Andrew Tan spent 18 months looking for a job before taking up his new senior IT role in Melbourne last week. He says he often had the sneaking suspicion that some of the jobs he applied for weren't actually real.
"I applied for about 50 jobs, with each one taking a varying degree of effort to customise a cover letter and my CV."
"In the beginning, the jobs looked real to me so I'd engage. Over time I realised that some were probably a waste of time. That was demoralising. When you're a job seeker you already have to deal with an ocean of rejection — there were definitely times when I was down."
Tan also updated his LinkedIn profile to say that he was looking for work, which led to a flurry of inquiries from recruitment consultants. But with a few exceptions, everything turned out to be a total dead end.
"When recruiters on LinkedIn approached me, they'd often be quite vague and the feeling I got was that they were phishing for CVs to fill a quota or something."
Matthew Trevor is currently looking for work as an IT developer and he too has a hunch that some of the job opportunities he's seen over the past few months have been fakes.
"A lot of the jobs I see advertised are the exact same position being advertised by the same recruitment agency. It always says something generic like, 'Amazing client and location.' When I applied and got a call from the agency, the first question they asked me is 'What type of job are you looking for?'
"Huh? The job I was looking for is the one I applied for. It makes me suspect that the job doesn't exist, but I don't say anything because I don't want to rock the boat."
Fake jobs are out there
Recruitment industry insiders told news.com.au that the practice of posting fake job ads is shockingly common.
"Fake job ads are part of the skulduggery that goes on this industry," said a Melbourne-based recruitment agency owner who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"People advertise bullsh*t jobs to make up their weekly stats. In most business models, staff are measured by how many candidates they interview and how many annoying cold calls they make. These companies tend to be high-volume, low-margin operations."
The insider said that one of the problems with Australia's recruitment industry is that it's ineffectively regulated, which means that unethical or even illegal behaviour can go unchecked.
"There's a professional body called the RCA but it's a toothless tiger, with no compulsory membership."
Forced to lie
Julia works for one of Australia's largest recruitment agencies. She told news.com.au that fake jobs and even fake interviews are "standard practice" at her company and that fake jobs are advertised across all industries and levels of seniority.
"The reason we do fake interviews is because we don't want to wait for a real job to come in before we speak to candidates. That would make the process really slow and we wouldn't meet our monthly targets. This way, as soon as you get a real job you can say to the client, 'Here's the candidate. I already met them last week.'"
When Julia first joined the company, she broached the subject of misleading job applicants with her boss and was reprimanded.
"When I said: 'Oh, so we post fake jobs,' my boss told me not to use the word 'fake'. He was defensive and said: 'We call it 'inventory recruiting.'"
"I understand why recruiters do it, but it's obviously dehumanising the candidate because it's treating them as a resource rather than a person. It feels heartless knowing they won't ever hear back from me," Julia added.
Julia said fake job interviews make her even more uncomfortable when the candidate is very nervous or eager — and let's face it, many of us are in that situation.
"When someone is really keen and they ask me a lot of questions about the role I feel bad. I'm not that great at lying. And then when they're like: "Oh, that sounds amazing," I think: 'Oh s**t, I've just sold them the best job that doesn't even exist'."
Sarah Macartney, Corporate Communications Manager Australia New Zealand at SEEK, told news.com.au that every effort was made to detect and remove fake job ads from Australia's biggest online jobs marketplace.
"We have a very tight process for regulating job ads and our terms and conditions stipulate that all job ads must be for actual, real jobs," she said. "If we find out that they are not, they are immediately taken down from SEEK."
A spokesman from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said that Australian consumer laws specifically prohibited a company from doing anything that was likely to mislead people about the availability, nature, terms or conditions of employment.
"If a recruitment company was advertising fake jobs to meet quotas, this could constitute a breach of [the law]; however, it would depend on the individual circumstances of the matter, including the representations made to potential job seekers," the spokesman said.
Catching out a recruitment agency is tricky — how do you actually prove it's a fake job? Julia said her company recently came close to being exposed when they copy-and-pasted a real job that they'd previously advertised on behalf of one of their clients. The client recognised themselves in the replicated job description after receiving calls from candidates who had tried contacting them directly.
"We just said to the client: 'Oh, no — it just sounds similar. We blew them off," Julia recalled.
Michael Berger is the director of the Brisbane-based recruitment firm Talent Blueprint. He says there are several reasons why fake jobs are advertised, such as to test the market if the recent hire isn't working out.
"As a recruiter, I think that advertising fake jobs is just a desperate move," he said. "It's amateur as well. Most of the best candidates come from referrals and your network. If you haven't got a job available but you'd would love to meet someone, just be honest about it."
Another common reason for fake job ads is straight-out CV collecting, Berger said.
"Agencies are notorious for it. They'll put up a really attractive job ad so that they get a bunch of CVs that they can then use to market to other clients."
It's not always recruitment agencies posting fake jobs either. Berger said he had heard of unscrupulous marketing companies posting fake ads so that they could amass peoples' personal details and then use them for targeted mailing lists. (Think of it this way — post a job for an accountant and later sell them accounting software.)
Fake job ads are also used to commit outright theft, such as asking 'candidates' to deposit money for police clearances once they reach 'the final stages' of a job application.
"They take the money and disappear," says Berger.
Last year, the ACCC's Scamwatch received 2567 reports about employment scams, while individuals reported that $1.4 million of their money went missing to scammers.
Top tips for avoiding fake jobs:
• Be wary of job ads that are overly vague, seem too good to be true or use unprofessional email services (such as Yahoo mail).
• Julia recommends applying for jobs where there is detailed information about the team you will be working with, because that is something that recruitment companies tend not to make up.
• If a recruitment company refuses to tell you the name of the company once you're in the shortlist, it's better to keep your distance.