While my spam settings are strict, I tend to find, every once in a while, an e-mail that has avoided detection and winds up in my inbox.  Today, I noticed an e-mail for a job that began with a casual (and lower case) “hi” — such informalities are indicative of mass e-mailing and reeks of unprofessionalism.  And I’m not interested in working or pursuing a job in which the “potential” hiring manager is so lax in his or her search to fill a position.  So, I definitely avoid random solicitations for job offers no matter how up-my-alley it may sound.  Usually, I’m asking myself: Where on earth did he get my e-mail anyway?

SCAMThese sort of e-mails get a prompt click and wham, it’s been spammed!  There are so many signs that freelancers can look out for to avoid the pitfalls of job scams. So, what are some red flags in the freelance job market that you should avoid?  Well, here are some big flake alerts that I’ve outlined for you below:

  • THE ATTACK OF MISSPELLED WORDS: If the job posting has spelling and grammar errors you have to wonder about how real the job actually is.  A small error in a job advertisement of a well-known company versus a company that doesn’t produce any hits on Google are two different things–and I’m not going to be so suspicious of the former ad, besides mistakes happen.  You just have to be aware of who is making them and just how many of these errors there are. So, be wary of advertisements that are riddled with spelling and grammar errors.
  • ADS THAT REQUIRE DECODING: Skip postings that sound vague; if you’ve read the job description and you still can’t tell what you’ll be doing–skip it.  You’re not creating highly classified documents for the CIA or FBI.  Ambiguous job descriptions are headaches in disguise where you’ll find yourself doing more than you should for little or no pay.
  • WORK NOW, WE’LL PAY YOU LATER (MAYBE): Have you ever applied to a job and a writing test was required?  Don’t get me wrong they are jobs that may require you to take a copy editing test or produce a writing sample for book publishing gigs.  And I’ve done both for established pharmaceutical companies (copy editing jobs) and book publishers (book development projects), which was expected given the nature of the work.  But, if you find that the tests you’re expected to turn in is a full assignment that’s taking a lot of your time then think again.  Because some writing tests serve as real work that writers are doing for free.  And once you submit your “test” you may never hear anything back about the job.
  • HMM, WELL-ESTABLISHED SITE DID POST THIS AD: Don’t fall for ads just because they are listed on reputable websites.  It’s always a good practice to research the legitimacy of jobs on your own.  Relying on job sites to catch all scams means putting your time and money completely into the hands of a third-party.  Sites such as MediaBistro can provide great leads.  But, once you identify a job you’re interested in take over the reigns and do your own detective work.
  • PAY US TO HIRE YOU: You shouldn’t have to pay for information about jobs.  For instance, paying members of MediaBistro get access to restricted information.  However, anyone can get a free account to access and apply for jobs posted on their site.  Many other well-known job sites offer employment information without requiring users to pay.  If you’re asked to pay for access to job listings, employee training material or anything related to the work just move on and continue to watch out for sites that ask you for money.

Protect yourself because the Internet can be a cesspool of virtual cons that can cost you time and money, and as a self-employed contractor, I (and you) can’t bother with losing either.  So, do your research and follow your gut.  And if you’re not sure ask another person for advice (because if it’s too good to be true then it most likely is).

There are solid job opportunities out there that you can find through sites like MediaBistro, Journalism Jobs, HittList (medical writing jobs mainly) and more.  And I’ve found opportunities through all of these sites…but I always check out the companies before applying.