How to Decipher Job Ads So You Actually Know What You're Applying For

Lots of job seekers get duped by job ad scams or don't realize they're going to be interviewed by agencies or consultants. If you've been there, you understand how these can be roadblocks in the already frustrating process of looking for a job.
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Job ads are as vague as ever. You might get a run-down of the position, but good luck finding any details about salary or, in some cases, even hours or location. Their purpose is to get you in the door, not give away all the details.

In fact, lots of job seekers get duped by job ad scams or don't realize they're going to be interviewed by agencies or consultants. If you've been there, you understand how these can be roadblocks in the already frustrating process of looking for a job.

But if know you what to look for, you can avoid these situations. The better you understand the different types of postings that are out there, the less likely you'll be taken by surprise.

So here are five types of job ads and what you can expect from each one:

1. Legit direct-hire ads posted by the company hiring for the job

The most effective way to ensure that you are indeed applying for a direct-hire position is to search for the name of the company.

Few companies post well-written ads that rise to the top of job boards. The person who writes the ads probably does not have SEO experience. And most companies just aren't going to take the time to figure it out. As a result, a lot of good jobs get lost in the Careerbuilder (or whatever job site they're posted to) shuffle.

If you click on a position posted on one of these job boards, a legitimate direct-hire position should take you directly to the careers section of the company's website.

If you're still not sure, avoid the big job boards altogether. If you know what company you want to work for, your best bet is to check their website regularly for jobs as they become available.

If you're unsure of what kind of job you want or which company to search for, this career guide can help you get started.

2. Positions posted by placement agencies and career consultants

Agencies and career consultants represent different companies. They find candidates to fill open positions within those companies or job hunters who need help with their careers. Since their job is finding jobs, they spend time improving the ads of the companies they're hiring for. They've figured out the formula that gets them to the top of the search results.

So how do you know if someone from an agency or consultant wrote the ad? It should say so. This may be fine-print information at the bottom, but it should be there.

You'd be surprised by how many candidates have no idea when they're interviewing with an agency and not the company that's hiring. This shows the recruiter you didn't read the ad, and that doesn't make you look like an attractive candidate.

Placement and career consulting fees
(as well as who ends up paying them) vary by state. Some agencies specialize in contract jobs, while others do direct-hire for full-time positions. The ad should make some mention of all of this information somewhere.

So it's best to research the agency and make sure it's a route you actually want to take. Agencies and career consultants can provide you with great opportunities and services you may not have come across otherwise, so don't completely dismiss the idea -- especially if you haven't had much luck on your own.

3. Scam ads that aren't for real jobs (they just want your money)

Ever notice how some job ads on huge boards may have a little dollar sign next to them? This lets you know the job may require an investment on your part. It's also a dead giveaway that the job is a scam.

Anything that requires you to pay money upfront is a scam. Even legitimate career consultants do not ask for upfront payments!

Scams also usually promise a lot of money for not very much work. Or, they ask for personal information off the bat (bank accounts, your Social Security number, etc.). Some candidates end up in pyramid schemes or have their identities stolen by pursuing these types of ads.

If you're suspicious that a job ad might be a scam, research the company. Google "Name-of-Company Scam" and see what comes up. If you conclude the company can't be trusted, report it. We don't need more of these clogging up job boards.

4. Ads for non-salaried, commission-only jobs

These positions don't offer a base salary; instead, your income will depend on commissions from sales. Commission-only jobs include insurance sales, real estate and door-to-door marketing.

Some people don't mind this salary structure and can make a good living. But from my experience as a recruiter, most candidates prefer the security of a regular paycheck. Typically, companies will at least offer a range for base pay on the job ad, while commission-only jobs say "Not Applicable."

You may also want to keep an eye out for jobs that start you off with a base salary, then slowly take it away once you start making commissions. Or, the company might cap your commissions. At this point, there's no way to really know whether that will happen unless you either show up for the interview or read comments on Glassdoor.

If base pay is important to you, make sure to call the company and ask what their payment structure is like. They typically won't volunteer the information on their own, so you might have to prod a bit.

5. Postings for temporary or contract jobs

Unfortunately, sometimes you can't tell whether a job is temporary by just looking at the ad alone -- big companies included.

You might actually need to go through the application process, or at least get in touch with the company or agency to verify whether the job is permanent. If you're looking for a full-time gig, find out the details of the position sooner rather than later.

You can learn a lot from job ads, including how serious a company is about hiring. Make sure to pay close attention so you apply for a job you actually want.

Amanda Abella is a writer, speaker and life coach who combines her recruiting background with life coaching to help clients get clear on their career desires and how to go after them. Visit her at

Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, we offer edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work. Be Brazen!

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