Beware of executive job search scams

Most of my executive clients have never had to look for a job before … at least not since graduating from college or grad school. The prospect of going out and trying to find a job is a bit frightening, and it rapidly becomes frustrating, as the skills needed for being a successful executive and a successful job hunter are very different. This makes executive job hunters the target of scams and highly ineffective methods of finding a job, on which they can waste up to tens of thousands of dollars.

While there are many legitimate firms with great reputations that honestly assist executives in finding the best career positions, there are also some scam artists out there. Today, we’ll look at three of the most common career services — and what to watch out for.

Outplacement firms
Outplacement firms perform a valuable service to some degree. There are two kinds of outplacement firms — wholesale and retail. The wholesale ones are hired by companies laying off employees (for the most part) and do a fine job, as far as it goes. But they’re not paid a whole lot to help the people they’re working with. They generally provide career advice, résumé assistance and some office help.

Retail outplacement firms vary greatly. There are some that are honest and indicate exactly what they are able to do. Others, however, promise “secret databases,” “exclusive clients” and other things that no one possesses. While an outplacement firm may well have a decent network, nobody has “secret” databases or “exclusive” clients.

Other retail firms promise that they’ll do the work, and you’ll get the job. Let’s be clear. Finding a job, with or without help, is a great deal of hard work and takes about 40 to 70 hours per week if you’re doing it well. If anyone promises to do the work for you, unless they’re charging you over $100K, they’re lying to you. Read what they’re promising (and not promising), and check them out thoroughly before giving them money.

Reverse headhunters
Reverse headhunters claim to do everything a headhunter does for their client companies, but for you, instead. Look carefully at what you’re getting. Some claim 100 percent success rate. Nobody, but nobody has a 100 percent success rate at finding out-of-work executives jobs … nobody! What their “100 percent success rate” consists of is 100 percent success in identifying the hiring authority at a company with an opening. Woo-hoo! You can do that for yourself with a bit of web research. Again, one of these firms claims to have databases “not available to the public.” Shoot, I have databases not available to the public and so do you. It’s called our “address book.” These folks usually market by sending a letter saying that you have been selected to speak to them, as if this is difficult.

Career transition firms
(This is the category into which my firm falls … kind of.) Career transition firms can also provide a valuable service. A good career transition firm can cut months off of your search by assisting you with networking, making every interview count and changing some dysfunctional behaviors on your part. But there are lots of “career coaches” and “executive coaches” with no real executive experience, no education, no real training and no track record. So, with many of these, you’re paying to have a nice conversation with someone each week.

A true transition coach will provide expert advice, some access to decent networks, a few introductions to specific people for your search, introductions to headhunters, brutal interview and networking training and very specific behavioral advice. They will also be very specific in what they do not provide — a job, an open Rolodex, setting up of interviews, reverse headhunting or introducing you to dozens of people.

If you are interested in this type of service, ask to attend a couple of meetings and get some references. Then check out the firm’s “street.” See if people generally know the firm and their general reputation. No one who is doing anything useful is going to be 100 percent loved. But the general “rep” should be good. A couple of firms also have “skin in the game” by splitting their fee before and after employment. This strikes me as a very good idea.

There are numerous other career services which I don’t have space to examine here. Generally, before you spend money, check things out. If you’re getting good value and honest disclosure, hiring some help is very bright. Just watch your wallet and know what you’re getting.
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