(University of Exeter/flickr) CareerExcuse runs 200 different companies that all have one thing in common: they don't exist.
They don't have staffs. They don't make money. They're entirely fictional in every way.
But for a fee, you can say you worked at one of them, and — even more valuable — they'll confirm you were a stellar employee while you were there.
And according to Jennifer Hatton, senior partner at CareerExcuse, it's enough to do the trick.
Her clients get jobs this way, she says, and to her, that's a good thing. "Some people see it as unethical, some people see it as fraud," she tells Business Insider. "But we don't see it that way, probably because we get to know the customers."
The company tagline is "serving disadvantaged job applicants since 2009!" That's one way of looking at it.
For between $100 and $200, the basic CareerExcuse plans get you between one and three fake, positive references from a job or jobs you've never had. (A premium "pro" service, which offers more established-seeming fake employment, costs extra.)
They'll give you a fake company address, local telephone numbers to give out to prospective employers, and the promise that when those prospective employers call, they'll say positive, industry-specific things about you. Most customers stop using the service once they get a job, but some keep paying as a kind of insurance policy. One woman has been paying for over three years, just in case her boss ever did want to call.
Hatton claims that in the nearly two years she's been with the company, no one has ever discovered the ruse.
(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) CareerExcuse is a bare bones operation.
There's William Schmidt, who founded the company after he lost his own job as part of a mass layoff, started acting as a reference for former colleagues, and sensed a business opportunity. Hatton signed on two years ago after a 15-year stint as a mortgage loan underwriter and a nasty divorce, she says, because she believed in the company's mission. They have a few people who work on résumés — the company also offers a "completely legitimate" résumé-writing service, Hatton says — as well as a handful of "reference providers," including one in London and one in Australia.
Most of their clients are people who are either trying to cover up huge résumé gaps, or who've had too many short-term employers and are trying to fake stability.
"Our main clientele right now is IT executives, and they're pretty high-level," Hatton tells Business Insider, citing 6-figure salaries. The average customer, she suggests, is looking for something in the $60,000 to $80,000 range.
In a recent interview with the "Today" show, Schmidt says the company has placed close to 800 people in jobs."As a matter of fact, I landed two people a job this week," he adds.
Hatton says their current client database has more than 2,000 names of people trying to fake their previous employment. They're people, she says, to whom "life has just been completely cruel."
In her mind, CareerExcuse is less a fraud than a for-profit lifeline."There are many things that happen in people's lives, with [employers] going out of business, being laid off, managers just unrightfully firing you, sexual harassment suits — you name it, it happens in the workforce."
Hatton is clear that CareerExcuse can't compensate for lack of talent, and if you couldn't actually do the job you're trying to get, you'd be wasting your money to enlist their services. But if you do have the experience and skills to complete the job, "then I don't see why you shouldn't deserve a shot, just like the next person."
Not actually having the background you claim to and then lying about it seems like one possible reason. But Hatton sees it as a warped kind of vigilante justice. "Without our services," she says, there are deserving people "who might not be able to get a second chance." The people they work with "work just as hard" as people that have developed real reference networks, Hatton maintains.
(Carmella Fernando/Flickr) CareerExcuse doesn't actually check the skills a potential client claims to have in any way, but Hatton thinks people are overwhelmingly honest with them about their abilities. It's hard not to note the irony: These are the same people who are hiring professional liars on the internet.
Though their business is lying, Hatton is clear there are lines they won't cross. They won't take on clients looking for work in government, medicine, childcare, or law enforcement — nothing where your employment would "put other people in danger." (Hutton doesn't note it, but Forbes points out that faking references for government employees is explicitly illegal. For most other fields, the legality is just very murky, and, as Motherboard reports, probably state-dependent.)
They discourage people just out of college from signing up for the service. "You don't want to start off this way," she says. "Go get realistic experience, and then stay with it." They also won't take people they get a bad feeling about, or if they sense their "services are being used for anything other than an honest second chance."
For customers, using CareerExcuse is a risky proposition, since it wouldn't be hard to catch a fake reference. "All it would take is one person to drive to that address and go to that office," Schmidt admits to Motherboard. There are, in fact, numerous ways the hoax could be discovered — a single suspicious hiring manager who checked the company on the Secretary of State website, for example.
And, as Paul McDonald, senior executive director with the staffing agency Robert Half tells Business Insider, a manager finding out "your credentials don't align with those you've presented" would likely result in your termination. "You won't just lose a job — you'll damage your reputation," he says. That would put you back where you started: desperate, and in need of CareerExcuse, or one of its competitors.
But it seems that reference checks, or at least the kind they're dealing with, are so formulaic that CareerExcuse doesn't raise any red flags. Given the demonstration of the service on a the "Today" show segment — "he's always one to take it upon himself to initiate the team," Hatton says, nonsensically — that seems surprising. If anything, fact that it apparently works casts doubt on the whole reference system.
CareerExcuse is not the answer, but the problem they're trying to address is a real one, and for Hatton, the ends justify the means. "It does make me feel good about myself to be able to help [people get jobs], whether I have to make a phone call and act like someone else and lie to help them do it."
More From Business Insider