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Ew, this job application scam makes applicants pay to apply

This job application asks applicants to pay in order to apply – and they’re not hiding it, which is somehow better AND worse.

A person looking at a job application and running their hands through their hair in frustration

With very few legitimate exceptions, jobs are supposed to pay you–not the other way around. This is true even of the application process; if an above-board business is hiring, it certainly isn’t normal for them to charge applicants at any step of the way. Nevertheless a recent scam by Headfone, a “premium audio drama” app, has attempted to do exactly that.

The crux of the scam involves a performance task. At least two writers hoping to work for Headfone were asked to complete a 500-800-word article about content on the platform; however, the prompt necessitates listening to some of the content in question, and that content is locked behind a paywall.

When asked to clarify how they were supposed to listen to the content, their Headfone contact explained that they would need to pay to subscribe to the platform before they could do so. He then offered a discount code for them to use, adding that the company is using a “new application process” that is designed to “boost our writers [sic] subscriber count.”

It’s rare that people running scams self-implicate so explicitly, but I guess honesty is preferable to whatever other malarkey is lurking behind Headfone’s doors.

It’s worth noting that asking for a performance task from a candidate isn’t entirely out of the ordinary. As a copywriter, I have been asked to participate in various “tests” wherein I complete an article or blurb to show that I can match a client’s expected tone and quality standards. Companies are typically transparent about their intentions of use, generally informing me that the article I write will ostensibly be published at some point even if I don’t pass the test.

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The key difference here is that they have paid me for the work every single time, whether or not I ended up getting the job. This is the polar opposite of what Headfone is doing: asking applicants to write pieces for free, then additionally requiring them to pay for a subscription to listen to content to inform those pieces. 

The scam itself has all of the hallmarks of a sketchy encounter: DMs rather than emails as a form of communication, poor spelling and grammar in the application materials, a profound lack of common sense insofar as the application process actually goes, and a requirement that applicants pay a fee. Even if anyone involved in this situation actually has good intentions, the execution here is abysmally poor and borderline satirically tone-deaf. 

It isn’t enough to condemn Headfone and their appalling hiring racket here, but hopefully the experiences of the writers who reported them serve as a healthy reminder that nobody can reasonably extort payment from you if you’re simply applying for a job.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.


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