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The "Executive Marketing" Racket:
How I dropped ten grand down a hole

By Mr. CFO


 
NOTE from Nick Corcodilos.

This story was submitted by an unemployed CFO who prefers to be anonymous. The "counseling company" he refers to is real and well-known, but we’ve changed its name to one that is totally fictitious.

Ask The Headhunter regularly receives email from readers who have been taken for thousands of dollars by such operators. This story could be about any one of them. The racket is simple: these companies suggest their "expert counselors" will "market" you through their exclusive "insider" channels and get you in front of top executives for interviews. They will give you access to "un-advertised job listings". In fact, they do little more than re-write your resume and give you a regular kick to "get you out there networking" -- all of which you can do for yourself using free materials available at your local library.

This is the typical sales process. A sharp, slick salesman will sell you the service after making you spend hours proving you're "qualified" (translate: you have a valid credit card). Then, you will be assigned to a green counselor who doesn't know how to tie his own shoes. A few months down the line, you will realize that the contract you signed does not promise you a job; it promises that no matter how long it takes, the company will conitinue to feed you all the career drivel you can swallow.

I spent quite a bit of time talking with Mr. CFO, the author of this cautionary tale. He is a seasoned, savvy manager -- the kind of person who is typically and surprisingly suckered by such career rackets. It happened to him; it could happen to you. Be careful.

Of course, there are some reputable career counselors out there. They are few and far between. They don't suggest they will find you a job; they will charge you for counseling by the hour, or step-by-step, so you can walk away any time you want. To learn more about the counseling rackets, please see Career Counselors Are Not Headhunters and this exposé article from The Kansas City Star.

UPDATES!

A former "counselor" at one of these firms reads Mr. CFO's story and reveals the sordid truth about this racket! Read it.
More about the "career rackets":

Bernard Haldane: Busting the bad boys

Save $10,000 in 10 minutes

Executive Career Counselors, Inc. are not who they represent themselves to be. Hold on to your money CFO, COO, and CEO candidates. They have no un-advertised jobs or access to hiring authorities at the executive level. Are they part of an HR scam? You be the judge. I'm a CFO, and this is my story.

The hard sell.
I paid Executive Career Counselors, Inc. [This is a fictitious name for a real company. - Ed.] the sum of $10,800 one year ago in exchange for what I was told was the inside track to "un-advertised jobs", their "connections", and their assistance in putting me in front of individuals who had "hiring authority" at the CFO or higher level.

It started with my phone call. After a few minutes of questions they still couldn't tell me if they were a retained search firm or employee-paid counseling firm. The lady who answered my call said, "It sounds like you don't know what you really want to do and need assistance," thereby setting the hook to an enormously costly and disappointing experience with Executive Career Counselors, Inc. (ECC).

Since their regional office was approximately two miles from my house, I visited with them there. During the course of our initial consultation, I was provided with a binder of recommendation letters of "satisfied customers", handed a news article about a recently hired CEO for a local company (not placed by ECC) and was told, "You could be their CFO". I found it amusing that what should have been a 30 minute meeting dragged over several hours -- they wanted me to spend time in the conference room reading "thank you letters" from those satisfied customers. I felt like I was back in my college frat days, being "hot-boxed" into pledging a particular fraternity.

Why did I do it? Sign with them? Because they promised me connections to CFO hiring authorities. Naturally, I asked them to provide me with two or three telephone numbers of satisfied clients at my compensation level, but they never responded to my request. They said they would provide the information at a later date.

Bait and switch.
Imagine my dismay when, upon signing my contract and writing upon it, "Time is of the essence", I learned I was assigned to a counselor in another office, over three hours away. Their explanation was that the individual who made all the representations to me was just involved in "selling", and other counselors actually did the counseling. Besides, this fellow in the other office was more experienced with individuals at my level. So much for trust, eh?

At the end of this month, my contract with ECC is at its one year anniversary. I have mailed out over 6,000 resumes, had a dozen or so interviews (none of which were sourced by ECC), and had a few other meetings with ECC (where I had to initiate the contact and ask "What's going on with my search?").

During these telephone conferences with ECC, I heard the story for the third time from the same counselor about a fellow who went to a convention in the Northeast and hired two college students to slide his resume under the door of each hotel room at the convention site. I was also encouraged for the fourth time to join organizations and "network", attend industry conferences (at $1,200 a pop, plus travel and hotel), and to list my resume wherever I could on the Internet because it appeared that corporate HR departments were increasingly relying on online recruitment. Of course, I had already done this Internet thing nearly a year before and determined that such an approach is largely worthless.

Maybe I'm just a dissatisfied sucker.
The bottom line? ECC provided me with no "un-advertised jobs" or introductions to "decision-makers with CFO hiring responsibility". In short, they did little more than take my money in exchange for writing a resume which I subsequently revised. $10,800 for a resume writing service? You've got to be kidding me!

What I found interesting is that about a month ago ECC changed its advertising. At the time I retained them, they promoted their expertise in positions in the $75,000 - $500,000 range. According to the new advertising campaign, now they're experts in the $75,000 - $750,000 range. That's a nice new carrot.

So, I called the office I met with originally and asked how many CFO's, COO's, or CEO's they placed since I retained their services. They said they didn't have the information available at the time. I asked them to get back to me with it so I could determine whether there was a problem with me or with their program. Obviously, if they had placed 30 CFO's during the last 12 months, then I would be first to acknowledge that perhaps my skill set was the problem. Alternately, if they placed two CFO's during the last 12 months, then ECC's representations and their business model were likely at fault.

More critters crawl out from under the same rock.
To test out my suspicions, I emailed my local ECC office anew, attaching a bit of "CFO job-search gallows humor" -- a little something to make them laugh. Mind you, I used my real name and this was ten months after I had handed them a check for $10,800. A counselor wrote back, "This is exactly the kind of disappointment that we will help you avoid." He went on to ask if I would like to come in for a "free consultation". Here's his entire email:

"Mr. X., I enjoyed receiving your resume. You are a splendid advertisement for our firm -- we are a personal career marketing company serving senior level executive clients who routinely experience what you have gone through with the Internet. We've successfully marketed more than 9,000 of them into significantly higher levels of income and responsibility. I circulated your resume to the senior management staff and, after a good laugh, they asked me to contact you to arrange a mutually agreeable time for you to come in for a preliminary discussion. It would be approximately 1 1/2 hours long, dealing with appraising your experience, assessing your goals, and exploring whether ECC, Inc. can successfully assist in your career search. I look forward to hearing from you shortly."

I thought it hilariously funny that individuals at their local office, where they originally signed me up, didn't know I was already a client.

This is my reply, sent the same day I received their new pitch:

"I'm glad you enjoyed the bit of gallows humor. The irony of this entire process is that I have been an ECC client since last year and am nearly 11 months into my CFO search. In a few days, my 'Executive Marketing Program' with ECC will be having its one-year birthday! And THAT should probably be an embarrassment to your firm."

The truth settles in.
They have asked me on occasion to visit their other office (the one that's over three hours away) to get names and addresses out of a book they have there which is not available at the local office. I've declined simply because this information is readily available online and they don't appear to have invested in the technology or the subscriptions that permit their offices to share these resources. Frankly, I'm not up for a seven hour round-trip just to talk to a career counselor when the office I signed up with is five minutes away.

It's been a severe disappointment dealing with them. Never in my life have I spent so much time with so little in the way of results. I've probably put in 800-900 man hours this past year in my job search and, frankly, if they've put in more than 2% of that time on my behalf, I would be surprised. Their office is totally geared to selling resume writing services under the guise of "un-advertised jobs", "our connections", "career counseling services", "executive marketing programs", and other blather designed to lead you to believe that they can get you the executive level job you're looking for.

I often wonder what a summary of their placements would look like if the compensation values were plotted on a graph during the last 12 months. Although they advertise a $75,000 - $750,000 salary range, my guess is that the vast majority of placements are under $100,000, at the lower end of the scale. But, if you just looked at the range they advertise, you'd think the middle of their placements was at $375,000 or thereabouts. Shame on me.

In the next few days, my $10,800 contract is having its one year anniversary and I'm not one iota closer to getting the job for which I'm searching. Approximately three weeks ago, I asked them for specific names of individuals who had hiring authority at the CFO level, and I haven't received a thing. However, they did ask for ten copies of my resume so they could "pass them around" their other office and get some feedback from their counselors. I also received a print-out of a job ad to which I had already applied several months earlier.

Please learn from my experience.
The best that I can do for you is let you know they have failed miserably in their commitment to me. BEWARE. WHILE ANYTHING MAY BE PROMISED TO GET YOU TO PART WITH YOUR MONEY, NOTHING GOOD MAY COME FROM IT. They have NEVER taken the initiative to call me to inquire, "How are things coming along?", or, alternately, "Hey, we know the head of a company who is looking for a CFO and wants to talk with you". In fact, when I phone them, I've had a difficult time getting through the gatekeeper to my counselor until I tell them I'm an ECC client.

I have a three-inch thick file on ECC. I also have a five-foot high stack of resumes and emails to various jobs using the ECC approach. The stack would be nearly twice as high if I followed their recent advice of paying to have my resume broadcast (spammed) to several thousand email addresses. I didn't agree to the strategy because I believe the practice of spamming resumes is one of the things that has so clogged up HR departments that your resume is just another file in an in-box.

Please don't make the same mistake that I did. I guess I was vulnerable and prone to giving the other party the benefit of the doubt. I'd like to discourage you from stepping off the edge of the abyss into such an "executive marketing program." My experience has led me to believe that they do absolutely nothing for a job hunter.

The punch line.
On the anniversary date of my contract, I'm asking for my money back. The fact that I wrote "Time is of the essence." on the contract nearly one year ago is going to force them to return it to me. Initially, they suggested the search could take anywhere from three to five months. We're on the cusp of quadrupling their lower estimate.

This is just my opinion on the matter. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

Please tell us what you think of this article.

To learn more about the counseling rackets, please see Career Counselors Are Not Headhunters and this expose article from The Kansas City Star.


Mr. CFO is a real, live unemployed CFO who has learned his lesson. He gave us permission to print his story in the hope others might learn this lesson without having to pay for it.

 

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