Job hunters: It's a jungle out there, so be careful when applying

Some job postings are outright scams, designed purely to steal personal identity information. Others are fishing expeditions without any real opening. Still others ask for information upfront that is either illegal or unnecessary.

It's not easy for job seekers to separate the real from the fake, the true opportunities from the ones not worth pursuing.

An applicant I'll call "Bob" encountered the latter experience. After preparing for an interview that he thought perfectly matched his experience, he was interviewed by someone in a company human resources department who didn't ask a single question relevant to the job he sought.

"I later found out from an inside source that the company will sometimes post a generic job to pull in applicants," Bob wrote me. "I prepped for hours for a job that didn't exist."

Bob was out time and emotional energy.

"Angel" could have been out more than that.

A single mom searching for a work-from-home opportunity, Angel was ready to respond to an online posting that promised incomes of hundreds of dollars a week with little time spent. But to get in on the deal, she was asked to buy a "starter package."

Fortunately, Angel called to ask if I'd heard of the company. I didn't even bother to research it. The cardinal rule for job seekers is never pay to apply for a job. Legitimate employers won't ask you to pay for an interview or for any product before they have hired you.

"Tom" called to hear my opinion about job applications that ask for Social Security numbers. My answer is always what I've heard from employment law attorneys and many human resources officers: You shouldn't be required to share your Social Security number until the employer is seriously considering making a job offer contingent on their completing research into your background.

Repeatedly, I'm told that demanding Social Security numbers on initial job applications is unwise and, frankly, a lazy way of handling the hiring process. It also leaves job hunters vulnerable to identity theft. Just think how many job applications lie around offices.

Nonetheless, the request is rampant.

Many job hunters have a hard decision. Some online applications won't let you proceed if you don't fill in every required blank. And even if you can proceed without filling in your Social Security number, you don't know if failure to provide the number will toss your application from consideration. There is no absolute good answer.

A job search counselor suggested another warning sign of a possibly sketchy job -- or at least one that won't meet your expectations. That occurs when the job title is lofty, maybe a vice president or director, but the duties say worker bee.

Some employers aim for higher-caliber applicants by inflating the job title. If you're suspicious, try to find the pay being offered. If it seems way low for the title, it's likely the job won't be what you hoped.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to Follow her online at and