should people who sell MLM products put “business owner” on their resumes?

A reader writes:

My sister and I have a difference of opinions on whether an MLM (multi-level marketing) consultant could put “business owner” as their title on a resume.

My sister’s opinion is, “You’re putting your own money into it, you’re paying to use the name, you’re hiring your people, and responsible for all sales, training, accounting, organizing. And you’re relying on the success of your specific part of the business in order to make money, not on [the company] as a whole.”

My view is that this is not the same as owning an independent business, because the consultant does not actually hire, fire, or directly pay their downline. My sister thinks it’s the same as, for example, the owner of a McDonald’s calling herself a business owner, even if they don’t OWN McDonald’s corporation, but I think it is pretty different. Thoughts?

This has come up because we are trying to help our mom on her resume, and she has been a consultant with an MLM for 20+ years and has led a large team of over 200+ consultants. We’re trying to help my mom polish her resume, and this is her most relevant work experience.

People who sell products for MLMs are salespeople, not business owners. (For readers who don’t know the term: MLMs = multi-level marketing schemes, like Herbalife or Lularoe, as well as older ones like Mary Kay.)

MLMs like to tell the people they’re trying to recruit that they’ll be small business owners, probably because it helps them disguise the reality that a huge percentage of the people who sell their products don’t make a profit, and even lose money. (Your mom seems to be an exception, fortunately.)

But MLM consultants aren’t business owners. The law considers them independent contractors. And that makes sense: They don’t set their own pricing, make branding decisions, or control product development, manufacturing, or distribution. They don’t qualify for small business loans. They’re accountable to the MLM itself, which can kick them out at any time. They don’t have employees in the legal sense, just additional recruits to the MLM.

By contrast, someone who buys a restaurant franchise is a franchisee, and is running a far more complex business in which they hire and fire employees, pay payroll taxes, pay their staff wages regardless of their profits, and exercise significant control over their hours and work.

The accurate title for an MLM on a resume is “sales rep.”

Another big reason it’s in your mom’s best interest to use that: If she lists “business owner,” most people will find that over-inflated and will assume she’s either naive about what goes into owning a business or choosing to inflate the work to a ridiculous degree. “Business owner” will also set off alarm bells for a ton of people who associate that with how scammy MLMs encourage their sales reps to think of themselves, and it’s likely to weaken her as a candidate rather than strengthening her.

Honestly, normally I’d suggest people leave MLMs off their resumes entirely because of the strong stigma against them (due to their exploitative business model, which especially preys on women) and because it’s a hard sell to argue MLMs provide their reps with provide transferable skills. Most of the time, including an MLM on a resume will be a negative, not a positive. It’s harder in your mom’s case if it’s been her primary work for the last 20 years — but if she has other experience, I’d put the focus there instead.

{ 522 comments… read them below }

    1. Bear Necessities*

      Franchisee. You buy the franchise (the license to use the McDonald’s name & etc) from the corporation.

    2. Managed Chaos*

      Franchisee is likely the best term, but owner/operator is one that McDonalds corporate often uses. And it makes sense. You do have more freedom than in the MLM model to do things like set pricing, hours (within their guidelines), and almost complete control over staffing.

      1. NerdyKris*

        I don’t think McDonalds allows franchise owners to set pricing. One of the purposes of franchising is that customers know they’re getting the same food for the same price at any location. Plus there was a big deal a while ago about how the dollar menu is a loss leader that they can’t opt out of.

        1. Ellie Mayhem*

          No, prices are very dependent upon location. Eating at McDonald’s is a lot more expensive at the airport than in a small town.

          1. NerdyKris*

            I guess I don’t eat at Mcdonalds often enough to notice, but that does explain why I’ve occasionally been surprised by the price when I order something other than coffee.

          2. JSPA*

            PDF of study on how the dollar menu (which is, in effect, by the name, a price set by corporate, even for franchisees, who otherwise DO control their own pricing) has led to drops in pricing on the other items, by franchisees. This in effect does allow corporate to control costs (but is also presumably why, from time to time, you’ll see “dollar menu not available” or long term “dollar menu sold out” signs on some franchises?). Fascinating, in a game-theory sort of way.


        2. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee*

          To clarify- a lot of franchisees do have that flexibility, at least to a certain extent and it varies by the franchisee licensing agreements by individual restaurant brand. My husband worked in franchisee relations for a major restaurant chain for many years; it’s why you’ll see that some Subways have $5 foot-longs for example, while others do not.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            Yeah, a friend of mine owned a franchised store for a while. Generally the corporation gives you a menu with price ranges along with a recommended prices based on your location and base costs, but you can set the price for specific items anywhere in that range. They do dictate the prices of certain advertised things, like, say, a dollar menu, or a short-term special price for a new item.

            I’m sure there are differences between the contracts offered by different corporations, but that was his set up.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          There is minor variance in pricing based on location and venue (like the above-mentioned airport – the McD’s at the Air & Space annex near DC is also pretty pricey for McD’s). Control varies by franchise agreement, though, so some offerings give owners more control over pricing than a large, well-known chain like McDonald’s will. The franchisors are required to disclose all this information in their state-level uniform franchise offering circulars (UFOCs) so franchisees can see what they would/would not be able to control.

          I was involved in a dispute related to a few changes merging in the early 1990s and franchisee of the acquired chain being forced to roll out menu items that would not sell well in their areas. Some of the franchisee complaint letters were colorful and hilarious.

        4. Fries!!!!*

          I don’t live particularly close to a McDonald’s but went to a location near a brewery (that didn’t serve food) because I like their fries. I ordered a large fry and the girl said it would be almost $6. I told her no, I don’t want the meal, just the large fry. She repeated that it was $5.75. I said no thank you and walked away. My husband couldn’t believe I actually walked away, but it was more of the principal. For reference, at the local Chick-Fil-A, a large fry is $3, which is more aligned with what I thought they should cost at McDs. In the small town in the south where my family lives, $6 would cover the largest upsize of a value meal with a pie on the side. So they definitely have the ability to set their own prices and clearly some prey on people making poor decisions (i.e. after leaving a brewery).

        5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          In the UK some of our McDonalds are 24-hour opening and some are not. In my town we have one 24-hour and one non-, and I’ve been told that the reason the 24-hour one is more expensive is to cover the costs of operating 24/7. I got the impression that that pricing was set by McD’s “headquarters” rather than decided by the individual owner. (the two branches are owned by different people)

        6. Nina*

          Prices absolutely are franchisee-set, though I suspect within company-set limits – for instance, a soft-serve cone at the Burger King on my side of the river in the town I live in is 70c. The exact same product at the Burger King on my partner’s side of the river is $1.10.

        7. Sa*

          YEARS ago, but my hometown paper published the police report and one of my favorites was someone calling the police to complain that the lobster rolls were more expensive at the McD’s in Hometown than at the McD’s 1 town over.

      2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        You also have equity – which is essentially the definition of owning a business.

        MLM sales reps do not have equity in a business. Franchisees do.

        1. Artemesia*

          You don’t think a garage full of unsold cleaning products is ‘equity’ then?

          A franchisee could certainly put ‘business owner’ while clarifying owning a franchise without inflating or sowing confusion.

          MLM ‘outside rep’ claiming that will reduce their credibility.

          1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

            No, a garage full of unsold cleaning products are inventory. Same as a McDonald’s full of uncooked frozen hamburgers.

          2. KAW*

            They’re sold alright – the MLM sold them to the “rep,” who is the *actual* customer. That doesn’t give the rep any equity in the MLM. It just means they ran up a credit card based on what their order total needed to be to gain super diamond plus status bonus jacket pin.

            1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

              Also this. Everyone who has 300 rolls of toilet paper in their linen closets right now don’t have equity in Charmin.

          3. Deanna Troi*

            Yes, to expand on what Extroverted Bean Counter said, equity is the value of the portion of the company that you own – not the value of the product itself. Equity is something you could sell to shareholders, use as collateral for a loan, or the amount you would end up with if you sold the business after you paid off the business’ outstanding debts. It has nothing to do with how much inventory you have on stock.

    3. MK*

      At the very least, you should clarify that the business was part of a franchise, as in “owner of a franchise store/restaurant” instead of just business owner. There is no reason to come across as fudging your work history for no reason.

      1. Kittymommy*

        Yeah, I’ve heard franchise owner a lot in these circumstances.

        And there’s really no way to look at that as anyway similar to a consultant, even a successful one, for an MLM.

    4. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

      A lot of them are set up as LLCs, as well. “Bob Smith, LLC dba McDonald’s”

    5. Llamas@Law*

      A franchisee, as well as a small business owner. You’d have an actual legal entity set up, employ people, etc.

  1. Bear Necessities*

    So, to your McDonald’s example, there is a specific term for that, which is franchisee. It is not the same as business owner, although it’s a lot more involved than being in an MLM.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Thank you, this was what my mind was screaming as I read the post.

      There’s a reason there’s more to the word, it’s to differentiate between “I own a business I built or procured myself.” and “I purchased a license to sell these products”

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      A franchisee can be a business owner. They do not own the franchise brand, but they own their business and are often incorporated separate and apart from the franchisor’s corporate entity. There are also franchisees who simply own the business and are not involved in the day-to-day operations, and there are franchisees who do run the actual operations of the business themselves. Franchisee just means you’ve established an agreement with the franchisor to use their brand (within the bounds of their contract) and pay royalties (or whatever their pay structure is); owner/operator (how a number of franchisors refer to their franchisees) indicates an active role in actually running a business, including hiring, labor law/tax compliance, staffing, etc. What is involved in this varies from franchise to franchise, but the franchisee may own the property/building and have more/less control over day-to-day business operations, depending on how much control the franchisor exerts. Franchisors typically do not provide HR services/benefits or other business operations to franchisees, so there are aspects to being a business owner that franchisees do take on, similar to what a small-business owner would do.

      (My parents were franchisees for a good chunk of my childhood, and I worked in franchise law for a few years early in my career. My parents had an LLC that held the agreement with the franchisor, and, in the legal work I did, that seemed to be the most common structure for franchises, not personal ownership of the franchise. In my state, one business entity owns all but two franchised outlets of a particular fast food chain – at last count, over 100 restaurants.)

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        For another sort of franchise, there are auto repair shops. The difference between owning a shop with a national brand and owning a strictly local shop is not that great. I for years used one of those national brand shops. The franchisee owned several of them in the region, and ran them well. Then he died and junior ran them into the ground. So it goes. Eventually the location was reopened as the second location of a local shop. I had a chat with the owner. Junior had tried to sell him the franchise. He didn’t go for it because he didn’t think the marketing benefits worth the cost. He already had a local presence and more work than his first location could handle. Based on my experience of getting appointments, he clearly was right.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes, I didn’t feel the need to mention it, but my parents owned a service franchise, not a food franchise. They also eventually bought themselves out of the franchise (stupidly expensive and time-intensive) for similar reasons (not worth the fee for what they got) and went into the same field as an independent business that lasted for about 20 years.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I owned a franchise business for about 2 years in my 20s. You’re definitely a business owner. The franchise is an asset of your business. When we sold our franchise, the franchise went on to be owned and operated by someone else, and we maintained our S-corp that previously held the franchise. Still have it, 15 years later, and my husband operates a different non-franchised small business under it.

        Any of the comments related to franchisees and “you didn’t build that” haven’t owned a franchise. Sure, YMMV and you get something out of McDonald’s that’s worth the money vs. starting a hamburger restaurant from scratch, but most franchises aren’t McDonald’s. We had a service business. The franchise fee is worth about 6 weeks education upfront and for use of the brand, then you do the rest. . . but pay royalties. They didn’t set our prices directly, but you did have to pay a total of “X” and “y%” in royalties, so if you bid work too low, you would lose money on a job and not meet the annual requirement. It’s on you to figure that out. They didn’t do our marketing, but they required us to spend a certain amount, and later required franchisees to participate in certain campaigns (even if not good ideas in your market).

        We’ve built businesses both ways, and I don’t think the franchise way was any easier. (It’s supposed to be, but some of that is sales pitching from them to franchisees.)

        1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          This is my experience as a service-based franchise owner. We bought ours as a preexisting business (so it was $$$$$) from the previous owner after my husband worked as the operations manager for several years. Have to spend X% on marketing but we have to figure that out ourselves – no prepared radio spots, no corporate graphics team providing us with flyers, just an edict from on high that we need to put so much money into it every year. The philosophy and basic materials are provided (purchased from) corporate, but all the rest is my husband’s work.

          I will never claim that we started/founded a business and will always be very clear it’s a franchise. The entrepreneurial spirit to build something from nothing was not within us. But we certain own and run an actual business.

          1. No thanks*

            I think you make a good distinction here when you say you didn’t start a business, but you did own one. That made franchises make a lot more sense to me.

            People who work for MLMs both don’t own a business and didn’t start a business. I do hear a lot of MLM reps say that they founded their own make up (for example) business and I just am always thinking, “really? you’re the one who invented younique?!”

      3. #WearAllTheHats*

        THIS, NotAnotherManager! Thank you. It’s all dependent upon the structure and what you’re doing. I despise MLMs, but in the right context, the independent contractor can also be a business owner. I know an individual who had Business A and sales rep for MLM X and MLM Y was a part of the roll-up of diversified income streams and consulting ops under Business A. Totally legit and totally a business. But she’s a business owner of Business A, not MLM X or Y. THAT is the differentiator.

    3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      We are owners of a franchise*. We took out a “small business loan” from the Small Business Administration. We own it under an S-Corp designation and file our taxes on a Schedule C. We have W2 employees.

      It’s certainly not the same as founding a business, and the burden of creating content does not fall on us (we instead pay for it through a franchise fee, rather than paying for it with our own labor or paying an employee to create it), but we do own the business.

      “Franchise owner”.

      *not McDonald’s

      1. nonegiven*

        There are franchised fast food places here in my very small town. The people that run them each only have the one restaurant, but it isn’t the only business they do. They also might operate a self storage place, an independent convenience store, and apartment or house rentals. It seems the one thing alone, in this market, isn’t enough to support their families.

  2. Amber Rose*

    The owner of a McDonald’s is a franchisee. A franchise is not the same thing as an MLM.

    A franchise owner pays a franchising fee for use of the company brand and royalties based on their sales. An MLM member pays a sign up fee and receives no rights to the company brand and purchases frequently non-returnable products to resell at a higher price.

    A franchise owner hires employees or contractors and files the appropriate forms. They pay taxes for unemployment, workers compensation, and payroll. They pay their employees fair wages for work performed regardless of profits. An MLM member has a downline of pure profit based on other people’s work.

    Franchises require you to qualify to ensure you are competent and financially healthy enough to operate a business. MLMs literally take anyone.

    1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      Also, as a McDonald’s franchisee, you’re not making the majority of your profits off of convincing other people to open their own McDonald’s franchises.

      1. selena81*

        They may still try to find a sucker who buys an unprofitable restaurant from them though.
        Sorry, i’m a bit angry because the crappy boss of a relative dumped all the not-very-profitable parts of his business on one of his former employees (a young immigrant, who might not fully understand local money-streams). Which is a dynamic i’ve seen too often: these starry-eyed kids then spend the next few years desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy in a store with dwindling inventory.

    2. mananana*

      And a franchisee doesn’t have to find a downline (or purchase their own products) in order to make any money.

    3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      You also have equity in the business, and liability. You actually own something other than inventory.

  3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    What about Sales Manager? But then, your mom is really not responsible to a higher supervisor like someone in a traditional company, so it’s not a position that has the metrics for judging success. If the only way to determine success is by how much is sold…like she doesn’t manage her consultants, review them or schedule them. It’s just not a business…
    I’m rambling. I’ll stop now.

    1. Me*

      More importantly if she puts some trumped up title like Sales Manager -it’s going to hurt her chances. No hiring manager is going to look at MLM experience with a title of sales manager and think hey this is a great candidate. They are going to question their judgement though.

      1. TimeCat*

        It comes across like you’ve drunk the MLM kool-aid.

        Honestly if you can, leave MLMs off your resume altogether.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Yeah, it’s hard to think of a way to phrase MLM membership that doesn’t do more harm than good. Even emphasizing that she was successful/made money is going to leave a bad taste, because people know any successful “upline” is making money by exploiting the 99% or participants who lose money. MLMs are a noxious mix of predation, naïveté, and shady doublespeak.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Well, you could be hiring as a salesperson for an exploitative skeevy company (selling bad stocks, fake vitamins, scientology recruiter) in which case “successfully duped +200 people into joining an MLM” would be great on the resume.

            1. Professor Space Cadet*

              I’m mentally laughing at the resume-speak here!!

              “Successfully duped 200+ people into joining MLM”
              “Convinced people to buy useless kitchen products they can get on Amazon at cheaper price”

              The possibilities are endless.

    2. revueller*

      I think this title would be overstating it a bit, but OP’s mom can definitely elaborate on what she does in describing the actual position. At the end of the day, what (ideally) matters more is what she’s done than what her title is.

    3. Tempononymous*

      Also, that would imply she made money from sales. The truth is, most MLMs make money by recruiting. You’ll note that in her description of her mother’s work, no sales figures were included, just the number of recruits.
      MLMs are not about sales at all. They’re about recruiting.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yep – if LW’s mom made money, it was from the 200+ downline, not the products.

        Alison was far politer than I could have been. Either way, I agree with her.

        1. OP*

          Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

          I didn’t mention sales in my initial letter, because my sister and my disagreement was not about the title of “Sales Manager.” My mom does in fact have a lot of sales. While I’m not defending the MLM structure in general, I will say that her product is something that can be sold in large quantities to organizations like schools, libraries, and non-profits, and not just independent home shows, so she does very well in the sales department with bulk sales in this way.

          The reason I mentioned the down line of consultants was whether leading this team would be considered part of the “Business Owner” title. She does, actually, do regular group and one-on-one trainings with the people on her team.

          1. fposte*

            It’s a useful experience but it’s not enough to make her a business owner; lots of people do trainings without owning a business. (Sounds like it might be Usborne, which has kind of a confusing identity but does produce some decent books.)

            1. BB*

              I literally only just figured out a few weeks ago that one of my favorite books as a kid was from Usbourne. I’ve spent my whole adult life avoiding MLM products successfully, go figure this would happen haha. I was surprised though, because they were really fun and educational! I’m also curious as to how my family acquired it, my mom doesn’t remember – but she’s vehemently opposed to MLM’s so I’m guessing a book sale of some kind.

              1. Little My*

                I’m fascinated to learn Usborne is an MLM company. When I worked at a gift shop for a few years we sold their books, but we purchased them wholesale through a larger book company, so they must have more than one way of selling their products. In short, your family could easily have bought them in a regular shop.

            2. Third or Nothing!*

              Usborne – I was thinking the same thing! We have a couple of books by them, one that I bought from the aquarium bookstore and one that my mom found secondhand and gave to me.

            3. Nina*

              Oh what the heck, Usborne is a MLM??? I had a heap of their books as a kid; we always got them from legitimate bookshops though.

          2. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

            No, because she’s not hiring or firing anyone or actually managing their day to day operations. So she could list “training” on her resume but not really managing.

            I think she would be best served by looking at the job description of the jobs she’s applying for and then pulling out the relevant skills. If she’s looking for work doing admin work, she can emphasize the organizational skills, etc. or if she’s looking for sales work, she can include her sales numbers and such.

          3. Secret Squirrel*

            If you want to make her MLM seem like less of a scam the only important metric would be net sales numbers. The only training that happens is telling her downline how to pester their family and friends to buy more crap.

          4. MusicWithRocksIn*

            See, that’s where you can list the kind of training she does in the breakdown of the work she does at each job, and talk about how it could benefit the job she’s applying for in a cover letter. She can tell them all the skills she utilized at the job, but have a more realistic job title.

          5. Mel_05*

            That experience could be valuable to note – especially if she’s looking for a job in sales. I have a coworker who was hired off her selling skills at an mlm party.

            It just isn’t the same thing as owning a business.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              This is what struck me, too. If Mom has been supporting herself for twenty years selling these materials, that is convincing evidence that she has a knack for sales, which is just about the most broadly in demand skill there is. Branding herself as a business owner or sales manager not only harms her credibility, but she also is selling herself short.

              1. selena81*

                Exactly: if she made decent money convincing big companies to buy *her* products than that’s probably the skill she should emphasize
                (finding potential customers, presenting her products in a favorable light, outwitting competition, identifying who to suck up to to make sales happen, etc)

                Training-experience might be a nice extra if framed in the right way (t-shaped = colleagues teaching each other in lieu of expensive education)
                But business owner or any other emphasize on the MLM aspect just makes her sound like a brainwashed jerk with a garage full of unsold herbalife

          6. sunny-dee*

            My parents were in Amway. The “trainings” that happen in an MLM are in no way comparable to the training that you would receive from an actual job. It’s all about pumping up enthusiasm to keep people from dropping out and providing guidance on how to approach and recruit, especially using copy-pasta for social media. It’s not the same at all, and trying to act like it is comes off as very naive about working norms.

            1. selena81*

              If it was that kind of ‘brainwash training’ than OP’s mother should leave it of, but it sounds like maybe she was doing some actually-useful training and that might be transferable experience.

          7. Artemesia*

            I would think being a very successful MLM participants would be impressive if properly laid out in a resume. This is a rara avis; impressive on its own.

          8. LitJess*

            If it is Usborne, which you can do a good deal with by selling the actual product, I think maybe something like Sales Manager/Representative/Consultant would be acceptable. Usborne isn’t likely to be viewed the same way as Younique or Young Living, and doesn’t have the MLM stigma attached to it.

            But, she’s still not the owner of Usborne, so best to stay away from Business Owner title. She can specifically mention the training she does, and what it entails, in her resume or cover letter.

      2. Bear Necessities*

        Well, you could argue she sold those 200+ victims “consultants” on the MLM scam… but I don’t imagine that’s the kind of sales anyone wants to boast about.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, having that kind of down line just means you’re a successful scammer. I’d round-file her resume, frankly.

          1. Secret Squirrel*

            Yeah, I admit I have in the past put resumes with extensive MLM experience in the NO pile, especially if they use job titles like business owner, sales consultant, sales executive, girl boss, etc. I might give a brief look if the job title is sales rep because it would mean that the candidate is at least realistic about what it is that they were doing.

            1. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

              What, Secret Squirrel? You mean you aren’t putting those “Boss Babe” resumes right at the top of the pile?

              1. Secret Squirrel*

                Yup. I was hiring someone for a social media position a step above entry level and a candidate who was selling Nuskin had as her header “Candidate Name, Girl Boss”. Her resume was a formatting disaster with an almost unreadable elaborate serif font that I’ve never seen before. She listed as her social media experience posting about Nuskin on her FB and Insta accounts.

                1. selena81*

                  sounds like the imfamous ‘person who keeps getting job interviews because recruiters are bored and want to have something to laugh at’
                  (i’d like to believe no recuiter is that cruel, but i remember the story of a dude who was in a very famous wrongful-conviction case and after his release he only ever got responses from recruiters who had no job for him but just wanted to meet a ‘celebrity’)

            2. Ego Chamber*

              Why is “sales consultant” bad but “sales rep” is okay? Is the distinction only for MLMs or for any sales work? (I’m now concerned about the several sales consultant positions I’ve had at jobs that called it that—mostly tech, cell phones, that sort of thing.)

    4. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

      I know several people who are part of different MLMs. They all use Independent Consultant.

  4. The Green Lawintern*

    I feel like the name of the MLM matters too. Some MLMs like Mary Kay hold a lot more legitimacy, versus companies like Lularoe.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I do think people who are sort of oblivious to the MLM landscape in general and only remember Mary Kay and Avon from their mom buying it when they were a kid might not be fully aware of what the deal is. But anyone who is familiar with how MLMs really work (which is a lot of people! awareness has really grown) will know Mary Kay has all the same problems as the others.

        1. Heidi*

          I vaguely recall my mother dragging me to a party where they sold Tupperware or some other storage containers like it. This was in the 80’s. Was Tupperware an MLM?

          1. Amber Rose*

            Tupperware was/is an MLM. Anything you can remember where they had parties is most likely an MLM.

            I think they changed to an actual business at some point. Or maybe I’m confusing them with some other company. I do remember the hilarious case study of the new MLM that used consultants to provide free marketing for a year or two, then pulled all their selling rights and switched to being a straight up normal box store.

            People in MLMs have zero rights to anything.

            1. Heidi*

              Thanks for clarifying. I was really young and didn’t really get what was going on, so I thought my memory might be playing tricks on me (the idea of buying a ton of Tupperware and selling it to my friends sounds like a weird dream, doesn’t it?) I remember the hostess going on and on about how great these plastic container things were and thinking she must really love storage.

            2. NLMC*

              I don’t know if actual Tupperware is available in stores or if we just call all plastic food storage containers Tupperware but it’s really other brands. Just like Band-Aid or Klenex.
              I was recently invited to an online Tupperware party, and I’ll say some of it was really cute, but couldn’t justify the price when similar items are available much cheaper other places. I’m too practical to pay extra for cute for my kitchen.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I’ve never seen a Tupperware store in the States, only as a pop-up table in a mall near Christmas time. However, you can nab vintage Tupperware at flea markets for great prices all across the land. They may be the king of MLM, but their old-school product was the bomb. If you’re lucky, you can find rare pieces like the little pink divided tray I scored. :)

                All my Tupperware is vintage—I just avoid putting it in the microwave. On the plus side, they didn’t get my money; the flea market booth person did.

                1. selena81*

                  Not gonna lie: i’m a sucker for their old-fashioned housewife image (especially the modern-day drag queen version of the ’50s housewife).
                  And their products seem to be good enough quality that i want to actually buy some of it instead of just making ironic memes.
                  Same with Brabantia (European, not an MLM): i think of them as cool vintage brands that’ll go great with my IKEA furniture

          2. Agnodike*

            Tupperware has always been a bit of a weird case in the MLM space, because it started as a product available in stores, wasn’t selling well (because plastic containers were a new idea and people didn’t really know what to do with them) and so got pulled from the shelves and switched to a direct-marketing model. Direct marketing both allowed for demonstration of the product and leveraged social relationships for more effective marketing, so it was definitely in the MLM space as far as sales techniques and blurring the line between social and commercial relationships. But I don’t think they had downlines in the way that modern MLMs do, and my impression is that the profit focus was the product, not membership fees from new sales people like, for example, LuLaRoe or Arbonne.

            I don’t think Tupperware does any direct marketing any more, though, although I could be wrong – now that plastic food containers are ubiquitous I think they’re only sold in stores.

              1. Agnodike*

                That’s really interesting! I wonder if it’s more popular in some areas/countries than others. We have lots of other MLM/direct-sales in my (non-US) neck of the woods – Arbonne, Avon, Scentsy, etc – but I’ve never heard of anyone hosting a Tupperware party. But I just looked at their website and they do indeed seem to be recruiting reps pretty hard.

                1. selena81*

                  i was curious about that too, but their website makes it clear you are supposed to order through a local rep.
                  so if i ever wander into a tupperware party i might buy some, but i’m not gonna chase down a salesperson, i don’t like the brand *that* much

            1. RecentAAMfan*

              Yup, still direct marketing. How do I know? Because I actually love . Tupperware. Bought a fair bit at a friend’s Tupperware party over a decade ago and became an ardent fan. Overpriced certainly. But excellent quality and when some pieces began to crack (10 years later?) they honored their lifetime warranty no problem.
              That’s when I had to actually find a rep who could help me with the exchange. And yes, also sell me some more stuff.
              Probably the first time ever she had a customer actually seek her out!

              1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                Honestly, if the quality is excellent and they lasted TEN YEARS *and* they honor the warranty, sounds like they aren’t overpriced!

          3. sunny-dee*

            Yes and no. Avon and Tupperware were actually legit direct sales — they didn’t emphasize (or even allow) recruiting or downlines, and sellers had a specific that they could operate in (so sales reps weren’t competing with each other). That’s changed in the last 5 years or so, but they were very different than something like Amway or Herbalife.

            1. Mami21*

              Maybe that’s the case where you are. I sold Tupperware for a short time 10 years ago and it was as scammy, push-parties-on-and-recruit-all-your-friendsy as any of the new MLMs. I never heard anyone so much as mention having your own area – it was a free for all with way too many ‘consultants’ in our small, poor state.

              It just has a better rep because it’s been around for so long.

            2. EmmaC*

              That’s how I remember Avon back in the day too. The neighborhood rep just left a catalog on your porch and if you wanted to buy anything, you just filled out an order form and dropped it off at her house before a certain date. She didn’t push for sales or try to recruit anyone else to sell. And back then there wasn’t any Internet or online stores or Sephoras. If you didn’t live in New York City or near fancy department stores, your only options were like CVS or the makeup department of Kaufmann’s or something. So I don’t associate Avon as having that scammy structure, but it seems like that has changed.

              I personally cringe seeing MLM companies. I would never want to see included on a resume. The only time I could possibly see it if it was applying for a store/brand that pushes store credit cards in their business model. Those corporate offices and district managers and general managers use so many of the same relentless, fanatical, don’t take no for an answer techniques. And push that same fake cheerleading and pressure down to the staff and hourly employees to do anything to get a credit card sign up. If it’s some type of job with companies that also push store credit cards, it feels like that same type of MLM culture where maybe it’s not a negative if worded correctly.

          4. HR- Occam's Razor*

            “Your Tupperware lady has the freshest ideas for locking in… fresh-ness!”
            The 70’s were a bleak time.

              1. Ophelia*

                I realized the other day when organizing the black hole that is my mom’s pantry, that we actually have some tupperware from back in the day, and to be fair, it has held up surprisingly well. I assume it will take 45 million years to decompose.

              2. Em*

                We still use the Tupperware my mum bought in the early eighties. The colours are SPECTACULAR and the items still work perfectly.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              I sincerely believe that many of modern America’s neuroses date from the experience of the 1970s. It was a bad, bad time, and people internalized this as what the world is like. I have a hard time convincing otherwise intelligent and informed people that crime rates are down. The thing is, they not only are down, but way, way down. Yet surveys tells us people believe the opposite.

              1. Filosofickle*

                This is so frustrating. Crime IS down but people do not accept it. (Personally, I like the lead hypothesis as a significant factor in the crime spike/drop.)

                24/7 news and social media must be part of this — for example, every incident gets posted on NextDoor now so the neighborhood seems like it’s getting worse when we just didn’t have this data so visible before. And some kinds of crime do seem to be worse, like property theft, while violent crime has dramatically improved.

        2. Lifelong student*

          There is a Mary Kay store in my town- it has been there for years. I use some of their products and never knew it as a MLM- thought it was perhaps a franchise.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            I frequently drive by an Avon storefront that never seems to be open, but is clearly not abandoned. I always feel so bad for the poor soul who wastes money every month on what is probably astronomically high rent.

            1. Iris Eyes*

              Ugh I miss the Avon store, I think they were top sales in the nation by a mile. It was like a poor girls Ulta. (I think still never been there lol) I think the owner had health issues or something. That was a more legitimate business akin to a franchise, or actually authorized reseller. They had staff, a POS and customer loyalty system, store front, all the things.

        3. doreen*

          I think it might also be that some of these companies used to work differently. My mother sold Fuller Brush and Avon when I was a kid , and at that time and place, those companies did not have the focus on recruiting new distributors that Amway did even then.

          1. Mel_05*

            Yeah, when I was a teenager my bff’s mom sold Avon and she’d pay us to run deliveries around the neighborhood. She never tried to recruit anyone, just made money off sales.

            Versus when my mom tried to sell Avon 20 years later, it was largely about recruiting new people.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I remember the Avon lady who used to come to our house when I was a kid with her big blue case. She would give my sister and me tiny lipstick samples. That was back in the days when mascara was a cake that you put on with a tiny hairbrush. God, I’m old.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            Fuller brushes: Go back before WWII and door to door sales was a legit thing, especially in small towns or rural areas where there was little established retail. The Fuller guy would come around once a year or so, and the housewife would buy the brushes she expected to need until the next time he came around. It was a ridiculous inefficient system, but it was nonetheless a system that worked, more or less.

            1. nonegiven*

              My favorite hair brush came from Fuller Brush. There was an old couple that sold it here, for 40-50 years or more. I never heard of anyone else selling it.

        4. A*

          100% this. One of my stepsisters has been buying Mary Kay from a family friend for decades, and although she is aware of MLM’s in general and says she dislikes them…. she will fight to the death to defend MK. She hasn’t been able to articulate why MK is not an MLM aside from product quality being higher (in her opinion), so I’m hopeful that *maybe* one day she’ll make the connection.

        5. Filosofickle*

          I think people give MK a pass because it has enduring products people are loyal to. But it’s still a straight MLM.

          I got shanghaied into a MK sales party once. A few of us had met at a party and wanted to get together again. One woman *insisted* on hosting us at her home for lunch instead of going to a restaurant, which required 1-2 hours of travel as she lived on the far side of our large metro. All for a sales pitch. Which was done poorly. We weren’t even allowed to chat while we sat with face masks on — she kept steering us back to her talking points. She seemed desperate, frankly.

          1. Filosofickle*

            Oh, and we finally got food, which was just chips & guac, at 2p. At least have the decency to feed me the lunch you promised!

          2. Elizabeth West*

            A coworker sucked me into coming to one. There was a little drawing and I won a makeup bag that I still have. The rep took down all our emails. She was nice, but I finally had to block her because she wouldn’t leave me alone. I decided then I would not buy anything from them again.

      2. The Green Lawintern*

        Oh, for sure – but some MLMs just have a better reputation in the public eye than others. I think Mom would still be taking a risk putting down that she’s a Mary Kay rep, but it’s a lesser risk compared to if she worked for a “sketchier” MLM.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Mary Kay may have been around longer, but that’s irrelevant to legitimacy. It’s as predatory and abusive as the rest of them.

      1. FormerMKer*

        Is it appropriate for me to comment that I got conned into signing up for Mary Kay (I was very, very young) and in one of my first trainings was told “A maybe is a yes and a no is a maybe.” I sat there absolutely stunned that women were teaching women to not respect when another woman says “no”. I lost all interest in it after that. Thankfully I don’t think I lost any money.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      I really agree with this – for some reason I don’t have the same eyeroll reaction to someone affiliated with Avon or Mary Kay as I do with someone who sells Scentsy or Young Life oils or even Amway. Not sure if it is the age of the company or that, in my experience anyway, they seems to treat their reps really well. Could also be they don’t go down the “business owner” path and use sales reps or consultant titles (although since it has been 10 years or so since I met anyone doing Avon or Mary Kay that might have changed).

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I think it’s the age of them, and that they existed before MLMs started encouraging their sales reps to call themselves “business owners” or “girl bosses” or whatever absurd/misleading term is currently en vogue. When I was growing up, it was pretty clear they were selling stuff for a larger company.

      2. LeahS*

        Me either, but that’s probably because my Grandma was the friendly neighborhood Avon lady for most of my life! She didn’t have anyone selling under her, she just made a little profit on the side from selling the stuff.

      3. MK*

        I first learnt about MLMs by reading horror stories about Mary Kay online, so I don’t think so. I do know Avon representatives who have had long and positive interactions with the company, but none of them tried to run it like a business or recruit people, they were just housewives who used it to buy their own stuff at a discount and sold some of it to anyone in their social circle who wanted things to make a bit extra for an occasional treat.

        1. Mimi Me*

          That’s how I remember Avon too. My aunt’s friend would come over with the little book and say “New book’s out if you’re interested!” and then she’d leave it for everyone to look at. Some of my favorite stocking items as a kid were from the Avon book. :) I also remember the little lipstick samples. My mom always asked her friend for a few so my sister and I had them for dress up.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          This also is a good illustration of how what works fine as a side hustle can be abusive when you try to make it your main source of income. See also: driving for Uber.

      4. Delta Delta*

        Ugh. I grew up in the heart of Amway country. I recall there was a teacher at my high school who did Amway on the side and who was always talking about how he was going to become an Amway millionaire. It was so icky.

      5. Roscoe*

        I agree. I think there is a sort of “arrogance” (though that may be too strong of a word) of people in these newer MLMs like herbalife. They really think they are running a business and “building their brand”, whereas people who sell Mary Kay are a bit more realistic that they are doing this to make some extra money. The practices might be the same, but the stigma is different for me

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        I can’t speak to Mary Kay, but I have an older relative who was the church/neighborhood Avon lady for years. The reason it feels less predatory is because it WAS less predatory then – Avon did not start out as an MLM, it was a direct-sales organization, meaning the consultants were just sales people, not recruiters or network-builders. Buy-in was practically zero, there were no inventory thresholds, and you could be as active or inactive as you wanted with no repercussions. There was no pressure or much of an incentive to have “downstreams” when my relative sold – and she had no one working for her (unless you count her paying us kids a few dollars to help sort orders now and then) and made a nice profit for years just by sending catalogs to people who asked for them and referrals.

        All this has changed, and there’s really no reason to have reps now when products can be sold online directly to consumers. The money from reps has now changed to inventory purchases, downstreams, and activity minimums – classic MLM minefield.

        1. RC Rascal*

          Agreed. There was a time (think 1970s-1980s) where the Avon lady and Mary Kay lady were providing products to a local community that didn’t have another source of those goods. Before Walmart, before E Commerce, it was hard to get certain kinds of goods in rural communities. My aunt and uncle lived on a farm in the Great Plains, and they had to drive an hour for lots of household supplies. The towns Mary Kay lady did quite well as there was no other source of cosmetics and skin care. You could maybe buy 1 color of Cover Girl lipstick at the local 1 register IGA. That was it.

          1. schnauzerfan*

            That’s my memory too. One of my relatives had a two chair hair salon in a tiny town. Ladies beauty salon on MWF, barber shop TThS. Heathens on Sunday. They had a small outbuilding where they did poodles and helped 4H kids get their animals shined up. They (husband and wife team) sold Avon, Tuperware, and a few other “catalog” things out of the shop. Much more direct sales, no down line nonsense.

            Personally, I’d shy away from hiring anyone who made too much of MLM success, I’d be worried they’d pester the rest of the staff and customers.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            I hadn’t thought about it but, yeah, this makes sense: Pre-Internet, this was a sales model that worked without being grotesque.

      7. Another worker bee*

        I think my eyeroll reaction is tempered for Mary Kay/Avon because aside from the predatory MLM practices, as a consumer, it’s just slightly overpriced, mid-to-low quality product. It’s a ripoff but not inherently dangerous. Essential oil MLMs seem to run hand-in-hand with anti-vax/anti-science views and what they promote is dangerous. Don’t get me wrong, I actually have an essential oil diffuser (with non MLM lemongrass oil), but it just smells nice. Doterra and Young Life are acting like their oils cure cancer and protect against contagious diseases…

      8. BadWolf*

        My experience with Mary Kay as supportive friend was bad. Bait and switch, hardcore recruitment to the point of absurdity.

        1. AGD*

          Same. I had a bad experience with a pushy Mary Kay person in 2003, and so have never given them a penny. This was at an event that was supposed to have been a women-oriented trade show, but it felt so predatory and incongruous. The first time I read a description of an MLM in recent years I thought, “Oh, yes, like Mary Kay.”

        2. Mel_05*

          Yes, a lot of my friends tried Mary Kay and all of a sudden my only value was as a potential client or recruit. It sucked.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Agreed; what the sales pressure does to people is super weird. An aunty of mine was selling that tea tree oil once, and she wanted to get together with me when she was traveling near the area where I lived at the time. I was so excited to see her—and so disappointed when our entire conversation was about the damn oil. It was like talking to a robot who looked like my aunt.

      9. Booklover13*

        I think the real difference in how people view them is how legitimate the product is. Love or hate the business model of Mary Kay or Avon, most will agree the products work as advertised and are decent quality(not factoring in price). The ones with the worst reputations tend to also have the most ‘scammy’ products. Lularoe became a ‘bad’ MLM when their quality dropped. The products may be overpriced, but they work, which buys those MLMs some leeway in the public eye.

      10. Super Anon*

        I don’t either. But, I think that is in part because my grandmother sold Mary Kay for years, and never held a single party or recruited a single person to sell under her. She just bought stock and sold it. And then I know quite a few people who sell Avon. I also think both Avon and Mary Kay’s products are reasonably good.

        But, I’ve also never known anyone trying to sell Mary Kay or Avon who have tried to make a living from it. Usually they are just trying to make a bit of extra spending money, and they are happy to walk away if it starts costing them money, so they aren’t pushy about it. I think MLM’s, in general, are far more dangerous if you start to get more embedded into the culture of the MLM, because then it becomes more challenging to walk away.

      11. Mia*

        I think a lot of people just have neutral or even somewhat pleasant memories of companies like Avon and Mary Kay that overshadow how harmful they actually are. Like, a couple of my aunts sold MK when I was a kid, and that was my first association with them for years until I started reading horror stories former reps posted online.

        1. planetmort*

          I have bought Mary Kay products from a friend who sells for, jeez, 15+ years now, but she only sells product (no downline). I like the products, so I buy them. 20 or so years ago, however, I got recruited by a different MK lady who gave me a sales pitch about how I could save money by becoming a consultant and getting the products half off. She did the math for me and showed I’d make back my buy in cost pretty quickly, which was true. Back then I spent a lot more on makeup and skin care; what can I say? What she left out, conveniently enough, was the required minimum purchases consultants were required to make. Even at my height of makeup spending I didn’t buy that kind makeup volume, and it quickly became apparent I was going to lose money unless I sold the stuff, and if I wanted to make any real money, I’d have to recruit. I dropped out instead.

          I will say it was a really interesting learning experience. Since I did it I have had a few folks ask me about selling for MK from time to time, and I tell them that *if* you’re a good salesperson, and *if* you aren’t counting on it for rent, but instead only want some extra cash for minor or non-necessary things, it can be okay, but if you’re trying to make a living, the ONLY way to do that is pyramid scheme recruiting, straight up.

          If I were hiring for a sale position, I wouldn’t throw out someone who had long term success selling for a MLM on principle; they might have just the sales talents I needed. But I’d probably throw out someone who called themselves a business owner, because that’s just tone deaf, and wrong.

    3. The End Consumer of the MLM is the "Sales Rep"*

      It really shouldn’t. Mary Kay isn’t any more legitimate than Lularoe, just longer lived.

    4. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      But even with the “legitimate” ones, you’re still not owning a business. You’re not hiring and firing, you’re not doing payroll, you’re not negotiating contracts, you’re not making product or pricing decisions. All you do is sell someone else’s products and try to persuade other people to sell the same products.

    5. JKP*

      I agree the name of the MLM matters. Whether the focus was actually on selling product or instead selling people into the pyramid.

      Growing up, my mom sold Tupperware until the kids were out of the house. Most of the people she worked with were making money, not losing money, so my experience doesn’t fit the current hate for MLMs. But I think the big difference in the business model is that my mom didn’t have to sink a bunch of money into product that never sold. She bought some samples to demo at parties, but then she placed orders after the customers had paid for those orders.

      After she left that career, she also had no other job experience. She got her insurance license and sold insurance. The sales experience was the transferable skill, not business owner.

      1. MK*

        The thjing with Tupperware was that a) it was an actually useful product that in my country was not widely available in stores and b) they didn’t expect repeat customers.

        1. JKP*

          Yeah, the thing with Tupperware back in its heyday was that it held patents on many products, so there were no competitors for those items and the company refused to sell in stores, only through consultants. I think it’s different now with sales on the internet.

        2. Delta Delta*

          And real Tupperware is a pretty good product. I “inherited” two pieces in the back of a cabinet when I moved into my house, and they turned out to be some of our best food storage containers.

          1. Mimi Me*

            I have real Tupperware and the stuff you can buy at target. I will ask for real Tupperware back when I send leftovers home with friends. The other stuff? Its okay if I don’t get it back. Tupperware has a wonderful replacement policy that can’t be beat…lose your lid? Damage it? the bowl get melted on the stove? Contact Tupperware and they’ll replace it, and if they can’t, they’ll send a comparable replacement. I don’t sell Tupperware, but I do like it and use it every day.

            1. Mami21*

              That seems to be what everyone thinks but they only replace if something wears out from regular use. If you drop a container and crack the base, it’s not going to be covered.

      2. Show Me the Money*

        I have thirty year old Tupperware that has outlasted many newer plastic storage containers.Colors are not in fashion, but no cracks or fading.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I don’t know about legitimacy so much as it’s just known across generations more than anything.

      This would mean that CutCo and those weird knife selling schemes that have been around for decades would be considered more legitimate. Nope nope nope noooooope.

      1. Roscoe*

        Eh, I sold Cutco in college. Its fine for what it is. I made some decent money doing that in college. But its more about how people try to brand it. If I see someone put “Cutco sales rep” on their resume, I have a neutral opinion of them. If I see “Cutco knife brand specialist” and they list things like “ran small company” in achievements, I have a different reaction.

        I also think the difference comes as to whether they are pressuring you to add people under you or not

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s the difference here though.

          You did it in college, you have a different perspective out of the gate.

          Those of us who never did it, hold our own naturally bias opinions about it.

          You say it’s legit enough, I say “LOL no” no matter how you word it on a resume.

          1. Roscoe*

            What, in your opinion, makes it not legit? I’m honestly curious. Hell, 20 years later my mom still has some of those knives. Its not scamming people, nor is it predatory. Its just selling a product someone may or may not want

            1. ThatGirl*

              CutCo recruiting is kind of predatory, they pretend to be advertising marketing jobs and then you show up with a dozen other suckers and get a sales pitch. The knives may be perfectly fine! But that doesn’t mean other aspects aren’t scammy or predatory.

              1. Annie*

                Yes, exactly. I was one of those suckers that was called in for a “group interview” that turned out to be a sales pitch. They seem to prey on college students specifically, which bothers me even more than other MLMs that prey on women because college students are less likely to realize they are being preyed on.

                1. shep*

                  Yeah, my brother got roped into one of these “group interviews” a few years ago as a young college student. They took like three hours of his time and he didn’t once think he could leave. He got back and told us all about it and our parents and I were like ohhhh, you sweet summer child. But of course he’s never had any experience with MLMs, so I don’t blame him for not walking out or recognizing what was going on. I wish he would’ve told us a little bit more about the interview ahead of time though so we could’ve warned him.

                  Personally, I was caught after work by my first boss, who was really just as young and naive as I was (her parents were the franchise owners and gave her a supervisory position), and her husband, who was “training” to be some sort of debt repayment/royalty generator “guru”, and essentially a captive audience to this very toothy-grinning, persuasive man as he gave a presentation and signed me up to hear more about the program.

                  I canceled very promptly the next day and got angrier and angrier as I realized I’d just had my time wasted by one of the shadiest MLM-type schemes I’d ever encountered. (To be [somewhat] fair, I’m pretty sure my boss paid me for that hour I listened to the presentation, but still. Also, I brought it up to her once a few months later and she seemed suitably embarrassed and told me her husband wasn’t doing that anymore in a kind of dismissive, let’s-not-talk-about-this-anymore way.)

              2. Roscoe*

                Ah. Fair enough. I got in because someone I know told me about it. She was very upfront about what it was. So I went in knowing exactly what I was getting. But I can see how with all of that you would say its kind of shady.

                I still don’t know that I”d call it scammy or predatory. You can always leave an interview if its not what you want. It would be a scam, to me, if it was bait and switch once you started working there.

                But I get your point

                1. Perbie*

                  If most of the “sales reps” for a company are losing money, it’s predatory/mlm. Mlm’s get a bad rep because they are basically pyramid schemes with a legitimate product; but the money is made on selling the product to “sales reps” rather than to end users. Those at the base lose out.

              3. A Penny for Your Idea!*

                The sales process used by their sales reps is scammy. My young neighbor asked me for “feedback” on a presentation she was preparing. As I taught public speaking skills at a college, I thought she really wanted my feedback. She didn’t.

                It was a sales pitch for knives and she apparently used the same pitch with everyone. She wasn’t at all interested in hearing feedback. Nevertheless I decided I would support her by buying the cheapest knife available.

                I henceforth referred to “my $43 knife ” (a small ordinary looking knife) when I’d have people for dinner. As this was well over a decade ago, I imagine the prices are higher today.

                In any event, I now think of Cutco as a scam, even though I like my $43 knife.

                1. SarahTheEntwife*

                  Yep, same thing happened to me. I ended up buying a set because we legitimately needed new knives, and they’re good knives, but the company is super skeevy.

            2. Mia*

              CutCo uses really shady recruitment practices to get people to their pitch meetings. They used to post flyers all over my college campus advertising jobs in marketing, admin, and a couple of other fields saying the base pay was like $15/hr (which was really good for a college kid in my area at the time), when in reality the job was literally just being a sales rep.

            3. A*

              I encourage you to Google Vector Marketing. They are extremely predatory, and their job descriptions are hilariously inaccurate (suuuuuure it’s a ‘head of marketing and communications’ role….).

              They make more money in recruitment than in selling products, which is telling.

              1. Third or Nothing!*

                Almost got suckered in to the Vector Marketing scam as a naive college sophomore. Thank goodness I called my dad first to discuss what he thought about it. The ironic thing is, I was actually a marketing student, so I should have known better! But of course as a second year student I hadn’t taken any marketing courses yet, so I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to spot the problems.

                Nowadays I can spot a scammy “marketing” job a mile away.

                1. Roscoe*

                  Its funny, my step dad told me that place was a scam, but me and him had a volatile relationship, to say the least. So I didn’t listen. Probably one of the few good pieces of advice he gave and I didn’t listen.

              2. Roscoe*

                Oh god. Vector Marketing, or DSMAX or whatever it is, is the WORST. That place is a cult.

    7. LGC*

      My first impression was that the name doesn’t matter, since…really, the business model is the same. (Or basically, I have a similar opinion to Mike C., although phrased more diplomatically.)

      But I think it depends? Honestly, I think MK’s a bad example because it’s established – a lot of people probably know someone who’s sold Mary Kay at some point. LLR is notorious because of its numerous scandals that have been in mainstream press. Amway…like, the secretary of education in the US is the wife of the dude that runs Amway right now (and I just hurled writing that phrase), so I think a lot of people have a passing awareness of what Amway is (and from what I’ve heard, Amway is one of the…loopier big names). A lot of beauty salons sell Young Living or doTerra on the side (as well as my downstairs neighbor). So if it’s a big name like that, it’d have a higher chance to look bad at first glance. But a smaller name that’s less “notorious” might fly under the radar.

      On the other hand, the smaller names are often even more bananas than the big names.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Amway is also essentially a cult which encourages its reps to cut people out of their lives who don’t support it.

        1. Kettricken Farseer*

          My stepson got fully sucked in to Amway, and has basically completely disengaged from the rest of the family. It has been scary to watch, because nothing we can say will get him to realize that he’s joined a cult.

          1. Briefly Anon*

            Ironically, one of the techniques used by cult ‘deprogrammers’ is to get up a conversation about how scammy MLMs like Amway are, until they and the cultist are enthusiastically agreeing about how awful it is people get sucked into them and can’t get out, and then gently nudge the conversation in the direction of “is there anyone in your life who behaves like an Amway rep to you”?

        2. LGC*

          To be fair, from what I’ve heard many MLMs have elements of that – Amway is just more notorious for it.

      2. hbc*

        Yeah, there’s levels of bad and there’s levels of awareness of that badness. If it’s Mary Kay and you only discuss the elements that are about being a sales rep, you’ll probably get by, especially if you play up in your cover letter that you’re looking for a change away from the badness. (I.e.: “I love the sales aspect and connecting with customers, but I want to put that more into B2B and not feel pressured to lean on my personal network.”)

        But if you brag about succeeding at the scammy aspects of your MLM, over-represent what you actually did, or fail to denounce your known-to-be-awful MLM adequately, you’re not going to get much traction.

    8. LawLady*

      I also think it matters because if someone knows MLMs or does any digging, they may be more or less inclined to like certain types. For example, I don’t mind people pitching garbage makeup or jewelry, but I take real umbrage at the weight loss MLMs. Any woman in her 20s or 30s has likely had multiple passive aggressive social media messages (sometimes from people we don’t know). “Hey girl, I know lots of ladies are looking to drop those extra 10 pounds before summer! I’ve lost 20 pounds just by switching to shakes for breakfast!”

      Somebody pushing Paparazzi? I wouldn’t hire them for any position that required judgment. But someone pushing ItWorks? Wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole. That’s just inviting someone in who’s going to harass your female employees.

    9. Show Me the Money*

      Mary Kay is one of the worst. Mary Kay was a world-class scam artist. Check out

      1. A Penny for Your Idea!*

        I tried that site and it required me to write and submit a Master’s thesis before I could enter. Not really, but by the time I got to the third screen with tasks I had to do (click on all the cars in the numerous photos — no, that’s a bus!), before it even showed me a tiny bit of content, I gave up.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Whaaaat? You might wanna run a virus scan, it went straight to the content for me and no pop-ups when I clicked anything there. O_o

    10. LT*

      Wow, there are a LOT of comments here, so apologies if I’m repeating, but everyone should listen to season 1 of The Dream podcast. It’s all about MLMs & how they scam the people who are least likely to be able to afford it. It’s really horrifying. And, not to get into politics, here, but it goes into some detail about how terrible Amway is (did you know that’s how Betsy DeVos’s family made their millions?).

  5. Agreed*

    “Consultant”? Led a large team of 200+ “consultants”? That just sounds weirder than a “sales rep” who led a large team of 200+ “sales reps”.

      1. Marzinnia*

        I think I would dig into/pare down the 200+ downline as well. I have strong negative feelings about MLMs, and so part of that is like “She pressured/recruited TWO HUNDRED people into this???” It is kind of impressive, in a disturbing way, but even aside from that, if I thought MLMs were a reasonable, regular business operation – 200 is a LOT. Two hundred employees would be impressive; but this is not employees and having two hundred kind of seems like it makes it self evident you’re not super involved in their work life/doing the things a manager would do. So then I’d kind of question…what DO you do?

        If she needs to use this experience on her resume, I think she could look at her list – most of that 200 weren’t active/successful most/all/any of the time, so just, at any one time, how many active downline people did she usually have? Or more accurately describe what she actually did for them. (regularly sent them over the top false cheery videos to get them to sell more? I kid, but…also, don’t oversell anything you do, that’s kind of something MLMs encourage people to overdo, be realistic and show you understand what you did and then hiring managers will be more able to trust you understand what skills you did gain/work on.)

        1. Jedi Squirrel*

          Yes, if I were interviewing her, I would definitely ask about how many people in her downline are actually making good money selling this, or are just buying the stuff for their own use.

          1. Llama@law*

            Doubt she could tell you. Very few of these folks keep any real financial records. That’s why most of them don’t realize how much money they’re actually losing.

        2. Genny*

          If she goes this route, she could also just mention the ones she personally recruited rather than her entire downline. For example, if she recruited say 20 people who in turn recruited ten people each, then only mention the initial 20 recruits, not all 200 people.

      2. No thanks*

        I would wonder how much contact she even had with some of those consultants since your downline isn’t just the people you recruited, but the people they recruit, etc. My sister sold Mary Kay for a bit and never had any interaction with anyone other than the woman she signed up directly under, and then the woman directly above that. She didn’t even know the names of anyone above those two. So in her case there may have been someone way up there who could say my sister was part of her 200 person downline, but that person never lead, managed, or trained her in any way.

    1. Me*

      Nope. Down line aren’t consultants either. They are also salespeople.

      MLM’s are, however you feel about them, are salespeople no matter what else the company might like to refer to them as.

    2. MK*

      The term “consultant” is being misused a lot, particularly in the beauty industry; shops like Sephora have taken to call their salepeople beauty consultants, but in my opinion, even if they are qualified beauticians, as long as what they provide is mainly help to buy theit products and not beauty-related services (such as you would get at a salon), it’s just a euphimism to call them consultants.

    3. RC Rascal*

      Here is the problem with this qualification: It isn’t possible for any 1 person to actually manage 200 people. This is what makes the claim a flag on a resume. A savvy manager will question it immediately.

      I’m a Sales Director of a very legitimate, publicly traded, highly respected Fortune 100 company. Due to massive role consolidation, I ended up managing an external sales team of 150+ people. We used an agency model; I was actually managing 40 agencies but that consisted of 150+ people. Mostly I’m spread too thin and spent a lot of time herding cats.

      This is on my resume and I’m interviewing. I get questioned about it. Hiring manager say, “Do you really manage 150 people and how does that work?” And I explain the role consolidation, that I’m spread too thin, and how I manage to be effective under those circumstances.

      If I’m getting questioned about this when I work for the Fortune 100; imagine how a hiring manager is going to react when the claim is being made by an Avony Lady, or someone from Scentsy, etc. It immediately goes to lack of credibility.

  6. revueller*

    Just to add onto Alison’s advice: definitely don’t use “consultant,” even if that’s her title at the MLM. MLM consultants do exist and what they do is advise MLM companies on how to improve their business model. It’s very different to sell products for Mary Kay vs. advise Mary Kay Inc. on how to grow their profits.

  7. annakarina1*

    An FB friend of mine works for Arbonne, she lists herself as an independent consultant on her job info on her FB profile.

    1. LT*

      Oh man, you’re right! I feel like I’ve seen lots of ‘independent consultants’ on my FB feed. Next time I see that, I’ll have to see if they put anything like that on LinkedIn!

  8. Phillip*

    Is “business owner” even desirable on a resume, considering it sounds like it’s ongoing? I would have thought hiring managers would worry about divided priorities.

    1. Bear Necessities*

      Right, or about someone who’s going to balk at having a boss and a reporting structure.

      Although I suppose context matters, as in many things.

    2. Cake Wad*

      Definitely. As a manager, I would be worried about 1) divided priorities, 2) attempts to sell to coworkers/clients, 3) good judgment.

      1. une autre Cassandra*

        My #1 incentive for tossing a résumé that included MLM activity: fear that the candidate would try to recruit coworkers/clients/customers/passersby.

        1. Renamis*

          This. If I was hiring and saw an MLM on a resume it would immediately be shredded. If I did a search and saw a bunch of (recent, if you stopped I don’t care) posts about your “business” same deal, out the window. I don’t know what you’re going to be doing with my clients or staff. And most MLMs actively push for recruitment of EVERYONE, including coworkers. I never would take that chance.

          1. Phillip*

            So true, as anyone that’s had a friend dissolve into MLM madness on their FB timeline can attest.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I might chat with them if I saw a definite end date, like “Sales rep, Mary Kay Cosmetics, 2005 – 2010” and then some actual sales numbers. But if so, it would be at the phone screen level, and I’d ask some very pointed questions.

    3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      I would think not. My husband and I co-own a franchise business (he operates, I bookkeep and have my name on the articles of incorporation) but I work full time for a F500. I do not put our business on my resume for exactly that reason. I disclosed it to my current employer for conflict of interest transparency according to our handbook, but it’s not something I think a different employer would want to see unless it was in a past-tense context.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        We had that same arrangement. I was 50% owner and the bookkeeper. We sold ours a long time ago, though. My day job is not bookkeeping-related or small business related and I’ve never included it on my resume.

        Now, my husband owned that business and his current one since 2003 and would have nothing else to put on a resume if he decided to close his business. I also don’t see him sending out resumes and getting a job that way. . .it would have to be a networking thing.

        1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          Once the business is closed I would see no reason not to include it! But “I currently own and operate an ongoing business, please employ me for full time work which I swear I will have time and energy for” is a pretty hard sell.

    4. SarahTheEntwife*

      I would be a bit skeptical unless the cover letter was all “this was an amazing experience but one thing I’ve learned is that I want to go back to X technical business thing instead of owning a business where my employees do X”.

  9. Mediamaven*

    Someone connected with me on Linkedin and her bio said CEO of a global skincare company. I accepted it only to realize she was in a MLM and of course, not a CEO. It simply demonstrates ignorance and not really understanding how business works. I’ve noticed she has since changed it – likely got called out enough times.

    1. 867-5309*

      I think it’s odd when any small business owner with relatively low revenue lists CEO as their title. I technically own a consulting firm and do at times bring in other people to work with me, but I’m a Consultant NOT CEO of Jenni’s Company.

      1. LawLady*

        My dad is a cattle rancher. Small operation that’s a sole proprietorship– no employees. But he tells me he’s the CEO. “Cow Engagement Officer”

          1. anonymous 5*

            I think that also means he’s obligated to be a Cow Innards Officer in the event of things…going awry. So I’m not sure I envy his C-level status. ;)

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Damn, I love a good dad joke and this one is pretty much perfect. A tip of the hat to your pops!

        2. 867-5309*

          LawLady, you have found the only currently approved workaround to my sentiment. :) I love this so much.

      2. Mediamaven*

        Agreed. The term CEO has been so over used. If you sit at your kitchen table doing freelance work you aren’t a CEO. It doesn’t mean you aren’t doing something important. Just means you aren’t a CEO. To be a CEO you really have to oversee senior managers at least.

      3. cmcinnyc*

        My husband and I are both employees AND we also have some freelance income. Technically we *could* call ourselves the CEO of Little Blah Blah but I’m not even incorporated! I couldn’t back up that title at all.

        1. Product Person*

          I have an LLC as a side business that provides the exact same type of work as some peers who call themselves CEOs when like me they are a one person operation.

          I call myself Principal Consultant because I often subcontract parts of the work to other consultants, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

    2. Lady Heather*

      I think that the bar for being a legitimate CEO is: your business needs to also have a CFO and probably at least one CMO/CIO/CTO/CPO/C[A-Z]O. (In three persons – no, you can’t do all those things at once, then you would be a CE&F&MO and you should all yourself that so we can all laugh at you.) In order to be a Chief Officer, you need to manage managers: a Chief Officer is the boss of Officers, and ‘an Officer is a person who holds a position of authority within an hierarchical organization.’ (Says Wikipedia /Officer.)

      I mean, it’s in the wording. It’s not even an arbitrary thing of ‘I can choose to identify myself this way’ or ‘this is what my (one-person) organization chooses to call my position’.

      (I don’t think you can be a one-person and an organization. It’s like that airline.. er.. aircraft charter company.. in the radio show Cabin Pressure – they only have one aircraft, they are not an airline, they’re an airdot. And its owner will tell you that.)

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Agreed. I also think that–at least in general parlance–a CEO is understood to be answerable to and hired by a Board of Directors. I have a friend who is “CEO” of her own graphic design company. (She’s a freelance web designer.) I always say very cattily: “How are you a CEO? You don’t have a Board?”

        1. Lady Heather*

          Yes, this as well. Although I’m not sure if all organizations that have a CEO necessarily have a Board of Directors; in my country at least, those things are only required for publicly traded companies and for charities.

          (In my country, only globally operating, usually publicly traded, companies have CEO’s. The other companies use a word from our own language. So here, ‘answers to a Board’ would fly.)

          1. Koala dreams*

            In my country, some companies are required to have a board even if there’s only one owner. The board need to have a board meeting, too. Sometimes I’m tasked with writing the minutes for those board meetings. There’s a part of my brain that tells me you can’t have a meeting with only one person, but luckily the other parts of the brain overrules that part, and I can keep on writing the minutes.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The weird disregard for what a “CEO” really is is always an interesting one.

      CEO’s answer to actual ownership/shareholders. You aren’t answer to a GD shareholder as a MLM sales rep, just stop.

      Anyone who actually owns a company and is a working owner has usually used the title “President” in my experience. Or others are just using Owner.

      “CEO” inflates not just your title but your scope of what a business is and how Mary Kay doesn’t have 890234589274349823742398473 “CEO”s running around, lmao.

      1. Valancy Snaith*

        I worked for a small, bonkers company (there were six of us!) where the president billed himself “President – Owner – Founder – CEO” and occasionally would give himself another title if it suited him–“Chief Designer” or whatever caught his fancy. He was indeed the president, owner, and founder, but CEO he ain’t.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          LMFAO, that’s some delusion of grandeur on display!

          Founder? Was it non-profit? Like who da fuq uses “founder” in there?!

          1. Koala dreams*

            Founder just means that the person started the company, instead of buying it from a previous owner.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I’ve known so many business owners and not a single one of them has ever pulled that out of the hat. “Owner” is totally fine *face palm*

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    “You’re putting your own money into it…”

    Yes, because you’re buying products from a company that you hope to sell or get someone else to sell for you so that you can get your money back.

    That’s not the same thing as investing your own money* into an independent small business you started.

    *Or getting a loan so you don’t risk your own money. No bank would ever make a small business loan for an MLM.

    1. SubjectAvocado*

      Ehhh some banks might. I’ve seen enough bank loan files to know that banks will lend to just about anyone. I don’t think most would, but there are some out there that would.

  11. Salty Caramel*

    Sometime after we broke up, an ex of mine started selling Amway and always referred to it as “My Business.” I swear you could hear the capitals.

    Most people I’ve encountered who are involved in MLM sound like they’re part of a cult. A cult with some pretty nifty swag, but still a cult. I had someone try to recruit me for MaryKay. Don’t let them tell you they aren’t a religious organization. One of the first bits of swag they said I would be eligible for was a bracelet with the letters FROG, which stood for Fully Rely on God.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Oh yes, I worked with an Amway rep and she called it her business and their web portal for her account her website.

      It was really sad, because she was someone with a lot of health problems who struggled to keep regular work and housing as a result (not enough endurance and too many sick days), and they had her brainwashed that she was going to own a second home in Hawaii and that all the Amway supplements would cure her health problems.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They’re set up to take advantage of the vulnerable [the impoverished or the heavily in debt], this is why they set up fake ass cattle call “interviews” that are actually sales pitches.

      Exactly the same shit that cults do, even if they don’t go all in like MK with their “Fully Rely on God” nonsense.

      You lure people in with “hope” and “this will be a fast fix, this will make you powerful and special.” “you are one of the chosen ones.” *shivers*

    3. Rainy*

      So, true story, I grew up in a religious cult, and I remember when I was little–maybe 3 or 4–my parents got invited to a big recruiting barbeque for Amway. They listened to the spiel but didn’t join. A lot of cult members did belong to those 70s-80s MLMs though–the cult took a LOT of money and most people had a side hustle of some kind as a result. I remember Amway, Mary Kay, Shaklee, Tupperware, some weird jewelry company…all kinds of stuff.

    4. Show Me the Money*

      Pimping God to lie and cheat. Reprehensible. Mary Kay reps ARE the customer, they don’t care if you resell one dollar of the crap you buy as an independent contractor. You are a CONSULTOMER!

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Most religions pimp god(s) to lie and cheat. Haven’t met a church yet that doesn’t have its hand out. There are preachers stating those $1200 checks don’t belong to theie people but to the churches.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          I mean…there are certainly tons of predatory churches out there, but religious institutions need to keep the lights on and pay their clergy and stuff just like any other organization, and that’s generally via donations from the congregation.

    5. Jedi Squirrel*

      I was waiting for someone to use the word “cult” because the recruiting tactics really have a lot of similarities.

      Also, Amway used to encourage you to cut anyone out of your life if they didn’t support you in your decision to sell the stuff. Very cultish.

      1. Rainy*

        That’s a specific retention tactic for cults; it isolates members from their support network. Many people are too ashamed to reach out to friends and family they’ve previously cut off when they do want to leave, which extends the time they are in the cult because they often need financial or other support to leave.

    6. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      Oh yeah, Mary Kay is one of those that definitely pushes religion. I once went to a Mary Kay unit meeting as a guest of a friend who had recently become a rep. Every speaker that night went on about Jesus and the Bible and isn’t it great that Mary Kay is a Christian company? I’m Jewish, and that made me very uncomfortable.
      The way they deify Mary Kay Ash is very creepy and cultlike too.

    7. heynow*

      My sister is in Amway (20+ years longtime “hun”) and they are instructed to refer to it as their “business”. She is also super religious now, posting on FB about God and the rapture and faith ALL THE TIME. She was not even slightly religious before Amway. She will work in a mention of “the business” into any and every conversation. To call it a “cult” is no exaggeration at all. It literally is a cult. She spends two hours a day in online meetings almost every day and before the quarantine she traveled frequently for meetings.

      Are they taking advantage of people being suddenly unemployed due to the coronavirus? Telling them they can make lots of money from home, with this can’t-fail, recession-proof opportunity? YOU BET!

      MLMs are VILE.

      Reddit has r/AntiMLM and r/MLMstrories for lots more info, stories, etc. There’s also the first season of “The Dream” podcast, which is excellent, if anyone wants to learn more.

      1. LT*

        Yes, came to this thread to recommend The Dream!! Horrifying! And I listened to it long enough ago that I forgot about how religion has really conflated in with a lot of the MLMs. Which maybe kind of isn’t a surprise, given some of them have the same attraction & retention tactics.

  12. Knitting Cat Lady*

    An MLM is just a Ponzi scheme by another name.

    If you are one of the few (<1%) that makes money? Remember that the money you make comes directly out of the pockets of the people you 'recruited'.

    There are no ethical MLMs. An MLM by its very nature is a funnel to siphon off the money from the masses and give it to the company owners.

    All MLM products can be bought cheaper and of better quality at regular retail stores/sites.

    And there is a special circle in hell for the hunbots trying to dupe suckers out of their stimulus check right now.

    1. Teddyduchampssleepingbag*

      I am an independent sales rep for Avon and I disagree. Avon is upfront that you are a sales rep. They are upfront that you have to purchase certain things to be a sales rep, and they are transparent about the work you need to put in to make money. Avon itself is not pushy about recruiting. Some of the reps and team leaders can be pushy but Avon itself even advertises you can be a rep just for a discount. They also have many very good quality products. Many Avon reps actually only become reps so they get a discount on the products they use. I actually do sell some Avon and I am very honest and upfront. If someone wants a product that I know is just not the best I will be honest. Out of all the companies I’ve seen doing MLM I feel like at the core Avon is a lot more like being an employee at a store that gives commission. They even label any earnings you make AS commission. You also don’t have to put money into it to buy brochures and samples. You can simply advertise your website or use word of mouth about products you like. I’m mainly a rep because I get a great discount on the skincare and I have very sensitive skin and the products they have are some of the only products that don’t make my skin turn to a red mess of flakes and I see good results on my wrinkles. Any profit I make after buying my personal products is just a great bonus.

      1. Agreed*

        Yes, Avon seems much more legit than most. Probably because in my youth I did purchase some Avon, and the people I bought from were just people who like their products. I never got a sense they cared much about whatever money they might be getting. I never heard anyone refer to it as a business or try to sign me up as a “downline”.

      2. Library Land*

        There’s no judgement here on you, but I just wanted to point out that I’ve heard that same speech (small changes of course) from reps of all MLM’s. Avon isn’t any different then all the other ones and I’m sure their reps mean it just as much as you do.

      3. SharkBateBrooHaHa*

        “They are upfront that you have to purchase certain things to be a sales rep, and they are transparent about the work you need to put in to make money. Avon itself is not pushy about recruiting. Some of the reps and team leaders can be pushy but Avon itself even advertises you can be a rep just for a discount.”

        I really don’t mean for this to come off as snarky, but this is literally the definition of how an MLM works. They give a “discount” on the items you purchase (which they usually buy wholesale at a muuuuuch cheaper price, so they’re still getting quite a profit). That discount is usually one of the main things they advertise when looking for sales reps, too. Then it becomes the job of the sales reps and team leads to pressure people and recruit them into their chain of command. As for being up-front about the work you have to put in to make a profit, MLM’s have a very long history of doing just that: by stressing how you have to devote yourself to the job to profit, they’re placing the onus on you. If you don’t profit, they can then turn around and say that you just must not be working hard enough.

        It sounds like you’re a responsible sales rep, and it’s great that you’re honest about the quality of the products. I’m glad you found a product that works for you, too! Just do be aware that the sort of behaviors Avon uses are not out of line with those of other MLM’s.

      4. Important Moi*

        I have purchased from Avon and Mary Kay. No one lied to me. I declined to opportunity to sell their products. Not everyone involved is bad, nor are the companies.

        1. Mimi Me*

          I notice that right now especially there has been an uptick in some of my FB friends having online MLM parties to support healthcare workers. The hostess can donate their hostess awards to an organization of their choosing instead of getting free product. I’ve been invited to 3 this last week: pampered chef, Tupperware, and some new jewelry one. What kills me is the PM’s I get from the sales person after I’ve been added to the guest list and how she (it’s always a she) will tell me that I too can be a business owner and make money, earn trips, and get free product. Most of these women will back off when I say I’m not interested, but a few have done the “would it be okay if I contacted you in the future about this again?” Um, NO!

          1. No thanks*

            I hate these online fundraiser parties because every time I’ve been invited to one there is only a tiny amount of money that ever actually goes to the cause. Like a friend of mine recently had someone host a fundraiser for her because of some medical bills she had for her daughter. The sales rep was donating a portion of her commission to my friend and I calculated that if I bought a $25 lipstick my friend would get less than $2 (The bulk of the money went back to the business itself and not even the sales rep) I just gave my friend $20 and didn’t buy anything.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Of course not everyone is bad! That would be silly to say otherwise. Many of them are in it for the discounts, many are in it for just the whatever, I’ll do whatever I can it’s a decent idea for now at least. But the companies on the other hands are companies and not humans. They are ran by grifters and professional cons, so that is where we’ll disagree.

        3. ...*

          I mean the companies are bad. They take advantage of people. You can read any of their income disclosures. They also try super hard to trick people into thinking that “$10,000 of sales!!!! is $10,000 profit”. Its not even close. If I got 10k in sales but I spent 8k on that inventory and then bought snacks and food for parties and bought gas to go to them, I may barely break even or even lose money. There is a good reason they have the reputation they have. 99.99% of the time you’d be better off working for minimum wage of $7.25/hr and you’d also be paying into unemployment taxes if you lost work.

      5. Jenn*

        “They are upfront that you have to purchase certain things to be a sales rep”
        “Many Avon reps actually only become reps so they get a discount on the products they use.”

        These are literally two of the definitions of a MLM. A MLM is what it is largely because they require their SALES FORCE to make regular purchases (or sell purchases regularly, but the majority fall in the first category) in order to make a profit rather than the end CONSUMER.

      6. ...*

        They are by definition an MLM. We will have to agree to disagree. If it works for you though thats wonderful. I also would disagree that Avon puts out high quality products, but of course that could also be subjective.

    2. Deliliah*

      I have a relative who sells for an MLM. She has like one or two people in her downline. Her money comes from actually selling. But she is one of the teeeeeny tiiiiiiny percentage of people who are successful at it, and it took over a year for her to get to that place. For a while, it was very dicey and I was certain that she was going to end up failing. That’s why I do not recommend anyone join an MLM.

      1. Show Me the Money*

        Gross income means nothing. After taxes and expenses, many of those big checks amount to little or nothing. Smoke and mirrors. MLM participants are encouraged to “fake it until you make it”, to smile while drowing in debt. Mary Kay even offer a credit card to encourage victims to buy more! Horrrible!

      2. Oof*

        I hear what you’re saying! There will always be a few people that any system can work for, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually a good system overall. (Currently it’s the gig work that is all the rage in my circle, argh!) I do love Avon products though, and I wish I knew a rep in my area. But I don’t want to advertise that, lol!

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I’m pretty sure you can just order on the website if you know what you want – ordering through a rep just means not needing to meet a minimum charge for free delivery.

          The benefits of a catalogue are wiped out by the internet!

    3. OG Veronica Mars*

      Not to be that person, but you meant pyramid scheme. Ponzi schemes are an entirely different kind of scam. But yes, all MLMs are just pyramid schemes with the thinnest veneer of legality on them to keep the FTC at bay, but they are all awful and predatory and bad.

    4. tinybutfierce*

      Someone I know has been doing an MLM for the last few years, and recently, she’s started posting about how now is a great time for people to take advantage of this ~amazing opportunity~, because so many people have lost/are losing their jobs, etc etc. An of COURSE they don’t disclose the company’s own earning statements about how 50% of their associates make an average of less than $300 a YEAR, and only 5% make anything over $3k, or that you have to constantly sell X amount per month (read: buy your own product) in order to stay an active rep. It’s just so predatory.

      She once tried to recruit me by signing me up under someone in her downline, which I now realize she would have literally, directly profited off of.

  13. CoffeeforLife*

    I think relevance is based on the types of positions she is applying. If it’s sales, then there are transferrable skills. Entry level admin as she has experience organizing paperwork, money handling, inventory. Perhaps small event planning, trade shows, craft fairs, etc. I don’t think it has to be an automatic red flag or resume inflation, like saying you’re CEO of your home…

    1. Pommette!*

      Good point. I suspect that the OP’s mother’s best bet is to use as straightforward and honest a job title as possible, and then to outline what she actually did in her roles, in ways that make the transferable skills obvious.

      A lot of things that count as accomplishments in MLM-world (having a big downline) won’t count as accomplishments to outsiders … but organizing events, maintaining relationships with clients, training, etc. are all concrete accomplishments that demonstrate transferable skills.

    2. A Penny for Your Idea!*

      Event planning jobs are hugely competitive. It’s unlikely someone whose only experience is planning MLM parties would stand a chance against applicants with real event planning experience.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        For sure, but a lot of admin jobs, particularly above entry level, want someone who can put together a meeting agenda, handle catering orders, and book a conference room.

        If she’s ever dealt with organizing them outside her home or booked sales tables for a bazaar, etc., dealing with venues and vendors could be a resume bullet point. I’d just make it one point, though; I wouldn’t expand on it.

  14. Nina*

    Given that this is OP’s moms’ main work experience, how can she best present it? Would lead sales rep or something be accurate? Her mom did work, I’m even if it was for a weird organization – I put more blame on the org / upper management than a sales rep

    1. Not So Super-visor*

      To me, this was the meat & potatoes of this letter. We can argue all day about the legitimacy of MLM business models and the overuse of CEO/Business owner/Boss Babe. What OP needs is how do they highlight their mother’s skill set and help her avoid having her resume chucked in the bin with the others.

      Personally, I would down play the title and definitely leave off any MLM-esque “promotion” descriptions (Double Diamond Coach, Emerald Level VP)… this stuff is made-up and eye roll worthy. Play up the actual skills that she gained and excelled at over 20 years: sales goals, coaching, etc.

      1. OP*

        Thanks for this comment! I actually had a line in my original letter asking not to debate the pros/cons of the MLM business structure, but Alison took it out (which, of course, is totally her right as the site owner, and I’m very grateful that she published my letter at all!). But yes, I have heard/read all the arguments about MLMs before, but it’s not really relevant to me now because I’m not trying to decide whether or not to be come an MLM salesperson, just how to help my mom correctly frame this experience. Also, because of all the really negative comments on here, I don’t feel comfortable sharing this link with my mom because I know she will feel hurt about people questioning her ethics or calling her predatory for a business she has worked very hard at, and that’s not going to help her moving forward as she tries to leave the MLM.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I meant to include in my reply to you an explanation of why I took that out and then totally forgot to — but I don’t feel comfortable telling people they can’t comment on the problems with MLMs when a letter is about an MLM (plus I think it’s impossible to discuss this without acknowledging those problems, because that’s all tied up with the answer). I hope that makes sense!

          1. OP*

            It totally makes sense! I just was hoping to be able to copy/paste the article to my mom and my sister, but I know my mom will be hurt by a lot of these comments (I also do not like the MLM structure, but I think my mom is a hard-working and ethical person), so I was hoping the conversation would not center itself completely on that. But this is still very helpful, thank you!

            1. Emma*

              I would leave it off altogether. As a hiring manager, the resume would immediately go in the trash.

              1. Glitsy Gus*

                If that means there’s a 20-year gap in her work experience if she leaves it off, then she’s at a huge disadvantage anyway. It’s better to have it in there so you have an opportunity to show a skill set than to leave it off and have nothing.

                I agree with what Not So Super-visor said. Focus on her accomplishments, sales goals, increases in product sales year-over-year, anything extra she did, like if she created non-mandated trainings for her sub-sales people (I don’t know the technical word for the folks she brings on) stuff like that), or something else like that. If she had a bookkeeping system or advanced Excel system to monitor trends, etc. that would be a good thing to mention. Focus on the skills and accomplishments and remove as much corporate-ized jargon as possible. Some people will still dismiss it based on the company, but your mom’s skills are still valid and a lot of folks will see past it if what she has down there are real accomplishments and job related skill sets.

        2. Reba*

          Yeah, it’s easy for us to be black-and-white on this, since we don’t know your mom! Being in an MLM doesn’t make someone a bad person! I hope the main takeaway from these negative comments is that the *companies* are predatory. The house always wins, etc. and that is becoming more widely known about this business model.

          If the resume conveys that the person has a down-to-earth view of what they did, then I don’t think it’s inherently bin-worthy to have MLM sales on it. By down-to-earth, I mean real accomplishments as Not So Supervisor and others have said, and not the inflated titles and prizes from the organization.

          1. Reba*

            Another thought, since you mention your mom is getting out of the industry, is making the entry on the resume in the past tense — this might assuage some concerns a potential hiring manager might have about a side gig.

        3. learnedthehardway*

          I knew someone who purposely worked for an MLM for a few years – she needed sales training for her regular role, wasn’t getting it from her manager, didn’t live in a place where training was readily available, and her company wouldn’t pay for training. So, she did some research, found one of the more reputable companies that provided good sales training, and joined. She never did more than break even, but she did get sales training that she said was VERY good, and that made it possible for her to do that side of her job far more successfully.

          Perhaps your mother could focus on the extensive training in sales and product she received and used in her work with the MLM. Or perhaps she could give information about how she grew her sales territory from zero to $x or Y units of product / year.

          It will be important for your mother to acknowledge in interviews that she realizes that she worked for an MLM, but that she had good business reasons for doing so – eg. training, prior need for a flexible work schedule – and that she made an intelligent choice of which company to work for. Also, she should have her reasons for ending her MLM work clear too – eg. she is now at a point in her career where she can commit to a full-time position, or maybe she feels that she has taken the best practices from the company and needs to take a role in a more traditional company in order to progress her career.

        4. LGC*

          I mean, I’m glad you’re game about this (because okay, yeah, even I dropped a leggings cult reference or two somewhere in this post), but…I don’t know. I think part of the problem is the stigma – justified or not – against being a sales rep/consultant in an MLM, and there’s no way to get around it. I think a decent analogy would be like getting a degree from a for-profit school (and I am going to get @-ed so hard for this I know) – often times, those schools lack standards or even accreditation, and the degree is considered meaningless or less than meaningless. I don’t think you can separate the pros and cons of the business structure from this question because the pros and cons are so well documented.

          Also for what it’s worth, like – I don’t know your mom. I do think the business model is predatory, but that’s for like 99.9% of consultants (and I don’t think your mom is in that 0.1% if she’s touching up her resume now). And personally, I’m glad that she’s getting out because as much as you hear horror stories about downlines, the uplines (unless you’re at the very top) are getting whole new versions of grief just so they can maintain their Triple Diamond Platinum Sailor Senshi Executive VP status.

          All that said…look, I know we’re living through Contagion right now, but although I don’t think your mom has a great traditional resume…she probably does have some entrepreneurial skills. Maybe she should consider starting her own business that she herself owns. It’s probably going to be harder, but if she managed to make MLM life work for her for two decades she’s definitely got some skill.

          1. Kaitlyn*

            This. I think if you drank the Kool-Aid and think that the MLM structure isn’t predatory or problematic, you run the risk of seeming naive; if you recognize that they have those issues and have spend two decades there regardless, you yourself become the predatory or problematic one.

            OP, transferring these skills into a traditional market place is going to take some serious reframing. Friends of mine who are successful MLM personalities have robust social media skills, excellent interpersonal skills, are organized, are good communicators, etc. What does she do that she’s really good at? And what is she applying for that matches those skills? (Like, I could see someone doing gangbusters as a liquor or beer brand rep after spending time in the MLM world!) I think also maybe getting a transitional job, where she polishes up those existing skills in a non-MLM setting, before springboarding into something else, might really serve her.

  15. MissDisplaced*

    I’d agree that running a MLM is really more like being a Sales Representative.
    Because that’s basically what you’re doing… sales of the product. Nothing wrong with selling, but don’t inflate it.

    You did not create or invent the product or the MLM model for it.
    If you had actually invented the product and MLM business model for the sales of the product, then you could claim you were the business owner.


    Yes MLMs are the devil. However, we have someone that likely needs to call out this experience if not doing so would create a huge gap on their resume. Depending on what she is applying for, there are ways to make this less of a stigmatized work experience. Since she seemed to have relative success at this, calling out her ability to thrive and sell in a restrictive model might really appeal to hiring managers (especially in sales). Since she led 200+ she has mentoring experience. If I was hiring, I would be interested to hear how she onboarded and mentored other salespeople, and what their success rates were.
    As an aside, good people get sucked into MLM. I think it needs to be less stigmatized on resumes. At the very least, this person had drive and hustle and probably a lot of other desirable traits they utilized while working the MLM. Customer service, inventory management, marketing, taking directive from corporate, etc.
    Not to mention, stigmatizing this as experience has a negative effect on the majority of people that get drawn in- women, mostly homemakers and moms. Is that fair? I say no.

    1. juliebulie*

      I think the stigma has more to do with looking gullible than not being “good people.”

      1. OOOFSTER*

        Sometimes people need to do things to try to support their families. They aren’t gullible necessarily, but possibly trying to raise a family and make money. You seem judgmental and privileged.

        1. ...*

          But no one makes money with MLM they are more likely to lose money. So if they did MLM as a way to feed their family that would show that they have terrible judgement.

        2. mananana*

          But they ARE gullible. Because there is a ton of information available that explains why MLMs are predatory. And how 99% lose money. Gullible doesn’t equate to being a bad person, but they most certainly turned a blind eye to the realities of MLMs.

    2. OP*

      Thank you for this comment! I really am not trying to debate the pros/cons of the MLM model, because whatever people’s opinions are of the model, my mom still worked hard and made money at this job for two decades, so I don’t want to discount or discredit her experience or expertise. I believe she does have transferrable skills from this as well, and I just want to help her figure out the best way to put them on her resume.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Describe Mom’s skills the same as if she worked for another business. Sales: increased % sales each quarter or year (get some real numbers to crunch). Inventory/ordering: universal skills and experience. Customers/clients: how many new, how many long term. Find some examples of problem solving: when X product was out of stock, how did Mom handle fulfilling those orders? What about reporting with the corporate structure – is there tracking to maintain? Reporting of sales tax to comply with state/local? And so on.

      2. Jenn*

        I get resumes with MLM experience from time to time. Here’s what impresses me:
        1. Real numbers that indicate growth and that she made a profit, not that she funded her dream on credit cards or something similar (I’m not throwing shade on your mother here, that’s what most MLM participants end up doing, so statistically, I would want to see she was not in the herd.)

        2. An understanding of which skills transfer into the workplace. Off the top of my head:
        – being organized and following through on things
        – a small amount of event planning (give sizes of people attending)
        – customer care (what’s her repeat business?)
        – _possibly_ minor partnerships if she got real true businesses to partner with her in selling products
        – and of course the big one is sales

      3. Briefly Anon*

        Maybe frame it as though she’s applying for a job in another country, in another language. She can’t use any of the terms the MLM uses to describe her, because they’ll be meaningless. She has to describe her skills and achievements (a good bit of the old STAR methodology doesn’t hurt! Situation, Task, Action, Result). Be upfront about the nature of the business, but get away from terms like downline and describe her actual working relationship with people.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      I think the concern is with their judgement or ethics – with most MLMs, reps are either losing money (because MLM requires you to buy inventory to sell, or pay for access / classes, etc) or recruiting in others to profit off their losses.

      If there was no reason for the stigma, it wouldn’t be fair, but there are reasons, ones that apply directly to whether or not someone is a trustworthy employee.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, I’d look far more harshly on someone who is “successful” at an MLM than someone who just got suckered into one. The latter is naive, gullible, or desperate; the former is preying on other people, many of whom are in really tough situations.

        1. tinybutfierce*

          Yup. I know someone who’s been doing an MLM for three years now, and mostly ignored it and just rolled my eyes here and there. But now she and her #girlbossgang are actively stepping up their recruiting and targeting people who’ve just lost their jobs due to a pandemic, and it infuriates me.

    4. 867-5309*

      I think your points are right, especially about the disproportionate impact to homemakers and women, in general. But, are you really a mentor when actually the “job” is to pressure those below you buy more product and suck them into the funnel further? That’s not mentoring.

      Also, I would be more inclined to hire someone with a resume gap of several years, which they attribute to staying home with their children, than someone who worked for an MLM. The biggest concern is that it warps their sense of what is normal and acceptable in business. If someone who worked for an MLM considers themselves a business owner and the people under them employees, they don’t have an understanding of basic business norms.

    5. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      Good people got sucked into Bernie Madoff’s scheme too, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you’d want to put on a resume.

      People gain valuable skills from all sorts of things, but they’re not always necessarily appropriate to put on a resume. You can gain all kinds of valuable skills from raising children and running a household, but putting “Professional Mom” on your resume is going to get an awful lot of eyerolls.

      No, it’s not fair that women are disproportionately targeted by these schemes but that still doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t reflect well on a person for getting involved in one and it’s not something you’d list as an actual job on a resume.

    6. NW Mossy*

      This goes back to Alison’s axiom about resumes – accomplishments, not duties.

      The problem with MLM experience on a resume is that very few people end up with tangible accomplishments they can draw from, and it’s part of the reason why many people (myself included) consider them predatory. The MLM entity sells the dream that their reps will do great things on a path to easy money and greater autonomy, but the structure of the scheme itself works against that outcome for most.

      Those that got hoodwinked by an MLM are better off omitting the experience from their resumes and chalking it up to a lesson learned. Far better to draw on other work experience to back up having the skills you’ve outlined.

    7. Atalanta0jess*

      Thank you for this comment. It’s making me sad that the vast majority of comments here are so incredibly unhelpful to the OP.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I disagree–the OP’s questions is whether this should go on the resume. I think the comments regarding the negative views most people would have about it do help answer the question. If these might reasonably be the reactions of the people reading the resume, then leave it off.

    8. Show Me the Money*

      The main stigma is people know they are lying and deceiving others when they push these schemes, often to people who don’t have the money to waste. People with character will not stay in when they know the truth. Please don’t try to sugar coat this BS, anyone needing income would be better served by even a minimum wage job.

      1. Bree*

        MLMs are awful – but it isn’t particularly helpful to be cruel to their victims and universally say they lack character. Most reps are naive, not evil. They may genuinely think they’re helping themselves and the people they recruit. These companies are incredibly skilled at telling a story that’s about empowerment.

        Also, don’t assume it’s easy for everyone to get or keep a minimum wage job. The kind of flexibility offered by MLMs is appealing to certain demographics because they’re unable to work outside the home on someone else’s schedule. And honestly, with the way a lot of min. wage employees treat employees, who can blame someone for wanting another option?

        Have a little empathy, folks. The blame here should fall on leadership at these predatory companies, and the top-ranking members. Not the average sales rep – in almost all cases they’ll lose money and it will be punishment enough.

        1. Wintermute*

          You can leave all that aside though, the reason the fact they train people to be predatory and opportunistic is a moral problem, sure, but if I’m a hiring manager I care less about that than the potential for workplace issues. Either because I’m hiring them to do sales, where their strengths are clear, but they have a very opportunistic and predatory view of how to make a sale that will tarnish my business’ name, or because they’re going to view co-workers as potential marks.

          1. Bree*

            I think it’s a leap to assume any particular person is going to be predatory in another role just because they were in an MLM, but hiring managers have to make assumptions sometimes so I get that. I just had a problem with this particular comment’s lack of kindness is saying all sales reps lack character and assumption that a minimum wage job is an easy alternative for everyone.

            1. Mia*

              But the structure of MLMs make it virtually impossible for people to have notable success (and I would argue that having 200+ recruits is notable success) without engaging in shady recruitment practices. That doesn’t mean OP’s mom or everyone in that realm is a terrible person, but it’s definitely kind of an ethical quandary.

              1. Bree*

                Yep, I get that – the comment I responded to leaned hard on “everyone in that realm is a terrible person” and that’s what I pushed back on.

                In terms of the LW’s mom in particular, I have no idea – it would be based on the specific MLM and her specific practices within it.

                1. Mia*

                  I have a pretty good inkling of what company OP is referring to in an earlier thread and it’s one I have some experience with. Like most MLMs, getting hundreds of people in your downline would inherently involve some shady recruiting practices. There’s just no way around that, and I think OP’s mom needs to be realistic about the reservations hiring managers will have because of it.

            2. Wintermute*

              I’m not saying that any particular person is going to be predatory because they were trained by an MLM. I am saying that the percentage of MLM salespeople that have internalized their messaging about predatory tactics is large enough that you are taking a chance, a chance you don’t have to take if you have other, qualified candidates. And that’s why it would give me pause.

              You’re playing the odds, and taking a needless risk.

      2. RC Rascal*

        This is an interesting comment in how it can relate to a candidate’s character perception during the hiring process.

        I was part of an interview committee interviewing a candidate who had worked in a mortgage sales boiler-room during the earlier aughts, in the go go days of mortgage and real estate. At the time he worked there he was a 20-22 year old who had quit college and worked. After the mortgage crash he went back to school, finished his degree, and pursued a corporate career.

        My opinion was the work experience did not reflect on his character, and he was just a young guy who wasn’t ready for college, took time off, and finished later when he was ready. I was fine with it. Others senior to me on the committee (VP, President), were concerned that it reflected his character. He ended up getting the offer, in part because there wasn’t another strong candidate. VP and Pres put him through a gauntlet of interviews to test his character.

        He was a great guy. Very honest, hardworking, and everything you would want it an employee.

      3. Turquoisecow*

        Ok, but OP’s mom has worked with an MLM for years and it’s a little late to tell her not to do it. Instead of just bashing them, how about some useful advice on what she can do now rather than just bashing her employer? She can’t undo the past.

    9. Bree*

      I agree – I absolutely loathe MLMs. However, it looks like the LW’s mom is the exception to the rule and may have actual skills and accomplishments from this long experience with an MLM (that might be a bit less scummy than the rest). If this is the bulk of her work experience, it makes sense to put it on the resume (honestly, without exaggeration) and speak about those skills in an interview where they’re transferable.

      If we judge those who fall victim to MLMs harshly, it becomes much harder for the vulnerable people they prey on to escape and find legitimate employment.

    10. Wintermute*

      a BIG part of the stigma, and why if I were a hiring manager I would be very, very leery, is that MLMs train people to fundamentally alter how they see relationships. Everything can and should be leveraged for a sale or a new downline. There are stories of people CHANGING RELIGIONS when they’d churned through all the potential prospects in their local church– and that’s just how they teach you to see the world, either people are prospects or no use to you. They teach people specific tactics to abuse family ties, weasel around non-solicitation rules at organizations and workplaces, and generally see everyone as a potential mark.

      My major concern would be whether someone that’s a member of an MLM will respect workplace boundaries and will try to find ways around our no-solicitation policies.

    11. Mia*

      A big part of the stigma exists because anyone who’s successful in an MLM has participated in really predatory practices that harm particularly vulnerable people. There’s no way to get to the top without deceiving people who struggle with traditional work setups (homemakers as you mentioned, but also disabled folks, milspouses, students, single parents, etc.) into believing it’s a reliable way to make a steady income.

    12. hbc*

      I don’t think MLM experience is unfairly stigmatized, any more than job hopping or lots of gaps or getting a degree from a school without accreditation. On average, if you take those with the “issue” and those without, you will see a difference in performance. It’s up to the person with that issue on their resume to put it in context that’s both realistic and flattering (or at least decreases the negative impact.)

      Your first paragraph gets at that somewhat, but I can pretty much guarantee that no one in MLM does “onboarding” in a way that is useful to a normal business model. Personally, I would only be interested in hearing about that if it was already made clear that she understood that it wasn’t the same at all, and I certainly wouldn’t be slotting her in as a supervisor of anyone based on having one or 1000 downline recruits.

      I think the resume is mostly going to be about not making things worse, and the cover letter will be crucial.

  17. Lucy Honeychurch*

    Oh boy, this caused a kerfuffle in my women’s business group. We made a decision to not let MLM folks in due to the predatory nature and also around issues around the work itself. There is such a difference between someone working full time at a professional job vs. someone selling whatever on the side and trying to sweet-talk their friends and families into having “parties” to hawk their wares. It causes some butthurt here and there but we hold firm. I can’t stand these companies and how they trick so many women, they are PREDATORY as can be.

    1. Llama@law*

      I wish more Women’s business groups would do this. So many start out good then get taken over by MLMs.

    2. lost academic*

      I tried to join a local women’s business group because it was so convenient and I wanted to get a bit better tied into the community after moving here and it was ONLY MLMs. I ran away fast. I need to network with executives, business owners, people who can talk about climbing the corporate ladder, people and project management, etc. An MLM shyster is not going to be someone I can mentor or get mentored by.

      1. mananana*

        OOOFSTER, are you in an MLM? Your defense of them and the people who participate seems, well, over-the-top.

    3. B*

      Is Cabi clothing considered a mlm? I am invited to these sales pitches all the time and see the company on bloggers sites often. Not really my style so don’t attend.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        I never heard of Cabi till now, but a quick Google search is telling me its definitely an mlm.

  18. Mavis Beacon*

    Putting MLM experience, no matter what you call it, is going to be red flag to many hiring managers. I look at this way, those who participate in MLM’s are either too ignorant to realize they are being exploited or worse, they are people who no moral compunction in exploiting others. As a manager I have refused to hire anyone who put MLM experience on their resume. Unfortunately a few have slipped through the cracks over the years, and I have had to fire a person who used our customer database (against company policy) to blast out sales pitches for essential oils.

    1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      Same here. There’s really nothing about it that reflects well on the person, and a lot of things that reflect poorly. I’d be more likely to hire someone who had been out of the workforce for 15 years solely to raise children than someone who was doing an MLM that whole time.

    2. Pommette!*

      Would the flag be perceived differently if the applicant explicitly addressed/acknowledged common qualms/critiques of MLMs as part of their application package?

      I wonder if a simple sentence or two (if true) in the OP’s mother’s application letter could help with this. Something along the lines of “I have been involved with organization X for over twenty years.
      Although recent reporting about MLMs has led me to question, and eventually end my ties with this organization, I have had opportunities to develop skills that would serve me well in a sales representative role. etc.”?

      1. A*

        For me, yes it would! If I’m hiring for a position and an other-wise solid candidate has MLM experience listed on their resume – I want to hear some form of acknowledgment of the reality of the situation, anything to speak to it not being indicative of an ongoing lack of judgement etc. that I should be concerned about. I don’t write people off just for having been involved, but if they are putting it on the resume I do expect an explanation and some kind of indication that they understand the vast difference between that kind of ‘business’ and the positions I’m hiring for. Some skills translate, but only in a broad sense.

    3. TimeCat*

      Hard agree. Frankly better to leave it off altogether. I know plenty of people who would immediately trash an MLM resume. You’d immediately worry they’d try to start “recruiting ” at work. MLMs are notorious for that behavior.

    4. Wintermute*

      Ooh you raise a really good point with essential oils. In addition to their general scuminess, a lot of MLMs live through dubious medical claims and skirting FDA laws by hiding behind “claims not evaluated” or their status as “health supplements”– do you really want to hire a salesperson whose primary sales training has involved heavy doses of viewing the law and industry regulations as an obstacle to be cleverly skirted around? When someone’s been heavily trained and indoctrinated it can be hard to shake, and I wouldn’t want someone that views insurance regulations or fair lending act or FDA regulations as an obstacle to be circumvented rather than hardline requirements. Just too much risk to me, and the business.

  19. 867-5309*

    This is likely unfair, but I would have a difficult time hiring anyone with an MLM on their resume.

    A student I mentor applied for a highly paid internship at Amway’s corporate office (in marketing) and I told her to turn it down, if she could afford to do so. It’s controversial and people who have negative, visceral reactions to people who work at these companies.

    1. 867-5309*

      That should just be… “It’s controversial and people have negative, visceral reactions to people who work at these companies.” *Remove the first “who”

    2. Double A*

      This sucks because MLMs target women, and a lot of women participate during their child rearing years, so this is their only “work experience” since the work of the home is also considering irrelevant to corporate life.

      I think MLMs are predatory and awful, but it just sucks that the contribute even more to the economic disenfranchisement of women, in addition to a system that in general disregards women’s work as having any value.

      For a fascinating look into MLMs, I HIGHLY recommend the podcast The Dream (season 1. Season 2 is about Wellness and it’s even better, but not as relevant here). The host has a lot of sympathy for the people who participate in MLMs because they’re basically everyone from her hometown in Ohio. But she takes an unrelenting looking to the actual corporate structures and the laws that allow them.

      1. An Actual Fennec Fox*

        It’s complicated, because the people in MLMs are encouraged to push, sell and recruit the people at work. The only way I would hire anyone actively participating in one would be if they agreed to never, under any circumstances, mention it, try to sell anything, recruit anyone or bring any products at all to the office. It may sound like a hard line, but nobody goes to work to be solicited to buy from or join one of these ventures.

        1. Wintermute*

          Even then, MLMs teach people how to get around workplace solicitation rules– it’s a risk I’d never, ever take. They teach people to view the world as two categories of people: Marks, and people useless to me. Even your family are potential marks, even your church congregation, and especially coworkers.

          Because so many MLMs teach their representatives directly, with specific tactics, how to be sneaky and underhanded I wouldn’t bet they’d follow any promises of non-solicitation when I’m not watching.

          1. An Actual Fennec Fox*

            I wouldn’t either, to be honest. And it is definitely on my list of “things I will terminate you for” as a manager. I can’t stop one person from being a victim, but I’m not having the rest of my team being harassed and/or victimized because one of their coworkers fell for a scam. I have met one or two who just gave you their catalogue to look at and left you alone (and even that made me uncomfortable), but most people aren’t even that polite.

      2. Show Me the Money*

        Amway has many men, as does Herbalife, and Advocare did also. Anyone can be vulnerable to exploitation.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Well, sure, but women ARE the targets for most of these companies – essential oils, leggings, “wellness” items, cooking/baking products, makeup, skincare, jewelry …

        2. AMT*

          Sure, but MLMs overwhelmingly market to moms because they’re much more likely than other demographics not to work outside the home and to be looking for ways to make money and alleviate boredom. These companies’ marketing materials beat you to death with the whole #girlboss (ugh) thing. They may not explicitly restrict participation to women, but their predatory tactics definitely have a disproportionately negative effect on women.

          1. une autre Cassandra*

            A lot of them also leverage mom guilt—don’t you want to contribute to your household (…since uncompensated child-rearing and household management don’t count; only money counts!) without abandoning your children to be RAISED BY STRANGERS like those BAD MOMS who work outside the home?!

            It’s revolting.

      3. Reba*

        The Dream is excellent! (But Jane Marie is from Michigan :) )
        It’s really interesting history and it manages to strike the right tone of being critical of the orgs while recognizing the humanity of the individuals taken in and the sociological reasons why. Same for the second series.

      4. A*

        So I agree with you in general, but am baffled by the statement: ” a lot of women participate during their child rearing years, so this is their only “work experience” since the work of the home is also considering irrelevant to corporate life.”

        I would venture to guess that it is now a minority of individuals that go straight into having kids, never having worked before hand. I literally can’t think of a single person, across all of my social groups – and I know birds of a feather flock together… but jeez. This just stood out to me because I don’t think of ‘child rearing years’ and ‘age most people start their careers’ as being the same. I know it happens, and is somewhat regionally driven, but wow – talk about a whole other world!

        1. lost academic*

          Rodan and Fields is super popular amongst many career equestrian trainers I have known. It’s good product which is nice but it’s totally MLM. Those are people who are in business for themselves, typically aren’t SAHMs but have a lot of unpredictability in their monthly cash flow and can be totally sidelined by injuries (to themselves, clients or horses) that is just part of the job.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I read that as “their only work experience *during the relevant period* ” – in other words, it’s similar to how SAHPs will use their volunteering experience on the PTA or children’s sports club to show they at least vaguely kept their hand in while they weren’t formally employed.

          I see it an awful lot here when someone’s youngest child is around 2 or 3 – you start to feel twitchy that you aren’t contributing enough to the household, and that you’ll never get back to “proper” work, and someone gently chats you up at a toddler group or play barn, and suddenly you’re flogging hand cream on the school playground and desperately chasing your losses. In some cases it’s been a stepping stone for someone to set up genuinely their own business eg professional services, when they realise they do have the personality for enough self-promotion, but also have a unique product to promote.

          (That’s the angle for LW’s mom to take, really, that her experience with HonestlyNotAPyramid taught her about her natural aptitude for sales / marketing / customer service / mentoring which she has fully developed and is now excited to combine with her wholesome interest in New Employer’s business field.)

          I narrowly missed being recruited myself, but fortunately my innate cynicism prompted the question, “hold on: I have to pay upfront for catalogues eight times a year?” and then, “I don’t even have a defined territory?” and also a little light arithmetic revealing that even at their optimistic sales projections I’d be making about 30p an hour…

          I was socially isolated and mentally vulnerable and initially ready to believe whatever someone told me who gave me a little bit of attention. That’s why I’m now fiercely opposed to MLM recruitment practices. It’s very difficult for me to believe that someone with a three-digit downline completely avoided those practices.

        3. Newly commenting*

          In the US at least, the average age for women having their first child was 26.6 in 2016, and it probably hasn’t changed that significantly since then. That means a significant number of women are having children in their early 20s or late teens, and likely have no/minimal work experience. MLMs actively target these women as MLMs don’t require any real work experience and can be done from home.

        4. Youth*

          A friend of mine, who graduated high school in the last ten years, only ever did minimum wage-type jobs before (intentionally) having children. And I know others who happily would have done the same if they could have. It may be less common these days but it’s not unheard of by any means. Not everyone wants to work outside the home, although IMO everyone should get an education and marketable skills, even if they never plan/have to use them.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s just like working for anywhere that’s controversial though in the end. There are plenty of them out there.

      I think steering her away from an Amway internship is like steering someone away from going to one of the diploma mills out there to buy their degrees from places where a large chunk of people are going to go “Uh…that’s not a reputable place.”

      I have reserves about hiring former debt collectors as well, due to the standards of practice many of them have in place. I don’t want to have to possibly try to deprogram anyone…

      This is the risk analysis at work, it’s what we all do when we’re digesting someone’s resume.

      1. Show Me the Money*

        Debt collectors…sigh. There is one that keeps trying to serve someone at my home, that I have owned for 13 years and who definitely does not live here. They have been told this repeatedly, but kept trying until I threateed legal action. Not the brightest bulb in the lamp, especially since folks are so easy to skip trace with the internet.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah…threatening legal action is honestly not even enough in some cases. I’m glad they ceased for you with that!

          They cannot keep calling you when you tell them to cease calling. They are not allowed on your property. They can go ahead and send you mail, in which you return to sender because homeboy don’t go here! Many won’t use the USPS because it’s mail fraud if they don’t have their ducks in a proper row. So I always demand they send it by USPS and watch them drop off.

          My parents got calls for my cousin for years, he never lived there and we didn’t even really know the kid.

      2. Wintermute*

        “deprogram” is a GREAT way to put it.

        When someone has been taught a highly specific way of doing business, and debt collectors and MLMs both share some attributes such as being taught to skirt (or even outright violate if they think they can get away with it) regulatory laws it’s hard to train it out of them.

    4. 867-5309*

      I posted above… It’s not the MLM thing SPECIFICALLY but what it often means: The biggest concern is that it warps their sense of what is normal and acceptable in business. If someone who worked for an MLM considers themselves a business owner and the people under them employees, they don’t have an understanding of basic business norms.

  20. Lucy Honeychurch*

    Also, I refuse to go to craft and art fairs that allow the MLMs in. I want REAL crafts and arts, not booths full of unimaginative MLM crap, where they’re not only going to sell me this stuff, but try to talk me into a “party” and selling it myself. I hate MLMs with a passion, and am unapologetic about it.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I get so annoyed when I go to a crafting/fair kind of place and there’s a punch of garbage MLM.

      Just like if I want a shitty cheeseburger, I know where to go for that too. You don’t invite McDonald’s to culinary gatherings, you know.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      Every time I stop by a craft fair to support my gym friend who makes Perler bead art on the side, I play Count the MLMs. Highest concentration I got was 8 at a show with somewhere around 50 vendors.

      1. AKchic*

        I went to one where every 3rd booth was an MLM. Including a woman who tried to get me fired from my job the year before (she ended up fired instead), who seemed most desperate to get me to buy her leggings. I bought what I came for from my friend and left, but certainly made mention of it to the rest of the office the following Monday. By the time she left, nobody was sorry to see her go.

    3. Apocalypse How*

      Also “health & wellness fairs,” especially when MLMs are known to flagrantly lie about their health benefits. If I see an MLM listed for a health fair, I automatically doubt every single business or service represented at the fair.

      1. TimeCat*

        My sister in law got sucked into one of those essential oil MLMs and nearly killed her cat with all those oils (peppermint oil and otherscan be toxic to pets). They have terrible safety standards and blatantly lie. My pediatrician has seen people try to push essential oils for serious conditions like diabetes and autism.

        Leave it off a resume.

      2. AMT*

        My wife attended one that her workplace put on for its employees. Someone from one of those woo-woo companies gave her a *highly* suspect test for allergies and intolerances as a pretense for selling something. I forget exactly what they were selling or how the test was administered, but suffice it to say that it wasn’t the kind an allergist would perform. I thought it was crappy that her employer would allow an unqualified person to tell people that they had allergies they didn’t actually have.

      3. Ms. Pessimistic*

        My OBGYN’s office had MLM advertisements all over it’s office! It was so off putting, and I didn’t like her for other reasons and ended up switching doctors at 30 weeks pregnant. It seemed so unprofessional and made me question the doctor’s opinion.

    4. AMT*

      I’ve heard that this has become an issue with arts and crafts fairs and farmer’s markets. One market’s solution was to jam all the MLM sellers into their own area away from the rest. Clever!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is even better because honestly, I know why they let these people in, that’s booth rent however you slice it up.

        Let them pay for their booths and then stick them all together so there’s a corral of them. Just like you know where to go for cut flowers or asparagus, you know where to go for over inflated garbage makeup and clothes or snake oil!

    5. Sophie Hatter*

      A bunch of people have been doing this thing on facebook during COVID-19, making a post asking people if they have a small business to drop the name in the comments so other people can buy from them during this time and a bunch of people have been linking to their MLM. arrrrgh.

    6. ...*

      Me too I love this comment! MLMs are utter garbage, I will never support them and no their products are never good! Sorry!

  21. Texan In Exile*

    OK, but the British TV show “Brief Encounters” is worth watching, even though it’s about an MLM.

    1. AnonyMs*

      A very good TV show centered around MLM is “On Becoming a God in Central Florida”. The show is as good as its title. Dark comedy, set in early 1990 and starring Kirsten Dunst. I can’t wait for season two.

      1. Princess Scrivener*

        YESSSSS! Super dark, well-written, and hilarious. Glad someone else appreciated it as much as me.

  22. AndersonDarling*

    If Mom was making money from her MLM then she should have some good achievements to put on her resume and there should be no reason to inflate her title. If I saw strong statements on the resume, I’d be less likely to dismiss the whole job.
    *2019 Top Salesperson Award for Midwest Region
    *Achieved $40K in profit within one year
    *Consistently increased profit by 10% each subsequent year through focused marketing and quarterly campaigns
    *Organized Annual Sales Conference for 5,000 active clients

    But I would grill the applicant on the details of these statements to make sure they aren’t fluff. And I would focus in on why the applicant would want to leave their successful business, so she will need to be ready to explain the departure.

    1. 867-5309*

      I think how you position these achievements is the best advice for OP, along with the recommendation from Alison to use the title “Sales Representative.”

    2. Kate R*

      Yes, this. Listing an MLM would be a huge red flag for me, but if the OP’s mom is applying for sales jobs, and she has some good concrete sales figures to put down, I can see why she’d still want to include it. The same for organizing a large conference with that many attendees because that does require organizational skills above that of planning a sales party at someone’s house. But since MLM’s have a reputation for their predatory recruiting, I’d stay away from that angle. Leading a team of 200+ recruits for the OP’s mom could just mean that she recruited one person a month for the last 20 years, so I’m having trouble seeing how that comes across as impressive or transferable in one line on a resume. Even with those caveats, I think I’d still be wary of someone with an MLM on their resume, but if that’s all she has, then I guess what can you do.

    3. Running & Coffee*

      I would focus on the organizational skills and communication skills required and keep the language understated. MLMs are notorious for their over-the-top job descriptions–“Hi, I’m a Mompreneur! I’m CEO of my own business!”–and I’d also be careful about speaking to profits, as they are based on other people who may be vulnerable.

    4. StlBlues*

      As a hiring manager, I’d be quite nervous that achievements like “$40K in profit within one year” actually equaled something like “suckered in 40 new people under me to join the scheme!” That might not be fair in all cases, but OP and her mom need to know that a lot of people will look at MLM experience with that lens. I’d be very careful about how you talk about any monetary successes (because I would fear they were from pyramid scheme reasons) and very careful about how you talk about the 200+ consultants under you (because, honestly, that just makes me think you were involved early in a terrible pyramid scheme).

      I guess I don’t have great advice. I think you just have to be humble, very factual about what you did to succeed (did you create your own website or event structure or something?), and avoid ANY AND ALL of the stupid MLM jargon. Someone tells me they’re the CEO of their own business! Or a “Woman CEO Hero!” (which someone on my social media does) and that interview is IMMEDIATELY over.

    5. Maisel*

      Agree. The crucial part is whether or not the mom has these numbers. Sales don’t count here, profit does.

    6. AnotherLibrarian*

      I like this phrasing. I agree it’s a tough thing to work around, but the stigma towards MLMS is real. Though I confess, I’ve been surprised at the level of stigma I see people here expressing. I think some of them are sleazy, but then, some business are sleazy.

  23. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    If she’s looking for a job right now, the worst thing she can do is use the term “business owner”.

    It hurts your chances when you over inflate your experience, you look both out of touch by some but also those who are going to take it at face value are going to wonder what’s up with that. Why are you getting out of the business? Why are you going to be my employee if you had a business of your own before?

    I’ve ran into this countless times with people saying they’re business owners when it’s a side gig or hobby that’s slightly elevated. Nobody has ever been hired, they can’t actually come in here with a business owner POV and nothing is transferable to managing a team because who did you manage? You have a team of consultants under you? Cool story…so tell me about a time you fired one of them, you disciplined someone, you had to hire someone, etc. With MLM you can’t, you never hired someone, you will take anyone who wants in, you won’t fire someone, you can’t, they don’t actually work for you. Corporate can revoke your ability to sell but they’re not going to do that because you’re not an employee, they are selling you something and they’re sure the shit not selling you that on credit as far as I’m aware!

    1. AndersonDarling*

      This is the sad part…the MLM Rep has been brainwashed into thinking that they really are business owners and when they actually end up in an interview being asked legit questions then it all becomes embarrassingly clear that they know nothing about simple management. How many employees did you have? How did you engage your team? How did you handle an employees conflict? What was your process for creating your business plan? What was you strategic planning process? What was you overhead? Quarterly Profit? Monthly Revenue?

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s truly uncomfortable to be in that situation, you can honestly almost hear the wheels screeching in their heads.

        But these situations still don’t shake their confidence in the end, we’re the assholes who don’t get it and why didn’t we hire them, they’re so over qualified after all! [The push back from rejection letters are often from folks in this category.]

      2. OP*

        So the thing is, I actually think my mom COULD answer all those questions, and answer them quite well, in regards to her team of sales reps. She keeps really clear books of her profit, revenue, etc, and communicates frequently with her team to help handle conflicts, help different reps work together on projects, etc.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This gives me some relief, I’m glad your mom is a cut above the rest.

          I hope she find someone who will give her a chance, despite the fact that she’s coming out of a swamp of bad-reputation to say the least.

        2. Show Me the Money*

          MLMs are horrible business models, full stop. What is mom’s churn rate? The trunover is horrendous because folks lose so much money and quit. No way to put a positive spin on long engagement with these schemes.

        3. revueller*

          Honestly, agreed. I think we’re nitpicking over the title here (which is very important: it’s the first time a recruiter is going to look at, and I agree with Alison TMBL that “Business Owner” would hurt your mom’s chances). Including the descriptions of what she’s actually done in her role should go a longer way.

          Also, wanted to add: my own mom was a Shakeology/Beachbody rep for a while. It was sadder to see in retrospect, and the best way I can justify it is that she (a) genuinely liked talking about fitness products to people and (b) was mainly in it for the discounts. She eventually got disenchanted with it, but now she’s a volunteer fundraiser for a nonprofit. I don’t think she’d be as good in her position if she didn’t build up those sales skills beforehand.

  24. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

    Off topic, but a couple of recommendations for anyone interested in the MLM topic:

    The Dream Podcast:
    and the show On Becoming A God in Central Florida, on Showtime. It’s offbeat for sure, but also very well done and captures the MLM and early 90s aesthetic perfectly.

    (I have no association with either of these, I just liked them)

    1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo* mostly focuses on Mary Kay, but does cover other MLMs too.
      There are also a couple Facebook groups worth checking out: Sounds like MLM but ok and Sounds like MLM but okay. (I actually posted the link to this post in the latter group. : ) )

  25. Mia*

    One of my past jobs was managing a franchise and soo much more goes into that than an MLM setup. If your mom doesn’t have any other recent work experience, I would maybe tailor her resume to focus on the sales aspect. I personally find the MLM model pretty unethical, but managing to actually make money in one certainly involves some level of sales acumen (in addition to just sheer luck).

  26. Curiouser and Curiouser*

    Another note here is that your mother isn’t actually making hiring or firing decisions. If she’s recruiting, I would imagine the only real quality that one of her downline must have is the money to buy in. She isn’t finding the best person for the job, monitoring her payroll in relation to her profits, and making tough decisions about layoffs and profit margins. She wants everyone possible to sign on underneath her, because that’s how people make money in an MLM. Sure, it helps her out if those people are also good salespeople and thus raise her profits, but it doesn’t hurt her if they aren’t.

    1. RC Rascal*

      Excellent point. MLM Recruiting isn’t how an HR Professional and Hiring Manager recruit and hire.

  27. Former Retail Lifer*

    When I was a retail manager, I hired several people whose only sales experience was with an MLM. For a commission sales position, they do have relevant experience. I never saw anyone put “business owner” on their resume, though. I would have thought twice about contacting them if that were the case.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I like this! As long as Mom doesn’t try to inflate her skills, and really describes her talents then there are transferable skills. If she wan’t to get a job as a salesperson at a jeweler or a real estate agent, then there are great transferable skills! But if she wants to get a job as a Marketing Director at a Fortune 500 then the hiring team will likely laugh at the resume.
      Inflating a title cannot inflate the skills. But there are loads of jobs that her true qualifications are a perfect match to.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes, it’s certainly relevant experience for sales! Especially for commissions.

      That’s the only thing I’d honestly think to hire anyone from this background for without too much hesitation.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      Yes, anyone who can actually succeed with selling in an MLM setup would be phenomenal at regular sales. Imagine how much more they could do with actual support, professional development, and quality product!

      Perhaps recruiting would also be relevant, since part of the system is to get more people to sign up for the MLM.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Ooo, or a donation manager for a non-profit would be a good match. Top donors need constant engagement and schmoozing. The sales and customer service skills are exactly what is needed as well as the soft skills of charisma. (Hmm, it sounds like I’m building a D&D character. Five point Sales, five point customer service, and ten charisma.)

  28. Double A*

    I replied more or less this same thing to another comment, but thought I’d put it here. It just kind of hurts my heart to read about this. Most MLMs target women, and a lot of women participate during their child rearing years, so this is their only “work experience” since the work of the home is also considering irrelevant to corporate life.

    I think MLMs are predatory and awful, but it just sucks that they contribute even more to the economic disenfranchisement of women, in addition to a system that in general disregards women’s work as having any value. While I totally understand considering MLMs illegitimate, it’s just making me a little ill to read people’s comments about how they regard people who participate, because the reasons people participate are very tied up with other systems that sideline caretakers, especially women. People still have agency to participate, but it’s more complicated than just, “I would love to perpetuate this scam!”

    For a fascinating look into MLMs, I HIGHLY recommend the podcast The Dream (season 1. Season 2 is about Wellness and it’s even better, but not as relevant here). The host has a lot of sympathy for the people who participate in MLMs because they’re basically everyone from her hometown in Ohio. But she takes an unrelenting looking to the actual corporate structures and the laws that allow them.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I feel the same way for people who spent so much money to go to non-accredited “universities.” If I saw a resume that listed an MLM, I’d have some sympathy as if I saw University of Phoenix. Luckily, you can tell quickly if the candidate is inflating their job role or keeping it real. How they perceive their history is what makes them a good candidate, or delusional.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        University of Phoenix is accredited by the same regional higher ed commission as Arizona State, University of Arizona, and the Arizona community college system. Some programs of study are also accredited by governing professional organizations.

        I wouldn’t encourage attending a for-profit, but many are accredited and can transfer credits and qualify graduates for post-secondary programs.

    2. TimeCat*

      That’s why it’s better to just leave it off a resume. Like a degree from ITT tech or one of those fake universities. It sucks you got scammed and put work into it, but you have to keep scams off your resume.

        1. TimeCat*

          People who are successful tend to be because they exploited others. So either you get scammed or you successfully scam others.

    3. Show Me the Money*

      MLMs are predatory and should be illegal. In any 100% commision sales job, making a living wage is going to be difficult, but these schemes compound the difficulty by saturating the market with reps and not having exclusive territories. Horrible business models. Men get hurt too, there is a free book by a former Scamway rep detailing his horrible decline.

      1. Kirsten Larson*

        One of my best friends talked about her AmWay dad and how angry he got at her for once buying a different brand toothpaste.

        1. une autre Cassandra*

          I wouldn’t call the tone today elitist. More sad than anything. I guess I can only speak for myself, but I know several bright, educated, and exceptionally hardworking people who have been sucked into MLMs. MLMs operate like cults, and no one is too smart to be scammed.
          What’s so toxic in my view is that MLMs indoctrinate their victims with the “Amway cannot fail; Amway can only be failed” mindset—so when the scheme inevitably fails, the consultant blames herself for not hustling hard enough. It’s insidious.

          (Of course there are *some* aggressively tacky, greedy jerks in MLM, and they’re a highly visible element, but the vast majority of MLM participants are basically victims.)

        2. OOOFSTER*

          Deciding not to hire someone based on not liking the employer of their previous work experience is elitist. Many poor, under-educated and stay at home parents get involved to try to make money for their family. They aren’t bad people, and shouldn’t be black listed for future jobs because people like this comment section don’t like MLMs. The model is bad and predatory. Blanket judgement on anybody that has been involved in it, ever, is ignorant and elitist. And keeps people down.

          1. Archaeopteryx*

            It’s not about deciding victims of MLMs are bad people per se. It’s about the limited info you have when looking over resumes – it’s giving you information about people’s judgment, how much research they do before getting involved with something, their openness to consider facts they might not like, etc. And unfortunately it’s a warning sign that they might still be in that brainwashed “everyone who dislikes MLMs is just jealous / needs to be cut out of my life” mode, which is more trouble than it’s worth dealing with. If you have qualified candidates who don’t have these red (maybe just orange) flags, you’re going to favor them.

          2. ...*

            I think you make great points about who falls prey to these systems but im not sure its elitist to not hire someone based on their previous work experience. If you worked for a company that is known to be corrupt or let’s say you worked for a tobacco company or something yeah i’d question your judgement

          3. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

            I’m not blacklisting anyone who has been involved in an MLM, but someone putting that on their resume absolutely reflects on their professionalism, the same way someone putting “professional mom” or “household CEO” would. There’s nothing wrong with doing those things, and in fact you can gain valuable skills from them, but they don’t belong on a resume, and putting it on your resume says you don’t understand professional norms.

          4. Vanilla Nice*

            I appreciate Ooofster’s point as well as those of you who are responding. I wouldn’t blacklist someone simply because they listed an MLM on their resume (and I agree that a lot of people who get sucked in don’t know any better), but in my industry, it would be hard to make the case that the MLM provides any sort of transferrable skills that we would find desireable.

      1. Mia*

        It’s not elitist to take issue with a deeply predatory business model. Plus a lot of the people who hate MLMs the most are the ones who have been swindled or screwed over by them in one way or another.

      2. TimeCat*

        It’s not elitist. These are horrific companies that particularly target vulnerable populations. Someone bragging about making money off them probably destroyed a lot of lives.

  29. AKchic*

    I think sales rep does encapsulate what she did, even with everything she may have done while under the umbrella of the organization. She didn’t have any real power there. She didn’t have the hiring / firing capabilities. She didn’t have any control over branding, marketing, or anything. She sold and sold well. Whether it was product or the brand itself.
    Being a good sales rep is, in and of itself, a very fine skill.
    She is organized, she is charismatic, she is capable of learning new materials / products and figuring out how it would best serve the people she is trying to market to, she knows how to order and when, she has time management skills, etc.
    That is what you need to showcase.

  30. Gazebo Slayer*

    Among all the concerns about a candidate’s judgment and (especially) ethics, I’d worry that someone who put an MLM on her resume would sell products at work, or even try to recruit coworkers. As noted above, MLMs often encourage this, and I’ve seen some extremely high-pressure, aggressive, and emotionally manipulative sales tactics from MLM salespeople online. I seem to remember letters to Alison about managers who pressure their own reports to buy from them, which is grossly unethical.

    1. LawLady*

      This would be my fear as well, as I’ve never met someone in an MLM who had sensible boundaries about who to pitch to. And this could range from annoying to terrible, depending on the product. I’ve gotten cold emails from MLM shillers for weight-loss MLMs about how I must want to lose weight. And cold emails from essential oil and health product shillers about how their products can cure depression, prevent COVID, relieve migraines, etc.

      Like, it would be very frustrating to hire someone and have them hawking jewelry or makeup. But it’s a downright liability to hire someone who’s going to hassle your employees and customers about their weight and health.

  31. Sharikacat*

    For what it’s worth, if LW’s mom has been able to make a living from her MLM work for 20 years, I might be inclined to think that is actually a positive on a resume, at least on the surface. She held a stable position and turned enough of a profit to live on. Part of that ability to profit is through recruitment and management of talent, which appears to have been successful enough for her to make her money on her share of the kickbacks. Her recruits must have pushed enough product. Because of the MLM structure, she needed to accumulate 200+ recruits to make up for the dwindling returns as many of those people started recruiting themselves and stopped directly contributing to Mom’s income. How is this not a great resume for a sales rep? Don’t get me wrong: I fully despise MLMs and started to fall into one myself during a low point (Primerica). However, I think Mom can make a good case for herself if you didn’t know her sales rep experience is in an MLM.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s an interesting take!

      I personally would read it as “I was doing a side gig and then my circumstances changed so I need a real income now.”

      I’ve seen this in non-MLM even, in terms of freelancers in general. Which makes it kind of look like you’re not great at sales or at least cultivating new leads or return customers. Which at least with general freelancers it makes a ton of sense, ef finding leads if you don’t need to, go work for someone else, I’ll probably hire them. But for sales, yikes!

    2. Show Me the Money*

      Primerica doesn’t pay a base wage, but differs qualitatively from other MLMs because insurance policies and investments cannot be stockpiled. Licensed reps can definitely work for other financial services firms. MLM products are typically overpriced, but Primerica quotes are easily compared to those of other companies.

      1. Sharikacat*

        It still felt very much like an MLM once I took a breath and stepped back. Sell policies and earn a portion of the premium. Recruit others, and you get a portion of what they sell. The whole idea of bundling debt together and life insurance policies seemed sensible from what I recall, but the earnings format is what pushed me away (I must not be a “highly motivated individual!”)

    3. Annony*

      I think it depends a lot on what job she is applying for. If it is a sales or recruiting job, I could see it translating. It it is a management position, less so. A lot of it depends on the framing. If she says she owned her own business and managed over 200 employees, that is way too much of a stretch from what it actually was.

  32. HailRobonia*

    If I were a hiring manger, I would be VERY wary of hiring someone who is actively involved in an MLM. I had a co-worker who did Mary Kay and she would constantly try to “subtly” get other women in my office involved. She’d leave free samples on desks, suggest makeover parties, constantly talk about peoples’ appearances, etc.

    The kicker: she was our HR officer. Luckily she did not last long, though I don’t believe it was the MLM specifically that lead to her firing.

    1. Sharikacat*

      She may not be actively involved anymore. With current events, I’m sure sales for MLM products are slim to none. The LW’s mom may just be looking for more stable income at this point in her life. All the same, it may be appropriate for a hiring manager to make it clear prior to an offer that trying to market to her coworkers is almost certainly something that would get her terminated. If she still wanted the MLM as side-work, depending on her role, that might not be an issue (provided she’s not using her client list from a new job as leads for MLM work), but it can be made very clear that the MLM stays out of the workplace.

  33. LilPinkSock*

    My personal feelings about MLMs aside, it’s not the same things a business owner or a franchisee. If someone is determined to put that experience on a resume and talk about it in an interview, there are ways to frame relevant personality traits and professional skills without appearing out-of-touch or over-inflating oneself.

  34. HBJ*

    I disagree with this a little bit (and, no, I do not and have never been a rep for a direct sales company). For one, having employees is not the sole defining factor in what makes you a business owner. There are tons of sole proprietors who own their own businesses. And second, these people are not at all the same as just sales reps. They are required to have business licenses, collect and pay sales taxes, and pay federal taxes.

      1. HBJ*

        Just because they don’t doesn’t mean they’re not supposed to. If you are doing anything somewhat regular with it (i.e. more than buying it for yourself for the discount or selling to a pal a handful of times a year) or advertising yourself as selling this product in any way, you would be required to have a business license by most states. And if you are doing the above, that would typically fall under sales tax laws as well. And it DEFINITELY has to be reported to the IRS.

        1. tetris replay*

          Business licenses are granted at the municipal level where I live. Most home-based businesses only require them if they’re bringing clients to their house or advertising their address. Although there definitely are “storefront” shenanigans with some MLMs (LLR).
          I just want to mention this because the business licence issues that you mention aren’t universal. Sales tax isn’t cut and dry, either.

          1. HBJ*

            Yea, it probably does vary. In my state, regardless of whether a city does or does not require a license, the state still will. So you may need two different licenses. And my state does not differentiate between home-based businesses and other kinds. With a few exceptions, it basically boils down to if you’re making money somewhat regularly or putting yourself out there in any way as selling a good or service, you must have a license.

    1. Jenn*

      There’s a huge difference in supply/ordering, pricing, marketing, and strategy though. In a MLM you are given the products, often the pricing, and all the branding is centrally controlled. Basically you might do a lot of work to get around that, but you aren’t at all developing the set of skills a more traditional business owner would be.

      1. Antilles*

        Correct. And just as importantly, any hiring manager who reads your resume and sees “former small business owner” is going to expect that set of skills…and then be pretty disappointed and/or irritated when it comes out in the interview that didn’t have any of that experience.

    2. BB*

      Participating in an MLM does not equate to ‘business owner’, even if some of the things you mentioned apply (I honestly have never met someone in an MLM – profitable or not – who has a license). It’s not a coincidence that the only people who claim that are ones that haven’t actually owned their own truly independent business. From first hand experience, they are not the same.

    3. Tempononymous*

      In my area, they’re *required* to have them….but none of them do. They all think they are the exception, and many of them will simultaneously claim to be covered by corporate’s business license AND to be CEO of their own business.

    4. Bear Necessities*

      There are also really predatory mill-type setups for creating business licenses, which tend to serve scammy outfits like MLMs and dropshippers. You pay $XXXX (and it often is four figures) for a bare-bones set of paperwork filed in Arizona to create an EIN. Going through with that is absolutely not a sign of professional experience.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I mean, we all have to remit sales tax if we sell things, technically that is. Just about nobody does it of course. You are supposed to do this if you have a yard sale, is a yard sale now a “pop up business”?

      Everyone also pays federal income and state income if you’re in a state with income tax. This still doesn’t equal business owner. It means you have income, that you’re making from being a sales rep.

      1. HBJ*

        Not in my state. Sales tax is required, at least here, from the same businesses who would be required to have a business license. That is, if you are engaged in somewhat regular sales of goods or services and you’re putting yourself out there as a business. No one is purporting to operate a business when they have a yard sale, and those would never be considered regular either.

    6. Emma*

      I’m glad you posted this! I feel like this is kind of where LW’s mum may be coming from – a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know”, because if you don’t have experience of owning a business then I totally get how you could wind up thinking that this kind of MLM experience is similar.

      I’m coming from a UK perspective, but here’s a short list of stuff I have to do, as the owner of a one-person business, that my friends who do Avon don’t:
      – Register my business with companies house and the revenue, send two annual declarations and two annual accounting/corporation tax returns
      – Pay £240 (the company pays obvs) a year for a registered office service so my home address isn’t on the public register
      – Make decisions about legal, corporate and financial structure that could get me in massive debt if I get them wrong (thankyou, law degree and helpful local accountant)
      – Hold a legally compliant AGM every year even though I’m the only shareholder
      – Hold legally compliant shareholders meetings and record dividends in a specific legal format every time I want to pay myself, max 4 times a year
      – Calculate profit and loss, projections, tax estimates etc to make sure I don’t break the law by paying myself a dividend that is too high for the company’s level of profitability, or accidentally pay myself a dividend when the company is not allowed to do so
      – Make decisions in the best interest of the company – even to my own detriment – or risk being banned from being a director or, theoretically, prosecuted
      – Maintain separate bank accounts for the company and keep records of what equipment belongs to me and what belongs to the company
      – Retain all my accounting records for 7 years in case my company gets inspected
      – Research, buy and maintain business insurances such as key person insurance (it’s on the to do list…)
      – Get someone else to collect and read the post and email if I’m out for more than a couple of weeks, in case something arrives that the company is legally obliged to deal with promptly (I have nightmares about missing a DMCA email)
      + I still do all the financial stuff that a successful MLM rep would have to do, e.g. completing a self-assessment tax return for personal income tax

      If I had a premises – thank god I don’t – then I would also have to deal with licensing to make sure my business use is allowed under local planning; research and buy a range of extra business insurances; register for and pay business rates; have emergency keyholders and then figure out how to square that with the insurers…

      And if I had staff? Jesus! On top of the hiring, firing, managing, due diligence etc that Allison talked about and I have no experience of, I’d also have to write and update legally solid employment contracts, set up PAYE and proper payroll software or contract a provider, choose a pension provider and set up and administer auto-enrollment, manage deductions for attachments (to pay court debts) and similar, conduct H&S and risk assessments (and risk assessments for working in other people’s houses are nightmare), put in place and manage formal complaints and disputes processes, write and follow rigorous data protection policies for staff info, have a halfway passable equality & diversity/disability confident hiring process… the list goes on. I don’t even want to think about it.

      Plus! My company is currently VAT (sales tax) exempt, but if it wasn’t, then I’d have to register for VAT, rejig all the pricing, convince my overseas customers to send remittances in a compliant format, do another return…

      Don’t get me wrong, lots of business owners don’t do a lot of the things on this list. In many cases they’re risking massive fines or prosecution, but small businesses often fly under the radar. But listing “business owner” on a resume is saying that you have understanding and experience of doing this stuff, to varying degrees – there’s a whole world of tedious research into confusing legal requirements that don’t make sense, that most people don’t even know exists, as soon as you actually own a business; and the financial and legal stakes are super high if you get it wrong.

  35. grace*

    OP, odds are you aren’t going to find helpful advice about this on the internet (just a skim through these comments shows a lot of “she’s not a business owner!” “MLMs are scams!” “I wouldn’t hire someone who worked for a MLM” which, frankly, are patently unhelpful to the question).

    Go off the general advice about resumes – showing accomplishments, etc. From your comments, it sounds like your mom has a TON of relevant experience – managing and keeping the books, leading training, excellent sales capabilities are all difficult for a lot of people and exceedingly helpful in sales roles. A sales representative or consultant title might not fully encompass what she does, but the duties below should help address that, as well as a strong cover letter about her experience.

    1. Former Retail Lifer*

      Seriously. Anyone who can actually make money at an MLM is someone with some sales skills and tenacity. Almost everyone fails and she was successful for a long time. That’s impressive.

      1. N*

        I also find in impressive, however I also in no way shape or form think OP’s mother was a ‘business owner’. These aren’t mutually exclusive. There are some skills that can translate and others that do not, I fail to see how it would be helpful to not speak to that. OP asked for advice on how to phrase the experience, and how people view MLMs is deeply important to that answer. Many of the comments are just trying to get OP to understand that there is a very real difference between managing a downline within an MLM, and a traditional management position in a non-MLM. I would agree it would be a bit much if OP was repeatedly agreeing, but they aren’t – they are still pushing back that more skills are transferable than actually might be the case (based on all of the experience of hiring managers that have contributed).

  36. StaceyIzMe*

    MLM is a term and it’s synonymous in our day with pyramid scheme. There are very rare instances of successful MLM owners. In your mom’s case, if her team performed well, made money for themselves and for her, mastered quantifiable skill sets that she facilitated… in other words, if her work can reasonably translate to an industry relatable skill set for a specific role, then yes, use it! But just be very, very numbers driven and very open about keeping the numbers verifiable, real, concrete and exceptional. Then it’s a help in the specific cases where sales jobs or sales team leadership or consulting may be able to leverage that history. A ‘transition story” that is true, appealing, relatable and inspiring should also be part of the interview prep. (But if she’s applying to any other type of role, then she has to quantify her skill set in terms of that specific role, even if those skills were perfected in the context of the MLM work. Did she build killer websites for her downlines? Did she develop lead indicators for bringing new consultants on board that translated into retaining them and having them succeed financially? What percentage of her team made in excess of $50K annually? $100K annually? (Or whatever the number is and don’t forget to compare it to the norm. But- if nobody but her made a living wage and her living wage was kind of “iffy”? Then she’s not a successful MLM person in terms of using it to pitch companies for a new job and would definitely want to minimize the overall space that role takes up in the “here’s my experience and qualifications” conversation.

  37. Show Me the Money*

    The problem with a seemingly successful MLMer is that their “success” is made by so many others failing. The schemes are designed this way. It’s immoral and unethical.

    1. StlBlues*

      This, I think, is my issue with this. I have a very hard time imagining a scenario where someone told me about their huge success in MLM when I wouldn’t assume it was on the backs of people they screwed underneath them. That may not be fair! But that would 100% be a bias of mine if I were interviewing someone with that experience.

      And if they put “business owner,” they wouldn’t even get to an interview. You’re not a business owner. Unless you’re David Holl (the actual CEO of Mary Kay), calm down with any “CEO” language, too.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes I think if possible it should be left off a resume entirely for this. There is *no* good look. Either you are unsuccessful at it and including it makes you seem a bit delusional, or you are successful by recruiting lots of other people into the scam and then you look like someone who takes advantage of others.

        Best to leave it off entirely… and then leave the MLM!

    2. Mia*

      Yeah, this is the sticking point for me. If OP’s mom can emphasize her own personal sales numbers and leave out the recruitment/team aspect, hiring managers might take it more seriously, but IME there’s no real way to become a top rep without the people below you suffering an awful lot.

  38. Autistic Farm Girl*

    Why is the answer referring to “scammy MLMs”? As if some of them are somewhat ethical and doing good business? The business model itself is scammy, so any company that uses that model is a scam.

    It’s great that your mum made money out of it, it’s unlikely that any of her “consultants” made any though.

    1. Bree*

      Yes, the business model is inherently problematic. But there is a scale on how terrible individual companies can be based on the aggressiveness of their approach, their policies (around returns, quotas, number of reps, etc.), the products they sell (dangerous weight loss “supplements” vs. Tupperware) and their particular kind of propaganda. Like, some genuinely do more harm than others.

      The model itself should definitely be illegal, but there is a scale of terrible-ness to it all that is worth considering when we’re talking about how/if the LW’s mom should refer to that experience.

    2. Mia*

      It might be a reference to MLMs that sell dangerous products. The model itself is awful in general, but a lot of companies offer products that would be totally above board if they were sold in stores, while other ones make false health claims, promote dangerous diets, etc.

  39. Miss Mary M*

    My thoughts on MLM on a resume: I hired an accounting person who also had a Scentsy business on the side as a MLM. This was on her resume. She spends the majority of her workday on her MLM business, based on her FB posts and complaints by other coworkers that she is on the phone all of the time. I realize that this is one example out of many, but it brings up red flags to me, personally. She’s been counseled on this many times but I’m afraid that if we have a business downturn, she will be the first to go.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      But, this is her side gig right?! She had actual accounting background and this was also just tacked in there? She’s actually okay at accounting, despite her wasting her GD time all day?! I’m twitching…don’t let people touch your books and accounting who aren’t fully engaged with your business, that’s how you get so many errors *sobs*

      1. Miss Mary M*

        She is OK on accounting, when she’s not working her side hustle. The problem is the accounting isn’t getting done on time due to her “side” business. Despite many conversations, she doesn’t get it. She has a hard time with boundaries…. understatement of the year. Upper management is hesitant to let her go for some odd reason. If it were up to me, I’d have let her go a long time ago.

    2. ExcelJedi*

      If I had a staff member who was doing their side hustle during work time (MLM or otherwise), and they hadn’t responded to counseling on it, the company would not need any sort of downturn for me to let them go. Especially an accountant!

  40. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    So, it sounds like your mum was successful at whatever she was selling so she should emphasize that. I think listing the position as Sales Rep, or Senior Sales Rep is appropriate, and provide details of her actual accomplishments – X quarterly sales, increased profits, etc, and could include something like ‘mentored new recruits’.

    Be aware though, the details really matter here. If this was LuLaroe and she listed that she had 200 downstream recruits I would assume she was a horrible, predatory jerk and unless I was running the Horrible Predatory Jerk store I wouldn’t be interested at all. I think she really needs to emphasize the sales aspect of the work, as that’s the only part that doesn’t come across awful.

    For info, I used to do quite a bit of hiring and I regularly torpedoed resumes from people who had weirdly inflated their experience, calling themselves CEO of the house or Director of Sales for their kid’s girl guide troop. Just be honest, call yourself something normal, and detail your skills. Trying to puff up your title into something it’s not does no one any favours.

  41. Jenn*

    I just popped in to highly recommend The Dream as a podcast about MLMs (the first season) and to understand why the rest of the world sees them as not legitimate.

    I’ll add, anecdotally, that I have eliminated people from interviewing for supervisory/management roles when they put supporting their “downline” as management. It is actually potentially good experience in motivating people, but there’s no accountability or traditional HR or even basic workplace legislation experience. Putting it on a resume to me is a red flag that you have no idea what managing inside a company is like.

  42. Show Me the Money*

    Oh and while Mary Kay spouts off about empowering women, the three top key executives are MEN! MK truly exploits women.

  43. boop the first*

    Imagine bringing this tactic to your local city hall as a way to get out of paying for a business license. XD

  44. Rationally Neurotic*

    Yeah, I think the furthest you could stray would be “Sales Consultant” – calling herself a business owner will make her look out of touch, and wonder if she’s inflating any of her other qualifications. Yes, she’s responsible for sales, but she’s likely not actually responsible for any real accounting, and there are limited consequences to her actions – she likely could continue to be a sales consultant even if she stopped selling anything (although it would impact her income, there would be no way for an employer to know that). Focus on her actual accomplishments as a sales rep, rather than her title – sales volumes, # of reps recruited, conversions and metrics that show her persistence and ability to turn contacts into sales, year-over-year increases, that kind of stuff. If she’s looking for work in sales, these numbers will go a lot further than an inflated title, and if she’s not, they will still be far more effective in demonstrating her abilities.

    I agree with many here that I would be wary of someone with this history, albeit less wary than someone who only had a couple of years with an MLM or who included it at the same time as another job, as that would tell me they are likely to spend time informally selling to their colleagues (or me, ugh… I tried an MLM for a brief period, and fundamentally disagree with their operating models from an ethical perspective. Even when I like their products and find them to be well-valued – I absolutely refuse to purchase from any MLM or MLM-adjacent company because the reality is that for every success story like your mom’s, there are many that lost time and money to the benefit of the company, and even more that made purchases from friends and family out of guilt or pressure).

    She should definitely be prepared to respond to questions about what level of involvement she plans to have in the MLM going forward, and why she is leaving now – and understand that for some business owners/hiring managers, there will be no right answer (if it’s so profitable, why is she leaving? if it’s not profitable, is it because she wasn’t doing well, or because she didn’t have the good judgment to get out earlier? She will want to be prepared, as she will likely have to answer these directly or indirectly in an interview, and will also need to be mindful to answer in a way that doesn’t sound like a sales pitch for the MLM).

    1. nonegiven*

      She’s probably leaving because the businesses she was selling to are closed. Plus social distancing.

  45. you can call me flower, if you want to*

    I know this might be difficult to hear, but I would leave it off of her resume entirely. I think including it will do more harm than good. I know it may not be entirely fair, but I honestly would question an applicant’s judgment and critical thinking skills if they had been heavily involved with a MLM organization, especially if they’d been there for 20 years. I would downplay her involvement or not include it at all if possible. I’m sure she has worked really hard as a sales rep, but honestly, I’d have a hard time moving past it. It’s so different than working for any other kind of organization, and their business practices are so unethical. Just my two cents.

  46. Kirsten Larson*

    I think because the mom seems to have been SO successful it won’t be as big of a mark against her. I know someone who is a MLM success story. She makes crazy amounts of money and has tons ‘under’ her. It’s still a little “side-eye” but I guess it depends on what company it is too. Some have been around forever and have better reputations (I’m specifically thinking Mary Kay)

    1. Parenthetically*

      My thoughts exactly — my opinion on it differs A. LOT. depending on whether it’s a legacy MLM like Mary Kay, or something like It Works!/Plexus/Lularoe. Mary Kay isn’t going to read to a lot of people as, “Oooh, this person got hoodwinked into joining a cult,” unlike some MLMs.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Does she make a lot of money?

      I’m not being a dick right now. I’m just saying, appearances are extra deceiving. Unless you have seen those tax returns and her books, don’t buy into someone’s outward appearance of “success”. People live above their means and put on a face, they have for centuries!

      1. accountant extraordinaire*

        Yeah she does. She was able to quit her job because she started making more and more. The products she sells are actually useful, so people come back to get more and it is environmentally friendly and plays on people’s emotions there. I’ve seen her work a party too and get people to just keep buying. NOT TYPICAL. You also need to have an amount of nerviness to be able to push products and get other people to consult below you and host parties. She isn’t a FB “friend” showing her sweaty face after a workout and a shake, whatever she does gets it done. Again, not typical at all.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That makes sense, I do know that there’s always that one or two among the masses that do succeed, so I’m glad this is a real case!

          I have one old high school friend who seemingly was killing it at MLM. I didn’t question it too much, her social circle is gigantic [think small-enough town that you can run it if you’re the right people and actually want to be bothered]. Lots of “I could support my entire family on this empire~!” kind of stuff. But sis just got some side work doing receptionist work a few towns over. Along with other gig/side work prior to that.

          But was really pushing on “my business makes so much profit, I don’t ever need to be someone else’s employee again!” Mhmmmm.

  47. accountant extraordinaire*

    My mom was a Scentsy consultant for a number of years. She always lost money, year after year after year, and my parents definitely didn’t have the money to spend. She went to the big convention a few years. She would always gift people Scentsy stuff, so she wasn’t even selling it and put pressure on my brothers and I to buy stuff, when I already had like a GAZILLION warmers all over my house and also, I’d rather just give her the money, instead of her only getting 25% or whatever. There’s only so much Scentsy you can buy, and they didn’t patent the technology thoroughly, so Target and others started selling it cheaply anyway.

    She also loved to buy all the stuff to bring to parties and display. I think she just thought the product was so fun, but…ugh. It was fine for a bit, like I hosted a part once and stuff, but she always put pressure on people to buy, and she would always leave a catalogue for the wait staff with the bill and restaurants and stuff.

    It annoyed me that she continued to do it past the point of knowing she would never make money on it. I think she still buys some of it, which is fine, but MAN. I feel kind of embarassed for her.

  48. MCMonkeyBean*

    For most people that get involved in an MLM, the most accurate title would be “customer.”

  49. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    I hope this is related enough to the question that it isn’t considered a derail..

    I am similarly curious about how to present yourself as a “business owner” (who isn’t really) on a resume if the ‘business’ you are the owner of is selling stuff on eBay/etsy (not just re-selling things from China, but something like buying the raw materials and then making them into a finished product), running a blog website that you have monetised with ads, etc.

    1. A*

      I took a year off many moons ago when my blog started generating enough to support me on it’s own (just barely, and I was young enough to go back on my parents insurance – otherwise wouldn’t have been possible). When I had it on my resume I listed it as ‘Blogger (self employed)’ and included a summarized description the same as any other positions except I focused more on numbers and was sure to call out number of subscribers, retention rate, click throughs etc.

      I went back and forth on the wording a lot, but ultimately figured I just needed to grab their attention because there was no way someone in my line of work would see ‘blogger’ and NOT want to know more / think to themselves ‘wtf?’. I’ve gotten interviews for every job I’ve applied for that included it on the resume, so it must have been worded decently enough! Granted, it’s been about 6-7 years now so I no longer include it since it’s not relevant to the industry. I usually try and find a way to mention it in the interviews though, it’s always memorable / makes for a good party story : )

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I think you can call yourself a Business Owner- FancyBobbins Etsy Store. But the key is backing it up with strong accomplishments, sales numbers, profits, website builds, marketing campaigns. Those points lift it from a hobby to a business. If you keep it real and don’t try to inflate it to the level of a store on main street with 10 employees, then recruiters will trust your accomplishments and give you a chance. Good luck!

      1. Koala dreams*

        I would go for that too. Business owner or self-empoyed say where little about what your actual work experience is, so you’ll need to also make clear what your work is. For example: Artist (Self-employed) or Blogger (Self-employed). I sometimes see influencer instead of blogger, but I don’t know which title is better.

    3. Chili*

      I think the biggest thing with job titles in this scenario is to make sure you seem in touch with business norms/ not overstate what your position is. I think “Owner of Kazoos Emporium (a shop that creates and sells kazoos on eBay)” or “Founder of Livin’ da Life (a lifestyle blog)” would both be appropriate. Then list details about accomplishments, responsibilities, etc.

      But, like, “CEO of Lederhosen for All ” would sound kind of silly if Lederhosen for All is a one-person Etsy shop. I would have questions about if they’re in touch with business norms. Same with listing “Business Owner” as your title when you work in a MLM– that demonstrates to me a misunderstanding of what their role was and I’d be worried they’d have difficulties adjusting to a more traditional work environment.

  50. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m not sure what she should put as her title, but I’m a little surprised that so many people would just toss a resume if it even has a mention of MLM on it. Is it any worse than working for Philip Morris, Smith and Wesson Hostess, Anhesuer Busch, or any other “legitimate” companies whose products literally harm others?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Well let’s revisit the older posts about the adult industry and the stigma those come attached with! It’s the same sort of idea.

      Yes, actually being linked to Big Tobacco can really follow you around. Having friends who have went that route, I promise you that isn’t false.

      Same with the states with legalized use both recreational and medical. You get a lot of bias if you admit you’ve worked for a dispensary or in that industry in general.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I suppose you’re right, and to be fair I know nothing about MLMs… It does seem though that if MLMs are pretty much all predatory scams, why further harm the victims of those scams by immediately trashing their candidacy

        1. Michael*

          Well, one reason is that people who worked for Lockheed Martin can’t be reasonably expected to bring cruise missiles to work at their next job, but MLMers routinely (almost always?) target their coworkers as their latest marks.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      It’s a tough call. I know several people who have worked in the adult industry and they’ve always had stuff on their resumes with business names that are very conservative. However, I am also surprised by the animosity to MLMs. My aunt sold Avon for years (and I think still does) and she also held down a very respectable job. She liked their products (and saved my in high school with decent skin care products long before I knew better). If these companies are predatory (and they often are) than that sigma should be tied to the owners/corporate side of things, not to the sales force which is predominantly female.

      1. revueller*

        Alison’s advice is wonderful because it always very focused on the practical: what’s done is done, the question is how to move forward in a way that aligns with how the world actually works.

        Obviously, OP’s mom should be prepared to not receive some calls because of her work. She will have to answer tough questions in interviews and be willing to agree to stop working for the MLM if she gets the job (or at least never bring that side hustle to work, or maybe even just put a firm end date on that section of her resume). But I don’t think leaving a 20-year gap on OP’s mom’s resume is the right answer, and I really believe that OP’s mom could bring valuable skills to the table for a job that requires a lot of in-person sales skills.

      2. Michael*

        Part of the problem with the structure of MLMs, though, is that it’s basically impossible to remain a member of their ‘salesforce’ long-term without becoming complicit in recruiting and scamming new members, because the primary sales audience aren’t consumers outside the MLM, it’s new sellers.

        If someone gets involved, loses a ton of money, and gets out, I wouldn’t hold it against them ethically, though I might question their judgement. But those people aren’t putting it on their resumes, either. Anyone else isn’t making it in for an interview.

        That said, I also don’t think I’ve ever met someone who actually joined one. It’s like for-profit schools; I know they exist, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually went, much less put it on their resume.

  51. Koala dreams*

    You have already got answers regarding your mother’s resume, so I’m going to clear up some things about the business owner thing.

    It’s common for salespeople to rely on their own sales to make money, that’s called selling on commission. It’s a pay structure, and has nothing to do with the ownership. You can get commission as an owner (for example, as the owner of a consignment shop), as an employee, and so on. Generally, what makes someone a business owner is them owning a business, either by themselves or together with others. Unless they are actively working in the business, it’s not something to put on a resume. For example, if you own a hot dog stand, but it’s actually your niece that does the work, and your role is to show up a couple of times a year, say “Great work” to your niece, and sign a bunch of papers, then you shouldn’t put it on your resume. Your niece can put it on her resume, as a hot dog seller, employed by you (or your company). On the other hand, if you own the business and is the one selling the hot dogs, then you can put it on your resume. You are the business owner, and also the hot dog seller, and your work includes for example ordering supplies, cleaning, selling hot dogs, bookkeeping (and also signing a bunch of papers, of course).

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Nice analogy. It kinda comes down to risk and responsibility. If a Business Owner fails then the whole company goes under, there are collections, employees loose their jobs, and there is a black mark on your resume. But if you are a Sales Consultant and you fail, then you don’t make any commissions, the company still exists, people still have jobs, and everyone moves on without you.

      1. Koala dreams*

        The responsibility of the business owner will depend heavily on the size of the business, of course. Not all business owners have employees or leadership responsibility. If you are the owner and sole hot dog seller, and your business fails, then you will be out of a job and maybe have a lot of debt, but the impact on other people is minimal. It’s a very different experience compared to being the owner and manager of a hot dog stand with 10 employees. (Are there hot dog stands with 10 employees? Or would that be a hot dog shop?)

    2. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      Good point about the hands-off business owner. You can own a business, but if your only role in it is just collecting the profits, then it is really an asset and not a job and doesn’t belong on a resume. I mean you wouldn’t put on a resume that you have a trust fund you live off the interest of, or an apartment building that is completely managed by a property management company.

  52. What the What*

    She could list her occupation as “Lady Boss” and really grab that credibility.

    In all seriousness, my opinion is that if someone puts an MLM on a resume, they better be applying for a sales position or client-facing position. I also want to see very specific details about how they were successful.

    I’m not going to throw a resume with an MLM on it in the garbage – there are way too many MLMs in my region and doing so would unfairly discriminate against female candidates. But it’s highly likely to cause a credibility problem. Your credibility will suffer if you put a hobby down on your resume and pretend it’s a job. Likewise, it will make you appear incredibly naïve if you indicate you own a business when you’re an MLM rep. I will also ask questions about how successful you actually were, and if the answer is “not successful at all,” I’m going to factor that into my hiring decision.

  53. chickaletta*

    The thing that everyone in an MLM needs to be aware of is that the rest of us know about them and their sales structures. I think that MLM consultants are lead to believe that they can present themselves as “owners” as if the rest of us are completely unaware of the actual business structure. They can call themselves whatever they want inside the circle, but once they venture outside of the MLM itself, it’s best to be open and honest about their actual role.

  54. Fancy Owl*

    I think Sales Consultant is probably the right title, and how your mom tailors her resume will depend on what kinds of jobs she wants to do. If it’s a sales role focus on the sales numbers, for admin roles focus on administrative tasks or software learned. Management roles would be a tough sell because MLMers typically don’t do much real managing but if your mom went above and beyond to train her downline and she can quantify it… maybe?

    But I think the thing that will help most is adding a paragraph to her cover letter explaining why she wants to leave the MLM and showing self awareness about MLMs. Basically reassuring the employer that your mom isn’t unethical and won’t use this job for recruitment. If she isn’t planning to leave the MLM… that’s going to be an uphill battle.

    I would also coach her to avoid talking about her downline (unless she has to if she’s trying for management roles) or any MLM business speak. Downline is one of those things that’s only really impressive within MLMs. So if your mom is quoting sales numbers for a sales position she should just stick with her own numbers if she has them, rather than quoting the amount produced by her downline.

    All of this is assuming your mom has been working full time at this for 20 years and has no other work experience during that time. Otherwise, I’d agree with other comentors to just leave it off to avoid the stigma.

    1. Michael*

      Salesperson, please. Putting “consultant” into job titles that don’t actually do any, you know, consulting, is part of the same linguistic family as “CEO of My Name LLC.”

  55. Nee Attitude*

    John Oliver explain it very well in his MLM segment. You can search for it on YouTube.

  56. Darren Ferneyhough*

    Hi I am a business owner running a MLM business

    In response to Emma – All of the things you mentioned that you do, I do also. My Ltd company is also VAT registered, so I have that to take care of too. Plus I have payroll in addition as I pay the 2 directors of the company (of which I am one) a PAYE salary.

    If I’m mistaken I apologise but I’m guessing the point of your list of business duties was to suggest that having such duties is what determines that one is a business owner and someone who has fewer of none of these is not?

    Does that logic then also mean that since I have all of the duties in my business that you have stated above mean that even though I’m in the MLM business that I’m allowed to be called a business owner too?

    Is it the number of duties such as those in your list that makes the one with them a business owner but the one without them not a business owner?

    Does the addition of VAT & Payroll in my business mean that my business trumps yours and that I win, and that I can be a business owner but you can’t be because you don’t have as many duties as me?

    If then I as a MLMer am a business owner does that mean that all MLMers are therefore business owners?

    I suggest none of the above or all of the above or whichever one anyone personally chooses suits them if they feel it’s important to be defined at all.

    — End of response to Emma —-

    My view is as follows with regard to what is a business and what is not:

    1. If you are paid a salary or wage by a single employer then you are an employee
    2. If you get paid for the work that you do or the goods/services you provide by multiple entities (clients/customers) each time that you provide that work/service/goods then you are self-employed (even if you process the contracts, invoices & revenue through a ltd company the principle is the same)
    3. If you own a contract/organisation through which income is generated for you regardless of whether you are personally providing work/services/goods, then you own a business

    In MLM, when first starting out everyone is in category 2, however they also have a contract which enables them to transition to category 3 through learning the right skills and implementing them consistently, persistently and frequently enough to reach that stage.

    That’s just my personal view of what defines having business vs having or owning a job

    Someone else mentioned how a purchased Franchise would be an asset of a business – I agree that is the case, but there are other assets that can also be considered the same way for example a contract with a MLM company that entitles the owner to the residual income resulting from the ongoing purchases from the consumers within the network that has been built over time. The contract between my ltd company and the MLM company I have a partnership with is an asset of the company and may be sold if we so chose.

    One of my colleagues who also owns a business in partnership with the same MLM company previously owned 7 Subway franchises and sold them all in order to just focus on the MLM business instead – his organisation (the direct and indirect customers and affiliates added by him) has generated over $1B in revenue since he made this decision, and his profits from this exceed $50M to date and continue to roll in at a substantial 7-figure sum annually as do the incomes of many others that I have come to know since I started by business. My business income is still only in the 6-figure range but I look forward to breaking the 7-figure threshold in the near future and am moving closer to that all the time.

    I’ve owned traditional businesses before, I’ve bought, founded, built and sold several and have banked a 7-figure sum when doing so on one occasion. I have also been forced into bankruptcy by personally guaranteeing the liabilities of one of my companies in the past.

    I’ve learned a lot about different business structures, where the headaches lie, where the risks are and which business structures I personally feel are better than others for what I feel is important to me in life.

    At this stage in my business career I don’t really care whether someone thinks I’m a business owner or not to be honest, I’m just glad to be where I am today enjoying a fantastic business and life that is rewarding on multiple levels (no pun intended!), and the opinions of others don’t make any difference at all to this

    If my experiences and views as described here have been useful to anyone reading this I’m pleased to have been able to add positively to the conversation

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