Careers ServiceUnusual vacancies

You may come across some vacancies which are not as straightforward as you might think.

Here are some unusual vacancies and our advice about them. Have a good think about what it would mean for you, both personally and financially, were you to take such a job.

Direct sales & marketing companies

Direct sales and marketing companies are becoming more common. It may not always be immediately obvious, but this work normally consists of selling items door-to-door. For the right type of person, it can offer a good opportunity to develop a lot of valuable skills and to make money. You need to be assertive (not aggressive), confident, enthusiastic, and a good communicator.

Selection procedures for these jobs are designed to identify those people who have the right personality and motivation. Employers do not want to take on people who will not be able to cope, it would not be in their interest to do so. Some students have found selection processes quite stressful. But if you're thinking of direct marketing, it's in your interest to know whether you are suited to this work.

Reports from students who have done direct marketing before tend to be very polarised. For example, though some disliked the work, they were very enthusiastic about its benefits. Particularly career and personal development.

Some questions that you might like to ask your direct marketing company representative:

  • What will I be selling?
  • Where will I be selling it?
  • Will I be self-employed?
  • Do I need to buy stock from the company up-front, or is any other financial layout required from me? If so, how much does it cost?
  • Will you find me accommodation? Will I be responsible for the cost of the accommodation? What will the cost be? Will I be sharing? If yes, with whom?
  • (If you're working abroad) Will you pay for my (return) travel to the relevant destination?
  • Do I need my own transport? Do you pay expenses when I use it for work?
  • What will my working hours be?
  • Safety: will I be working in a pair/team? Will you check me on and off shift to make sure I am safe?
    (If you're working abroad) What happens if it doesn't work out or if I take sick while abroad?

No reputable company will resent these questions, and they might help you find out whether these opportunities are for you or not.


The National Minimum Wage does not apply to people who are genuinely self-employed. If you're genuinely self-employed you'll be responsible for paying your own National Insurance Contributions and Income Tax. If you're contemplating becoming self-employed, contact your local tax office to find out what you have to do and how to organise your tax and national insurance payments. Visit the HMRC website for advice for students who wish to be self-employed.

Some employers may tell you that you will be self-employed, when in fact you are really working as an employee. Find out the national minimum wage rates and how to distinguish between being a worker for an employer and being self-employed. If you work for someone and are not self-employed, you're probably entitled to the minimum wage.

Commission only vacancies

Some organisations may want to employ you on a "commission only" basis. This means you do not get an hourly wage. Rather, you're paid as a percentage of the sales you make over a certain period. For example, selling items door-to-door. Or working for an estate agent where you are paid only when there is a successful transaction.

NMW legislation calls this "output work". It states that where the employer sets hours for you to do this type of work, you should receive payment of at least the minimum wage for every hour you work. Alternatively, you and your employer may come to an agreement on a "fair estimate" of how many hours are likely to be worked within a certain period. You should be paid at least the minimum wage for all the hours worked in the period.

Vacancies that cost

This means that the employer expects you to put up some money. That normally means buying stock which you will then sell on to customers you deal with. The money you make from the sale of this stock then goes to pay some of your wages.

Think carefully before you get involved in a scheme like this. It may work well for some people but think what would happen if you were to take ill and were unable to work. Or wanted to leave to start another job. Would the company buy the stock back from you?

If you are in any doubt about a vacancy for which you have applied or are considering applying please contact us. We may know of someone else who has worked for the company or done a similar type of job.