About a year ago we first asked the question, How much would you pay for a job?

In this week’s e-mail Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re covering part two. (Don’t get the free newsletter? Oops. You’re missing the full story. Sign up now!)

A reader says:

I recently signed an agreement with a search firm that places people either (1) as a contingnecy search firm, or (2) as a career counseling firm. That is, depending on the position, they charge the employer or the employee a fee. I am willing to work with them only if the employer pays the fee, but the agreement includes a number of provisions about how this firm could collect the fee from me.

There’s more… in the newsletter. (Hey, if I publish it all here, what’s the point of the newsletter? The point of this part of the Blog is to enable newsletter subscribers to chime in on the topic. Feel free to join in…)

Witness the degree of desperation in the job market… and beware of “pay to work” schemes that masquerade as legitimate headhunters or employment agencies.

Suckers are born every minute. Some of them are pretty smart — just desperate and in need of help. (We’ve all been there.) I guarantee you, there are scams even I have never heard of before… Would you pay for a job? Have you encountered “agencies,” “career counselors” or “search firms” that charge both the job hunter and the employer? (And, what did you think of my advice in the newsletter?)

Have you been scammed another way?

Expose the fraud and let’s educate ourselves before another one of us gets suckered…

****UPDATE: Newsletter subscribers have asked for access to the June 9, 2009 edition of the Newsletter, titled Should I pay to apply for a job?, which is mentioned in this week’s edition. While the newsletter is not normally archived online, I’ve put that edition up so you’ll have it for reference. Hope it helps, and thanks for the requests!


  1. If you are willing to start paying for leads on work opportunities, you might as well start up your own consulting service.

    Even then, you probably shouldn’t spend a lot on lead generation, but develop a plan to get known in your field through publication, presentations and word of mouth.

  2. Hi Nick,

    Can you provide a link to the article from last summer you mentioned regarding new hires being paid by the search firm? This practice seems commonplace among temp agencies, where you get paid by the temp agency and work for the agency’s clients.


  3. Earlier this year during my job hunt, I got calls from several firms offering to help me find jobs and to introduce me to the “secret” job market. All for the lowly sum of $2,500. The first month they’d get to know me, then they’d rewrite my resume, of which I’m sure I’d do all the work. They even had several people that I talked to about their experience with the service. All glowing of course.

    The thing that made me suspicious was the 4 phone calls from 4 different people trying to set up the initial consultation. As the “initial consultation” proceeded, I was waiting for the hard close, which did happen. I negated it by saying that I had to review this with my wife, to which Hal intimated that a true executive should be able to make this type of decision on his own.

    At that point, I recognized the last straw of the hard close. I’m glad he pressured me and insulted me at the end. This way I knew it was a scam.

  4. Days after responding to a posting which identified MGA, I got a call to come in for an assessment. Dress was business casual. This did not appear to be an interview for the job I applied for, so I was skeptical. Since they are close by, I chose to investigate it. My first meeting was questions and answers. They displayed samples of web based resumes people can access online. In an early morning follow-up meeting, the office was dark, and the guy came late. He pitched services costing thousands of dollars up front. He felt an out of state councilor in Florida was best suited for my case. Strong indication my placement would take 3 months yielding a potential salary I believe $50K higher than market rate. The web based resume was additional cost. Lastly, a trailing fee of thousands was due upon placement. He suggested the employer would likely pay it. Among the funny, his service was not available to just anyone (only suckers) and he identified his interest in any referrals – employers and job seekers. At least it got me out of the house two more mornings.

  5. Almost went with a firm that touts it will refund your payment once they receive their fee. The fine print was that their fee must be $36,000 or greater for the refund to occur. I didn’t bother to ask if I would have proof of what fee they are paid…

  6. If you are working in the consulting world, you ARE paying for the job …

    Many consulting companies and large corporations are getting resources through 2nd, 3rd, and 4th parties which do not cover candidate/employee costs for interview through business travel completely and often wait up to a month (or, even two months) to pay earnings.

    It is quite typical to have them force an agreement to allow them to submit you to a client BEFORE seeing the costs that you will have to cover or the pay terms, even if it is airfare, rental cars, and hotels that MIGHT eventually be reimbursed — if you play nice.

    These firms and employers also want you to tie-up your own credit with work-related expenses. I had one co-worker who was owed @$70,000 for over eight months which included late salary payments. You either accept their terms of work or get tossed for the next “resource” and unless you want to get lawyers involved (which most cannot afford to do either financially or for being label as difficult — we are dependent of references in the consulting world, too) you just have to roll with all of the punches).

  7. There are probably two different types of entities being talked about here.

    The first is a placement agency as Nick referred to it. They are the forerunners of the contingency search business. They really aren’t a true search firm. They typically do work for entry level management positions, i.e. restaurant, car rental, et. They get 3-5K from the client company and some still bill the job seeker. Nothing illegal in that. Just read the fine print. Most of Nick’s readers probably wouldn’t use one of these types of firms. If they did to a company what you said I would run as fast as I could.

    The others are called several things, including “career counselors.” They will typically get anywhere from 3-7K. They do give some usable info but they are typically bait and switch artists who get you in the door with the promise of a job which they do not do. If you hear hidden job market, run.


  8. Wow, scary stuff… If anyone doubts that the “career world” isn’t festering with rackets, your stories oughta change their minds.

    @Thomas: I’ve gotten enough requests for the #1 “Pay for a job?” newsletter that I’ve posted it online. See the UPDATE in the main post above for the link! Thanks for asking!

  9. I almost got scammed but decided to not send in the paperwork that would have led to me getting charged thousands of dollars in order to access this “secret job market” as they had “connections” to help place me where I wanted to be. The guy did sound rather confident and said they guaranteed a placement and asked how long I thought it would take and when I said years, he countered swiftly and forcefully that that would be too long and anything should be done within a few months. Yeah, right like I’m going to believe something just because he happens to believe it? I wasn’t born yesterday.

    They gave me a form and said to fax it someplace if I wanted to go forward. I don’t think I still have that form but I doubt it is useful for anything but pulp really. Allegedly there are some success stories out there but I can wonder how many of those were situations where the people starting the business wanted to get some reputation and so they just piggybacked on other people to look good, really really good looking to borrow a line from Zoolander.