There are companies like Vector Marketing and Transamerica that prey on naive high school and college students by offering them jobs that seem too good to be true. Every once in a while, a friend of mine will mention this sort of job to me, and I’ll laugh at them, asking them why they would honestly believe that anyone would pay a teenager or college student $12-18 an hour (well, per an appointment, but I’ll explain what that means later) when they have no degree or job experience.
However, I realize that I was young once too, and if I hadn’t had older friends who told me about these sorts of false job opportunities, I probably would have at least gone to the interview. Therefore, I would like write a small guide for teenagers and college students explaining how you can spot Vector job offers, or job offers like Vector, and not waste valuable time, effort, and money with a direct sales job that is far more trouble than it’s worth.
Let me begin with this: please print out a copy of the following sentence and tape it somewhere that you will see it everyday, so you remember it everyday:
If it sounds too good to be true, it is. No exceptions.
A lot of you may have encountered Vector or Transamerica before, but if you haven’t, let me assure you that they are lying to you in their recruitment process. There are many other companies that also use these tactics to recruit new salespeople, so I’m going to outline the business model for you here so you know what to look out for.
Let me start by saying that I am NOT calling Vector or Transamerica a scam, because legally speaking, they’re not. They don’t break any laws. What they are doing, however, is lying about the job you are being interviewed for. The recruitment process kind of resembles a pyramid scheme (if you don’t know what that is, google it; it’s actually a really interesting type of scam) in the sense that you will often be asked to pay for something; a demo kit, a background check, etc. Often times the ‘interviews’ will be conducted in groups, and you will not be required to have experience or a resume; if that isn’t a red flag for you, then you’re exactly the sort of person these companies will try the hardest to target. Often, they are lying when they say they will only hire a few of you. They will likely hire many of you; you’ll probably see the people you interviewed with at training. They do this because you aren’t being ‘hired.’ You’re simply being trained to be an independent contractor. They need many sales people to sell their products, but since they do not pay you by the hour, they don’t have to worry about paying too much to their sales people. Notice that I didn’t say employees. You aren’t their employee. You are simply selling their product for them. Remember that, because it’s important.
It’s usually at this point that you go through a seminar that’s meant to make you feel like you’re amazing and awesome. Remember; they are ‘selling’ the job to you. They want you to feel like the job is amazing. It’s like when someone is trying to sell you a subscription to a magazine (like Gamestop’s PowerUp Rewards cards or reservation system; if you’ve EVER been to a Gamestop, you are familiar with this sort of sales tactic in a retail environment) they will use special cues and language that’s meant to convince you that the magazine is awesome. This is common for any type of sales, but remember: they’re using it to sell you an occupation, not a new television. Be wary, because it’s very effective if you don’t realize what they’re doing.
Eventually, they will tell you what you’re actually selling: in Vector’s case, it’s knives. At this point many people will say, “OHHH THAT STUPID KNIVES THING!” Yes, that stupid knives thing that a lot of people encounter at least once in high school or college. It is run by a company called Vector Marketing, and you should avoid them like the plague. They are not the only company that operates like this, but they are one of the most prolific.
If you don’t know what that means, it’s simple: you are not an employee of the company, you just sell your products. That means you have to keep track of your profits very carefully, because you won’t be getting a W-2 from them. You are, essentially, a small business owner minus the security of business insurance or equity.
You will NOT be paid by the hour. You will be paid commission based on how much you sell at a certain percentage, and sometimes you are offered a ‘per-an-appointment’ wage. While this seems fine in theory, when you think about it, at $16 per an appointment, you have to do four appointments a day just to make minimum wage if you don’t make any commission that day. Appointments take a while to set up (the company will often give you no help in finding clients) and the presentation takes an hour, so that means that you have to be able to get to your appointment, set up, do your presentation, clean up, and get to your next appointment in two hours or less. When you account for travel time and time spent trying to find people to set up appointments with, you are very likely making less than minimum wage, even if you manage to sell a decent amount of products. Do not be fooled by high commission percentages; to make minimum wage (at 40 hours a week, which is full time) at 10% commission, you must sell $12,000 worth of products in a month. Even at 50% commission, you’d have to sell $2,400 worth of products in a month.
That’s a lot of knives.
Again, I’m not saying that these jobs are illegal or a scam, but they are misleading, difficult, and not ideal for someone with no sales experience. Believe it or not, sales is very difficult; it takes years of practice and experience to sell things well, especially if you are selling things that people don’t need, like the very expensive knives that you will be selling for Vector. If you are good at sales, you might be very successful at this job, but there are a million other jobs that you can find that have an hourly wage and they don’t require you to travel around on your own dollar to make that hourly wage. In fact, a lot of them also pay commission: working in a cell phone store gets you $10-12 an hour starting wage plus commission. That job is actually somewhat difficult to get, which just further emphasizes my point: you need experience and talent to do well in sales, so the fact that direct sales companies will hire anyone should strike you as ridiculous. Direct sales is an old profession; if you really want to get into it, be prepared to work very hard for little money. They will claim that it’s a good job for students, but it’s no better than a normal, hourly job. In many ways, it’s worse; it’s unreliable, which is the worst thing that your primary source of income can be.
So, if you’ve managed to get through that wall of text, I’d like to offer you a simple list of things to look out for so you can spot these sorts of jobs before you waste your time at the first group interview, and hopefully this PSA might save some people their time, or worse, a couple hundred dollars.
10 Signs That the Awesome Job Offer You Just Found Is A Vector-Style ‘Direct Sales’ Position and Not A Real Job:
1.) ‘Exciting Opportunities!’ is Business Code for “No one would apply for this job if we stated what it entails right up front!”
The advertisement for the job (no matter where it is posted) does not explicitly state what job you are applying for. Instead of saying something like “Company seeking student assistants to scan old paperwork into digital copies” or “Now hiring part-time cashiers and stockers,” the ad will say something like “exciting business opportunities for students!” without elaborating about what the job is.
2.) The pay rate is given in monthy increments or is labelled as ‘per an appointment.’
The reason that they do this is that they are hoping that when they write, ‘Earn up to $1500 a month!” you will only see the number and not bother to calculate that $1500 a month is just barely above minimum wage (in CA, anyway) if you work 40 hours a week. Also, the phrase ‘up to’ is important; it means that not everyone will get $1500. You might get nothing. That’s a big risk. When ‘per an appointment’ appears in the ad, they are referring to the fact that you are only paid for each appointment you complete according to their ‘target customer’ requirements. If you don’t strictly adhere to the guidelines for what determines a legitimate appointment, you could end up not getting paid at all even though you did the presentation. And really, they can just arbitrarily decide not to pay you anyway, because you aren’t technically their employee; you aren’t on a payroll.
3.) When you set up your interview, you are not given details about the job, even if you ask what the job entails.
As I said above, if the company has no reason to hide the details of the job, they will tell you immediately. “You are being interviewed to run the cash register.” “You are being interviewed as a shift supervisor.” “You are being interviewed as a stock person.” If the perosn you speak to does not immediately tell you what you are being interviewed for, or simply says something along the lines of “all questions will be answered at the interview!” odds are that interview is for a Vector-like job.
4.) The interview is scheduled late in the evening, or on a Saturday or a Sunday.
Generally speaking, interviews are conducted on weekdays, usually in the morning or afternoon, or at least before 5PM. The reason why is that usually the person who does the hiring works a 9-5 position. Sometimes in retail, a manager will ask you to come in late on a weekday because they are the closing manager, not the opening one. That’s fine, in certain situations, but it is unusual for an interview to be conducted late in the evening or on a weekend for a company that isn’t hiring you to be something like a cashier or a server. This is not a very big red flag, but it is something to look out for in conjunction with things like avoidance of explaining job duties.
5.) The interview is a group interview, especially if it features things like ice breaker activities or other things that seem unprofessional.
A normal job interview will usually consist of you and a manager sitting down together to go over your application and/or resume, and the manager will ask questions like “why would you like to work here?” and questions that have the purpose of evaluating your intelligence, competency, friendliness, and relevant experience. Sometimes group interviews are done if there are a lot of applicants to interview for the same position, but it’s not very common. Usually, you are interviewed individually. If the interview features ice breaker activities to get you to socialize with other applicants, be suspicious, especially if they tell you that only a few of you will be hired. Why would they want you to make friends with people who you will probably never see again? The answer is they wouldn’t. Odds are they intend to hire all of you.
6.) If you are not required to bring a resume or application, or if they do not actually use your resume during the interview process.
This is a sign that you should walk away immediately; if they are not considering your previous experience, then that means experience doesn’t matter at all, nor does former job history. Remember, it’s not just a matter of whether or not you have job experience. No reputable company would hire someone without references, or without knowing if they’ve been fired from a job before. The reason jobs make you fill out applications and include things like your GPA and your club affiliations (if you aren’t a college graduate) is because it gives them an idea of what sort of person you are. If the interviewer doesn’t have that information, how do they know you are qualified for the job? Simple; it’s because the job has no requirements, or because they aren’t actually employing you. Remember; real jobs don’t want a high turnover rate, because it reflects poorly on the company. Direct sales jobs don’t need to worry about that, because you’re not actually their employee.
7.) If they make you pay ANY money for ANYTHING, WALK AWAY.
Some people justify Vector’s ‘demo kit fee’ by comparing it to purchasing a uniform. I have had a few retail and food service jobs, and I have many friends who have worked for many different companies. Almost always, you will NOT be required to pay for your uniform or for anything with a legitimate job. Sometimes the cost will be subtracted from your first paycheck if you do have to buy your uniform, but you will NEVER be asked to pay upfront for ANYTHING in order to be hired for a legitimate job. Direct sales is self employment; you are not an employee. If you do choose to buy whatever it is that you are required to buy to become an ‘employee’ of this sort of company, be aware that there is a strong chance that you will never make that money back. You have been warned.
8.) If, when hired, you are not asked to provide your social security number or proof of citizenship, you are not an employee of the company.
A company performs background checks of their employees via their social security number, proof of residency, and proof of citizenship. Usually, when you get hired for a job, you must fill out a bunch of paperwork and provide photocopies of your driver’s license/passport/social security card/etc. so they can make sure you don’t have a criminal record and that you are who you say you are. The thing that I find scary about Vector is that they sell knives, but they don’t background check their employees; basically, you do their presentations in a stranger’s home. I wish it was common knowledge that Vector doesn’t background check their employees, because I doubt anyone would buy from them if they knew that the person bringing the fancy knife kit in their house didn’t have to prove that they had a clean criminal record to carry around that knife kit.
Remember, no background check means they aren’t worried about your history. If they aren’t worried about your history, then that means you aren’t their employee, because if you were, that’s the sort of thing they’d need to worry about. You are a direct retailer selling their products.
9.) If they say that you will have to go through unpaid training.
This is never done in the ‘real’ job world. When you are hired at, for example, Gamestop, your first couple of days of working consist of ‘on-the-job’ learning, meaning you will work closely with a manager to learn how to perform your job. Almost every retail and service position is like this, with very few exceptions. Some high-pressure sales positions, such as cell phone sales or car sales, require you to go through an intensive training program. However, since you are an employee of the company, you are paid an hourly wage during your training. I repeat: you are supposed to be paid while being trained, regardless of where and how that training takes place. No exceptions. A company needs to invest in it’s employees, and it can’t afford to risk letting a new hire who’s passed all the tests leave the job because they can’t afford to go a few weeks or a month working (because training is working, don’t let them tell you otherwise) for no pay. Any company who tries to convince you otherwise does not care about it’s employees and investing in them.
10.) If, at any time, they ask you to do something like ‘write down the names and numbers of all the people you know’ or ‘write down the names of as many people as you can in five minutes, go!’
Companies that do direct sales will make you do this because your friends and family are more likely to buy something from you to help you out. They will say that it is nothing more than a confidence building exercise; that is only half of the truth. This is done so you can get a few easy sales to get your confidence up, and then you are more likely to work harder to find new sales leads. Then the list comes into play; you get new leads from your family. you must convince them to give you the names and numbers of their friends and family so you have more customers to sell to. This is why I mentioned pyramid schemes earlier; the direct sales business model is very similar to it. Many of these companies will insist that you will not be going door-to-door, and that you won’t be telemarketing. Well, they’re just splitting hairs on terminology. You will be telemarketing, because you have to set up appointments by phone, and you will be going door-to-door, you’re just not doing it randomly; you’re setting up appointments first.
For most people, succeeding at this job means alienating your friends and family by trying to sell them things. It’s difficult to do if you want to keep your friends and family.
So there you have it; if you want to know more about this sort of ‘legal scam,’ just google Vector Marketing scams. You will see people explaining the company’s actual practices, and a whole lot of paid Vector employees trying to convince people that they’re not doing the sort of shady things that people say they are, and that ‘you totally could make $3000 a month working part time for Vector if you weren’t so lazy!!!’ Several lawsuits have been filed against Vector, and they now have to put ‘$16 per an appointment pay rate!’ on their ads instead of ‘$16/hour!’ because false advertising is, ya know… illegal.
Once again, I’m not saying that what Vector does is illegal… but it’s deceptive at best, and unethical at worst. There are legitimate, well-run, direct-sales companies such as Avon that have good reputations. If you’re really interested in this sort of thing, look into Avon or the other highly rated companies. Otherwise, just get a regular, paid-by-the-hour type of job that you can rely on.