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Federal Court OK’s Suit Against TheLadders: Breach of contract & deceptive practices

ladders3During the many years this blog has reported the questionable practices of TheLadders, angry Ladders customers who felt scammed often commented that someone should file a class action against the company. Their wishes have come true.

The United States District Court, Southern District of New York, has ruled that a consumer action lawsuit may proceed against TheLadders, a job board that long claimed to be “exclusive” for “only $100k+” job seekers and “only $100k+ jobs.”

The case was filed March 2013 by Bursor & Fisher, New York City consumer class action attorneys. A month after the filing, TheLadders CEO Alex Douzet appeared on WNYC radio and said, “This case has no merit, and we hope that it will be thrown out of the court quickly.”

In an order issued March 12, 2014, the federal Court denied TheLadders’ motion to dismiss the suit brought by its customers for “breach of contract” and “deceptive acts or practices.”

Plaintiffs in the case allege they paid for job postings and resume services that TheLadders failed to deliver, and that TheLadders used deceptive advertising that often appeared on the company’s website:

“TheLadders reviews each job listing found online or submitted by recruiters and employers before it’s posted to ensure it meets the criteria of a $100K+ position.”

The Court noted that TheLadders advertised itself as:

“a premium job site for only $100K+ jobs” where “[e]xperts pre-screen all jobs so they’re always 100K+” and members would “find hand-selected and pre-screened jobs that are $100K+.”

50000jobsPlaintiffs say that job positions either did not exist or had salaries less than TheLadders promised. But in its motion to dismiss the case, TheLadders asserts that its customers should know better than to confuse ads on the company’s website with promises the company makes in its contract. The Court noted in its order that:

“The defendant [TheLadders] argues that these representations were mere advertisements and were not terms of any contract.”

Some of the plaintiffs also allege that TheLadders “scammed” them and was “knowingly deceptive” when it offered an “expert resume critique” that was actually just a sales pitch copied from a “crib sheet.” One of the plaintiffs says a resume “expert” at TheLadders produced a scathing critique of his resume — which he had previously paid TheLadders to write for him.

TheLadders told the Court that its Terms of Use “disclosed that the website would not guarantee the quality of the job listings or the services.”

ladders5The Court wrote:

“…the resume plaintiffs’ allegation that misrepresenting a sales pitch as ‘expert resume critique’ is also sufficient to support an inference that the defendant’s behavior was ‘knowingly deceptive,’ especially in light of the alleged instructions to the sales personnel on how to represent themselves as ‘writer[s] and analyst[s]’ in order to convince the client about their qualifications.”

The Court granted TheLadders’ motion to dismiss claims of plaintiffs who were outside the statute of limitations, but the Court denied TheLadders motion to dismiss all the plaintiffs.

According to the complaint,

ladders4“From its inception until September, 2011, TheLadders scammed its customers into paying for its job board service by misrepresenting itself to be ‘a premium job site for only $100k+ jobs, and only $100k+ talent.’ In fact, TheLadders sold access to purported ‘$100k+’ job listings that (1) did not exist, (2) did not pay $100k+, and/or (3) were not authorized to be posted on TheLadders by the employers.”

In 2011, TheLadders stopped its “Only $100K+ jobs” advertisements (see Running On Empty: TheLadders folds up its shell game).

The Court ruled that the plaintiff “has sufficiently pleaded a claim that the defendant breached the June 2010 Terms of Use.” The Court also ruled that facts pleaded by the plaintiffs “give rise to a plausible inference that the allegedly deceptive transaction occurred in New York,” and that the plaintiffs have standing to assert claims under the law.

The long-awaited class action lawsuit against TheLadders for breach of contract and deceptive acts or practices may now move forward in federal court.


Unrelated to the case, employers have also alleged that TheLadders misrepresents salaries. In a 2011 Ask The Headhunter column (also reported on ERE.net) a recruiter at Royal Dutch Shell said that TheLadders scraped low-paying jobs from Shell’s website without Shell’s knowledge and pawned them off on TheLadders customers as higher-paying jobs. The recruiter said that the job applicants blamed Shell when they appeared for interviews only to learn the jobs paid salaries nowhere near what TheLadders represented. Referring to the overhead cost of interviewing inappropriate applicants channeled through TheLadders, the Shell recruiter said, “I’d love to charge them [TheLadders] for the amount of my time they wasted.”

The excerpt below is from a newsletter written by then-CEO of TheLadders Marc Cenedella — who pitched a feature of his service that the Shell recruiter gave the lie to just a few months later:

cenedella3

In June, 2011 Cenedella announced a new service — “A job offer. Guaranteed. Or your money back” for $2,495 — which included a new resume and an “advisor.” One month later, TheLadders announced cut-rate prices for all job seekers.

In a few short years, TheLadders went from “exclusive” and “Only $100K+”, and from offering resume services priced at $2,495, to “hardly exclusive” — and today there is no indication on TheLadders website that it offers resume services or guarantees of any kind. Today it’s just another job board, mired in costly litigation with angry customers who have been complaining about TheLadders questionable practices for years — customers who are finally getting their day in court.

Today, Marc Cenedella is Executive Chairman of TheLadders and CEO of Knozen.com, an under-construction website that’s taking names of people who want to be notified when the site is working.


Related articles

TheLadders sued for multiple scams in U.S. District Court class action | TheLadders: How the scam worksTheLadders: A lipstick pig’s death rattle? | TheLadders: Going Down?|Rickety, Leads Nowhere|The Dope on TheLadders|Marc Cenedella Sells E-mails: $30/month|TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?|TheLadders: A Long-Shot PowerBall Lottery Tucked Inside a Well-Oiled PR Machine|TheLadders’ Mercenaries to Critics: They’re good eggs!

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All recruiting campaigns suck

The best recruiting campaign is a manager that calls you on the phone, tells you he loves your work, and invites you to lunch to talk about working together to make more money making better products. In other words, the employer isn’t scavenging. He did his homework and knows what he wants: you.

That’s recruiting.

All other recruiting campaigns suck. But this one, by game maker Kixeye, sucks less.

Kixeye slams competitor Zynga hard, after poaching some of Zynga’s key people. There’s no word about what Zynga’s recruiting response is. Maybe it could poach from its key partner, Facebook, whose employees are bailing anyway since restrictions have been lifted on employees dumping FB stock. Which is now priced so low you could line your Farmville pigpens with it. How low can you go?

Or Zynga could just change its business model and try to make money. Or it could create a new game altogether: Facebook Deathwatch. Earn tokens by adopting Facebook code jockeys and creating keywords for their resumes. Hey: That’s a recruiting app!

What most companies do to fill jobs is not recruiting. It’s advertising. And advertising is a stupid HR trick that raises operating costs by soliciting resumes they don’t have time to process. Which leads to cries of “Skills Shortage!” because turning on the fat-gauge sewer spigot is no way to get a meal.

I wonder what it’s costing Kixeye to sort through all the drek they’ve getting in response to this ad. Who cares. That kid CEO is a hoot.

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PoachBase: Another stupid recruiting start-up

You can’t make this stuff up. Now your company can recruit losers, and hire recruiters who can do it more easily.

Featured at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference: A pitch by a start-up calling itself PoachBase. The “company’s” tag-line: Poach talent from dying companies. The idea is to monitor other start-ups for death rattles and then go steal their employees.

Here’s the pitch:

Now here’s the question: Why would anyone want to recruit employees that are still hanging around a loser company?

My advice (free, no software required): It’s more fun to recruit people from good companies while they’re hanging around the local watering hole after work. (Well, beer might be software.)

Recruiting-industry watcher Joel Cheesman’s explains the problem clearly:

“The playbook for start-ups in the recruiting space usually goes something like this: Group of young, educated people — usually coming of [sic] their own job search, which apparently qualifies as experience in the employment space — come up with an idea to ‘make things better.'”

This is kind of reminiscent of the job applicant whose resume emphasizes, “I want to work with people in a good company.” Maybe they’re all the same bunch.

(If you want to watch the recruiting industry, sign up for Joel Cheesman’s free newsletter. I love it.)

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The First Job Interview

In a hidden valley many thousands of years ago… “So, where do you see yourself in 50 moons’ time?”

 

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Washington Post: Monster.com is no joke any more!

Gimme a break.

The Washington Post reports: Monster.com finally vindicated.

Say what?

Two reseachers, UC Santa Barbara’s Peter Kuhn and UC Denver’s Hani Mansour, asked this question in a study they conducted: Do job hunters who “use the Internet to look for work” spend less time unemployed than job hunters who don’t use the Internet?

Guess what? People who use the Internet spend less time unemployed. Whoo-wee. How does this study “vindicate” Monster.com or any other job board?

It doesn’t. The researchers mention Monster.com once in their 36-page report, and only in passing. The Post’s reporter, Brad Plumer, makes Monster.com the subject of his story and puts the name in the headline.

There’s no evidence provided by the authors of the study (or by Plumer) about what is the impact of job boards on how long unemployment lasts. The researchers merely speculate and toss out the names of two job boards — Monster.com and CareerBuilder. To suggest that use of the Internet makes finding a job easier due to Monster.com is like suggesting that having a car makes traveling easier — thanks to DeLorean Motor Company. And, by the way, this vindicates the Ford Pinto, too.

The reason more people are finding jobs “via” the Internet is because the Internet is a social venue where people hang out. It’s got little to do with where jobs are advertised, because most jobs continue to be found and filled through — guess what — personal contacts. And the Internet is a great place to make personal contacts.

How about we try a more robust approach to determine how the Internet really contributes to finding a job, eh? What’s up with promoting the idea that a ghost in the machine, like Monster.com, is what shortens anyone’s unemployment time?

A major newspaper like The Washington Post can do better than publish an advertorial for job boards. Well, maybe not. The Post operates a job board for profit. There’s no vindication of Monster.com here; just an indictment of a newspaper.

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Pissing on the applicant

In a private response to HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?, a reader sent me this question:

Is there any point in attempting to negotiate with thug companies that agree on a rate, say they’re going to extend an offer, then the offer comes in at 66% of what you thought was a done deal?

Forget about companies that poison their own well. That’s bad enough. This employer is pissing on the applicant.

My response:

If you are really ready to walk away anyway, push the paper back at them and say, “I’m ready to sign for the amount we agreed on. Not a penny less.”

You’ll learn quickly whether they’re really thugs. Then consider the rule my mentor taught me years ago: Never work with jerks.

I deleted a couple of more choice sentences in my reply to this reader, because I believe that no matter how ticked off you get at an employer or a headhunter, don’t ever go off. Bite your tongue. Swallow your bile. Until you get a chance to tell the story to someone else who might consider working for the jerk.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

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Stupid interview animals: No soap, RADIO!

MediaBistro led me to the latest career advice in Fortune.com’s Ask Annie column: Employer’s Wacky Interview Questions. I don’t know what’s wackier: the questions, or that Annie Fisher really believes that the mission of career advisors is to come up with clever answers for them.

Get this question from an Ask Annie reader:

Yesterday an interviewer asked me, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?” I was so surprised that it took me a few minutes to come up with an answer. I said I was like a dog, “loyal to a fault” — which made sense, since I stayed with my last employer for 17 years, despite having had other offers — but I couldn’t really tell from his reaction if that was a good response or not.

A good response? About what animal you would be?

Fisher answers with an anecdote to encourage confused job candidates to play guessing games:

J.P. Hansen, president of Omaha-based Hansen Executive Search, was once asked the Barbara Walters-esque what-animal-would-you-be question in a job interview. His answer: A jaguar. Why? Hansen explained that “the jaguar is very versatile, able to patiently wait for its prey for hours on end, then pounce with lightning speed and grace. Plus, it’s a cool car!” The hiring manager who was quizzing him smiled, reached into her purse, and pulled out her car keys — with a Jaguar emblem on the key chain. Hansen got the job.

What luck! Another winning answer to one of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions!

Next, Hansen explains the “strategy” behind these idiotic queries:

“The job market is so tight right now, with so many candidates available whose backgrounds and qualifications are so similar to one another, that some hiring managers try to find an ‘aha!’ moment where they can trip you up, or get you to reveal something you didn’t plan to say,” he says.

Aha! The interviewer doesn’t know what the F she’s doing, so she tries to trip the job applicant with… Do you walk to school or carry your lunch (heh-heh…)?

Since there is no way to predict what you might be asked, how do you prepare? Hansen… says job seekers need to go into interviews with enough confidence to handle any wacky question that might come up. The only way to get that confidence: Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Prepare what? A Noah’s Ark of rejoinders that might reflect the pets (or cars) that some wacky interviewer owns? Fisher wraps up the article with a plug for Hansen’s book about interview animals. The caution to job hunters is clear: You’d better stock up on interviewer-approved answers to dumb-ass questions, or you’re not going to get hired. And here’s a book full of ’em…!

Is it any wonder employers think there’s a talent shortage during the biggest glut of unemployed talent in American history?

  • There just aren’t enough job applicants who know what animal they want to be!
  • Today’s job hunters just haven’t got a heh-heh clever explanation for their greatest weakness, and,
  • They can’t tell you where the hell they see themselves in five years (as though the company in question is likely to be in business in five years…)

Like most of life’s mysteries, Why should I hire you? has a Zen sort of “best answer.” That is, another question: The most important question in an interview:

“Would you like me to show you how I can help increase your profits if you hire me to do this job?”

If the interviewer doesn’t get that, you walk. Imagine taking a job with a dope who hires you because your answer is a match to the keys in her purse. Lotsa luck. My good buddy Nancy Austin explains it simply: Beyond the Trick Question. (Her article includes a hiring manager with a lu-lu of a Stupid Interview Question of his own.) Nancy’s article is all you need to know to interview like an adult.

But Fisher and Hansen need to consult the nearest ten-year-old who knows the joke about the trick question. (HR execs, please pay close attention.) Most kids are exposed to this famous childhood gotcha, and are thereby innoculated against embarrassing themselves later in life. This joke is told in a group, where one kid is set up as the sucker by the others, who all know the story:

The Joke: Two elephants are sitting in a bathtub, scrubbing away. One elephant pauses and cries out to the other, “Pass the soap!” And the other elephant shouts back, “No soap! RADIO!”

All the kids burst out laughing at the hilarious rejoinder and they slap one another on the back with glee. The sucker in the group cracks up, too and exclaims how funny it is — only to be mocked by the rest because there is no joke.

The story and the rejoinder are nonsense, of course; designed to determine whether the kid is so desperate to “belong” that he’ll suspend his common sense, his honesty and his integrity. Just like the foolish job applicant who goes along with the even more foolish hiring manager — both suckered by some “career expert” who is clueless about how to have an intelligent discussion about the work at hand.

Even ten-year-olds get it. An entire industry — the career industry — continues to embarrass itself by trying to con job hunters and hiring managers into pretending they’re silly elephants sitting in a tub.

This is no joke. It’s time to grow up and interview like adults.

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TheLadders: Would DaVinci buy a resume from Marc Cenedella?

When is TheLadders’ CEO Marc Cenedella gonna give it up? This latter-day P.T. Barnum knows no shame.

On January 21, 2010 I posted How to apply for a job: The Working Resume, highlighting a job application Leonardo DaVinci sent to the Duke of Milan. (DaVinci’s letter was brought to my attention by reader Phil Hey.) I used DaVinci’s application to demonstrate the job hunting methods I’ve been teaching on Ask The Headhunter for over a decade.

A few days later, Marc Cenedella posts a strikingly similar article on his blog: Leonardo DaVinci’s Resume. It also appears in his February 15 e-mail blast. Gimme a break. It seems Cenedella is running out of ideas.

I don’t read Cenedella’s sales letters because he sends them via e-mail, so they’re useless as bird-cage liners. (I get plenty of those in my U.S. mail already.) But reader Rick brought today’s missive to my attention in a comment he posted on this blog:

Nick – I trust you are on Mark Cenedella’s email list, and have received this morning’s pep talk from him… er you… seeing as its a copy of this post. Now we know that Cenedella reads this website… Hey Mark, I want a job that pays 100k give or take!!!!

Rick

Coincidence, ripoff or merely more of Cenedella’s P.T. Barnum-esque carny-barking? Whatever it is, it’s all in keeping with the adage, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The sales pitch promotes one thing, while the huckster delivers something else entirely.

So where’s the contradiction in Cenedella’s current e-mail? Take a look at TheLadders’ resume-writing services. Ladders will sell you a $900 update to your resume, but wait minute… the Ladders CEO is warning you that such resumes aren’t what you need…

Cenedella tells his users that they need a DaVinci-style resume that emphasizes an employer’s needs rather than their credentials:

“… that’s exactly what your resume needs to do, too. Not the laundry list / standard bio that talks about you, but the marketing piece that talks about the benefits to your future employer and how you fit into his or her needs and desires.”

Trouble is, TheLadders runs a resume-writing operation that sells you a pricey, traditional “laundry list / standard bio that talks about you.”

Cenedella goes on to explain that, “I’m a hopeless pedantic, so of course I’m going to take this opportunity to let you know what you can learn from Leonardo’s resume…”

…Uh, learn what? That Cenedella’s advice and his own resume writing service totally contradict one another? Would Leonardo DaVinci buy a resume from TheLadders?

Perhaps Rick is correct, and Cenedella lifted from this blog the idea that DaVinci’s letter to the Duke of Milan is a model resume. More important, Rick’s posting points out that there are lots of people like Rick who are paying attention. They’re talking about fraud. They’re talking about Cenedella’s goofy sales e-mails and they question his ethics. They’re taking Cenedella and TheLadders to task for charging customers for “Only $100k+ jobs” that aren’t only $100k+. They’re not suckers.

Maybe Cenedella will address that in one of his e-mails.

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An open question to Robert McGovern, CEO Jobfox

Dear Robert,

I just went to the Jobfox web site to send you an e-mail, but your profile page doesn’t provide an e-mail link. I wasted only about two minutes searching elsewhere on the site but gave up. Figured I’d just post a note to you here on my own blog. (You are welcome to e-mail me back: nick@asktheheadhunter.com. I love hearing from my audience. It’s something Tom Peters taught me a long time ago — it’s good for business.) I still can’t figure out why people who run websites don’t want to be bothered with e-mail. (Marc Cenedella over at TheLadders really doesn’t want to be bothered with e-mail.)

I did try clicking on your My Press Bio: Here’s what my handlers say to the press, but it goes to a dead page. Ah, well. Anybody who admits he’s got handlers to handle the press is out of my league anyway, but I guess if all they give people is a dead web page, that keeps you covered. (Cendella’s handlers write e-mail to his customers, who really get pissed off when they spend a bunch of money on an expensive new resume but can’t get a note back from the boss.) Hell, when I saw that you’re the founder of CareerBuilder I realized I’d be wasting more time communicating with you privately. We probably wouldn’t agree on much. I think the big job boards suck. (Hey, did you see the latest CareerXroads survey? CareerBuilder was the source of hires for employers less than 4% of the time among companies polled. Guess you’re glad you bailed when you did, eh?) **Update: Never mind. I just checked 2002, the year you left CareerBuilder. The figure was only 1.5% in 2002.

Jobfox has been characterized as another me-too job board and resume mill. (That combo — big job board + resume services — seems to tip people off to job boards that don’t work well and need alternate ways to suck some bucks out of customers. Did you ever think of offering special resume-writing services for the HR managers who pay to post jobs? That could be a real winner.) So I thought I’d take a look.

I don’t usually waste time with new job boards (well, I did post something nice about LinkUp, which doesn’t send out long sales letters) because let’s face it, most of the entries in this space are all alike — they load the database with crap, churn ‘n burn the customers, let them get lost among the millions of dusty old jobs and multi-level marketing come-ons, and sell access to their “info” to personnel jockeys who are glad to spend millions to… get lost in the database, because who cares? At 5pm everybody goes home and tries again tomorrow.

Anyhow… Here’s why I wanted to get in touch with you. An Ask The Headhunter reader posted a comment on You idiot, you showed this résumé to an employer?? (That’s a pretty old posting, but older stuff gets read around here — “Content is King” and all that.)

Skott Coffee (comment dated December 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm) was concerned that Jobfox has started using a lemon of a marketing ploy that Marc Cenedella has already squeezed all the juice out of. Skott seems pretty ticked off. He posted the entire sales letter he received from one of your people — and I have to say I agree with him.

I mean, 1,400-word sales letters selling resume-writing services kinda went out with hawkers selling oceanfront property in Arizona, Bernie Madoff-style “double your money” investment programs and TheLadders selling boilerplate resumes for $900.

Sales letters that just go on and on until you finally just break down and buy something generally make people feel like they’re being flagellated or something — and that’s not a good sign when you’re selling resume-writing services that are supposed to deliver resumes that make managers want to hire you.

I think Skott has a point. The sales letters Jobfox sends out make it look like the resumes you produce are going to flagellate the managers who read them. I’d have a hard time paying for that.

Skott says your resume services are selling boilerplate. I think he also means the sales letter is biolerplate. 1,421 words worth of it. Do your resume writers actually write those letters? You might want to take a look into that. They could be writing 1,400-word resumes! And charging for them. I could see how that would piss people off. Hell, it would piss me off if I were running Jobfox. But like I said, I think big job boards suck so that’s not even a remote possibility. What sucks even more is job boards that try to milk people for resume-writing services, using boilerplate sales letters that kinda demonstrate exactly the opposite of what a good writing service should be. That really sucks.

Anyhow, Skott’s comment (I read all the comments people post on my blog) got me thinking.

How do you sleep at night?

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TheLadders’ Marc Cenedella makes a phone call

Paying members of TheLadders often shoot off angry e-mails to CEO Marc Cenedella and complain he never responds. Ask The Headhunter readers sometimes send me copies of these e-mail exchanges (along with their rants about Ladders). Here’s a typical response that Ladders customers receive from customer service, when they complain that Cenedella is not replying to them:

Hi Jorge,

Thanks for writing back in. With over three million members, Marc is not able to personally answer each email – though he’d love to.

Best,
Dawid

-Dawid-
Community Manager

One Ladders paying member complained loudly enough via his blog and a Twitter blast that Cenedella actually called him on the phone. Do ya think it’s snowing in hell now?

Check Brian Flores’ October 23, 2009 comment on my Fast Company blog. If you’re one of the many dissatisfied Ladders customers out there, note Cenedella’s comments as reported by Flores:

He listened very patiently and explained how some of my complaints were conscious design decisions made on the part of his team, while others were unintended UI issues which he would investigate.

And I thought there was no hope; that Cenedella doesn’t monitor online chatter about TheLadders. Turns out he does. He’s just ignoring you.

(“Unintended UI issues?” Is that like an accidental poke in the eye with a sharp stick? And, do you think it was really him??)

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