The Pyramid Scheme that Noone Talks About
Pyramid Schemes prey on recent college graduates who have applied to anything and everything but still don’t have a job after what seemed like a pre-determined amount of time. They fix you up with false promises of moving to the top quickly with incremental wage increases where none exists because the company has no way of generating income. The company gains “income” from the people at the bottom, where they expect “employees” to pay “back into” the company, but then the employees never see their money back because it’s always going back into the “company”.
Laying the Foundation:
In the 6 months leading up to my graduation, I applied to nearly 150 jobs that spanned numerous career fields, geographic locations, and job positions. I got rejections almost immediately in the form of automated responses from about half of the applications, received about a dozen interviews, and the rest — I suppose those companies didn’t even try to dignify my application with a response.
The positions I would be offered was located in undesirable locations that I was unwilling to move to post-grad, and others would not compensate me enough for the work that was required of the position. One was offered at an army base, where I would work within their nuclear fission program. Since destroying lives on a massive scale in a single bang was not my cup of tea, per se, I politely declined.
After graduation in May, I moved back home with my family. Then, I continued applying for jobs and eventually landed an unpaid fellowship that marketed itself as an Information Technology series that would find me a job anywhere in the country. Fine, I would have to re-locate but the field would be in IT, at least. A week into the 10-week fellowship, I quickly realized that it was actually just an IT sales fellowship. It wasn’t the career path I wanted to be on, however extensive the pitch powerpoints or sales documents were. The fellowship would end but many of my cohorts would not find full-time positions through the program until a whopping 8 months later.
As the program came to a close, I continued to interview for jobs as there was no non-compete clause in place for employment. This is where I would encounter the Pyramid Scheme trap that no one talks about, but quite many of my peers would discuss later with me their own stories of various trappings of the pyramid scheme after graduating from college recently. Each experience would draw shockingly similar reference points.
Setting You Up for the Trap:
Not even 15 minutes after applying for the position of Political Analyst with a long list of job responsibilities general enough to net any recent college graduate into its application pool but specific enough that it seemed like a real job, I receive a text that I had an interview the very next day.
In my excitement and shock, I completely disregarded how odd of communication this was. A seemingly random address for the office would be sent to me via text. I googled the address many times, but no discernible or recognizable and legitimate company would appear in the Google search.
It was odd, but I disregarded it. It was an opportunity to interview, anyway.
Then the next day, I drove to the interview where I was greeted by a pounding stereo in a crowded waiting room of silent, professionally-dressed recent graduates. All the other interviewees would enter into a closed room, interview for less than 15 minutes each, come out and leave the building. When it was my turn, I went in for a standard interview.
Even after the interview, I did not have a clear understanding of what my position would be, what the company did, or what my responsibilities were.
That evening, I was called back the following day for a second interview. I had done it! Still, I ignored my instincts and returned.
The next day, I arrived, was briefly greeted by the person who interviewed me the day prior, and was told I was going to get to go in the field and they would see how well I did as a part of the second interview.
When It Starts Getting A Little Weird:
A business-professionally dressed employee and I walked out of the building and down the street into the sweltering Jersey sun in our business suits, where we settle 2 blocks away from the office on the side of the main road. Another employee runs after us, also in a business suit, panting. He’s carrying a foldable table and flyers. The street is crowded and a strange smell hangs in the air.
The man who was interviewing me recites an odd mantra to me, which made almost no comprehensible sense. It sounded like the ramblings of a cult follower who was recently indoctrinated. His words rang unfamiliar as they came out of his mouth.
His colleague, the one who had been panting, was handing out flyers to random passer-by’s. He seemed to be campaigning for an insurance ad, but I was never explicitly told why he was selling insurance when the company’s front was a PR firm. But I knew for sure that it was unclear how the company made any source of income from this.
The person who interviewed me on the side of the street told me that every few months, my position would increase, with a varied commensurate hourly wage. I nodded, everything seemed unsure at this point. What was I doing here at the side of a busy street?
Where was my desk? Why are we standing in the sun, bloating in our business suits, talking to clients who weren’t really our clients who wore loose-fitting tank tops and flip flops with their children at their hips?
We returned to the office soon after, my feet sighed thankfully as they screamed in my leather flats. The final interview would be with another person, now in a small office behind a door from the same waiting room. We had another standard interview, but when I asked him what exactly the company did, he replied that he didn’t actually work in the company I was applying for. He was just another interviewer. He then offered me the job.
I drove home and told my parents, but the whole thing with the street, the flyers, the stacked offices; it was just too weird. My dad mused to himself after hearing my interview experience, saying that it sounded like a Pyramid Scheme.
Before this firsthand experience, I had never even known exactly what a Pyramid Scheme did. I just knew that it was bad, bad news and to stay far, far away.
So of course, I declined the offer soon after the conversation with my parents; even though I never got an offer in writing, but just a verbal agreement to arrive at the office the next morning.
Many of my friends and peers who graduated the same year as me also interacted peripherally with pyramid schemes and were able to become trapped because of the knowledge of family or friends who pointed out that it was a Pyramid Scheme. However, no one talks about it because you might feel dumb for falling for something as obvious as a Pyramid Scheme. But this scheme originated around the 2010s, a time in which many of us were still in middle school. Dissemination of knowledge about this and opening up to your friends about experiences like these brings people closer and takes the power away from schemers who try to steal money and time away from recent graduates.