Are Not Headhunters
By Nick Corcodilos
Job hunting is a big enough challenge. It becomes even
more daunting when you try to get help and quickly become confused about your options.
(Before we go any further, Ill tell you a little secret: your best option is to do
it yourself. No one has the vested interest in your job search that you do. Learn to Be Your Own Headhunter.)
Who pays, and for what?
Two of the most confusing options youll face are headhunters and career
consultants. Whats the difference?
- A headhunter is retained and paid by an employer to fill a
position. He earns a fee for actually putting a person and a job together. Hes an
expert in the industry he hunts in, and he actually has access to open jobs. However, he
doesnt work for you; he works for the employer. So, dont expect his attention
unless you fit the parameters of a search hes conducting.
- A career counselor will charge you a fee, ostensibly to
help you figure out what kind of job to pursue and how to pursue it. He has no more access
to open jobs than you do, and he probably doesnt specialize in any particular
industry. You pay a career counselor whether you win a job or not he earns a fee
for giving you advice.
Theres nothing confusing about this distinction
once you understand it. But, people get frustrated when they realize that the hired guns
of the employment world (headhunters) arent in business to help them. So, job
hunters turn in desperation to career counselors. The problem is, counselors dont
find people jobs, no matter what their marketing materials imply.
Career counseling unveiled.
Thats the point of this article: when you wish you could hire a
headhunter, understand what youre paying for when you hire a counselor instead.
- A good counselor makes it clear her product is counseling.
She wont pretend shes going to find you a job. Make sure the promised outcome
of your counseling is objectively spelled out in the written agreement.
- Find out in advance exactly what tools and
materials the firm will use to help you. Most of the help a counseling firm will provide
can be gleaned from a handful of books at your local library for free.
- Beware the "point man". The big counseling firms
are better salesmen than counselors. Youll be sold a program by an impressive
"partner" who talks a great line, only to learn that youve been handed off
to a guy in the back room who has no personality and only a few months experience at
- Watch out for the "guarantee" because its
usually worthless. (Ive yet to see the career counseling deal that guarantees a
job.) Heres what it usually says, in very fine print: "If you dont land a
job, you can keep coming back for all the counseling you can swallow, either at a reduced
rate or for free." Translation: no refunds. The added hidden cost is your precious
- Remember that contacts arent jobs. Some firms will
boast of the great industry contacts they have. It doesnt matter where past clients
have found jobs, if the firm wont guarantee you a great job.
- Counseling firms usually charge in advance because
youre not likely to pay if you dont find a job and become dissatisfied with
their services. Fees can range from $2,000 to $15,000 or more. A legitimate counselor will
charge you as you go, by the hour.
Be careful. The career business lends itself to
shysterism because there is no objectively-defined "deliverable" (like a job).
The worst firms prey on peoples fears and wallets. When the sales pitch says
theyre going to take you by the hand and lead you to a job, run -- dont walk -- to
Know what you're buying.
If career counselors dont deliver jobs, why do people
hire them? Because most counselors deliver two things a desperate job hunter needs: (a) a
sense that youre "doing something" (paying them) to win a job, and (b) a
good swift kick every day to get you out to start "looking". With a little help,
you can do this for yourself and you can do it better.
The legitimate reason to hire a career counselor is
because you need help with career issues (e.g., issues regarding your motivation,
discouragement, long-term goals, inter-personal matters, and so on) rather than with the
job search process itself. This requires an expert, probably a psychologist with a
specialization in career counseling.
Tips to avoid trouble.
While career counseling can be helpful when it's done right and for the right reasons,
counselors arent the next best thing to headhunters if what you need is to quickly
land a good job. So, do a reality check on your expectations, then check counselors out
- Talk to their references and insist on meeting the actual
counselor who will work with you.
- Make sure you understand what the "deliverable"
is, and decide whether it's worth the fee.
- Ask for a pay-as-you-go deal; this keeps the counselor on
- Finally, exhaust other possibilities before you spend
thousands of dollars (the library is one good place to start).
Ask The Headhunter has taught thousands of people how to
be their own headhunter. This site is one place where you will continue to get an
insiders edge on job search without a catch.
us what you think of this article.
Learn more about The Executive Marketing Racket: How I
dropped ten grand down a hole, why Headhunters find people, not jobs, and
How to judge a headhunter.
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