The word 'scam' is displayed on different traffic signs

Scam job offers and recruitment agencies

As we increasingly use social media as a tool in our job hunt, so the numbers of scam job offers are also rising. Here at the Careers Service, we have been asked about several fake job offers in recent weeks – sent by fraudsters almost certainly knowing it is the end of the academic year and so hoping to attract students looking for internships and graduate jobs. Take five minutes to read some great advice from Matt Vickers, Careers Consultant (Engineering and Maths) on how to spot and avoid scam job offers.

Over to Matt…

Scam job offers can come through as emails, LinkedIn messages, messages on WhatsApp – in fact, pretty much every communication platform you use is vulnerable.  They are a type of fraud, and will almost certainly culminate in you being asked for money and/or bank details to pay a fake recruitment agency at some stage. Please don’t!

Recruitment agencies

Often these job offers purport to be from people working in recruitment agencies (also termed employment agencies, temping agencies and headhunters).

In the UK, recruitment agencies are engaged by employers to help them fill job vacancies, typically when an employer:

  • lacks the resources and time to recruit themselves


  • feels a vacancy will be very difficult to fill because it requires the successful candidate to possess niche skills, knowledge or experience


  • both of the above

Agencies gather details of suitable jobseekers and submit them to the client (employer) for consideration. The client (employer) pays the agency a fee for doing this work. If the client chooses to interview any of the candidates, the agency may get a further fee and if the employer recruits one of the candidates, another fee again. Thus, recruitment agencies in the UK make their money through fees from employers; candidates (i.e. you) should never pay an agency money!

The candidates submitted by the agency can be either:

  • individuals searched out (‘headhunted’) by the agency – usually for their specialist skills, knowledge or experience
  • jobseekers who sign up to an agency, directly

First-degree graduates (bachelors or equivalent) are rarely headhunted; this happens more to postgraduates (especially PhDs) and more often in STEM and vocational subjects.

If you are interested in using agencies as part of your job hunt, read the advice on our website.  Don’t rely solely on agencies – many graduate recruiters don’t use them – but use them in addition to other approaches. Ensure that any agency you sign up to actually recruits into your job sector of choice.  (Some large agencies recruit across the board while others specialise in specific sector(s) only – e.g. education, health, engineering, finance etc.

Unexpected job offer? Too good to be true?

If you receive an unsolicited job offer, having not signed up with an agency, consider the following:

Sender: who are they?

  • Research the agency they claim to work for; does it exist? (You can check UK businesses at the government’s Companies House.)
  • How does the website look?
  • Do they provide UK contact details – ideally including a landline?
  • If the approach was via email, are there professional footers?
  • Are they on LinkedIn (recruitment consultants will be)? Does their profile look authentic and their career history make sense?
  • If the role is UK-based, the agency also ought to be UK-based. If their domain or email is outside the UK, be suspicious.
  • What makes you think they are who they say they are?
  • If they claim to be from a reputable agency, contact that agency to ask if this consultant works for them.

Job description

  • Recruitment agencies match candidates with jobs. They will have a job description and should be willing to send it to you, or send a link to one online.


  • Sometimes agencies are reluctant to publicly provide employer names, for fear you might choose to apply direct (meaning they’ll lose their fees). However, it isn’t reasonable for them to withhold this information from you if you are genuinely interested and wish to be put forward as a candidate. You need to know whom you would be working for – so ask!


  • What salary is being offered? Is it plausible?
  • Often with scams, students are lured by unrealistically high salaries e.g., we recently saw an email offering £1,500-£5,000/week, which equates to £75k-£250k/year. For context, new graduates in the UK on average start on ~ £25k/year. (N.B. This average will vary by industry sector, geographic location and the qualification/skills/experience requested.)


  • How did you receive your approach? Typically, agencies will send an email or perhaps a message through LinkedIn.  Messages through WhatsApp, for example, feel quite casual and unprofessional.
  • How well written is the communication? Is the English of a native standard, written in a professional way?

For example, consider this recent message sent to a finalist on WhatsApp:

“Hello, are you working today?”

Without an introduction or any context, this is incredibly impolite and highly unprofessional. It is almost certainly a scam.

Further information

If you have doubts, use our information & advice drop-in to get a second opinion.

You can read further advice from the government on job offer scams here and also from this Which? article.

Thanks Matt for such great advice.

(Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)



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