biked over to the hotel where interviews were being held.

  49. Andream*

    I really hope that either he LW or Allison responds back to this company and hat we get an update published!

  50. KittenCat*

    It sounds like an MLM “conference,” to be honest. I used to work in the convention planning business and witnessed what MLMs would do to their “bossbabes” to have these silly pep rallies.

  51. MissDisplaced*

    You should never have to pay significant money (beyond say gas & parking) to interview for a job. Heck, even parking ought to be validated if you’re there at their request.

  52. JamieS*

    Still sounds like a scam to me. How do you know the people on the website are actually the people they claim to be? People can claim to be anyone online.

  53. Working Mom Having It All*

    As someone who used to do the non-scam version of this job (remote manuscript reading services), this is definitely a scam.

    For one thing, while I don’t have academic experience and wouldn’t be at the top of the market in terms of pay, to say this sort of work pays well is… the overstatement of the century, if not an outright lie. I would frankly be suspicious of any job listing claiming you could make a full time middle class wage doing this.

    For another thing, I went through a fairly typical hiring process to get the job. In fact, it wasn’t even a hard gig to get.

    So, yeah, this “we chose you from a field of thousands of applicants, you just have to spend $300/night for the privilege of interviewing” thing is nonsense. For what it’s worth, I doubt the people on the website are not the people they claim to be or anything that elaborate. They just got enough applicants they figured that they could get at least two or three of them to fork over this kind of money for the opportunity.

    For the record, my guess is that every applicant got this “we chose you, but…” email.

    My real question is whether the position even exists, to be honest.

    1. OP*

      I’ve done this work before for roughly this same amount of money, but I do wonder how they’d be able to offer a consistent stream of manuscripts to review. With past jobs/freelancing I’ve found that this work pays well per hour, but the difficulty is finding clients. So you might have a few manuscripts a year and a good payout for each, but not enough to make a living off of.

  54. Elan Morin Tedronai*

    Send it in Alison…!! And I’m sure I speak for most people here when I say I’d love to see what they say to that!

  55. Lit Mag Editor*

    It also strikes me as odd that they would be interviewing for people to teach at a retreat that way. Part of the reason people are paying a large amount to go on a writing retreat (often in a nice location) is because they’re taught by people with a pretty big name already. (Not that people who aren’t famous can’t be excellent teachers, it’s just usually part of the draw.)

    I’m an editor at a lit mag, and we’ve put together similar writing retreats, but the instructors were all picked in advance/obviously paid!! with expenses covered, and applicants knew exactly what they were paying for. It also sounds like they’re trying to get out of paying for instructors at the retreats by offering to cover their travel/room expenses.

    There’s already a ton of pushback about contest fees and the like in the creative writing world, but this is really a whole new level!

    Please let Allison send this in! Also, just wanted to put in my two cents that you should consider saying who they are publicly (even if you let Allison do it), or post it on somewhere like Duotrope, or another writing site to warn other writers. It’s so easy for people trying to break into writing to get tricked into thinking stuff like this is just what they have to do and I don’t think it’s considered out of line or would affect your reputation to flag when organizations or presses are predatory/scammy.

    1. Claire*

      I’d also suggest contacting Writer Beware, run by Victoria Strauss. It’s mostly sponsored by SFWA, but she covers all kinds of publishers, agents, and conferences, and she keeps all info confidential.

    2. OP*

      I had that thought too–which was why I ended up writing to Alison. Initially I was just really irritated and I wanted to simmer down a bit and also get a reality check from someone whose opinion I trusted in case I was misjudging the whole situation (mission accomplished). I’m very interested to see if they reply to her. And I do love Alison’s impulse to point out to them that there’s a better way to handle hiring, if indeed it is just bad planning on their part.

  56. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    “real people with track records in this industry,” can still be scam artists. Bernie Madoff comes to mind.

    1. Cats and dogs*

      This was my thought also. People with credentials scam people and know they are scamming people.

    2. Victoria*

      Yeah, I commented about this below, but there was a big LA times piece about Anna March, who appears to have* made a bunch of money on fake retreats. Writers that were established were taken in by her. Including one whose work was foundational in transforming my field. So, yeah, they could appear legit and still be sketchy.

      *I don’t know what constitutes slander at this point and I don’t know if anything conclusive was ever reached, but suffice to say, a lot of people lost money from her.

  57. Victoria*

    I don’t know if anyone here followed the LA Times piece about Anna March last summer, but the short version is that this woman endeared herself to people in the literary world without having written a book, scammed a bunch of people a number of times, from book coaching, fake awards, and retreats (see the story here: ). She was friends with people I know in the writing world who are legit, including some big names. All of this to say that before last summer, I would have probably assumed her retreats were legit as well. So even if they appear to not be a scam, it may still be.

  58. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

    The only thing that makes me think “maybe not a scam” is that $300 seems really low for a week in a hotel. (Assuming it’s $300 total rather than $300/night.) Maybe I’m just out of touch with what hotel rooms at retreats cost, but rooms at conventions I attend are usually more than $100/night, so if this is a week-long retreat, that’s much more like what the hotel usually offers as the “staff rate” for people working the convention, or even cheaper than many of those I’ve seen. (My experience is in SF fan conventions, and at those no one, including the event organizers, is being paid except for a few Guests of Honor, and everyone working the convention is generally expected to get their own hotel room on their own dime.)

    Assuming there is an actual hotel room involved, I just can’t see that the organizers are making much (or any) money off of renting it for only $300 for a week.

    That doesn’t make it a good way to conduct interviews, it’s just too little money for me to think that they’d make any money running a scam this way. (There are plenty of other reasons that this is not a good way to run interviews, and they’ve been addressed elsewhere in the comments.)

  59. BrokeAssWriter*

    My theory: They assume that most “serious, qualified” applicants attend their retreats anyway. Clueless and unethical, yes, but maybe not intentionally so.

  60. Meredith*

    Considering the 16 hour+ interview for Smile International (a legitimate organization) that involved cooking dinner for and entertaining their entire executive staff, we already know plenty of hiring managers make really unreasonable demands on job seekers. In fact, I expected that chestnut to be linked at the bottom of this letter.

  61. Newington*

    Creative industries are full of “real people” who are convinced that their scam isn’t terribly scammy. I see this all the time as a playwright – entry fees for ‘competitions’, ‘opportunities’ where if you’re selected you have to fund your own production anyway. As creators, the quickest way we can fix that is to refuse to take part in the scams.

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