Watch Out When Job Hunting

Some simple steps can avoid risks and pitfalls.

By Dirk Willard, Contributing Editor

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It seemed too good to be true. Dow Corning was looking for production engineers at its new Hemlock, Mich., facility. I turned down this job initially because of low pay; now it was being offered at a good rate and without delay. All I had to do was fill out a background check and I could be working in two-to-three weeks. The recruiter needed my license and social security numbers and some additional personal information. The minute I hung up the phone it dawned on me — nothing is that perfect.

I read the email. I checked off all my concerns: 1) no last name was given for the company human resources (HR) manager; 2) I always got voicemail when I called the recruiter; 3) the signature block for the recruiter didn’t contain an address, return email, phone number or any reference to a website; and 4) an HR certification wasn’t mentioned on the recruiter’s website. It’s not unusual for a company HR manager to exclude a phone number but this was another issue. Lastly was the insistence that I complete all the paperwork immediately, which was right before the July 4th weekend. Instead, feeling a bit wary, I decided not to provide any information until I received a signed job offer via express mail.

The next day I contacted a couple of recruiters through LinkedIn. Sure enough — there was a problem. The consensus was that I should directly contact Dow Corning HR, which, like for all big corporations, is a serious challenge. I managed to get a phone number via Google maps but wasn’t able to speak to anyone at HR. I also found that the job request on Monster had been pulled for several weeks. No such job was listed on the Dow Corning website, either. Frustrated, I finally sent an email to security at the company.

More than trickery can pose hazards to job-hunting chemical engineers.

Dow Corning’s security manager called after the holiday to say something looked fishy. He’d checked with HR to see if such a job existed. It didn’t. I told him that I’d worked with a company called Ambitech a few months back on this position; he’d heard of the firm.

With the information I was asked for someone could steal my identity. The security manager said this sort of thing happens all the time. It could be sinister or a new recruiter starting out by trying to accumulate resumes. Often, it’s a competitor calling an ex-employee to fish for confidential information.

Stealing confidential information is easier than you think. When I was an Air Force officer, I was told the Russians specialized in piecing together snippets of innocent conversation to capture secrets.

One of the recruiters I had contacted via LinkedIn informed me that one of her engineers had applied for a refinery job in Russia only to find out that no such job existed. The poor guy was in the process of selling his house and relocating. She had seen the formwork and it looked genuine. This seemed like a lot of work to steal someone’s identity, but it’s fairly easy to set up a fake website.

Another recruiter told me of a telephone scam. Here’s how it worked: A job hunter gets a message, asking the person to call a number in Tennessee; the number is transferred overseas, racking up a charge of $100/minute while the pseudo-recruiter keeps the caller on the line as long as possible. Charges don’t apply to received calls, only dialed ones.

How did the situation in Hemlock work out? Oddly, it was a real job. The recruiter who contacted me was so worried about losing a job that he left off much of the information I needed to feel secure. The company had it’s own dread — of being swamped by resumes. Together, these fears translated into an atmosphere of doubt. Of course, once you’re assured that a position is real, there are other challenges.

Sometime a great job comes with low pay. I suggest negotiating a contract-to-hire deal with a deadline. At the end of the deadline either of you can walk away. In today’s job market it looks better if you’re working. If the only option is to take the low pay, accept the job but keep looking. After all, you’re in it for the money — if someone expects you to work for less than what you’re worth, don’t feel guilty about leaving fairly soon. Should you need to include the low pay on an application form, make sure you can provide a good reason for it.

If you’ve worked contracts and are applying for a direct position, you must convert an hourly rate, without benefits, to a salary with benefits. I’ve done some checking. In comparing contract work to salary, remember that benefits account for $12,000–$15,000/year.

Job-hunting is tough — but it’s a lot easier with careful study and common sense.


Dirk Willard is a Chemical Processing Contributing Editor. You can e-mail him at dwillard@putman.net.

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