How Job Seekers Can Foil Employer Ploys

Three things to watch out for.

Posted Sep 14, 2019

Rumble Press, CC 2.0
Source: Rumble Press, CC 2.0

I sit on both sides of the table, so I too often see dubious and sometimes outright dishonest tactics from both the employer and the job seeker.

In the spirit of encouraging the best people to get hired by the most worthy employers, here are tactics I’ve often observed and how to preempt or counter them. This article describes employer ploys and how to foil them. The companion article describes ploys that employees play on employers to look better than they are.

The ploy: An employer places a job when job seekers don’t have a chance of getting a job. The employer has posted the job for one or more reasons:

  • Most nefarious, s/he wants dozens of candidates to submit “work samples” to get important work done for free. One example: A start-up wanted to market its new product, so it placed an ad for a vice-president of marketing and required all applicants to submit a marketing plan for the product. The employer never intended to hire anyone, only to have the existing marketing person use the best ideas from applicants’ marketing plans.
  • More often, a no-chance job is posted because it’s legally required. The employer may have an inside candidate picked out or will hire only a person from an underrepresented demographic. If you’re not in the desired group, you’re wasting your time applying. The employer may even call you in for the full series of interviews, merely to give the appearance of conducting a thorough search, but no matter how well you do, no matter how strong your references, you won’t get the job.
  • Sometimes, an employer posts a job ad to see who’s looking. For example, if a number of people from one of its competitors are applying, it suggests that competing firm is vulnerable. Or more often, if a star from a key competitor is applying, the employer would hire such a person but no one else. So unless you’re said star, again you’re wasting your time applying.

Foiling the ploy

Control the amount of work you put in. Yes, if you’re a good fit for a desired job, write a custom application. But if asked to provide an extensive work sample, provide only a bit, saying, “This should be enough for you to assess if I’m worth interviewing (or hiring.) Hire me and if you like, I’ll produce the rest, with quality and expeditiously.” Yes, that could eliminate you from some jobs but an ethical employer, the kind you want to work for, will accept that, maybe even respect you for that.

If you get a first interview, right after you’ve given an answer that seems to have impressed the interviewer, say something like, “It sounds like we might have a fit here but before we go any further, as you know, sometimes a job is posted but it’s wired or, in fact, the employer isn’t likely to fill this position. Do you know the true story with this position?” You may or may not get an honest  answer but asking it does reduce the risk of your unnecessarily going through a bunch of stressful interviews for naught.

The ploy: Employers ask applicants to list their salary history and/or salary expectations. That enables employers to find the best candidate for the money. Applicants are in a difficult situation: If their previous salary was lower than what the employer would be willing to pay, their pay offer would be adjusted downward. If their previous salary is higher than other similar candidates, they will be eliminated. The same applies to a job application that asks for salary expectation. If the candidate states too low a number, s/he could forfeit thousands. If the candidate states too high a number, s/he could be eliminated from consideration even if willing to accept a somewhat lower salary.

Foiling the ploy. In many jurisdictions, it’s now illegal for employers to ask for salary history. This site lists those.

If asked for your salary requirements, provide a number that’s the highest side of fair. So, if your research, for example, using colleagues, Glassdoor, Payscale, and indicates the range for the position with your amount of experience in your geographic area is $75,000 to 85,000, I’d write $85,000 even $90,000. If the application allows a range, I’d write “$80,000 to $90,000 depending on the specifics of the position and the non-cash benefits.”

The ploy: In the ad or in the interview, make the job seem better than it will be.

Foiling the ploy:  Check out the workplace with a Google-search of the name of the employer and the phrase "employee reviews." Also consult Ask questions in the interview such as, “How many hours a week would you actually expect me to work?” “What would you like me to accomplish in the first 30 days?" "Every boss is different, What would your supervisees say is distinctive about you and about the culture here?" "Why might someone not fit well?" You can’t ask more than one or two of these questions without risking appearing too high-maintenance. But the answer and facial expressions of the other interviewers (in a group interview) to even one or two questions can be illuminating.

Also, when offered the job, if possible, ask to negotiate terms in person. Not only does that signal that you won’t just take the first offer, it gives you a chance to assess the vibe in the workplace: Are most people working diligently but relaxedly? Also, you can hang out in the breakroom, listen to the chit-chat, and maybe ask questions like, “I just was offered a job here. What should I know about working here?” You may not get full disclosure, but with your antennae out, you can usually get a sense.

The ploy: A lowball offer.  Employers make a lowball offer knowing it increases the chances the candidate will, if not accept that, accept an offer that's only marginally higher, an offer that's less than the employer would be willing to pay.

Foiling the ploy: Come armed with salary data from colleagues and websites such as Glassdoor, Payscale, and Make the case for why you're worth the top end of the range suggested by those comps. Or preempt a lowball offer by, when told an offer is forthcoming or even in the interview, saying that you're expecting a salary between X and Y, with Y being perhaps 10% more than the high side of fair. Also, focus on non-cash items, which may be more negotiable and are nontaxable, for example, a training budget or job description revised to emphasize your strengths.

As mentioned, a companion article describes how employers can foil job seekers' unethical ploys.

I ad-lib on this topic on YouTube.