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Bike shop employment scam(s)?

Old 05-02-12, 03:39 PM
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aerodynamic
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Bike shop employment scam(s)?

I'm wondering if anybody else has noticed what I suspect to be a (common?) scam in the bicycle biz. This has happened to myself and a couple of my (competent, experienced) mechanic friends lately.

1) Mechanic answers an ad for employment at an established, mainstream and supposedly reputable shop.
2) Mechanic is asked by shop to do an assembly (or more) without any sort of interview or other expression of interest in their credentials.
3) Mechanic does said assemblies--well of course, because this is sort of an interview s/he thinks--and only gets "Thanks, we'll be in touch".
4) Shop was actually fully staffed a month previously and just gets applicants do to their assemblies for them all spring long.

If you're familiar with this phenomena in any way, I'd like to hear from you. Come to think of it, I'm wondering now about how workers in the bike community can deal with these scams most effectively.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:07 PM
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It's debatable. In a way you'd ofcourse have to showcase your skills but at the same time I don't know if the bikes assembled by prospective employees are sold as is directly after the "interview". I am also unsure if their business is willing to take that chance to run the risk of their customers purchasing bikes assembled by people that haven't been check for proper credentials?
But I do see where you are coming from. I worked as a mechanic with no formal training or credentials to back up my work but I did have to undergo a few series of showcasing where I had to service drive trains, then the next visit would be for a wheel build, and the next for a brake job mind you this was on a bike that all prospective employees had to work on, not a bike fresh out of the box.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:17 PM
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I think the best bet would be to "out" these unscrupulous shops in a thread on the proper forum somewhere. Personally, I wouldn't want to patronize a shop that exploited ppl that way.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:19 PM
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I don't mind being tested--I DO mind being told to do valuable work for free and/or being scammed.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by surreal View Post
I think the best bet would be to "out" these unscrupulous shops in a thread on the proper forum somewhere. Personally, I wouldn't want to patronize a shop that exploited ppl that way.
I appreciate your sentiment, but most shops treat most of their employees pretty badly. Most customers don't care, either--cheap is all they care about. And then there's the "whistleblower" dillema--if you out a shop like that you become known in your city's bike community as "that person who ratted out an employer" and who thenceforth has inordinate difficulty finding work.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:32 PM
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When I worked at a shop, I was treated pretty well---except on payday. Small matter, as I mostly worked there for the discount. But, I think the only ppl who'd KNOW who had outed them would be the ppl who already used you and already refused to hire you. Could they really tarnish your reputation by saying "this guy squealed when I screwed him?" I'd think that'd be worse for their own rep...
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Old 05-02-12, 04:50 PM
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On the subject of bike shop employees, just how much do bike mechanics on the average actually make per hour? I imagine that the rate is fairly low.
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Old 05-02-12, 04:58 PM
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I'd build a bike. Not more than one, though. And then follow up with a phone call the day after -- if they can't give me specific reasons why my build failed, I'd have issues, and would probably invoice them for my time...
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Old 05-02-12, 05:08 PM
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After they check your work, show them how quickly you can disassemble it. Shows motivation and initiative, right?

-G
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Old 05-02-12, 05:14 PM
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Originally Posted by mconlonx View Post
I'd build a bike. Not more than one, though. And then follow up with a phone call the day after -- if they can't give me specific reasons why my build failed, I'd have issues, and would probably invoice them for my time...
You can TRY doing that, but they'll just laugh in your face or lie about how you didn't do x or y correctly and they had to re-do the job. Nobody will inspect your work then and there for precisely such reasons, I expect.


Originally Posted by mconlonx View Post
After they check your work, show them how quickly you can disassemble it. Shows motivation and initiative, right?
That sounds even better. A shame its not that feasable--I'd do it in a sec.
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Old 05-02-12, 05:17 PM
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Sort of like calling ICE/INS, the day before payday.

the reciprocal is the state labor commissioner , wage and hour folks.

documentation is usually the Rub.

arraigning a Sting to expose the practice and document
it for prosecution is a bit more involved..

some state governors hate labor anyhow..
they rode into town on the Bosses Wagon.

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Old 05-02-12, 05:20 PM
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You assembled a bunch of bikes for free and didn't receive any payment? Why didn't you ask more questions about what was going on? I'm not inclined to work for free... did you just assume the assembly was some sort of interview? There seems to be a lot of talking left out of your summary of events... didn't you ask if this was a test? Did you just keep going on boxes of bikes without so much as an interruption? Did you just keep showing up in the morning and going into the back to put bikes together without so much as a peep from the boss? This question sounds so absurd to me I'm really having a hard time imagining the scenario.
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Old 05-02-12, 07:29 PM
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I was told the assembly was supposed to be a test of my mechanical abilities. I did it because tech-testing is customary for wrenching positions and assemblies are a uniform way of doing this since repair-jobs are often so disparate as to be useless for comparison between candidates. When I was done I was told they wanted applicants to do TWO assemblies, and I smelled something fishy. I refused on the grounds that there's little one can learn about my abilities from a second assembly that couldn't be learned from the first. I was never interviewed or quizzed in any way--'just come in and do all this work for us, don't get paid, and leave...sucker' is the message they transmitted.

But thanks for assuming I'm a rube, or just stupid.
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Old 05-02-12, 07:46 PM
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So assembling two bikes took you, say, 1.5 to 2 hours? I've had interviews at professional jobs where I sat around waiting for an hour and had a 30 minute interview. So purely time-wise, I wouldn't consider two hours entirely unreasonable or scam-like. Different bikes can also have different challenges, so two bikes doesn't seem unreasonable either - even if just assembling doesn't seem like it would properly represent a mechanic's skills.

I would only say its a scam if a shop is bringing in 7-10 mechanics and having them all assemble bikes. Then that just sounds fishy and probably not a shop I'd want to work at anyways.
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Old 05-02-12, 10:35 PM
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I can't see how this could be a profitable scam from the bike shop's perspective. Firstly, if they aren't totally insane regarding liability they will have one of their wrenches check over your work very thoroughly before they let a customer touch the bike you built. The money they theoretically "saved" in your scenario by having you build for free could easily have been eaten up in labour costs if you didn't know what you were doing.

Secondly, are there really enough unemployed, skilled wrenches in your area to build the whole shop's fleet one at a time? Seems doubtful.

Was the second bike the exact same model as the first, or different? Like goatalope says, different bikes take different skills to assemble.

When I started at a shop I didn't get an interview either. I came in on the recommendation of a friend who worked there and was thrown into the back with no instructions, to assemble for eight bucks a bike (pretty close to working for free anyway ). I think you're being overly suspicious here, but you might have blown the callback by refusing to build the second bike.
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Old 05-02-12, 11:55 PM
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I've worked in bike shops since the '80s and known a fair number of mechanics/assemblers over that time. I've never heard of this tactic. I don't think it would work in my area, there's just not enough skilled people looking for positions in the first place. The guys I *would* like to see on our crew are solidly employed at other LBSes and not inclined to move over.
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Old 05-03-12, 02:55 AM
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Originally Posted by aerodynamic View Post
I was told the assembly was supposed to be a test of my mechanical abilities. I did it because tech-testing is customary for wrenching positions...
Haven't heard about it regarding anything technical, but it's a frequently reported phenomena in the service sector, particularly for seasonal work.
People are supposedly being tested for a position as a temp / relief worker waiting on tables, doing housekeeping or similar work with minimal training needs.
Depending on the naivety/desperation of the person tested, they may end up putting plenty of hours in before being sent off empty handed.

I see no reason why bike shop owners should be principally more honest than someone running a restaurant.

But the economy/responsibility side of it seems a bit shaky. Pushing a broom around is fairly low risk, whether you do it well or poorly is unlikely to actually mean that much.
That kind of stuff has a beneficial set-up vs payout time for the scam.

But how does the shop treat the test-assembled bike? Do they send it out to have the customer do the quality control? And how do they get the applicants? Do they just walk in the door?

If it's a scam, it seems like a rather inefficient one. By the time they've found a sucker, gotten him a place in the shop, pointed out the tools and given the finished bike a once-over, the shop would have a fair amount of time invested in the scam too. And all for a free assembly.

I'd probably assign it to poor people's skills, and/or poor communication instead.
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Old 05-03-12, 10:33 AM
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I have been 'interviewed' by assembling a bike several times. Each time I was offered a job after. I don't think the 'scam' is very common, for the reasons mentioned above.
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Old 05-03-12, 12:41 PM
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I'll agree it makes no sense as a scam. I expect they just didn't want/ need you to work there. Easy to understand someone looking for a way to rationalize that sort of rejection.
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Old 05-03-12, 01:06 PM
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Originally Posted by aerodynamic View Post
You can TRY doing that, but they'll just laugh in your face or lie about how you didn't do x or y correctly and they had to re-do the job. Nobody will inspect your work then and there for precisely such reasons, I expect.
Which is fine -- at least you get some satisfaction of an answer. And if you actually did/didn't do the things they are calling you out on, it's legit. OTOH, if you did and you know it, probably not a place you want to work anyway. The invoice thing... I wouldn't expect to get paid and wouldn't bother following up, just more a "hey, you guys are dickheads, just thought you ought to know."

Why would you build more than one bike in such a situation?
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Old 05-03-12, 03:19 PM
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I'd have to agree too that a shop would have nothing to gain by this, as there's no way a shop that's reputable in any way will sell or send out a bike assembled by a stranger. I imagine that in that scenario, more often than not the bike would come right back to the shop with x or y problem needing to be diagnosed and attended to. At my shop we've 'interviewed' people this way, as a follow-up to a regular interview, and usually it involves a shop mechanic going through and spending at least as much time as the assembly with tweaking and final touches.
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Old 05-07-12, 10:07 AM
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"So assembling two bikes took you, say, 1.5 to 2 hours? I've had interviews at professional jobs where I sat around waiting for an hour and had a 30 minute interview. So purely time-wise, I wouldn't consider two hours entirely unreasonable or scam-like. Different bikes can also have different challenges, so two bikes doesn't seem unreasonable either - even if just assembling doesn't seem like it would properly represent a mechanic's skills."
>>
Waiting around wastes everybody's time, but there's little reason to be suspicious, because the firm you're applying to doesn't get free value from your waiting. Getting mechanic-applicants to do assemblies does.

"I would only say its a scam if a shop is bringing in 7-10 mechanics and having them all assemble bikes. Then that just sounds fishy and probably not a shop I'd want to work at anyways."
>>
Its impossible to know exactly what's being done because nobody will tell you, but if I know a couple of people who've had this done to them it's already suspicious.

"I can't see how this could be a profitable scam from the bike shop's perspective. Firstly, if they aren't totally insane regarding liability they will have one of their wrenches check over your work very thoroughly before they let a customer touch the bike you built. The money they theoretically "saved" in your scenario by having you build for free could easily have been eaten up in labour costs if you didn't know what you were doing."
>>
Sounds reasonable, except that when I asked the head wrench if it was ok to test-ride the bike (I was worried they'd think I was stealing it) he said he didn't bother to test-ride assemblies himself, but I could knock myself out if that's what I wanted. It doesn't sound like liability is a big issue for these guys. As for spending money, consider the scam thusly:

* You have to hire throw-away summer sales staff anyway, so mention in your ad that you're looking for wrenches, too. Don't take the ad down when staff are filled, just let people keep applying.
* When people apply, it takes maybe 2 minutes of your time to arrange a date/time for them to come in. Nobody at this shop seemed to care about being exact on this, even when I tried to make specific commitments for a meeting.
* Just pull the first box with an entry-level bike you carry in the shop off the pile and give it to the applicant. "The tools are over there." Time invested thus far: *maybe* 5 minutes?
* When the applicant is done, don't even look at them and mumble something like, "Yeah, just leave it [the bike] over there."
* Give it a quick once-over later to make sure the customer won't kill themselves on a test-ride, then (as per usual) offer a "free tune-up" if anything turns out to be poorly done. The practice of slapping assemblies together poorly and offering "free initial tune-up"'s is pretty common in the industry, I find.

"If it's a scam, it seems like a rather inefficient one. By the time they've found a sucker, gotten him a place in the shop, pointed out the tools and given the finished bike a once-over, the shop would have a fair amount of time invested in the scam too. And all for a free assembly."
>>
Seems the costs there are pretty low, and are all the "overhead" of getting lots of people in, which like I mentioned can be piggybacked on legitimate hiring, is not only offset by a single assembly, but the scam-profit might be enhanced significantly by getting said applicant to do....two assemblies? The second assembly was something that really smelled fishy to me.

"I have been 'interviewed' by assembling a bike several times. Each time I was offered a job after. I don't think the 'scam' is very common, for the reasons mentioned above."
>>>
Agreed, but maybe the economy (and second 'interview assemblies') are changing this.


"I've worked in bike shops since the '80s and known a fair number of mechanics/assemblers over that time. I've never heard of this tactic. I don't think it would work in my area, there's just not enough skilled people looking for positions in the first place."
>>>
Unless maybe you're in a period of economic depression with high unemployment, especially for younger people? Just a thought.

"I'll agree it makes no sense as a scam. I expect they just didn't want/ need you to work there. Easy to understand someone looking for a way to rationalize that sort of rejection."
>>
I understand what you're saying. I'd think something like that, too, if I were you. It's not. Remember, I did one assembly and left after I decided it was probably a scam. I don't know how to convince you I'm not reacting out of a feeling of rejection, but I'm not. I'm worried about people already close to the socioeconomic edge being used and hurt even more by unethical businesses.

Really, all I'm trying to say is that people shouldn't have to add value to a company for free. If you want me to do an assembly, fine. Pay me 10 bucks or whatever the going rate is. I'll do it. Or actually *interview* me. Or check my references. Or quiz me on my bike knowledge--all those things are free, but they take effort and time, something scammers aren't interested in. Best yet--why not do what a lot of ethical shops seem to do and take me on for a 2 day trial period for pay? Just don't treat people who worked hard to build their skill-set like garbage.

Last edited by aerodynamic; 05-07-12 at 10:17 AM.
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Old 05-07-12, 03:34 PM
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So how exactly would you like a bike shop to evaluate mechanics? It kinda makes sense to use something from the available work load. In fact that would make sense for ANY position as a mechanic - automotive, bicycle or motorcycle. As well as references.

So personally I was asked to strip a road bike to the frame simply because the frame was needed for a warranty claim. Next I was asked to assemble a new bike simply because the owner couldn't believe how fast I had the first job done. After that I was offered a position on the spot. Out of four 'interviews' I got three job offers.

So is it possible you just took too long to assemble that bike? Mechanical skills are only part of the equation. Effeciency and attitude are a couple others and based on what you're posting here I can understand why an employer might not be interested - can you?
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Old 05-07-12, 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by aerodynamic View Post
I'm wondering if anybody else has noticed what I suspect to be a (common?) scam in the bicycle biz. This has happened to myself and a couple of my (competent, experienced) mechanic friends lately..
I've never heard of this as a scam. Many shops legitimately use an assembly as a test for new applicants. They're interested in both the speed and quality of the work, and should review it in front of you. Regardless of the results, they may not decide whether to hire you or not, depending on whether they have other applicants.

If a shop uses free assembly as a scam, I'd be real concerned, not as an abused mechanic, but for their customers, whose bikes are assembled by outsiders whose skills and methods are unknowns. Not a good way to establish any level of quality control.

BTW- the fact that the shop seems fully staffed doesn't mean anything, they may be planning for a replacement, growth, vacation schedule, peak time part timer, etc.

Also, back when we hired mechanics (not at that end of the biz now) most who weren't hired didn't lose out because of quality, but speed. There are many good amateur mechanics, capable of excellent work, but not able to do it fast enough to meet professional productivity needs.
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Old 05-07-12, 04:21 PM
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Nope, not a scam; the key to the interview is to keep constantly talking about the components you are are working with and the variations on that component type while dealing with interruptions calmly and cheerfully. This skill set is valuable in my industry too, and is the best kind of interview I could hope for. Little things like pulling and organizing all the needed tools before you start, cleaning each tool after a single use, taking extra precautions with any painted or fragile surfaces, and when disassembling anything you make it very clear you have an organization about the parts removed. Mind your "P's & Q's" when you get to a stubborn part, explain everything you are doing in a confident manner as though you were lecturing a class in it, do not ask for approval from the interviewer on any procedure unless you first offer two commonly accepted alternative answers, keep any criticism of the bike components or design to an absolute minimum and instead point out positive improvements made over a previous generation of thinking on the component. Do not stop to make these speeches, you have to move as quickly as you can and talk fast while wrenching. Juggling helps, if you can do that too.

Not only will they not ask you to assemble a second bike, they may not interview any one else if you can put this "dog and pony" show together. Look, it is a tough market out there for jobs, you can use every bit of advice from old people you can get. Hope this helps someone out there, good luck.

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