Though pyramid schemes are actually illegal in the United States and many other countries, they continue to prosper and suck the life out of those involved. According to Wikipedia, a pyramid scheme is defined as "...a business model that recruits members via a promise of payments or services for enrolling others into the scheme, rather than supplying investment or sale of products" or, "a form of investment in which each paying participant recruits two further participants, with returns being given to early participants using money contributed by later ones."
In November of 2018, I decided I wanted to spend my final college summer at my mom's house in the suburbs of Chicago and get a sexy internship that was going to pay me enough, so I wouldn't have to work in my last semester of college. So naturally, I took to Indeed and other websites of that nature to scour Chicago and the surrounding metropolitan area for my dream internship. I'm currently studying Communication with a specialization in Public Relations — really the opportunities were endless.
After a few weeks, I got an email from this company (who will remain unnamed because I'm not trying to get sued), stating they found my resume on CareerBuilder and were very interested in me as a candidate for their "summer marketing and sales internship." They wanted me to submit a video interview. After doing some research on them and realizing their office was about 10 minutes away from my house, I was overjoyed and got right on it. I pulled out my favorite business outfit, cleaned my room so I'd look like I had my life together, and prepared my answers. After crushing the video interview, I received a call from their recruiter about a week later asking if I would like to come to their office for the second round of interviews.
The recruiter and I figured out a day that worked for my schedule, and I was beyond excited because I wasn't sure what to expect. My mom and I went out later that week and got me a cute business outfit to wear to the interview (since I only had about one button-down I was wearing with a black circle skirt), and we updated my resume and printed it on some prettier paper. The day finally came, my interview was scheduled for 8 am. Their office was on a one-way street and I had to take the most populated road in my town to get there, so my 10-minute commute turned into 30.
After arriving at the office and being greeted by the recruiter, I took a seat and began filling out some forms and reading more about the company. They were founded on face-to-face communication to aid a larger organization with their national campaign. Their pamphlet stated that they had offices all over the country, they only promote from within, and it was very easy to move up in the company fast if you were meeting your goals. So far, everything seemed great.
I was then taken into a conference room with one of the company's top salespeople, who held the title of Assistant Manager. After some small talk about me and my strengths, he moved on to how the promotion cycle works... that's when things started to get fishy. He explained that though this job had the label of an "internship," I would be immersed in the company as if I were working there full time with a couple of added benefits he would explain later. He explained that there is no hierarchy or seniority within the job, but there are multiple "phases" of employment with the company.
I would start off in training (or Phase 1), where I would be compensated $300-$500 a week and learn the ins and outs of the company until I hit all the requirements for promotion. After promotion, you are given the title of Leader (Phase 2), which is basically the same as training except you are more involved in training and can shadow interviews. Once you hit all those goals you are promoted to Assistant Manager (Phase 3), where you are able to conduct interviews and begin planning to open your own office. The next step up the ladder was Owner (Phase 4), where you are in charge of running your own office and employing all your workers. If that's not enough you can be promoted to a Consultant (Phase 5) where you would be in charge of a couple of offices in a region before getting promoted to a Senior National Consultant (Phase 6) where you control a district of offices and are, basically, the face of the campaign.
After they said I would be making $300-$500 a week in training, I was sold and kind of tuned out the rest. Thankfully, he organized it all on a sheet of paper that I could use for reference later. Then, he went into what the day-to-day work consisted of: a high-energy morning meeting to go over the previous days' work and prepare for the next day, followed by "the field" to pitch and sell our product to small businesses. At the end of the day, everyone returns for a meeting to wrap things up.
My stomach started to turn thinking that they would have me doing cold calls for eight hours a day, but they made it clear that everything was done face-to-face, so I felt a little better. I thought it sounded easy and I would be getting a lot of good experience. So when I was offered the job, I took it.
My first day of work was lots of paperwork and they went through the terms of my "internship." They stated that once I got promoted to being a Leader, I would be able to incorporate what I was studying into my day-to-day work. Also, once I got promoted if I were to help with the process of hiring 10 people, I would receive $400 for textbooks in the fall. So far, everything was still good.
So, I showed up for my second day, hoping to do some real work! I attended the meeting and was told I would be getting trained by a girl around my own age. She told me to grab my things and head out to the parking lot... that's when I got confused. We proceeded to drive to a town about 25 minutes away from the office and park in the downtown area. We walked up the street from business to business, pitching. So, this job was in-person cold calls... great! My first few days of training were going well and I was getting everything down pretty easy. I even ended up closing two sales on my first day that I went out on my own.
But, it wasn't smooth sailing for too much longer — this job became a living hell. I was getting so discouraged, and it was taking a big toll on my mental health (and physical, having to wear pants and a jacket outside in 90-degree weather was not FUN!).
I was told on my first day that we get paid on Mondays and I would receive my first check three weeks after my first day. Three weeks went by. Guess what? I still hadn't received a check and no one knew where it was — they said to wait a week. I waited a week and after the start of my fourth week, still no check. So naturally, I begged my boss for a check, I expected about $2,000 due to what I was promised in the interview. I received the check a couple of days later and it was a little under $400...
I pulled my boss into the office for an explanation. She stated that there is no hourly base pay. We only get paid on the commission for our sales. Since I wasn't making very many sales, that made sense. I also asked her about what I would do to further my experience in a Public Relations aspect and they stated that since we work for the campaign, we have no rights to the campaign. So the only PR I would be doing is strictly for our office, and we really didn't do much besides getting drinks after work on Thursday nights.
With the strenuous days of work, no compensation for gas and having to drive EVERYWHERE, and virtually no actual experience gained within my field, I quit. I want to leave everyone with this experience, so you can identify these red flags that I looked over and you don't waste your time as well as your money on a job that only benefits the higher-ups in the company.