Discussion: March 23, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

Between my recent segment on N.Y. Public Radio and today’s Q&A, that makes this The Scam Edition!

In today’s Q&A: A reader gets scammed into an interview and out of a “job.”

My son interviewed with a sales company. There were six applicants all interviewed at the same time. He was one of two offered a job on the first interview. When he questioned them on benefits, he was told that it would be discussed in training. He showed up for training only to be told that no one was officially hired the first week, and that there were no benefits.

These people are a scam with deceptive hiring practices. I want to pursue some kind of action on this and I do not know where to go. They promised him the world and now his world is crushed!

In the newsletter I pointed out the clear signals (in that very brief story) that reveal a problem, and I suggested what the young man could have done about them. But the scams just seem to keep piling up and people keep getting suckered.

From time to time, it’s a good idea for us to talk about these kinds operations and to discuss how to quickly recognize them. Have you been scammed into an interview that turned out not to be what you expected? Did you bail out of an “opportunity” because you smelled a rat?


  1. Not excactly the same, but I was recently called by a “headhunter” who said that he “had worked with” some interesting companies, and said that he had some urgent positions to fill – so urgent he wanted my resume right away. He had it within half an hour, and was to call me the next morning. No call, I had to call him, and it turned out that there were not any really urgent positions. Ha also asked if I had been in contact with some companies and got declined, which of course I had. Then came the revealing sentence: “OK, we shouldn’t contact them as it would likely offend them, may be I should present your resume to some of the service companies?”

    After the talk, I sent an email inquiring whether he actually had some assignments or just sent around unsolicited resumes. basically, I pointed out that I am perfectly capapble of doing my own spamming, except from that I don’t want to spam. Never got any reply.

  2. This story had a good ending in that there was no real financial consequence. It’s a learning opportunity worth it’s weight in gold. To be able to able to quickly extract reality immersed in a cloud of BS is a very valuable skill to have.
    Best of luck to this young man going forward.

  3. •spammer – someone who sends unwanted email (often in bulk)

    Can you really be 100 percent sure that your resume and or any other information about your candidacy will be perceived by targeted counterparties as spam?

    In the absence of prior knowledge of urgent positions might there be a way of presenting your capabilities either by yourself or through professional representation in which a targeted counterparty should view it not as a courtesy to follow up with you but as their fiduciary responsibility?

    If you’re unaware of appropriate really urgent posiions and assuming that you seriously want to make a career move, wouldn’t it be more productive to proactively present your capabilities to targeted counterparties as opposed to labelling this as spamming and doing nothing?

    Just a thought.

  4. @Alan Geller:
    “If you’re unaware of appropriate really urgent posiions and assuming that you seriously want to make a career move, wouldn’t it be more productive to proactively present your capabilities to targeted counterparties as opposed to labelling this as spamming and doing nothing?”

    In this case, it seemed clear to me that there really were no urgent positions – why else didn’t he concentrate on those (which were not among those I already had talked to), instead of suggesting entirely different companies further down the list?

    I do of course talk to several companies, but unless the headhunter has a position to fill, I want to do so myself, so I can be in control of how and when, and be able to research the companies first.

  5. I do of course contact companies presenting myself to them, but I want be in control of which companies and when, and I want to reserach them first.

    Is it possible that you might be able to work with a recruiter (not the one mentioned above) proactively while retaining the control of which companies and when as well as partnering with the recruiter on the research that needs to be done?

  6. These places seem to come out of the woodwork every time the economy goes south. Back in the 70’s, I ran into several of these scams and I see that nothing has changed. One – going door to door selling newspaper subscriptions for a charity. One catch, if the new subscriber cancels at any time during the first 3 months, you get charged back what you were paid. Well, at one point, the charge backs were coming back thick and fast. On calling some of my customers to find out why they canceled, I found that they didn’t cancel. Or, there was the one that called me in for an interview for a “stock room” position. Get there, and I’m in an interview with another person applying for a receptionist’s position. They show us this display of rings and tell us how we’ll get dropped off in various areas to go door to door. When I asked about the “stock room” position, they said they’d have to get back to me. It’s been 35 years, and I’m still waiting for them to get back to me.

    I hope the son didn’t loose any money on the deal – never, ever pay for a job! You are there for them to pay you, not the other way around. Likewise, I hope he didn’t quit a legitimate job for this. Assuming all that to be the case, learn a lesson and move on.

  7. Karsten,

    The bottom line with respect to your experience with the headhunter with “urgent” positions to fill is that you Never, Ever work with any recruiter that is unwilling to tell you the name(s) of the company/ies he’s working with. I don’t care what kind of excuse he gives about confidential searches, etc. The recruiter who works this way doesn’t trust you (or there’s no real position), so why trust or work with him?

    In addition, any recruiter unwilling to have a “get to know” each other conversation with you and really ask you smart questions about you and your background is not worth working with. That isn’t to say he is going to get you placed. Even recruiters that take time with you are still, for the most part, just filling job specs for a client who may or may not truly know what they should be looking for in a hire.

    As far as you allowing a recruiter to present you to a company you have interest in, it would depend on the recruiter’s relationship with the company. If a recruiter has a relationship with a hiring manager he has a better chance of getting you in front of them than you probably do.

  8. “As far as you allowing a recruiter to present you to a company you have interest in, it would depend on the recruiter’s relationship with the company. If a recruiter has a relationship with a hiring manager he has a better chance of getting you in front of them than you probably do.”

    Is it possible that a recruiter with no relationship with a hiring manager at a particular company might have a better chance of getting a candidate in front of a key decision maker at the firm than if a candidate were to approach the firm directly?

  9. Not really a scam, but I did have a second interview that was all about how to create a report that I had shared with them on my first interview as a work sample. They were asking questions in such detail that I realized they were not going to employ me. It was a job in local government, and local governments share information openly so I just gave them some contact names.

  10. My Spidey Senses start to tingle every time a “recruiter” can’t tell me what the position is about, the hourly rate and benefits or “this is a short term position that must be filled immediately” some place over 1,000 miles from where I reside.

    I have a feeling more folks who work in contract nation may see the “independent contractor” scam because of the recently passed health care legislation requiring companies of a certain size to finally provide benefits. You will be offered a position as an independent contractor with Company X that heretofore had been the contractor and you were and employee of Company X. The only difference between this arrangement and the former is that you won’t have the opportunity for medical benefits. You read it here first.

    @Carol Schultz: I used to waste a lot of time with “get to know you” conversations that never lead to anything other than an extensive network of out-of-work commission recruiters. A technical interview should be about what you know, how you can help the company, terms, conditions, benefits etc.

    While it might be nice for the recruiter to know I’m a member of the American Legion, have a wife and a kid in the National Guard, ride a Harley to work when the weather is nice and the last time I had a conflict with a peer on my team about a procedural issue, I took some time off and went hunt elk with a bow and arrow for relaxation … you wanted a PMI with 8 years hands on Windows 7 configuration experience. Let’s talk about that!!

  11. @Alan: Great question. My answer is: It depends. In the space here I can’t really completely answer your question, but if the recruiter is an experienced pro that knows how to talk to people, I’d say Yes. Give the recruiter 10 days to 2 weeks to see if he can get you the result you’re looking for, eg: an interview/conversation with the decision maker. If that doesn’t work then you can see how you can do on your own. Remember, every situation is different so it’s also not black and white. Over the years I practiced I often got calls from high level people requesting I try to put them in front of a particular company. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Again, a conversation that has many different parameters to get into here.

    @LT: Dude, you’re assuming that a “get to know each other” conversation is about your personal life. My “get to know each other” conversations as a professional recruiter were always about business (90%)and a little personal (10%). the personal shouldn’t really come into play until the two of you are working on an opportunity together. I can tell you however that one’s personal interests, etc to play a crucial role for a company hiring you if they get the value of “personal fit” within their culture.

  12. @Carol: Thank you.

    Is it possible that the right candidate working with the right recruiter proactively could get to the offer stage faster given not one particular target company but a targeted market landscape of five to fifty company’s that fit a certain profile? (Once again, assuming no prior relationship between the recruiting firm and any of the targeted companies).

  13. @Alan: Yes it’s possible, but I’d say you need a career coach to guide you through the process. Remember, a recruiter doesn’t work for you.

  14. I’m a little off topic here, but hey, I’m old; it happens all the time! Job search isn’t about what’s ‘possible’, anything’s possible; it’s about the probable. I showed up for a job interview many years ago, met the owner in the lobby, and he said ‘Let’s go’. As we walked to the parking lot, I was thinking we’d have the interview over coffee. No, the interview was in his car! I didn’t do very well, couldn’t get over the whole car thing. Possible, yes. Probable, no. Job seekers need to put most of their efforts into those activities most likely to pay off: personal contacts and pursuing companies not postings.

    Back on topic, scams are everywhere. For some great resources see http://www.rileyguide.com/scams.html

  15. @Carol

    Thank you.

    If the recruiter knows you for years (or just met you for arguments sake) and has committed to placing you and then goes about systemically presenting your capabilities proactively to a targeted group of companies with your permission that again he or she has no prior relationship with, wouldn’t it be fair to say that he or she is “working” on your behalf?

  16. @Alan: It’s time for me to bail on this subject. I only give so much free advice. You can go to my website and send me an email with your email address and I will add you to my list. I think you’ve come up with a blog post I’ll write.

    I will say one thing. If you’re not paying a recruiter, he/she is NOT working for you. Remember, you get what you pay for. I can’t imagine any quality/busy recruiter taking unpaid time to do you, or anyone, that kind of favor.

  17. @Carol: Thank you.

    Half of my annual income is obtained by representing a select group of candidates in this manner.

  18. Good for you. You’re an anomaly and it looks like you’ve created a nice niche for yourself.

  19. @Karsten: I’m afraid you got scammed by the oldest trick in the book and didn’t even realize it. What the “headhunter” was really fishing for was that list of companies that turned you down. That’s all he wants. Now he’s got a list of companies that he knows are hiring. He’s going to spam them with all his resumes. Sorry :-)

  20. @Carol Schultz: Great tip! Never work with a headhunter under slam-bam-thank-you circumstances, where all they want is your resume for a “client.” No substantive discussion about YOU? No deal. They’re wasting your time. DO NOT tell yourself that “I don’t want to discourage ANY opportunity… so I’ll deliver my resume and hope for the best!” Would you eat something out of a brown bag that someone handed you on the street? Of course not. Why swallow what an unknown caller feeds you over the phone?

  21. @Alan: Sure, in theory, I would have nothing against working together with a recruiter to do some research on a company. However, I don’t really see why a recruiter should do that; it would have to be because he hopes to get some reward from the company when I’m hired. And, “what’s in it for me”, in contrast to just doing it myself?

  22. @Carol Schultz & Nick: The “recruiter” did reveal the names of the companies, and they were interesting targets. I got the impression that they needed people urgently (one of them, I knew was hiring because of ads on their website). Actually, he said that he might have an interview for me the very next day. That’s why I sent the resume. But, I should have realised that no good recruiter (or company) will be so eager that they won’t take a day or two to do the work.

    Regarding the companies that had turned me down, some were actually hiring, some were not.

    Well, been there, learnt that. In fact, it was lessons learnt from ATH that made my alarm bells ring after the second telephone talk. Theys should have rung earlier, but at least they did ring.

  23. @Karsten:

    Why should a company hire a recruiter to present then with candidates as oppposed to saving the money for the recruiting fee and doing it themselves? The answers are precisely the same as to your question: They save time as the recruiter is fully focused on the project full-time and they can leverage the recruiter’s insights.

    After seeing what doesn’t work and why placements don’t happen experienced recruiters can be invaluable resources to candidates on how to position themselves to best advantage. Some can even provide a unique framework on the whole placement process from start to finish that can’t be found anywhere else. That should be worth something shouldn’t it?

  24. @Alan, I obviously agree the usefulness of headhunters for companies who need to fill positions. I also agree that an experienced recruiter or headhunter could give valuable advice on job search to job searchers. But I think we agree that in such case, the recruiter is more a “career consultant” for the candidate, paid by the candidate?

    The “recruiter” I talked to gave the clear impression in the first talk of being on assignment for some companies he mentioned by name, and he also mentioned the names of some managers there (although I realised that when he said “worked with company X” probably ment “send some resumes there”. In the next talk, he seemed to turn around and wanted to introduce me to several other companies, basically any company in the business. This discrepancy smelt of dishonesty. And he never mentioned anything about being paid by me.

  25. Back in the early 90’s (before there was internet contact with companies or super easy research). I sent my resume to someone hiring “marketing professionals” I had just graduated from college with an English Communications degree, so I sent in my resume. I was looking for public relations and marketing positions that would use my writing skills.

    When they called me I was so excited! When I got there there were 10 + people in a room. I thought it was strange we would have to wait our turn. Then we were ushered into a large room where there were more people. They had us watch a movie to “introduce” us to the company. I suspected it was a scam as soon as I saw lots of testimonials about how they had gotten rich selling these water filters.

    Hmmmm well maybe I would be doing a different job in house. Nope, we were informed that everyone there was being given the opportunity to sell these products. They then demonstrated the product. Ok, it seemed to work – whatever – but I was not (and am not) a sales person.

    I was sitting the front row and didn’t feel I could get up and leave. I was far too polite for my own good — but I was still young, the economy was not good and there weren’t many entry level jobs.

    I sat there until we were told that we would now be interviewed individually. I informed my person that I didn’t think this was the right job for me as I didn’t like selling to people. I was assured that it would be fine because I would be selling to friends and family. YIKES! I said I’ll think about it and left.

    I did not trust my gut when I had when I had the initial “this doesn’t feel right” feeling; I was not assertive and confident enough to walk out when I first decided this was not for me. I lost a half a day, but I learned my lesson and have been wary of “marketing” and “management trainee” positions ever since!

  26. @karsten

    @Alan, I obviously agree the usefulness of headhunters for companies who need to fill positions. I also agree that an experienced recruiter or headhunter could give valuable advice on job search to job searchers. But I think we agree that in such case, the recruiter is more a “career consultant” for the candidate, paid by the candidate?

    We are not in agreement. If a candidate is truly bringing value to the table and the recruiter believes that he or she can work with the candidate to structure a unique, atypical one-off placement that clearly benefits all stakeholders why should the candidate be charged and not the company? The company is making the investment right? Isn’t it common knowledge that employees are a company’s biggest expense?

  27. @Alan

    I agree with you, that if all those ifs play out, such a cooperation would be beneficial. However, I am quite confident that the recruiter in case was not the type you describe because he was dishonest, giving the impresion that he had open positions that he was out to fill when he was not, and he also never called me back.

  28. @Karsten

    I fully agree with you about the recruiter in question.

  29. OK, Alan, then I think we are in line :)

  30. @Kelly: Don’t feel bad. It’s often difficult to balance our desire to be polite with our realization that we’ve been had.

    I once sat through a 2-hour sales pitch for $800 worth of “film processing,” back in the day when printing pictures from your camera required sending your film to a photo lab. I had gotten in a mail a solicitation telling me I’d won… something. I was a poor student. Very poor. So I went, figuring a freebie is a good thing. There was no freebie. Imagine paying $800 up front to have ALL THE FILM YOU EVER USE IN ONE ENTIRE YEAR processed! No limits!

    It took me over an hour to realize that while the math worked out, I’d never use more than 3 rolls of film in year! Lesson learned!

  31. Sometimes a company is doing a search to replace an -on-the-way-out person. In that situation confidentiality makes sense. Should the person hear he is a dead duck by way of rumors or calls from well meaning friends?
    However,and a big ‘however’ it is, if a recruiter will not discuss specifics (breadth of responsibility, direct reports, problems that need fixing, etc.)hang up. Either the recruiter does not know what he is doing or it is a scam getting ready to happen with you as the scamee.
    Trolling Monster is not recruiting it’s clerical work for recruiters who do not know how to recruit and really think that the best candidates are on the web somewhere.


    I recently looked around the Execunet site on a suggestion from a friend. On their home page they have a “Job Search” tab that takes you to a pull-down menu that includes “Free Executive Job Search.”

    Well, free is good, so I put in some criteria, and up came a rather large list, although it included many positions whose locations were hundreds or thousands of miles from the specific location I listed. What the heck – it’s free, right? So I clicked on one job that looked interesting, and instead of giving me the job spec and contact info, I was taken to a page that asked for my home address, email, home phone and other personal information in order to “view details.” This obviously makes you think that when you provide this information, you’ll be able to see the job spec and then apply.


    After providing all this information, you are indeed taken to a screen with a paragraph describing the position. But the “details” don’t include any contact or application information, the company name or even industry. In other words, you can’t do anything at all. So at that point, despite the bait, UNLESS YOU JOIN EXECUNET – and after you’ve give up personal information on the promise of an actual job listing – you get nothing, except the opportunity to start paying Dave Upton every month.

    And, lo and behold, Execunet is even more expensive than The Ladders, at $39 a month or $399 a year, the latter advertised as the “best value for ongoing career management.” Really? They also suggest that they are giving you access to “hidden” jobs, and if you join, they say, your membership “includes Specially Activated E-mail Contact Address when available.” Huh?

    They’re not even honest or consistent with their fees. They have a special offer, three months for $99, but then if you don’t cancel you are automatically rebilled at the $39 a month rate. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s typically the same arrangement as most porn sites.

    I don’t see how this is any different from The Ladders. Shameful exploitation of people at one of the worst times in their lives.