How to Avoid Entry-Level Marketing Job Scams

business people outside

Paul Bradbury / Caiaimage / Getty Images

Entry-level marketing jobs typically involve a unique blend of sales, customer service, consumer psychology, graphic design, and data analytics. And while some marketing positions are this and more, the marketing employment industry is known for deception, scams, and 100%-commission sales jobs.

Technically speaking, a scam is fraud. However, the term now encompasses a broader set of devious practices.

When falling for an entry-level marketing job scam, you may make some money, but you are likely not getting anything close to what you were promised.

Tips for Avoiding Entry-Level Marketing Job Scams

Not all entry-level marketing jobs are scams. However, it is getting more difficult for job seekers to distinguish between legitimate marketing job postings and deceptive ones.

Most of the job postings that turn out to be scams are posted by companies using a very loose interpretation of the phrases "sports marketing," “be your own boss,” and "entertainment marketing" to attract excited college students and recent graduates:

  • Legitimate sports marketing involves acquiring and managing corporate event sponsorships or endorsements.
  • Being your own boss truly means starting your own business.
  • Entertainment marketing means working alongside celebrities, thought leaders, and influential media outlets.

However, once you’ve initiated contact with these employers, you’ll find that they want you to sell unnecessary products door-to-door, recruit someone else to sell for you (known as a pyramid scheme), or worse. These positions may pay, but you will quickly find out that you’ve been lured into a job that you were not expecting. Some of them will even charge you to “join” the team.

How the Scams Work

Who wouldn't get excited and want to click on a job posting with titles like those below?

  • ***IMMEDIATE HIRE*** Work With PRO Sports! We Will Train!
  • FRESH TALENT NEEDED - Entry Level Marketing
  • Start Your Career in Sports and Entertainment Marketing!!!
  • ***We expect to fill 10 positions ASAP!*** TRAINING PROVIDED!!

These kinds of job postings specifically target ambitious high school graduates and college students and graduates. The employers hope that you get too interested in the job to do your own research or ask probing questions.

If you’re a college student or recent graduate looking for an entry-level marketing job or internship, you must first recognize how difficult they can be to find. If you find that the interview process is surprisingly easy, then you should be suspicious. Ideally, you should work with your career services office, a mentor, or one of your professors to help you land a reliable position.

How to Identify a Scam

As you peruse job postings, here are a few things that can help you identify entry-level marketing job scams.

Getting the Call Back

Job scammers will take anyone expressing an interest. If you submit a resume, they will contact you immediately for an interview. They may even do a phone interview right away and give you the impression that you are a prime candidate for the open position. The next step is an in-person interview.

The Interview Process

Here is an example of a classic marketing scam scenario. You'll show up for your in-person interview in your Sunday best. There's a good chance that it will be your first job interview ever. You'll be nervous, but excited.

Then you'll realize that this isn't an interview at all. You'll be expected to get into a car with a current employee and ride along to a neighborhood that may not be nearby.

Your "interviewer" will tell you to take one side of the street while they take the other side, and you'll start selling coupons door to door. The coupons often have something to do with major sports teams or entertainment venues. (This gives them the “legitimacy” to call the work “sports and entertainment marketing.")

You may feel uncomfortable and ask to return home or to the office. The interviewer will then employ shaming or intimidation tactics to get you to change your mind.

No one should have to go through such an experience. But unfortunately, these things happen more often than we would like to think.

The less overt marketing scams might involve formal office interviews, but at the end of the day, the employer expects you to sell unusual things in unusual places and will pay you as little as possible (unless you successfully recruit your friends and family!).

Multi-Level Marketing Scams (Pyramid Schemes)

A somewhat controversial, yet legitimate, way of doing business is through a multi-level marketing (MLM) setup. The idea is to build a following, manage your team, and then encourage your team members to build their own following, too.

Good MLM companies do not charge you to get involved, and they usually offer good products or services.

And while MLM companies strongly encourage you to build your own team, they do not coerce you into harassing your friends and family.

However, what makes MLM companies controversial is their tendency to exaggerate the income you’re likely to make. You will initially work hard for moderate income, at best.

In contrast, a pyramid scheme asks for a financial investment and promises you that you will make it back, and more, faster than you could imagine.

Products and services are usually of low quality and overpriced. Most importantly, pyramid schemes try to force you to harass others with what is now your own pyramid scheme.

How to Find the Right Jobs

It's not impossible to find great entry-level or internship positions in marketing. However, it is important that you recognize that some of the better positions might be more difficult to acquire. At the same time, if you find an employer that is thrilled to hire you, you need not feel overly suspicious.

To help you get a sense of what is available and what's a legitimate offer, here are some insights.

Finding a Good Marketing Internship

The idea behind a marketing internship is to reinforce classroom instruction with professional experience. Despite the notion of interns being the ones who “get the coffee,” internships are instructive since they expose students and aspiring marketers to the way an agency works.

As such, a marketing agency/department should be reputable and robust. You will be expected to do a great deal of grunt work. But instead of your work being door-to-door sales, you will be supporting full-time staff members with data-entry and marketing-research tasks.

In addition to grunt work, you will get to experience creative projects, collaborative teamwork, and deadlines. You will walk away with a clear understanding of what a marketing position looks and feels like.

The best way to find a good internship position is to research companies and brands that you admire.

On company websites, they will usually post internship opportunities and how to apply for them. Your college will also have on-campus resources letting you know of marketing internships that come highly recommended.

Finding a Good Entry-Level Marketing Position

Getting a good entry-level marketing position is not too different from finding a good internship:

  • Having a good idea of what brands you’d love to work for can help you narrow your search.
  • Your college will have job assistance offices, coaches, or opportunities available to students.
  • You can also use only job sites to locate reputable entry-level marketing jobs. One of the best ways to research entry-level opportunities is to read employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor.

Most legitimate entry-level marketing positions do not involve heavy sales. Any job advertising itself as an entry-level marketing job that pays 100% commissions is most likely a scam.

Questions to Ask the Employer

Once you land an interview with a reputable employer, arrive prepared with questions. Here are a few questions to ask, especially if you suspect that the opportunity might be a scam:

  • What are the day-to-day tasks associated with the job?
  • What training will you receive?
  • What is the nature (not the amount) of compensation? For example, is it hourly or commission-based? 
  • Does any part of your job involve recruiting team members?
  • Who are the company's top clients?
  • How long does the average employee stay with the company?
  • If the job involves sales, how are leads generated?

 If you are generating your own leads in an entry-level position, the job is likely a scam.

The Bottom Line

Search by Company Instead of by Job Keyword. Scams are good at using job keywords. Instead, if you know the name of a good company, search by the company and you'll know that their open positions are legitimate.

Be Aware of the Interview Process. Employers trying to “sell” you a scam are not vetting you: they are trying to trick you. They're hoping they can bring you in before you start asking questions. Once you do start asking questions, they will get defensive and ask you to just trust them.

Use Online Reviews. Thanks to search engines like Google, it is getting harder for scam employers to be deceptive. Take advantage of the online tools available to help you avoid entry-level marketing scams.