I Went to a Pyramid Scheme Yesterday

There is nothing more soul-crushing than the job hunt. (I wonder how many internet articles within the last two years have started out like that). But it’s true: there’s no other activity that concentrates your value and worth as a human being/productive member of society into a sheet of paper and the ability to sell yourself without looking desperate. Yet, the more time you spend unemployed, the more desperate you become: a vicious catch-22 that makes it HARDER to become employed the longer you are unemployed. You seek out weird outlets, go to great lengths to meet requirements to jobs that you have no previous interest in. For example, I spent 5 days writing Yelp reviews to boost my profile for the job of Community Manager in North County San Diego… basically professional party guy (or the equivalent of Slurms McKenzie, Ke$ha). It’s not a job I’m qualified for, or even want… but it was a job.

You’re sending out resumes by the boatload, so when I got the phone call from “Sa;lfkj from the company dapfjpaf,” all I heard was “We saw your resume on Careerbuilder.” She sets up the interview, tells me to wear a tie because I was going to meet with a “lot of top executives”. Sounded important. After the call, and since she didn’t repeat the name of the company, I go to my email, search “Careerbuilder” and see that, indeed, I had used the site to apply to Vistage – a peer-to-peer coaching group for CEOs, or the facebook for billionaires.

I drive to a business-park office in a sea of other businessy things. Seems like a legit place for a powerful company to maintain a low-profile status. However, the inside is a bit shabby. Temporary carpet lines the hallways. It smells like paint (not fresh). The interview is supposed to take place in suite 106, but there is no listing for that suite on the building’s directory.

“Well,” says my naivety, “maybe it’s just so exclusive that they don’t advertise on the directory.”

The door to Suite 106 has a sheet of paper with the words “American Income Life” typed on it. Regular font, not even stylized. No logo. I push the door open and find a sterile, bare-boned waiting room with a bunch of professional ladies buzzing about. There is a big clock behind the reception counter engraved with three last names, much like an attorney’s office.

It’s obvious by now that this was not Vistage, the company I thought I was interviewing with, but it’s an interview with someone. “Um… I’m Ryan Bradford? I’m here for the interview?” I ask.

The receptionist looks up and is like “Oh, Mr. Bradford!” She might as well have said: “We’ve been waiting for you!” She hands me a clip-board and a sheet to fill out, much like a doctor visit. She says Vanessa will be right with me.

I feel like Michael Douglas from The Game. Other applicants began filing in, each given a clipboard. I filled out the sheet and that moment, a young woman called me back. “How are you doing? Did you find the place alright?”

She asks for my resume. I give it to her. While she reads it, I listen to the racket in the hall. At least five other applicants are greeted by: “How are you? Did you find the place alright?” Body Snatchers much?

“Looks like you’re a writer,” says the woman after going through my resume. “Well what we’re looking for is someone who sees themselves in upper management, do you think that’s you?”

“Yes,” I say, sliding back into professional interviewer mode. “That is definitely me.”

We have a very general back-and-forth, where she asks questions like “where do you see yourself in five years?” “what are your weaknesses?”… etc. And I’m answering them with aplomb! Bam: self-starter! Bam: great collaborator! Bam: engaging with strong minds! By the time she asks, what value I can bring to the company, I’m shouting “HONESTY!” like a half-delusional Andre the Giant. She stands up, shakes my hand and says “Congratulations, you’ve just made it to the next level of the interview!”

No joke.

I strut – STRUT! – down the hall. Next level. Hell yes. Again, I have no idea what the company is or what it does.

I turn the corner and my stomach drops. All the other applicants sit in classroom chairs waiting for something to happen at a podium. My brain goes: FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU– I see it all. The charade. I turn to leave and a strong guy in a business suit steps in my way. With a huge smile he says, “Just take a seat anywhere.”

Artist Rendition of John

Enter our speaker, John, an Eric Wareheim-looking character with knifey sideburns that extend down to his neck. He wears large rings, bracelets and a black suit that doesn’t fit right. Obviously, very coked up. He begins with a story about after college, all he wanted to do was make six figures. Sniff. He flashes a ring that does not cost six figures.

The company is American Income Life, which we finally learn, provides life insurance. Of course it does. He begins going through his schtick, writing figures on a white board, putting apostrophes where they shouldn’t be: four day’s a week. He can’t spell commitment. He goes on about how AIL serves blue-collar families and unions.

He talks about how fast we’ll make management, how fast it takes for us to move up the ladder. Nobody seems to realize he is literally describing the structure of a pyramid. I look around to see if anyone is catching this, but no–everyone just cares about the mad commissions they’ll make. They’re dreaming about living John’s life. And this strikes me as beyond sad. People are so desperate for jobs right now that it clouds their vision.

Before we leave, John says that some of us will be getting a phone call that night. He ominously states: “This is a very competitive position, so be sure to answer the phone.” Everyone buzzes with excitement as we leave, just hoping for that phone call.

So, what’s the moral of the story? I don’t know. But if any of you need life insurance, hit me up. I’ll give you a good deal.

22 thoughts on “I Went to a Pyramid Scheme Yesterday

    1. WOW! I a retiring from the Military after 20 + years and what you described in your writing is exactly what happened to me. I need good employment to take care of my family and when I received a call from AIL i thought “why not see” ? Holy crap! your story is exactly the same as mine! I went home and did research on this company. Yeah do not work here! they are basically con artists.

  1. Once when I needed money in college, I went through four rounds of interviews in an obscure office park before I realized the position was door-to-door vacuum sales. And I still had to get a friend’s advice before turning it down. In fact, that might have been you.
    Moral of the story, if it weren’t for you, I’d be making six figures today.

  2. I just had the same interview / time-share presentation at AIL today. Wish I had read this yesterday.

  3. Oh man, i worked there for about a month. What they don’t mention is they don’t cover any expenses or provide any benefits, and you have to go through the licensing process. And it’s hardcore a pyramid scam. Luckily, i didn’t make a dime there, so i didn’t put it on any resumes.

  4. I have just been called in to AIL for an interview for a manager position. Thank you I will be calling to say I am not available!

  5. unfortunatly like you said, my vision was clouded by my desperation for a job..im stuck working there until i find something better, I spend too much money already to just quit it…I hope i’ll find better really soon!!

  6. Definite pyramid scheme , went to one of those cultish classroom things.in a building called the pyramid.,.ironic. Ha great article.

    1. I just got “the call” today. Fortunately I look into everything nowadays and saw your comment. That you for saving the money that I don’t have for gas, paying for license, etc. I read several comments and the bad outweighed the good. Thank you guys once again. Continuing my job hunt now.

  7. I also got an “interview” – it was exactly how the writer described. I’m young and didn’t really know what to look out for in a pyramid scheme, but when I went back for the second “interview” – the one where they offer you a job – I got nothing but bad vibes from everyone in there. After I got hired and was given a bunch of paperwork to fill out, I googled this company and was mad at myself for not doing it earlier. I got the hell out of there and didn’t look back. I called them up and told the receptionist that I’m not interested in the job anymore because I figured out it was a pyramid scheme; she instantly became extremely agitated and hung up on me. I’m just glad I figured it out before it was too late.

  8. I just went to an “interview” at Deley Enterprises, one of the branches of AIL in “their office” in Roseville, MN. Incidentally this was advertised on Craigs List. I experienced the same as above, interviewed for 5 min. with a guy in the office (Devin) and then ushered down to the basement level by Hans where there sat 6 other applicants and we waited for 1 more to join us before he went on to his spiel. Same as above again, very inarticulate-repeated “ya know” every third word. He has been with the company for 5 months now and has already been promoted and blah blah blah. Yah! Right – and I’ll bet they have a bridge in Brooklyn that they’re selling at a reduced rate if enough investors are interested.
    What a disappointment. I feel sorry for any person(s) who falls for this. Shame on this company. Bloodsuckers.
    Two of the other applicants and I talked after the “interview session” and we agreed it sounded like a pyramid scheme.

  9. Good on your for recognizing the pyramid scheme, but should you have stood up and shouted at him, exposed him for what he is? What was he going to do, throw you out? Throw you out of that amazing opportunity? We all need to take action against sociopathy.

  10. I’m a little late to this blog but I just interviewed at one of the offices and I shit you not, 97% of the stuff you write about happened exactly the way you describe it, including the “Did you find the place alright?” to every candidate. The scary part is how many people didn’t realize what was going on. The only thing that could have made it more clear is if the guy drew a goddamn pyramid to on the board to describe the business model.

  11. Thank you for writing this, seriously. I was supposed to have my ‘interview’ in about two hours from now, but I’m glad I decided to do some further last minute research before going in. I share your frustration and disbelief, as well as acknowledge how sad it is that they take advantage of the things like the fact that the job market is tight right now.

  12. I just attended this same lecture this morning! I sat through a full hour of the same structure of a pyramid scheme Ryan heard. Then, the “2 or 3 minutes is all we’ll need to know whether you are what we’re looking for” interviews began. I was asked to step outside with the moderator, along with the woman seated next to me. My ‘interview’ took exactly 15 seconds. The moderator, all 27 years of him, said to me “I’ll take your application. You’re not going to be what we’re looking for. You can leave.” Why? Because I have red hair? Because I wore a coral jacket? Because I was not dressed in black and grey? Maybe just because my head swung up with a quizzical look when he said he wouldn’t cover someone “because he had Diabetes”…WHAT? In 2014, with Obama-care in effect, you turn away health coverage to diabetics and people over 65?!! How can this be a legit company? Turns out the lady seated next to me had just been similarly dismissed. We were both in healthcare. Not sorry for myself…I had stopped filling out the application, and was trying to decide whether to write “NOT INTERESTED” on Page One, or to enhance the suspense and turn to Page Two. But the other poor woman had been asked to drive over an hour and a half to this ‘interview’! On the way out the door, she turned to me and said, “Sounds like a scam to me. I wanted to thank him for telling me I could go!” Stay away from these people. As Ryan said, it’s a step-by-step, textbook description of a Pyramid Scheme. In the real world, NOBODY goes from training in a new field e.g. insurance sales to running an ENTIRE STATE’S sales force in 3 years. Even Warren buffet had to work for a living once!

  13. A Pyramid scheme is you paying money to something or someone ,and then finding people to pay you so that the original person you payed makes money off you an everyone under you. That is not the case with AIL. The company makes money off your sales, not a person. Tho I will admit the way they market the business is a pyramid, but there is no scheme

  14. Obviously if you took on the opportunity this provider has and you were a motivated individual and follow there system you can do very well finically. I know because I am living proof. I do make 6 figures and I have a retirement plan that can not be found any where.

    Though all of you above that thought it was a pyramid scam and all the others who were just close minded to the method your loss. This career is not for every one, but the wolves can eat very well. For all the sheep who need to punch a clock have fun with that. Every office may have a different way of recruiting and different individual with there own style the opportunity as whole is great and any person who can follow the system and implement it can have the opportunity to make more than most careers pay. I do work with several people over 6 figures in income and a few dozen over 200 k and a dozen over 300 k.

    If you call that a pyramid scheme thats your opinion. My question to you is. What job or career is not structured like that?
    You nave a owner, different levels of management, and the basic work force.
    All payed at different levels.

  15. I found AIL on Craigslist like many people here did. My interview process was exactly the same as the blog posted. The man presenting the group interview had everyone sold, remember he’s a salesman. We all had money signs in our eyes, but didn’t realize what the actual job was, considering they never truly say. I got the call back for the final interview, which I was told I needed to bring payment for my schooling for licensure with me, before anything happens… sounds even more sketchy now. It makes me wonder if they really did only call the “best” people back or if they called everyone; they did make time slots all day available, so one would never even know. Getting that call back made me feel great, like I did something impressive, but in reality this company is filled with money hungry salesmen. My gut told me is was wrong and morally I didn’t want to be a part of something so shady. The desperation for a job, as stated, is the perfect platform for why I considered this job in the first place. I have no business background and especially not sales backgrounds, and yet “I was the perfect candidate”. If the money is too good to be true, it usually is. Needless to say I am canceling my final interview.

  16. Thank you for this. I know the feeling of really wanting a job, taking a shot in the dark and finding a disappointing scam. I interviewed at a place just like this except they purportedly sold knives. I was so anxious and so determined to be a perfect little employee that I ignored all the red flags. And they were pretty glaring. Newspaper articles about how great a company is that I’ve never heard of prominently displayed in their lobby? A ridiculous medieval sword hanging in the presentation room? The special knife technology was originally developed for marines? Most of all, I would have to buy the first knife set and only make money on commission? I saw the red flags but only passively. I was so hopeful about getting a job that I shut my brain off and became a salesperson zombie. Also, I’d hate to mistake a friendly nature for good humor but I believe the two secretaries in the office were hired to flatter the interviewees. One of them was an impossibly handsome guy who pulled me aside as I was leaving so that we could personally chat alone about how things went in the interview. I was all smiles as I nodded mindlessly to everything he said. Once I got out of the office, my mind cleared and all the signs of a scam came flooding into my brain.

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