Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Scam Artist All-Star List

As we all know, there are top 25, 50 or 100 lists for almost everything such as the top 50 NFL players of the decade or the 25 Best Costumes for Lady Gaga, Most Important Inventions of All Time, Best Political Scandals of the Decade, etc.

As we all also know, it seems that whenever something awful happens, be it large or small, man-made or natural, there are always some folks lying in wait to take advantage of people when they are down and at their most vulnerable.

We read about it every day: con artists scamming seniors, sub-prime lenders, quacks selling phony cancer cures, or those who think of ways to take advantage of people whose lives have been shattered by Katrina or, of course, the Bernie Madoffs of the world be they on Wall Street or, as we hear about almost daily, another elected official who has betrayed the trust given to them.

The list is dreadful, long and always makes you wonder how or why it is that one person would do something like that to someone else. Even more depressing is the fact that lots of these people are actually parents!

At any rate, what got me going on this subject was a question that one of our members asked on a teleconference I host every week in which members can ask anything they want to on any subject be it about ExecuNet, executive job search, executive search, headhunters or whatever.

In this case, the question was: “Are professional career marketing services effective and worth the cost to assist in landing an executive-level position?”

Every time I am asked about this topic I have to take a deep breath before responding and compose myself so that I don’t sound quite as angry as I feel.

Indeed, I posted some thoughts on this subject a few years ago in a post I called: There’s a Reason They Call it Caveat Emptor and given that title it is pretty obvious what my feelings are about how some of these executive marketing firms operate.

Talk about taking advantage of people when they are most vulnerable! As they say, “I could tell you stories…”

Technically we may be out of the recession but when you are still trying to find a job, it sure doesn’t feel like it, and given the current economic environment, many of these outfits have re-surfaced as hundreds of thousands of people try to fight their way back from the recession.

In any event, in trying to pass along a few tips to the caller in terms of “red flags” when it comes to services that claim they can work magic for you, it occurred to me that while some of it was still fresh in my mind, maybe posting a few things to keep in mind here, might be of help to others who weren’t members with us but who certainly are as vulnerable as anyone else.

So, here are a few things to keep in mind if before you sign a check:

Beware of firms that “guarantee” placement, promise an astoundingly high success rate or a job in certain period of time. Of course, they won’t really put it in these specific terms, but it will be implied and you are going to think that is what you heard.

Real world: There is no one better at selling you than you, and therefore no one who can get you a job but you.

Be careful if asked for big bucks up front. Outplacement services and executive recruiters are normally paid by companies and not individuals so these scam career firms sometimes will often have names that suggest they are in the same arena and might explain their services as “retail outplacement” or “reverse recruiters” to try to legitimize themselves in the prospect’s eyes when, in fact, they have no intention of providing the sort of help that the legitimate career services firms and practitioners do. The fact that the career services industry is unregulated, makes it very easy for the unethical firms to pass themselves off as legitimate.

Go to the company's website. Is there easy-to-find contact information with names, addresses and phone numbers? Are there pictures and bios for the management team? Research them online too.

Conduct thorough due diligence. These firms are masterful at initially creating positive search engine results but once a steady stream of complaints build online and/or with the Better Business Bureau or sites like RipoffReport, they go out of business and change names. They are all-stars at walking the legal line to the edge.

Worse, they know that most of their "marks" are in transition and therefore don't have the money to take real legal action and/or are too embarrassed at falling for the scam and just want to move on. Point being, they know their risk is very slight at best.

Watch out for the bait and switch. These low life outfits have lots of ways to get leads such as: posting bogus positions on job boards, watch the résumés stream in, and then they’ll make contact with some sort of pitch to get you into their offices: e.g. “This job has been filled but your background makes you perfect for…” They also scan résumés on public job boards and reach out to those whose backgrounds look like they were in jobs that paid well enough to get someone to write fat five figure checks.

Find out what they’re promising. Break down and quantify the list of services they’re providing. You’ll find some you can do yourself, some are free, some are less expensive, and some aren’t worth it at all.

They are exceptionally strong sales closers. Every contact – email, phone and in-person meeting – is to draw you closer to writing a check or handing over your credit card. They will often invite you to bring your spouse or significant other to the office with you so as not to delay your financial decision or give you too much time to change your mind.

Don’t be tempted by an “easy” solution. Job search is not an easy road, and there is certainly a tendency for most of us that once we have paid for a service, we can sit back and wait for the service to be delivered.

Better yet, when we give money to someone and are expecting them to do the work, the candidate is thinking that they now don't have to worry about dealing with the inevitable rejections that comes along with the process of a job search. Outfits like these make it sound like an “easy” answer because of all their “contacts” and access to the hidden job market, etc.

Bottom line: As the old saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.” Full stop.


Debra Feldman, the JobWhiz said...

Do you think you are the only hearing horror stories, Dave? Unfortunately, I regularly get calls from candidates who have fallen victim to career marketing scams. Their learning takeaway is to ask better questions which I never fail to answer honestly and openly. After paying a large fee, they do not have a strong presentation to command attention from employers or creative marketing strategy or a handle on what is challenging their job search progress or ultimately, what they thought they were paying for, job lead referrals. Here are a few steps for due diligence recommended for those individuals who want or need assistance designing a more effective job search strategy and executing a targeted campaign.
1. Check references and BBB, ripoff report, etc. Also, trust your gut.( if it is too good, it is.) Get a detailed description of the process and services.
2. Check quality of resume and other marketing documents that will be produced for you. How will this be developed? What makes it a superior example? What is the cost?
3. Is the marketing expert familiar with best practices such as leveraging social media, online and traditional resources? Today a resume and mail blast is less effective than cultivating interest, generating new connections, and demonstrating talent with proof of ability.
4. What research will be conducted to provide a competitive advantage?
5. How long have they been in business? Who do they regularly collaborate with. What are their professional connections and credentials?
6. What was their previous career experience and what makes them an expert at career marketing. What do they know about career management, job search and marketing principles?
7. How will differences be resolved between client and service providers?
8. Professionals continue to learn and update their skills. Has this career consultant been Ask if they like their job as a career marketing consultant. If they do, they are more likely to do a good job for their clients.
9. Find out from them what it takes to be a successful client- like a “reverse” job interview
10. Finally, if this is a recruiter, they should not be taking payment from both the candidate and the employer. period. All kinds of loyalty conflicts are inescapable when an individual works both sides of a transaction even if their role changes based on the situation for representing either a company or an individual. They are still one person and cannot totally separate the conflicting demands and needs associated with two different parties with frequently conflicting objectives.

As impassioned as you are about the scams, I am driven to defend the legitimate, honest, talented and productive career marketing resources available. Do not lump everyone with the bad app or unmet need to provide executives with career marketing expertise and this continues to be in very short supply (while the number of new scams amazingly proliferates.)

Dave Opton said...


Thanks for taking the time to add your voice.

No need to defend the legitimate career management profressionals of which there are far more than the unethical firms referred to here.

Unfortunately, as you and I well know, those who are desparate for help are too often not aware of the red flags that should make them run, not simply walk away.

The purpose of the post was to try and do something to shine more light on what these SOB's do in the hope that it would help slow down some the the proliferation you referred to in your comment.

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