Originally posted on March 30, 2018; updated on July 12, 2018.
As a career coach, people often ask me if they should apply to jobs through LinkedIn, or if they should apply through the hiring company's web site. I always tell them to apply through the hiring company. My theory is that when you're entrusting someone with your data, it's wise to avoid middle-men. Mistakes do happen (think Equifax), and it’s best to minimize your risk.
Well, now I have a more pressing reason to suggest why you shouldn’t apply through LinkedIn. A friend of mine recently applied to a job using the “Apply” button on LinkedIn. Believing LinkedIn to be a trusted site, she didn’t pay much attention to the opening screen that came up, where she was asked for her name, email and phone number. She entered this info and clicked “Continue,” and then realized she had made a big mistake; she was looking at a web site for some unknown company. At this point she closed her browser, but the damage had already been done. Soon enough, she started receiving a stream of emails, text messages and phone calls.
I tried to replicate what my friend experienced, and yes, it’s a real problem. There are indeed duplicate job listings on LinkedIn that are set up to grab your contact information and share them with marketing companies. Below is an example I found for a job here in Boulder. There are two listings: one is the real listing for the hiring company. (UCAR, which I’ve heard is a great place to work!) The other listing is fake; note how it doesn’t have the correct company icon.
Here is what you see after you click on the “Apply” button next to the bad job listing:
Now, there is indeed text at the bottom that tells you that clicking the button is going to be really bad news, but I bet most people aren’t going to catch it:
By clicking Continue, I agree to be contacted by JobsFlag, Career Advisor, College Matching Service, Degrees Online, Drive4Cash, EDU First, OfferDrop, Operation Graduate, Peak Education, Premier and Professional Diversity Network regarding job openings, career alerts, and educational opportunities via email and the wireless number provided through the use of an automated dialer via phone call or SMS.
Holy crap—run away!
Being curious (and a glutton for punishment), I proceeded using a throwaway email and phone number. Here is the next screen you come to after you press continue (which is where my friend realized she’d been had):
Just to see what would happen, I kept pressing continue. Here are the resulting screens that come up:
And then, many clicks later, I was finally taken to the job listing I had “applied” to. It just had a link to the hiring company's web site.
As the ultimate burn, when I clicked the job link, it took me to the hiring company's site, and the job listing had already expired!
So, I just applied to a job through LinkedIn, handed over my phone number and email, and gave a trove of marketing companies permission to spam me, all for a job listing that wasn’t even valid. Great job LinkedIn! By noon the next day I received one email, one text, and two telemarketer calls from career search and educational companies. Good thing I usually don't answer this phone.
My more optimistic side wondered if this was an isolated incident. Nope. I did some searching, and although I couldn’t find fake listings for big employers like Google or Amazon, I was easily able to find additional jobs where when I clicked on “Apply” I was taken to shady sites that tried to get my contact info. From what I can tell, these job listings often include misleading timelines, suggesting you can “Be an early applicant” when the job is already closed.
So, my advice again to job seekers, is to never—NEVER—apply to a job through a third party, even if it is a company you trust like LinkedIn. No matter how big the company and no matter how warm and fuzzy it feels (e.g., Facebook), you can’t trust it to be safe with your data or to act in your best interests.
Update on 7/13/18: Almost five months after applying for the false listing, I still receive one or two calls a day from shady companies pitching career services. I did a quick job search on LinkedIn, and the problem of misleading listings continues. Below, you can see how the job posting I mentioned in March has been relisted. The first link is the valid listing; the next two are from marketing companies hoping to grab people’s contact info.