I’ve written a lot about about the various rackets in the career industry that prey on desperate people looking for work, but I always use the term “racket” loosely. Last week I got a query from a news reporter that forced me to create a new category in this blog. We all need a (nervous) laugh:

I am a staff reporter with… a northern New Jersey newspaper. I want to ask you about a lawsuit to see if what is described within could be construed as normal “head hunter” protocol, as the defendant claims.

The lawsuit was filed by a father who claimed he paid $31,000 to a mob associate with “political connections.” The mobster guaranteed the man’s son a job in return for the money. The mob associate said he knew a sitting state legislator who would write a letter of recommendation to a local company in order for the father’s son to get a job. The job fell through and the father sued to get his money back.

Does that sound like legitimate work by a head hunter?

After double-checking the e-mail address to make sure somebody wasn’t pulling my leg, I called the reporter and asked him if he was serious. Turns out he’s on the crime beat, and the story is legit. The father’s claim is that he contracted, under “normal head hunter protocol,” for “head hunting” services. We all know what that means: a job. Since no job was delivered, the father believes he is owed back the fee.

I know you’re following this. The guy is suing a mobster. Only in New Jersey. But let’s put that aside. What I’m more interested in is the contention that headhunters take money and guarantee jobs.

I explained to the reporter that Headhunters find people, not jobs. You can’t hire or pay a headhunter to find you a job. Hence, there is no headhunter role in this story, and the father’s claim that he contracted for headhunting services is false. Further, even experienced crooks in the career industry (the so-called “career-management” and “career-marketing” firms that pretend to help you find a job) know not to guarantee their clients a job. They carefully craft service agreements so there’s no refund. (Career-industry crooks do get busted, e.g., by the Illinois Attorney General, for fraud, but not for impersonating headhunters.)

My point is not that the plaintiff in this case incorrectly believes he’s dealing with a “head hunter”. The point is that there is a widespread belief that you can pay someone to guarantee you a new job. The misconception is so powerful that some unsophisticated dope is citing it to sue for performance!

This prevalent misconception is at the root of the $20,000 “career management” fees that hapless, unemployed executives pay… for nothing. It’s at the root of expensive display ads in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times that promise “powerful, exclusive, inside contacts” at major corporations who will help you get hired. The irony here is that the influence-peddling mobster is just a two-bit player in this business. The really big, bad guys who lead the career-management racket promote their services in top business publications right out in the open.

I wish the father in this story a lot of luck. I know headhunters whose clients have asked for their money back, and I know headhunters who have refused. But, in all my years working in Silicon Valley, I never heard of anyone who went to court and asked for a pair of cement boots and diving lessons. Only in New Jersey? Hey, if someone winds up at the bottom of the river, at least it won’t be a legitimate headhunter.

  1. Nick,

    As usual, you are right on the money!! As our Chairman and Founder Dave Theobald has always said, our CEO Kathy Simmoms advises daily, and we repeat over and over and over again: “Nothing in this industry is guaranteed. If someone tries to guarantee you anything – walk away!!!” It is too subjective.

    Our executive members advise each other to use the money and take your family on a nice vacation – you will get more from it.

    Please keep helping everyone with your articles!!


  2. Wow . . . sometimes I wonder what people are thinking. The father could have just paid his son the $31,000 while his son went out and looked for real work.

  3. Hi, i was once employed as a store manager work with the drugfair costcutter chain based in nj. we closed our doors in may this yr. im looking for work can anybody help please?

    my email is kkdoriginal@aol.com

  4. There are never any guarantees when you are looking for a job and the case you mentioned above gives headhunters a bad name, but proper recruiters will not guarantee anything, but do their best to fill roles.