Before moving to DC for a Master’s program, I had been in school most of my life (20 years) and had never held a full-time job.
I finished high school, went to college for 4 years, enrolled in a PhD program for another 4 years, and left the program with a Master’s.
I was longing for a real job which would soon put a stop to my multiple part-time jobs with no benefits.
I was fortunate to get the education on full-ride scholarships and assistantships, but I was already ready to make money.
I needed to make money.
The job search
Life is not always what we plan. In the last semester of my Master’s program, I gave birth to our first child, Baby FAF.
Prior to the delivery, I had frantically tried to get ahead of my school work and submitted hundreds of job applications.
After one month of bed rest, I resumed my job search. Mr. FAF was still in school and made a meager stipend as a graduate student.
It would be expensive for me and Baby FAF to join his health insurance plan (an additional $7,000/year).
Although my in-laws came all the way from China to help us take care of Baby FAF, they couldn’t support us financially forever.
We needed a real income.
I remember those mind-numbing months when my days revolved around pumping, looking up job vacancies, writing cover letters, and submitting job applications.
I must have sent out more than 300 applications and dreaded any job opening that required filling out a long application form.
“Can they just read my resume and cover letter?” I thought to myself, feeling frustrated, exhausted, and distressed.
All I wanted at the time was a full-time job
At one point, I just wanted to give up on everything and not worry about anything. But life is not so simple. I had a baby and a family to take care of.
Mr. FAF and I also talked about him dropping out of the PhD program and finding a full-time job to reduce the financial stress we were going through. Mr. FAF indeed got a job offer from a tech company in the DC area.
In the end, however, he decided that finishing the PhD program was his goal, and he wanted to accomplish it.
I didn’t want Mr. FAF to regret dropping out in the future and resent the fact that he had to do it because of Baby FAF and me. I supported his decision to stick with the PhD program. Also, I didn’t want him to be a PhD dropout like me. I wanted him to succeed.
I was growing increasingly tired of the job search. “There has to be an easier way to get a job!” With that thought in mind, I went on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com.
I was delighted to find a one-click application process where I just needed to submit my resume once and click on whatever job I wanted to apply to.
It was a breeze.
I wasn’t sure how it’d all work out, but I was excited to see what I could get.
Plus, it was a nice break from all the mind-numbing and lengthy applications that I was combing through.
Within 5 minutes, I got 10 requests for interviews. I was curious who was be so e
ager to interview me without even reading my cover letters.
The job titles were mainly Marketing Associate, Marketing Assistant, and Insurance Agent. Basically, they all had to do with marketing and insurance. It was late April and early May.
Usually, the job interview process would start out with a phone or Skype call, followed by in-person interviews. However, I got a response email from a marketing company asking for an in-person interview right away. I was intrigued and excited.
Deep down, I knew something was a bit off and too good to be true. I shared my excitement and concerns with Mr. FAF. Being a supportive husband, Mr. FAF told me to give it a shot and offered to drive me to the interview place.
Related: The Poor Life Of A PhD Student
The marketing company was located in a small office.
When I arrived, I saw 15 other people in business attire waiting to be interviewed at the front desk.
There were 3 main interviewers: a woman and two men.
The woman wasn’t wearing business attire.
In fact, I even thought to myself that she could go to a club on a Saturday night with her outfit: casual and a bit revealing. She came out of her office every 15 minutes or so asking the next person to come in.
My interview lasted about 30 minutes. A male interview asked me the standard questions such as:
— Tell me a bit about yourself.
— Why do you want to work with us?
— What are your strengths and weaknesses?
The next day I got a phone call from the company asking me to come in for a second interview. This time, I was interviewed by a Korean American man. I’m not sure if it had anything to do with the fact that I’m Asian. But it didn’t seem to matter that much. Let’s call him Matt.
Matt was well spoken and polite. He took me to a nearby Panera and started chatting about the company and how he started working there. He paid for my mango milkshake with his corporate credit card.
Matt asked me a couple of standard interview questions and started telling me about all the wonderful perks I could get after working for the company for a couple of years.
He said his manager made around $200,000 a year (which he later said he shouldn’t have disclosed to me) and could take a vacation whenever he wanted without having to check with anyone.
Matt told me he had a degree in Communications and later accepted an offer from the company since he was passionate about marketing and believed in the mission of the company.
He said his first few months were tough, but later on he climbed up the corporate ladder to get to a managerial position which I could get one day.
It sounded all perfect until he got into the detail of what exactly what it was I would have to do to get to such a seamless promotion in the company:
– I would have to drive to designated areas and knock on everyone’s door to tell them about Verizon and their great service for 2-3 months. If I did well on the job, I could finish the training early and start my new role as an interviewer.
– I would have to pay for gas out of pocket and woudn’t get any reimbursements.
– After deducting all the out-of-pocket expenses, I’d get roughly $2.5 an hour.
Matt said all of the “challenges” above would be temporary, and that one day I could get promoted to a managerial position and get the same perks as his boss did.
He even talked about the company’s plan to expand their offices to new locations in the US, and that I could be the head of one of those offices one day. In short, the job might pay just pennies, but in the future it would pay off big time.
As I was listening to the man talking, I gradually realized that the company was a pyramid scheme. I wouldn’t have to pay them directly to join the marketing network, but I would give them money indirectly by contributing my free labor to their operation for 2-3 months.
The company itself had no legitimate product or service. They made money through preying on people who desperately needed a job and who believed in the promise of money and vacation with no or little hard work.
What Matt failed to mention to me was the fact that most people gave up before the three-month training ended, so they never got to get promoted or enjoy the perks like he had described.
The company managed to constantly turn over employees and never lost out on the training costs like a traditional company would. The “training period” was when the marketing company made money off of their victim employees.
I only found out about this later on after I gave the whole process more thought and did some research online to confirm my suspicion.
1. There is no easy way to success.
What I learned from this whole experience is that if there is no easy way to make money and live a good life. After this ordeal, I went back to the traditional route of submitting resumes and cover letters.
It took me a lot of time to submit those applications, but it finally paid off. I eventually landed an internship and a full-time job which I current work at. I had to go through four rounds of interviews with about ten people to get my current job.
There have been times when I got frustrated at work, but the scam job offer also reminds me of how fortunate I am to even have a job that helps me pay the bills, covers our family’s health insurance, and helps me take care of my family both financially and emotionally.
We can’t be happy if we always experience financial stress.
2. Beware of scams
The experience also shows me that there are a lot of companies and people out there who are always ready to prey on the naive and the vulnerable.
I’m sure you’ve heard about financial advisors who try to sell you products because they can make a commission from the sale, mortgage lenders who use the switch-and-bait tactic to get you hooked on a low mortgage rate and later raise it on the closing day, credit card companies who want you to open as many credit cards as possible so that they can make money off of you, and so much more.
After almost falling into a pyramid scheme trap, I’ve been learning to be more careful about the product or service that other people and companies offer, especially when it seems too good to be true.
3. Hard work (usually) pays off.
I am a strong believer in the value of hard work. There are cases where some people achieve fame and wealth in a short period of time, but it doesn’t always happen that way.
Even for many personal finance bloggers such like Mr. Money Mustache and Joe at Retire by 40, they retired early afters years of saving and investing wisely while maintaining a frugal life. Their early retirement happened because they worked hard and didn’t give into the temptation of lifestyle inflation.
4. It’s worth it to pursue financial freedom.
And most importantly, how wonderful it’d be if we no longer have to rely on our job for all or most of the good things we have in life? That’s why achieving financial freedom has become one of my goals.
Financial freedom’s not my burning desire, but I know it can set me free one day. If I ever have to write a cover letter for a job application, I want it to be a job that I want to do no matter how much it pays.
I want Mr. FAF and me to be in control of our finances and not let our desperation and vulnerability be preyed upon by those who care solely about money.
We will have more courage to say no when we don’t have to wonder what if we don’t take those offers that seem too good to be true. People make mistakes when they are desperate. And we are no exception.
Related: Top 5 Financial Mistakes In My 20s
Sometimes I wonder how many people have fallen into the traps of the marketing firm that offered me my first full-time job.
I hope they either realized that it was a scam or quit after realizing that all the perks they were offered were just to lure them into offering their free or low-cost labor.
I also wonder if the people working at the company know what service or product they are offering to their future employees. This is the ladder of promotion at the company that I observed:
1. Entry-level employees who go door-to-door marketing whatever product the company tells them to.
2. Interviews who try to lure new people into accepting entry-level positions.
3. Managers who symbolize the future benefits entry employees could get.
I’m not sure what positions there are above managers, but I am still surprised that so many people fall into this trap. To some, it may be a land of promise. But to me, it’s a landmine I’d like to stay away from.