Careers: the old bait and switch routine

Today, I came across a video on TikTok called “bait and switch” which I had never heard before in terms of careers and employment. When I watched the video and learned what it meant, I had a “lightbulb” moment and a few memories came flooding back to me.

Yes, I have experienced the old “bait and switch” method before in the workplace. But before I share those examples with you – let me first tell you a little about myself and what the term means. This is going to be the start of a new series where I give career advice for those just starting out in office and administration. I’m also going to be offering some services for virtual assistance in the near future – so stay tuned for that.

My career background

First of all, you may be wondering why I’m giving you career advice when I’m not even working right now. If it weren’t for health issues and debilitating migraines, I would be working. But my body basically broke down and said, “Nope, you’re done for now.” And so, here we are.

Before getting sick, I had worked for nearly twenty years in office administration. A bulk of that work was done in government administration for the provincial government. I worked in health for two years, addictions for four years, education for another two years, and then did a year of just contract work in 2003-2004. My last job was in stakeholder and community engagement which I did for nearly five years before getting sick. That is the longest I have ever stayed in a job on a full time basis. For nearly eight of those years, I worked for temp agencies and got to know contracts very well.

In addition to my administrative career, which I am trying to “retire” from, I worked as a receptionist for a music store – I consider that experience to be retail. I did that for almost three years. Before that, I worked at a liquor store as a cashier for nearly three years in the late 90’s. And that first year, after high school graduation, I kind of bounced around and tried different things like being a full time nanny and working night shift at Tim Horton’s. I quit both jobs pretty quickly. I’m not cut out for kids or making coffee for others.

And furthermore, as a musician, I have nearly forty years of experience in the industry as a concert pianist, church musician, and event organizer. I also compose, publish and market my own music projects. I also run two small Etsy stores, and create E-commerce products. I’m also an author and have two books for sale on this very website. I have several more that I’m working on. I’m also a very spiritual person, and as part of my healing from abuse in the workplace, I’m writing about my spiritual journey and sharing what I learn.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way – let’s get onto how I was “baited and switched” by local companies over the years.

What is bait and switch?

Let’s say you come across your dream job online and send in an application. Everything seems great. The salary range is what you’re looking for – or perhaps even more than you wanted. The hours are flexible. And there’s a little statement that says, “potential for growth and learning opportunities!” Start your career with us now!

But when you find yourself in the interview, and you start asking questions related to your job – you may find that some of the answers don’t match what was listed on the application. Or the employer might seem evasive when it comes to providing details about specific job duties. If your interview is short, and the responses are vague or confusing even – or you’re hired on the spot — take that as a red flag.

Either the company is desperate for employees due to high turn over – or worse case – the employer might be pulling a “bait and switch” on you. This is why it’s so important to get things in writing. Ask for your offer letter BEFORE you start your job. If you don’t get one before your start date- that is another red flag.

And yes, this has happened to me too. I worked for nearly a week in the addictions and mental health role before even getting my offer letter. Which of course, was $2 an hour less than we had agreed upon.

Hired on the spot – red flag

My timeline of events is kind of fuzzy. Any details before 2003, is hard for me to remember as I was going through a difficult phase in life. But I remember this interview vividly even if I can’t remember what year it was.

The interview was held downtown in a loft style office. It was trendy, for that time. The job had been advertised as a typical Monday-Friday office kind of job. I thought I would be answering phones and maintaining customer lists like I had done at the music store. At least, that was my interpretation of the job listing. I was surprised to get a phone call for an interview and happily accepted it a few days later.

The interview process was fairly quick and pain free. Thinking back now, that should have been a major warning sign. We discussed the basics including salary, office hours at which we agreed were:

Monday to Friday with the occasional weekend included or over-time as needed. He also told me that there were bonuses and incentives to working there and that if I did a good job, I’d advance because he, “had faith in me.” We agreed on a starting salary of $34,000 annually, which aligned my experience at the time. Remember to factor in inflation. This was the early 2000s.

All fine and dandy, right? He asked me if I had any questions, and being young and new to the corporate world, I shook my head and said, that I was excited to join the team. How often does that happen? Hired on the spot? Back then – it was much easier to be hired on the spot than it is now. Jobs were plentiful. I thought nothing of it.

We ended the interview with a handshake and he said, “my assistant will send you some papers to sign.”. I nodded. Thanked him for his time, and bid farewell.

A week later, I finally got the “offer” package. I wish I had kept this email because I remember it ticked me off so much. Not only was the offered salary $10,000 less than we had agreed upon – but there words in the agreement that he never brought up in the interview.

The overtime required was for cold calling potential clients. The so called “office job” he had presented to me in the interview, was really, a cold-calling sales position. Much like the cast did in the tv show – The Office. I read the contract carefully before sending a reply email. I asked why the salary was much lower than we had agreed upon, as I could not live on the offered salary. I also asked what the duties were – because cold calling hadn’t been discussed in the interview.

And wouldn’t you know it? I never heard back from the company again.

We didn’t have sites like Yelp or Google reviews to leave a scathing review. But I’m almost tempted to do it now all these years later. I chalked it up as a learning experience – and vowed to pay more attention in interviews and ask more questions. I also learned that being hired on the spot, was probably a huge red flag.

I should have learned this as my two previous jobs, Tim Horton’s and the liquor store – I was hired on the spot for both interviews. I haven’t been on an interview in many years, so I have no idea what it’s like now in today’s job market.

Not for profit – not for me

Sometimes when working in contractor positions, work would dry up. The government often had hiring freezes so it was difficult to find work when a contract ended. So many times I was almost hired by the department, but they couldn’t afford to buy me out. During one of these slow periods, I accepted a position with a non-profit agency that focused on rehabilitation for brain injuries. This position would start me on my love for helping others and promoting mental health awareness.

I think I lasted about four or five months in this job. Once again, it was one of those really quick interviews with the director and a program administrator. The interview went really well and I pulled on personal experience of having cared for my mother when she was ill. They loved my references and hired me after making one call.

Two weeks into the position, with zero training, I found I had nothing to do while sitting at the front desk. I was in charge of writing cheques for the staff which is something I had never done before. Other than that, I literally had nothing to do. The phones barely rang. We got maybe one or two emails per day!

I was pulled into a staff meeting where the director admitted that they had made a major mistake. They had hired me at a full time salary and another staff member as well. They only had enough money for ONE of us. They said they could paid us both 50% salary, for six months, or one of us would have to be let go.

Thank god, the other staff member, I forget his name, got a job with the office across the hall. I was reduced to 50% salary, which was enough to scrape by. My rent was paid, and my utilities – that was all I really needed. I knew the job was a filler anyway until I found something more stable.

About two months into this new arrangement, there were issues with my “job performance.” And apparently, my attitude as well. I hadn’t made one friend in the office, so that was a problem for me. Everyone stayed in their offices to complain about management with their doors closed. I openly played on Facebook Farmville because it was that boring. I would later find out that the director was an alcoholic and often made mistakes the one she had made with the budget.

One day, it was me who made a huge mistake when I grabbed the wrong cheque book to pay staff salaries. The paycheques, were going to be pulled out of the wrong budget code. I was still in my probation period, and I thought I would have been fired for this. Luckily, I caught the error right away and called up the accountant. I still don’t know why I was the one writing the cheques, when they had an accountant who should have been doing this for them. This was not a job I felt comfortable doing. Whoever heard of a receptionist writing out staff cheques? Something didn’t feel right about this to me. But I acknowledged the mistake, apologized for it, and swore up and down it wouldn’t happen again. Even though I fixed the mistake, they punished me for it later.

I was sent to clean up the back storage room which had been tested positive for asbestos! We had the building inspected – I know, because I booked the appointment. They wanted me to clean the room for the appointment. I was like, “Um no, you don’t have any PPE. You’re paying me 50% of my salary. This is not safe for me. So, like, no.” Again, I was told I had an “attitude problem” and said, “Well, I value my health more.”

That was when they put me on “probation” again and said, “We’re going to keep paying you at 50% for the next three months, until your attitude has changed.”

I gave them my two week notice at that point. They told me since I was worried about my health, that I should just not bother coming in for the next two weeks.

And that was it for that job.

Not only was this a classic “bait and switch” move – but I’m pretty sure what they did all around was illegal.

Best advice I ever received

The best advice I ever got from a senior director was on my last job. When I was first hired, we had a small team, on the third floor of the building. We did stakeholder engagement work – and I was so happy, that I could finally use my skills in event planning. For those six months, we had an amazing team that worked well together. We traveled for work and bonded strongly during those road trips to small towns across the province. It made me fall in love with stakeholder work all over again. I was so happy to finally be out of contract work and to have benefits and a pension again.

About six to eight months later, we got in a new senior director who liked to cause a lot of problems for staff. It wasn’t just me that she had a vendetta for, she would move onto a new victim every other week until she got bored of that person. Some people are just like that. She was a control freak, type A personality who was constantly creating problems – when there weren’t any to begin with. She had a habit of turning simple processes into a major headache by creating “official” processes. She loved paperwork. The rest of us hated it. I was having a really bad morning when she was picking me, and I went into our director’s office, John, to talk. He wasn’t my direct report, but I knew I could trust him.

I had worked with John for several months at that point. We had also known each other from my job with the health department back in 2008-2009 where he was a policy analyst. He had worked his way up to senior management. It’s a small world in government work. Eventually, you run into the same people. John knew that I was over qualified for the job I was in, and was doing work above my paygrade. He could see that I was feeling run down and heading into a spiral of depression.

Wendy, never stay at a job for more than two years. That is my rule. You knew me back in the policy days. Now look where I am. This could be you too. You have the skills. I know you. You’re a good worker. Don’t feed into any of this office crap. She has a reputation of being “difficult to work with.” She shouldn’t even be evaluating your performance now as we’re so short staffed,” he told me.

And sure enough, when the reorg happened, John, my favorite director ever, was promoted into another position. He was one of the top senior managers – as high as he wanted to move up in the organization. He’s now living in BC with his family and seems to be doing well. We reconnected recently on Linkin and I was happy to see a friendly face on the site.

His advice has stuck with me. I should have listened to it. But I convinced myself things would get better. They would for a while. But like any abusive situation, things would always escalate.

Stay tuned – for more office stories like this one.

Have you ever been baited and switched in your career? If so, let me know in the comments!

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