July 23, 2009 -- When Brian, a recent college grad, applied for a copywriting job with a furniture manufacturer last year, he got more than he bargained for.
Although the online ad he answered and the manufacturer's Web site depicted "an innocuous foam furniture company," the e-mail asking Brian to come in for an interview revealed that the company also produced a line of sex furniture, complete with its own site of softcore demo videos. Barely scraping by on unemployment and in dire need of a paycheck, Brian decided he'd keep an open mind and give the gig a chance.
On the day of the interview, Brian was greeted by a collection of Playboys neatly arranged on a table in the lobby. He was then handed a catalog full of naked models by the receptionist, who he recognized as one of the actresses doing naked demos of the furniture online.
In the meeting with the executive that followed -- held in plain view of a 15-foot glass display case of, well, erotic aids -- Brian learned that the job primarily consisted of writing product descriptions of sex toys, furniture and accessories.
"I somehow maintained a professional demeanor and even managed to ask a few thoughtful follow-up questions," said Brian, who's a firm believer in getting interview practice and was more amused than annoyed by the situation. "But I thought about my parents explaining to their friends what I did for a living and realized I could never seriously accept an offer unless it paid a ton."
Sadly, get-rich-quick, work-at-home and identity theft scams aren't the only chaff crowding the job boards. Countless job seekers have wasted their time chasing after a position that didn't pay, didn't exist or, as in Brian's case, didn't at all resemble its online listing.
Herewith, some of the most duplicitous types of job listings readers have recently encountered online and precautions you can take to avoid falling for them yourself.
Did We Say Full-Time Manager? We Meant Part-Time Assistant
Sharon, a software developer and tester for a decade, fell victim to a "ghost post" last year, thanks to a misunderstanding between the person who placed the job listing and the actual hiring manager.
The day after Sharon applied for the job -- a full-time managerial position that matched her experience to a tee -- the HR person who'd placed the ad called to screen her. During the positive phone interview that ensued, trumpets heralded and angels sang. Sharon was hopeful she'd found the position of her dreams.
But Sharon's face-to-face meeting with the hiring manager sent her crashing back down to earth.
"The lead/manager position was neither a lead nor manager position," Sharon explained. "In fact, none of the lead/management skills that were posted on the job ad were necessary."
Instead, the hiring manager said he wanted someone who had only a year or two of experience in the field, rather than the six to eight years mentioned in the job listing.
"I would be taking a big step backwards in my career," said Sharon, who'd postponed a family trip three days for the interview.
To make matters worse, as Sharon was leaving the hour-long interview, the hiring manager casually mentioned that he wanted to change the position from employee to temporary status, meaning no benefits and no guarantee how long the job would last.
"Furious doesn't even come close to describing my feelings," she said.
Entry-Level Bait and Switch
While hunting for her first post-collegiate job, Simone answered an ad for an entry-level marketing professional, only to find it was a door-to-door sales gig in disguise.
"As I went through the interview process with this company, I kept ignoring the feeling that something wasn't quite right," Simone said.
Specifically, the office was empty, save for the receptionist. Plus, the interviewer spent the entire meeting trying to sell Simone on what a wonderful opportunity the job was -- and how much money she stood to make -- rather than asking any questions about herself and her experience.
Still, when the receptionist called asking her to do a day of on-the-job training -- even mentioning she should wear comfortable shoes -- Simone obliged. She did need a job, after all.
Upon arriving for her training, Simone was paired with another young woman and asked to get in her car, "a trashy beater filled to the brim with clothing and empty food containers." When the woman revealed that they'd be selling tickets door to door for professional sporting events and Simone demanded she turn the car around, the woman tried to talk her out of it for "a good 5 to 10 minutes" before complying.
Down the Recruiter Rabbit Hole
While recruiters and headhunters can often be reliable partners for finding work, Carlo, a senior executive in the high-tech sector, encountered the recruiter from hell earlier this year.
The recruiter, recommended by one of Carlo's peers, e-mailed to say he had an immediate job opening he wanted to discuss with Carlo. Although employed, the executive was intrigued. So he bit.
After a preliminary phone chat, Carlo agreed to a meeting at the recruiter's office, only to learn that there was -- surprise! -- no position. Instead, the recruiter -- a one-man operation -- was stockpiling potential candidates and corporate contacts in an effort to build his new practice.
But that wasn't the only thing about the meeting that got Carlo steamed.
"During the conversation, he let it slip that right before I came in, he had spoken to my former boss -- without asking for my consent," Carlo said. In addition, the recruiter shared some unsavory gossip about Carlo's former boss.
Worried about the possible damage this loose-lipped, fibbing recruiter could do to his career, Carlo suggested the guy delete him from his database.
Don't Get Duped
Unfortunately, all these practices are fairly common. So how do you avoid being misled by a less-than-factual job listing?
Skip the vague ads. "If there are no specifics in the job description, that obviously is a red flag," said Miriam Salpeter of Keppie Careers, a job hunting consultancy in Atlanta. "If the salary range is very broad, like $30,000 to $100,000, that's also a red flag."
Research the company. If the listing doesn't give the organization's name and you get called for an interview, request it so you can research the firm accordingly, said Janet Civitelli, associate director of the University of Houston's student and alumni career services center. Ask for the names of some of the people you'll be interviewing with too. "If a company balks, that is warning sign number one," she said.
Ask for the details. If you want to know what you'll be marketing, who the company's clients are or whether the job involves selling steak knives door to door and you can't find this information on the Web, ask. If you want assurance that the job a recruiter is calling you about is indeed available now -- with the necessary funding in place -- say so.
Don't let desperation cloud your judgment. Don't relinquish all your control to those doing the hiring. "Rely on those instincts that we all have," said Salpeter. "Don't push them under your radar just because you need a job."
Know that you can Google a company, sniff them out with your professional network or the Better Business Bureau, and ask questions to your heart's content and still not smell a rat. Some sneaky job listings are that good, as several of the job hunters profiled here will attest.
If you do catch a whiff of something foul -- even mid-interview -- don't be afraid to speak up.
"You have the right to say, 'This isn't the job I applied for,"' Salpeter said.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.