“The ladders is a scam, plain and simple. A class action lawsuit sounds like a good idea.”
— TheLadders (former) subscriber Robin Lynn

“I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.”
— Employer Claire Peat, not a customer

TheLadders continues to discredit itself while suffering renewed attacks from its own paying subscribers, and now also from employers, who claim TheLadders is a scam. This article reports how job hunters and employers believe the scam works.

Recent disclosures reveal that TheLadders’s claims of exclusivity and “Only $100k+” jobs and candidates are untrue, and that it not only fails to deliver what it charges for, but that TheLadders interferes with the business of companies that are not even its customers.

UPDATE March 19, 2014Angry, frustrated customers of TheLadders who say they were scammed finally get their day in court. Federal Court OK’s Suit Against TheLadders: Breach of contract & deceptive practices

UPDATE March 12, 2013
A consumer protection class action suit has been filed against TheLadders. If you believe you’ve been scammed by TheLadders, you can join the suit by contacting the law firm that filed the complaint. More here: TheLadders sued for multiple scams in U.S. District Court class action

Among the key accusations is that TheLadders takes job listings from employers’ own websites without authorization, even after being told to stop, and that TheLadders misrepresents the salaries on those jobs so that it can beef up its questionable database of “50,000, high-level 100k+ executive positions.”

TheLadders CEO, Marc Cenedella, has admitted that 50% or more of those “$100k+” jobs are “scraped” from other online databases, over which TheLadders has no authority or quality control. At best, TheLadders may thus have no more than around 25,000 verified job listings that employers have actually posted in its database.

In the meantime, Cenedella also claims TheLadders has 4.5 million subscribers, earning “$100k+”, competing for those 25,000 “$100k+” jobs. (You do the math.)

Finally, employers have revealed that TheLadders costs them money, time and sometimes their reputations, when Ladders subscribers unwittingly apply for jobs that don’t exist or that employers never placed with TheLadders, or that don’t pay what TheLadders claims.

Frustrated employers and recruiters that don’t even do business with TheLadders say that angry Ladders subscribers blame them for misinformation delivered through TheLadders’ database, creating public relations problems.

In early 2011, TheLadders convened a public relations conference of job-board “consultants” and recruiting-industry “experts,” apparently in an effort defend itself against Internet-wide cries of fraud from its subscribers. Some of the attendees rushed home and posted glowing reviews of TheLadders’ business practices on their blogs.

The stark contrast between the intent of those bloggers — to laud TheLadders — and the resulting outrage of people who overwhelmed them with critical comments, created the embarrassing impression that the blog campaign was conducted by shills of TheLadders. While complaints from TheLadders’ job-hunting subscribers are common on the Net, the surprise on these blogs was the outpouring of complaints from employers.

The loud backfire of that Ladders public relations conference has led to new outcries of “fraud” and “scam” — this time with new details about how TheLadders does its business.

Frustrated Job Hunters

We’ve covered TheLadders extensively on this blog:

TheLadders: Going Down? | Rickety, Leads Nowhere | The Dope on TheLadders (230+ comments) | Marc Cenedella Sells E-mails: $30/month | TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud? (90+ comments) | TheLadders: A Long-Shot PowerBall Lottery Tucked Inside a Well-Oiled PR Machine (including audio from a Harvard presentation) | TheLadders’ Mercenaries to Critics: They’re good eggs! (40+ comments)

(There’s lots more if you type “TheLadders” in the search box.)

Most of these articles cite job hunters who say they’ve lost their money, wasted their time, and otherwise been screwed by misinformation and misleading advertising from TheLadders.

But the latest turn of the screw is being felt by employers, who now share experiences that suggest how TheLadders scam really works. (TheLadders’ business model is ultimately propped up by employers and recruiters that pay huge fees to access its database.)

The Scam

TheLadders promises to provide “only $100k+” jobs and candidates, but as demonstrated by Ladders employees, the company knowingly delivers jobs and job applicants that do not in fact earn or pay “only $100k+.” TheLadders claims to “hand-screen every job post,” but does not actually check those salaries with the employers that own the jobs.

The method is simple. Half or more of all Ladders job listings are not placed in TheLadders’ database by employers. When TheLadders does not have enough “$100k+” jobs for its paying “$100k+” subscribers, TheLadders takes jobs from employers’ own websites (and other sites) without the authorization or knowledge of those employers. (In fact, some companies complain that after they demand that TheLadders remove those jobs, and after they explain that the jobs do not pay “$100k+”, TheLadders temporarily removes them — and then re-posts them.) While Cenedella claims that two humans hand-screen every job, TheLadders’ “approvers” merely guess at the salaries of jobs taken without authority from employers. Then — without contacting the employers to verify whether a job actually pays “$100k+” — TheLadders represents to its subscribers that sub-$100k jobs pay $100k+.

At best, when job hunting subscribers bust TheLadders for wasting their time and and money with sub-$100k jobs, TheLadders offers to remove those jobs. However, TheLadders discloses no legitimate or verifiable criteria that it uses to make its salary guesses, and provides no evidence that such criteria even exist. The result is that job hunters pay TheLadders for access to “ONLY $100k+” jobs whose salaries TheLadders simply does not know.

Employers claim TheLadders causes them to waste time and money processing inappropriate and unsolicited applicants. These employers are burdened having to explain to angry Ladders subscribers that the jobs are long expired; that the jobs do not pay as much as Ladders’ promised; and/or that the employer never posted those jobs on TheLadders.

Employers say their reputations are damaged by the unauthorized use and misrepresentation of their jobs by TheLadders.

Finally, these employers complain that TheLadders’ interference with their recruiting process results in the loss of qualified candidates who get buried beneath the blitz of inappropriate applications from TheLadders’s subscribers. Employers state that their staffs simply don’t have the time to process all the drek.

That is the scam reported by job hunters and employers, many of whom don’t do business with TheLadders, and many that have demanded — to no avail — that TheLadders stop using their information.

Employers Say TheLadders Drives Up Recruiting Costs

Whether they do business with TheLadders, or not, companies say TheLadders drives up their costs of recruiting enormously. Employers complain that TheLadders:

  • Takes companies’ job listings without authorization.
  • Misrepresents the salaries of jobs, to make them appear to be “$100k+” when they are not.
  • Fails to remove expired and inaccurate job listings when requested.
  • Re-posts job listings after removing them upon a company’s demand.
  • Sends staggering numbers of inappropriate applicants to employers, overwhelming HR staff.
  • Wastes employers’ time and money sorting and processing inappropriate and unsolicited applicants.
  • Wastes employers’ time and money spent explaining to angry Ladders subscribers that the company did not post jobs on TheLadders, and that the company does not do business with TheLadders.
  • Causes damage to employers’ reputations, when candidates get angry upon realizing they are applying for jobs that were filled long ago or don’t pay as much as TheLadders promised.
  • Causes companies to miss good applicants that the companies solicited through their own good sources, because those candidates get buried in the onslaught of inappropriate applications funneled through TheLadders.

In at least one case, an HR manager reported that a Ladders executive contacted his bosses after he posted on his blog about TheLadders misdeeds — apparently to intimidate him.

In another case, an employer rejected TheLadders’ repeated sales calls because she did not want her jobs listed on TheLadders. Her pleas to remove her jobs from TheLadders went unheeded. She had to deal with inordinate numbers of inappropriate and angry applicants via TheLadders. She says, “I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.” Meanwhile, her costs kept climbing as a result of TheLadders’ behavior.

We’ll get into those new revelations shortly. First let’s look at a quick summary of problems faced by job hunters, who are referred to as “subscribers” by TheLadders.

Fed-up Subscribers

The main complaints:

  • TheLadders’ subscribers claim the company sells them access to “$100k+” job listings that (1) don’t exist, (2) don’t pay $100k+, and/or (3) were not approved by the employer.
  • Other complaints are about misleading billing practices, whereby subscribers who sign up for three months, then decide to stop, continue getting charged every month without further notice.
  • TheLadders “resume writing service” has also been called a racket by customers who complain that, rather than customization, TheLadders delivers copycat boilerplate that’s also used by other resume services. (When offended customers turn the tables and re-submit the resumes they purchase from TheLadders back to TheLadders for a “free resume review,” they’re advised to get their resume re-written by TheLadders’ crack team of professional resume writers.)

Many readers of this blog (and folks on other discussion forums) have cried consumer fraud and called for investigations by state attorneys general.

TheLadders Business Model: A sucker walks up every minute

How do smart people get suckered so easily? Key to TheLadders’ business plan is gullibility. It seems that the higher up the salary ladder people go, the more desperately they want to believe they can pay someone to find them a job. TheLadders capitalizes on this wishful thinking. In fact, suckerhood seems to have been at the heart of TheLadders’ business model from the start.

Having founded the churn-’em-and-burn-’em HotJobs job board for the masses, TheLadders’ CEO Marc Cenedella apparently learned the P.T. Barnum lesson quickly: There’s a sucker born every minute.

But Cenedella also realized that higher-paid suckers can be suckered for higher sums. He and partner Alex Douzet had the insight that by merely re-branding the HotJobs model as “$100k+”, they could charge people fees for what HotJobs gave away for free. The new “exclusive” service would deliver essentially the same service as HotJobs — but to executives and wannabe-executives willing to pay $30 per month.

Cenedella hit the motherlode: Many more wannabes than actual, highly-salaried executives queued up to join. Hopeful suckers were being birthed by the minute, while the business press praised the “exclusive” model:

“The exclusive, country-club attitude befits TheLadders’ business model. Unlike the larger and better-known jobs sites, it costs $180 a year (or $30 a month) to use and restricts membership and listings to ‘$100k+ people looking for $100k+ jobs.'”
— Advertising Age, January 23, 2008: A Job Site for ‘$100K+ People’: Avoid the Commoners

What to do about all those sub-$100k wannabes who are eager to join this exclusive club? Are you kidding? Did P.T. Barnum ever refuse to sell anyone a ticket to his circus? It seems Cenedella is happy to bill any sucker — and now it seems clear that TheLadders database is not just rife with sub-$100k (or long-expired) jobs that subscribers complain about, but also with sub-$100k “subscribers.”

Employers Chime In

When a leading business publication interviewed me about TheLadders, the reporter expressed dismay. “Clearly, Ladders subscribers are complaining. But the real story would be complaints from employers. And I don’t see that.”

The missing piece of TheLadders story has always been the suckers on the other side of the fence: Employers that pay to access TheLadders database of “ONLY $100k+” people. But the real story is what’s been disclosed by employers that don’t even do business with TheLadders.

Those employers and recruiters thought their bad experiences with TheLadders were unusual and unique. But something finally told them otherwise, and got them riled up: A desperate Ladders public relations stunt.

Public Relations: TheLadders gets splattered

By early 2011, customer complaints about TheLadders were getting unbearably loud. (The most hilarious example: investors’ comments on discredited stock-flack Henry Blodgett’s blog.) In January the company decided to take action. TheLadders convened a think tank of recruiting industry luminaries and sycophants, titled (Did some PR hack get paid a lot of money for this?) the Position Accomplished Summit.

Cenedella and Douzet booked the trendy Standard Hotel in Manhattan, and paid for airfares, hotels, meals and drinks to stock the place with enthusiastic Ladders fans who were flown in from around the U.S to assume the position. (One legit recruiter, who felt duped, spit up the likker he’d been plied with — on his blog.)

The rest of the crowd went home and quickly assumed accomplished the position. They paid off those likker tabs… with extravagant posts about TheLadders. The newly-charged Ben Dover Public Relations Agency got right on it, and the self-anointed high priests of recruiting began to hold celebratory masses absolving TheLadders of sins against its angry customers.

But when apologists John Sumser and his young protege Josh Letourneau sacrificed their reputations with ludicrous endorsements of TheLadders, this time it wasn’t just pissed-off Ladders subscribers that flooded the blogs with cries of fraud. This time, fed-up employers and recruiters told stories of TheLadders wasting their time, their money, their reputations — and even of intimidation. The PR event backfired, the shills’ swill pot overflowed, and TheLadders got splattered.

“Only $100k+” (NOT!)

We already know that Ladders customers who pay for access to “$100k+” job listings complain that, upon submitting applications, the salaries offered are often a lot lower. (See TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?) But the news that came out of the Position Accomplished fiasco was that employers and recruiters stepped up to say they are getting sub-$100k job applicants from TheLadders — and they don’t like it.

On February 12, five days after Cenedella sent that e-mail to his customers, one of them — a recruiter — told about inteviewing candidates from TheLadders who were nowhere near the $100k level she’d been promised:

“Salary range $185K base + bonus VP level position. We got several responses to the posting. As these candidates were interviewed it was determined that none of them were making over $75K. So x the claim by the Ladders that they only have over $100K salary range candidates. Maybe we got the ones who ended up in the commercial, who knows.”
Recruiter Sandra McCartt

Those sub-$100k subscribers, which TheLadders seems to coyly allow to sneak in the door — and who probably prop up the entire business model — are now creating problems. The revenue they generate for TheLadders exacts an unwelcome cost from employers and recruiters who pay to post high-salary jobs. They say they are getting fed up with riff-raff subscribers in TheLadders’ database.

In an online comment, recruiter Sandra McCartt explains how TheLadders applicant database is further corrupted by TheLadders’ failure to remove people who long ago cancelled their subscriptions, and by the inclusion of people who are in the database apparently without their knowledge or consent:

“We used the Ladders until 2007 when we realized that many of the resumes were people who made much less than 100K. Also many were years out of date. When tracked and contacted these people told us they had cancelled their Ladders account, asked for resumes to be removed but were still being contacted and didn’t like it.

“In Nov. and Dec. [2010] i received two resumes forwarded from the Ladders in response to a job we had posted in 2007. I sent notes to both letting them know that the job was over three years out of date. One of them wrote back and said he had never used the Ladders before and had no idea why or how his resume had been sent to us.”

Recruiter McCartt explains: “This posting ran for two weeks [in 2007] before we removed it (we thought).” In other words, expired and unauthorized jobs remain in TheLadders database for years — even after recruiters remove them.

According to recruiters and employers, contrary to CEO Cendella’s representations to his customers, TheLadders does not “only have candidates at the $100k+ level.” Worse, TheLadders seems to have people in its database who do not want to be there. The scam seems clear: TheLadders wastes employers’ and recruiters’ time and money with inappropriate applicants.

How the Scam Works

But the real revelations about how TheLadders scam works were recently shared by employers who don’t do business with TheLadders — companies whose job descriptions TheLadders takes without authorization and misrepresents as “$100k+ jobs” in the database it sells to job hunters.

Cenedella boasts that TheLadders’ quality assurance controls save employers “a lot of time when they don’t have to look through all the inappropriate applications that they might get” elsewhere:

This seems to be the heart of TheLadders’ method of doing business: TheLadders itself is the source of inappropriate job applicants that waste a company’s time and money. Without consent of the employer, TheLadders takes its job descriptions, tags them with inaccurate salary ranges, and induces its subscribers to apply for those jobs.

In a blog posting on ERE (Is TheLadders a Scam?), ERE founder (and former Monster.com employee) David Manaster cites a Ladders customer service call transcript. He suggests that, because TheLadders offers to remove sub-$100k jobs from its database when irate customers complain, that’s proof that TheLadders is honest and has good intentions. Says Manaster: “People running a scam would not remove the job post.” The trouble is, those transcripts have been piling up for years:

“We have very specific criteria we evaluate all our positions on to ensure they pay more than $100K. However, with the state of the current economy, albeit rare, sometimes a position will meet that criteria and still pay slightly less than $100K. I sincerely apologize that you came across one of those positions. I have removed it from our site to avoid further confusion.”
Community Manager
(Joseph Giarratano)     07/22/2009 08:57 AM

The trouble is, when employers bust TheLadders for playing the same game, TheLadders promises to remove the offending job listings. Then the job listings reappear. A company that’s not running a scam would stop.

It seems clear that TheLadders’ quality controls are inadequate, and that TheLadders must be aware of this as a systemic problem, thanks to repeated complaints. It seems clear that the real quality checks are done at the point of the job interview — by the unwitting subscriber and employer.

Another recruiter, on assignment to fill a position that paid between $80k-$90k, found she was competing with Ladders subscribers who found the very same job listed on TheLadders for a higher salary; a salary, coincidentally, that just meets Cenedella’s minimum bar. The recruiter posts online:

“I just had an ‘episode’ with Ladders. I was recruiting for a Plant Manager in Texas(a relocation)… when I spotted the same job on Ladders for 100K plus/Bonus etc. None of this was true. I called my client and told him about it and he assured me the salary he gave me was correct and there was no bonus etc.”
Recruiter Lynda Hallock

The employer filled the position with a candidate delivered by the recruiter, in the true salary range, $80k-$90k. Where did this job listing on TheLadders come from, if not from the employer? Where did the “$100k plus bonus” compensation promise come from, if not from the employer?

  • It turns out TheLadders takes (“scrapes”) job descriptions from other websites without authorization, and even after employers decline to put their jobs in TheLadders’ database.
  • It seems TheLadders manufactures salary ranges (without checking or confirming them with employers) in order to beef up the inadequate database of “$100k+” jobs it sells to its subscribers.

Let’s look at how this works, based on reports from Ladders subscribers, from companies that work with TheLadders, and from companies that refuse to work with TheLadders.

Cenedella Fesses Up

Like the culprit in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter, TheLadders hides evidence of its behavior in plain sight — expecting subscribers and employers won’t bother to inspect the details. On June 26, 2010, Marc Cenedella gave a speech in Los Angeles at a Career & Networking Symposium, an event for alumni of notable business schools. The event brochure promoted TheLadders as the “#1 source of $100K+ jobs in the world.” One of the attendees, Bernadine Bednarz, demonstrated insight and cynicism unusual for a job hunter. She asked Cenedella a pointed question:

“What percentage of your positions are directly from employers?”

She reports Cenedella’s answer:

“50% employers and recruiters, and the rest culled from the Web.”

(Concerned about the quality of TheLadders’ job listings, Bednarz submitted a written request to TheLadders for names and contact information of three Ladders customers who actually obtained $100k+ jobs. She wanted to speak with them. A Ladders staffer responded and refused to provide references.)

Cenedella claims TheLadders has experts on staff that “hand check” all those jobs to ensure they actually meet TheLadders rigid criteria and actually pay “$100k+”. A Ladders customer service representative reiterated Cenedella’s “50%” answer in a transcript from an online chat with a customer, and dodged the question of salary verification with doubletalk:

Andrew: Over half of our jobs are submitted directly to us with compensation listed. For the other half, we have strict guidelines to aid us in determining whether a job is $100K or not. Each positions is reviewed by 2 rounds of approvers before it is put onto the site. [11:26:54 AM]

OMG! TheLadders guesses at salaries, charges for “$100k+” jobs

In yet another customer service chat, another Ladders rep (Perhaps the same one?) admits to customer Alishia Frey that the company has no way of knowing the salaries of the jobs that it claims are “ONLY $100k+”:

Andy: … Since we don’t have a direct way of knowing the pay range of each of these positions, we make an estimate based on a rigid set of criteria.

Andy: In this case, I see that the position requires a Bachelor’s degree and five years of experience. This is well within the experience range of a Marketing Manager who expects to make $100k per year.

Andy: Clearly that isn’t the case with this position and I thank you for letting me know about it as I am definitely going to remove it from the site immediately.

How did that job make it into TheLadders database? Because that’s what Andy, or someone at TheLadders, thinks a Marketing Manager makes. Here we go again, Mr. Manaster. Is this proof that TheLadders is not running a scam? Every time a customer busts them, they remove the job listing — but what quality controls has TheLadders implemented to eliminate sub-$100k jobs from its database?

Customer Alishia isn’t so gullible:

Alishia: omg… so you mean that you are taking educated guesses on what these positions pay??? do you think that is what users think who pay $30 per month to use your product – that you are paying for good guesses as to what a position MAY pay???

Andy: These aren’t educated guesses Alisia, it is information gained through lengthy information gathering sessions among numerous recruiters and career advisors in all of the fields we post.

If Andrew’s and Andy’s customer-service doubletalk isn’t a handjob, those “information gathering sessions” certainly qualify as a circle jerk.

Then Alishia asks the question that just one reporter needs to ask Marc Cenedella in his next interview:

Alishia: i understand pulling from third parties but don’t you verify these postings by calling the company or something?

Now the specter of fraud explodes in the face of TheLadders practices. Questions of forethought and conspiracy to defraud paying customers with misinformation are raised:

Andy: The fact is Alishia that very few companies are willing to release this information if they havent chosen to do so on the posting itself.

TheLadders, Marc Cenedella, Alex Douzet, Andrew, and Andy don’t know exactly what they are doing and why?

After admitting they don’t know the salaries of jobs they sell, they nonetheless claim they do. TheLadders explicitly states that “Our experts pre-screen all jobs so they’re always $100K.”

Alishia: Well, Andy, I mean…it’s YOUR tagline: The most $100k+ jobs, all in one easy-to-search site. Our mission has always been to make your job search as quick and easy as possible. We work hard to bring you the best $100k+ jobs around — over 25,000 a month!

Alishia cancelled her membership, after paying for six months. Two years later, Alishia Frey is still considered a “subscriber” by TheLadders, and those daily e-mails from Marc Cenedella keep coming — against her wishes. Cenedella still counts Frey as one of the 1.4 million people making over $100k that he claims are “signed up on TheLadders.” There’s why subscribers are calling for an investigation.

While crowing that “two humans” hand-check each job listing before it is allowed into TheLadders database, Cendella has never disclosed:

  1. How that checking is done,
  2. What criteria are used,
  3. What evidence and records TheLadders maintains to prove that those jobs really exist,
  4. That the jobs are posted with the employer’s permission, and
  5. That the jobs actually pay “$100k+”.

Cenedella has never reconciled TheLadders’ written admission that, “very few companies are willing to release this information if they haven’t chosen to do so on the posting itself,” with the claim that “all jobs” on TheLadders “are ALWAYS $100k+.”

Other job boards scrape jobs that pay less than $100k. But only TheLadders charges fees to access jobs that it promises are “ONLY $100k+”.

The complaints of TheLadders’ subscribers that “hand checking” is quackery seem well-founded. While TheLadders’ apologists disparage angry Ladders customers and suggest that actual complaints about the company’s behavior are few, Mark Stelzner, an attendee at the Position Accomplished Summit, says otherwise.

“I put out an informal request to my JobAngels network to gauge their impression of TheLadders. The results were shocking to me but may not be to others. I received over 800 messages in less than two weeks… and not one of them was positive.”

Clearly, TheLadders’ reputation is a serious problem that must have the board of directors’ heads spinning. Now the problem is far worse, with employers filing their protests in public about how TheLadders’ practices interfere with their business.

Employers Get Scammed: “It’s a time-suck”

On the aforementioned Henry Blodgett blog, this comment is posted:

One of my friends is an ex-employee of “The Ladders”. They sell access to corporations to their candidate database for $25,000 per year. They sell recruiter access for somewhat less. And they sell candidates $30 per month subscriptions. But, no one ever discusses the source of these jobs. Many of them, this ex-employee told me, come from “scraping” various job listings across the Internet. Some, perhaps, come from recruiters and hiring managers, but if you look closely at the Terms and Conditions of The Ladders, you’ll see they don’t exactly specify the source(s) they use for this listings. And, many of them are already closed or filled by the time they get to The Ladders if they’ve been “scraped”.

Martin Burns confirms the problem alluded to in that posting. Burns is an in-house recruiter who has worked in the HR departments of notable companies. He writes his own blog. But when the Fistful Of Talent Blog published one of the PR love letters that came out of the Position Accomplished Summit, Burns wanted to talk about how TheLadders’ practice of stealing job postings from employers’ own websites was costing him time, money and his company’s reputation:

“My biggest complaint – and I’ve had to deal with this from the hiring side – is when people would call to ask about a job they saw on The Ladders, or to follow up on an application they’d made. I’d have to explain to them that we didn’t list on The Ladders, that the job had been closed for months (in a few cases, for over a year), and that the job paid well less than six figures.

“The best part? They’d get mad at _me_, claiming false representation – ‘why would you tell The Ladders that this job pays more than six figures?’

“I’d have to explain – again – that The Ladders never called us to verify, that we didn’t list the jobs there, etc.

“I think they were more angry at getting tricked. Nobody likes to admit to getting suckered. I blogged about this once, after repeated calls to The Ladders didn’t seem to get them to stop crawling our career site.

“My main, and selfish, goal, was to stop the angry calls from executive job seekers, as it was a time-suck.

“Instead, The Ladders CEO made pesonal calls to complain to my CEO, CFO, and President the next morning. This was not a fun day for me. Apparently, they really do care about their image – as evidenced by the sweet junket to NYC they just laid out for a bunch of people I tend to respect, and calling to complain about random bloggers. I just wish they cared more about providing a great product to their paying customers.”

An employer was being deluged with inappropriate applicants who came via TheLadders:
  • The employer didn’t post the jobs on TheLadders.
  • TheLadders listed expired jobs from the employer.
  • TheLadders listed jobs with fraudulent salaries.
  • TheLadders did not contact the company to verify the jobs or the salaries.
  • TheLadders failed to stop “crawling” the employer’s website to steal jobs.
  • The employer’s reputation was tarnished as a result of TheLadders’ fraudulent representations about the company’s jobs.
  • And Marc Cenedella called Burns’ boss to complain that Burns was complaining about what TheLadders was doing.

Is this really a common practice at TheLadders? In a follow-up interview, Burns said these new online revelations — about TheLadders taking jobs from company websites without authorization — seem to have awakened other employers to how widespread this Ladders’ practice really is.

“I received e-mails from other corporate recruiters saying, ‘I can’t believe it’s happening to you, too. I thought I was the only one.’ It seems clear TheLadders is doing this because they need inventory.”

It seems this is the policy at TheLadders — this is how 50% of the job listings on TheLadders get there in the first place. And it seems this is why so many Ladders subscribers complain that jobs on TheLadders are fraudulent.

TheLadders has “two humans” who “hand check” every job even though, “The fact is Alishia that very few companies are willing to release this information.” Any reasonable person knows that, but TheLadders has built an “exclusive” service for which it charges money, promising that its jobs are “ALWAYS $100K+” because TheLadders checks them.

The cost must be staggering to employers who are forced to deal with unsolicited applicants, to deny fraudulent salaries, and to explain that they did not post their jobs on TheLadders. How many employers’ job listings does TheLadders pilfer every day — without contacting them to verify salaries? How many employers’ reputations are tarnished, in the professional communities from which they recruit, because TheLadders misrepresents them?

TheLadders Does It Overseas

Claire Peat works for a major multi-national corporation in the United Kingdom. She found the story about TheLadders’ PR stunt in the same ERE article, Is TheLadders a Scam? As an employer, she was startled to learn that “the lack of professionalism” she’d experienced with TheLadders’ was not unusual, and that “in the bigger picture it means everyone suffers.”

A sales rep had called Peat, asking her to pay to post her company’s jobs on TheLadders. Peat explained that her jobs did not meet TheLadders advertised salary minimum — not even with bonuses and benefits added in. TheLadders rep pressed anyway. But Peat’s company has clear policies to protect its reputation.

When I interviewed her, Peat explained that every job applicant is contacted and acknowledged. The company wants all applicants to have a positive experience. She told TheLadders sales reps that, “for mutual reputation safeguarding, [it’s] best to not post them on TheLadders” because the jobs did not meet TheLadders’ minimum advertised salary. (In the U.S., TheLadders’s claims all the job hunters in its database earn “$100k+”. In the U.K., TheLadders’ cut-off is stated in Pounds Sterling, £50k.)

Peat’s jobs wound up on TheLadders anyway, in spite of her refusal to post them. Peat recounted her experience:

“Imagine my surprise when I did a quick internet search to find out who had been scraping my jobs, and there they were on the Ladders.

“I called the guy back and he did get his ‘scrapers’ to take the jobs down, and he also had a note put out to all not to put any jobs from our company on without passing it by him, but I found the same thing happened again a few weeks later.”

To paraphrase TheLadders’ apologist David Manaster: “People who are running a scam would post jobs even after the employer refused to permit them to do so.” By Manaster’s definition, TheLadders scammed Claire Peat. Funny he didn’t notice the proof on his own ERE blog, where Peat posted the information.

Is this a common practice at TheLadders? It seems this is the policy at TheLadders — and it seems that’s how 50% of the job listings on TheLadders get there in the first place. (Am I repeating myself, too?) Against her wishes, TheLadders was generating a flood of resumes that were interfering with her ability to recruit efficiently:

“It’s disappointing because it meant I wouldn’t think of using them [TheLadders] in future because of the lack of professionalism, and people working there that can’t follow simple instructions. It also caused me a huge amount of work speaking with disappointed candidates who were no longer interested when the actual salary was disclosed, rejecting people that were far too senior for the roles because they assumed it would be something more at the perceived salary, and of course the time it takes to get the jobs taken down from their site and then having to continually monitor if they were still scraping unsuitable jobs from our corporate page. I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.”

Peat took additional steps to stop TheLadders. What she learned was stunning. Here’s how TheLadders “hand checks” job listings after stealing them from employers’ own websites:

“When confronted, they were pretty open about their practices. The account manager explained it to me in pretty simple terms – they have their different job path ladders, and they monitor how many active job seekers they have within each of them versus how many jobs posted. If they don’t have enough jobs in a ladder that companies have agreed to be posted, they have a team of people with broad criteria of what a £50k job description should look like, so they go to corporate sites to find them and add to theirs.”

According to TheLadders official, when TheLadders doesn’t have enough £50k+ jobs to go around, it uses “broad criteria” to boost the ratio of £50k jobs to £50k subscribers by finding jobs on corporate sites, tagging them “£50k+” (or $100k+ in the U.S.), and putting them on its own site. Protecting that ratio seems to be the goal at TheLadders.

I asked Peat whether TheLadders ever contacted her to confirm the salaries of the job postings TheLadders had lifted from her company’s website against her instructions. TheLadders did not contact her to confirm the salaries.

How the Scam Works: TheLadders does not check salaries

Based on information provided by employers, this seems to expose and explain the scam — and reveals what Marc Cenedella hides behind the evangelical, cult-like zeal of his daily e-mails to subscribers:

TheLadders does not do the one most obvious thing to “hand check” the salaries of jobs it posts in its database.

TheLadders does not contact the employer
to check that a job is open or how much it pays.

Instead of delivering what it charges for, TheLadders gives unverified job listings to its paying subscribers, who expect that TheLadders delivers “ONLY $100k+ jobs.”

Claire Peat’s posting on the ERE blog starts with these words: “It’s not a scam, but it’s also not a good business model.” But the last words in her posting say it all: I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.”

Deane Osner is an American HR manager who was not aware that “scraping” of other websites represented 50% of TheLadders job listings until he read the ERE blog. Osner posted that he is losing job candidates:

“TheLadders’ model is horrible. They promise something to jobseekers and make them pay for it. Then they don’t delever what they promised. Also they do “job-jacking” – I wonder what percentage of their jobs are just reposts from other websites. I bet it is extremely high.”

“We do not use them here where I work. We had the same issues that Claire Peat had and it even cost us a couple of candidates on job offers. These candidates were mad at us for posting the jobs on theLadders and them not being $100K. We had to explain that we didn’t post but theLadders scraped them from our website. They too were very displeased to hear that.”

Osner says that he complained to TheLadders. His jobs were removed, but he later started getting applicants from TheLadders again:

“I see they have not done anything to change and now more people are catching on.”

The Real Cost of TheLadders to Employers: “A glut of unqualified resumes I never wanted”

Every time TheLadders steals job listings from a company’s own website — mind you, we’re talking about employers that don’t do business with TheLadders, and, in Peat’s case, employers that say no to TheLadders’ sales reps — the company gets hurt. Peat explains how TheLadders creates unexpected, unapproved, and unwelcome costs for her company:

“I can see the principle behind it, and they need to be seen to offer a service to paying clients, but it’s incredibly flawed, and in the bigger picture it means everyone suffers through the recruitment experience:

“As a sourcer, I carefully considered my target market and where to post my positions to hit the maximum relevant candidates. Anyone scraping my jobs is taking away my control of this, so a huge batch of unsuitable people see the advert and go on to apply.

“I still only have the same amount of time to handle a requisition, but now I have more than 3 times the number of candidates to screen as I would have. (Did I mention that after TheLadders had scraped from our site, a number of other people scrape from them?!). So, each candidate can only have 1/3 the attention given to their resume in a 1st cut screen. Thus, a poorly written resume that may have been a ‘maybe’ for a second screen can easily be overlooked and become a ‘no’ when you’ve got another couple of hundred to get through. The hiring manager still only wants to do the same number of interviews. If the folks at TheLadders have done what they’ve been paid for, those resumes should look better and hit the interview list. But if the people then don’t hit the mark, I have to go back through the ‘maybe’ pile, which is people who have already been sat waiting around a while. So we may have missed the boat with them, or they start to think we have a terrible, slow recruitment process and potentially withdraw, all caused by a glut of unqualified resumes I never wanted.”

Marc Cenedella asks, “Who’s got time for this?” in an e-mail blast to his 4.5 million “subscribers.” Employers could be asking him the same question.

Employers and recruiters deserve better than to have their job listings stolen, manipulated, misrepresented, and sold for money by a company that has become the leading pimp of worn-out, re-used and unverified “$100k+” executive resumes and jobs. Employers deserve better than to have their time and money sucked up — and to have their reputations jeopardized — by TheLadders.

Who or What Is Really in TheLadders’ Database?

Marc Cenedella says TheLadders is home to “the nation’s top talent”:

Former subscribers who complain that TheLadders won’t remove their resumes from its system — or stop sending them Cenedella’s carny-barker e-mails every day — suggest that the size and quality of the “community” is a fabrication. They know firsthand that their own “membership” in the community is a fraud, because they opted out but continue to be counted.

Subscriber “Mike” has been a CEO and a CFO. (Though I usually report the names of people whose stories and statements I print, sometimes I allow anonymity. Mike didn’t want to take the risk having his boss get the kinds of calls that Martin Burns’ boss got from TheLadders executives.) He acknowledges that TheLadders is a $100 million business — but he describes it as A long-shot Powerball lottery tucked inside a well-oiled PR machine.

“I consider myself a self-inflicted victim of TheLadders charade over a period of 18 months. The saddest and most debilitating result for so many is the very heavy sacrifice of time, money, self-esteem and self-confidence that results from a nearly barren source of legitimate job opportunities/referrals.”

After paying to send over 600 resumes to Ladders’ job listings during 18 months (as well as for a new resume), Mike stopped and analyzed TheLadders claims. When he concluded that his calculated odds of finding a C-level job through TheLadders were around 0.14%, this seasoned executive shifted gears and landed a job through his personal contacts.

“Now that I have a CEO job with a thousand people in my organization, I have hired about 20 corporate executives over the past four months making between $50k and $200K: 16 from networking and word of mouth, 4 from recruiters and none from job boards.”

On April 26, 2011, Marc Cenedella posted at the top of his “Stone” blog that “28% of people in the USA who make over $100,000 are signed up on TheLadders”:

When IT industry pundit and career-development author Andy Lester questioned those numbers, Cenedella responded that:

“We have 4.5 mm subscribers and there are 16.0 mm salary and wage earners over $100,000 in 2009 according to the IRS”

But Cenedella’s sweeping “logic” points to no evidence that the 4.5 million names on his list are a subset of people that earn over $100,000. The reports from job hunters and employers that we’ve reviewed cast serious doubt on Cenedella’s assertion — and leave him looking like little more than a silly snakeoil salesman. His gratuitous reference to the IRS is verbal sleight of hand, and a common advertising copy trick.

What does Mike the CEO say about this?

“When you forwarded me the PR piece citing that something like 28% of job seekers eligible for $100,000 jobs subscribe to TheLadders, it reminded me of the fact that they continue to send me many e-mails a day with additional postings and updates despite that I asked on a number of occasions to be taken off their list.

With a straight face, Cenedella throws out his chest and ruminates…

“Yep, if you’re making over $100,000 per year in the US, you’re pretty likely to be using TheLadders to help make the most out of your career.”

Yep, if you were ever in TheLadders database, and if you ever cancelled and told TheLadders to take a hike… Cendella still counts you and Mike the CEO and Alishia Frey among his “4.5 mm subscribers.”


What Is TheLadders’ Business Model — Really?

Mike thinks he knows why Cendella won’t let him out of the database. Since TheLadders feels free to speculate on salaries it can’t prove, I think it’s reasonable to let Mike speculate on what might be going on with TheLadders’ business model:

“I think there is a very good possibility that a very large part of Cenedella’s exit strategy is the value of his subscriber list and the extremely valuable demographic imprint that goes with it. Detailed, demographically-preferred consumer lists of the type Cenedella has in his database are an extraordinarily valuable, contributing component to overall enterprise value these days. The last two Internet companies I consulted for calculated that the value of the consumer information in their customer files, to upscale “target demographic marketers,” would exceed the cap-rated value of their cash-flow when they chose to sell their companies.”

This would explain a lot about why it appears TheLadders goes to great lengths to maintain and keep feeding its “subscriber” database — without letting people escape. Could it be that the main purpose of Cenedella’s daily e-mails to his “list” is to maintain an illusion that the list itself is current, vital and valuable? (Only a handful of data points — Mike, Alishia, the job hunters referenced by recruiter Sandra McCartt — is required to demonstrate that a database is not regularly scrubbed to remove dead records.) The value of such a list could be “priceless”:

“You have to stop and think a minute about the commercial value, to Cenedella, of slowly compiling a detailed list of everyone he finds who is upwardly mobile in an upscale income demographic. His kind of information is probably priceless to a wide range of upscale consumer marketers of one kind or another. I believe that Cenedella isn’t just trying to maximize cashflow from his job-posting business. I think he is probably also amassing a treasure-trove of intellectual property that he may be selling piecemeal and or cultivating to maximize his enterprise market when he brings TheLadders to market.”

I don’t believe TheLadders is in the business of matching “$100k+” job hunters to “$100k+” jobs. Perhaps Cendella doesn’t really care how bad the company’s reputation is among subscribers or employers. Mike suggests that if Cendella were really concerned about the well-being and success of TheLadders’ subscribers…

“It is absolutely stupid for him to be boasting about millions of subscribers because, for anyone who thinks about it, his referral pool is hopelessly diluted with far too many people to make his product a valuable or manageable resource to employers. But the data he is collecting is very valuable indeed.”

Judging from the company’s behavior, I believe TheLadders is really in the business of building and selling lists. Marc Cenedella seems to count everyone whose name the company has ever encountered as “signed up on TheLadders” — when many are just hostages to the database. Have you ever told TheLadders to stop? Are you a former “subscriber” who is still held hostage in Cendella’s “community?”

You Really Want to Believe the Carny Barker

TheLadders relies on desperate, gullible job hunters who want to believe there’s a wizard they can pay to find them a job. It relies on the never-ending, annoying calls of the carnival barker who can get — How many? — maybe 28% of carnival-goers into his tent. It relies on carefully-worded claims that help suckers suspend logic and their disbelief just long enough…

Cenedella says:

“We have two human beings review each job before it is allowed on the site… to make sure they are paying at the $100,000 or more level.”

But Ladders subscribers (and employers) suggest that those “two human beings” are manufacturing salary levels for those jobs so TheLadders can beef up the size of its jobs database. As TheLadders explained to employer Claire Peat, when they don’t have enough jobs from companies that actually agreed to post them, “they have a team of people with broad criteria of what a £50k job description should look like…” and BAM! more “£50k+” and “$100k+” jobs are instantly manufactured to load the database.

The question is, how do the relatively few subscribers who pay for the service feel about competing with all the other millions of “free” subscribers for the same questionable jobs?

Is Marc Cendella Really the Wizard of $100k+ Jobs?

While TheLadders shamelessly cites absurd statistics and misrepresents its operating policies, one truth keeps surfacing:

Whether you’re a job hunter or an employer,
TheLadders may be misrepresenting you or misrepresenting jobs to you,

and either charging you or wasting your time and money
— and possibly laying waste to your reputation —
even when you tell TheLadders to stop.

That’s TheLadders scam described by the people cited in this article. And now both job hunters and employers realize they’re paying for it.

Is This Legal?

Dissatisfied, angry Ladders customers are calling for class action lawsuits and investigations by state attorneys general. Perhaps the employers who believe their time, money and reputations are being wasted need to get a legal opinion on this crucial question:

*Are an employer’s job descriptions proprietary intellectual property (IP)?

When TheLadders takes those job descriptions and manipulates them, misrepresents them, and sells them for money, does that constitute theft of IP and fraud?

For a long time, these disclosures came mainly from angry, frustrated job hunters. Now employers and recruiters are telling their own stories, which seem to corroborate the experiences of job applicants. And, perhaps in a Freudian manner, in a slip-of-the-tongue disclosure of his own, Marc Cenedella asks the world:

Does your company have time? Do you?

[* UPDATE: After publishing this article, I got an informal opinion from an attorney with expertise in intellectual property rights. Here’s what he said: “As far as legal liability for copyright infringement for reposting job ads without permission, I think there is no copyright infringement because the job listings are probably just factual in nature. As just facts, they are not registrable as a copyright. Even if I’m wrong on that, the employers would have to file registrations for all of their job listings before they could sue. Probably not worth it for them.”

However, the attorney also said, “The employers (and job seekers) may have a claim for fraud for what TheLadders is doing and a gov’t agency like the FTC might like to get involved…”]


  1. Thank you for your great service. I had been contemplating using “The Ladders” because so many other gullible people pointed me in that direction. But I had the good fortune of reading a previous piece (on the “Ask the Headhunter” site) about these scam artists – and opted to spend my money elsewhere.

    You have saved me from much frustration and certainly from wasting my money on these buffoons!

  2. I used a trial period subscription of TheLadders. What a waste. When I tracked down the hiring manager for one of the jobs they posted not only did I learn that it “pays nowhere near $100K”, and had been “filled for ages”, but the employer was quite irritated (irritation directed at me) that TheLadders was posting their old jobs. So, the job was bogus AND I killed any potential relationship I could have built with that company due to their irritation. Terrific!

    The filthy, slimy scammers at TheLadders need to crawl back from under the rock from whence they came.

  3. I continue to be mystified about why there hasn’t been a lawsuit filed toward The Ladders or regulatory action taken in regard to their patently false advertising claims.

  4. Excellent investigative reporting, Nick! Totally worthy of a 60 Minutes expose. I’m not a $100k type, but I do appreciate learning about this scam.

  5. I’m wondering how they can so blatantly violate the CAN-SPAM act by refusing to remove people from the mailing list. It took income taxes to take down Capone…maybe a class action lawsuit on email privacy practices will finally shutter this sideshow act.

  6. Corcodilos at his best. Thanks, Nick.

  7. I’ve asked to be removed from their mailing list numerous times and it has yet to happen. I used to simply delete the emails, but now I may have to address it in a more formal manner. Thanks again.

  8. After watching The Ladders for a while as a trial (i.e., free) subscriber, I caught on to many of the things Nick unearthed. Nick, you are very courageous to expose this scam because low-lifes who perpetrate such scams are often armed with equally amoral attorneys and other professionals paid to retaliate. I hope some investigative organization is willing to look into this further.

    One question: how to I get off the Ladders mailing list? They have totally ignored requests to remove my information. And by the way, Ladders isn’t the only job-board scam. Anyone here been exposed to ‘jobfox’? (And others.)

  9. I won’t even waste my time looking at the Ladders job postings, nor my money subscribing. But I get their weekly newsletter and it often has good articles on job hunting. So, they are not a complete waste.

  10. Is there ANY proof that ANYONE has gotten a job through The Ladders? Or is there a company that has hired someone through the Ladders and are willing to come forward? You’d think that would be a selling point…

  11. Wonderful information! Thanks for sharing. Just wish I had known several hundred dollars and years ago.

  12. @DBeee: TheLadders publishes a list of “Success Stories” here: http://www.theladders.com/Job-search-success-stories

    One of the people I cited in my post tried to track down “success stories” (but I believe that was a while ago — might not be same ones). She was unable to find them. As noted in the post, Bernadine Bednarz asked for contact info on people who got hired via Ladders. A Ladders rep declined to provide it. Must be a confidentiality issue — sorta like when Cenedella won’t respect your privacy when you tell him to take you out of his database and stop spamming you daily. (Proverbial you, not you.)

  13. @Patricia: I think you get off TheLadders’ mailing list by hiring a lawyer.

  14. Housekeeping question: Would it have been better for me to cut this article into parts and post them separately?

    The main reason I kept it all together (sorry about having to scroll!) is so all the comments would stay together, and people could “talk” back and forth without having to jump around different blog posts.

    I’d welcome suggestions/comments on this for the future. (Tho’ I don’t plan to write another book like this…) Thanks! And thanks for the kind words about the content of this one. It was a long haul…

  15. @Nick
    I have to admit that I didn’t read the whole article in detail the first time round (and the only time so far) because I felt a bit overwhelmed by the length. I’ll go back again and read it completely at some point, though.

    I suppose it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. Separate posts might make for more readable chunks, but, as you say, the responses get scattered. Is there an option to turn off commenting to certain posts? In that case, you could allow comments only for the last in a series, thereby keeping them all together.

    On the subject of the post, I’d like to think that this debacle might actually get HR and job-hunters to question the whole current system of finding jobs and candidates, but I rather suspect that I’m dreaming. :(

  16. Great job Nick!….yet it seems there is more to come. I received a call from them asking me why I had not posted my “free” listing I had signed up for. Did not happen! They wanted to show me how they could help me with my recruitment needs! Easy to pick up email and phone #’s from recruitment listings. So ya’ all wait for yours now ya’ hear! They are AMAZING!!!

  17. Before you decide the whole world is full of gullible dorks, :-) bear in mind that a whole lot of those “4.5 million subscribers” are free subscribers, like me. I’ve been on their list a long time–just never bothered to get off it. And if it’s as hard to get removed as people say, a fair number of those people are downright unwilling subscribers.

    I don’t know how much they’re raking in. I suppose it’s enough to live on, but I doubt Mr. Cenedella has a mansion for each day of the week. There just aren’t that many people who are that gullible for that long. At least, I sure hope not.

  18. @Lynda: Thanks for posting, and thanks for sharing your story in the article. So they’re still offering you stuff, eh? How about a “$100k+” assignment? Just a little rusty, and maybe it’s only $85k, but who’s counting? Ladders can’t count anyway… ;-)

  19. Theladders database of “subscribers” is their most valuable asset is it? So poison it. If every employer and job seeker that has been bitten by theladders creates 10 fake profiles, with fake emailaddresses, and Marc Cenedella sends out daily emails to ALL subscribers in his database, then that is a sure way to get him listed on most email blocklists. If they don’t want to screen their subscribers, use it against them.
    For employers that have jobs listed on their websites that get harvested, track the source of the robot and block it from accessing your website. Better still, feed it FBI and CIA jobs. Have some fun with it. :-D

  20. @Melissa: I know, I know ;-). You’re not all gullible dorks… But Ladders claims to be a $100M company. Most of their revenue seems to come from recruiters and employers who pay to post jobs and to access all those “$100k+” subscribers. Er, members. Er, names. How gullible are they? I dunno. Ever watch people in a casino keep feeding quarters to the machine? All night? Nothing illegal about it. Unless someone hits, and wooden nickles (or what turn out to be $70k candidates) pour out in payment. Then we have a problem.

  21. Maybe many of the subscribers have just been brainwashed into believing that bigger is better. More to the point, they genuinely believe that the traditional job hunting method is how it ought to be done. I know that I have no end of trouble trying to convince people to try alternative methods. They seem too scared to do anything differently.

  22. Nick,

    A friend of mine turned me on to your blog about TheLadders.com. I honestly did not know this site existed. I have never seen any advertising for this service. As an attorney with a class actions practice, based on the information provided, this seems actionable. I encourage you to keep up the postings exposing companies that take advantage of consumers. Consumer advocacy needs people like you.


  23. I, stupidly, joined Ladders and took advantage of the “free/complimetary” resume review. Other than updating my resume with current position information, it is the same one I have used for years – successfully. The “reviewer” not only trashed my resume in his return email, he called my by a completely DIFFERENT NAME!!! When I wrote back and complained the “reviewer” said it “just got by us”. I returned to the tried and true method of finding another job – legwork and networking. While really satisfied with my current position I always read your column for insight and ideas on how to change what I do – please don’t stop. Regards and thanks. Now if I only had the money I blew on Ladders I could have purchased a bottle of Blue Label!!

  24. lol, you talk about “gullible” job seekers, but i think anyone who reads & believes the crap in this article is pretty gullible themselves.

    theladders was the reason why i landed my $100K position. my advisor helped me with my goals and was there for me throughout it all. i don’t regret a single dime that was spent with them – which honestly, was ONLY $75. that $75 literally changed my life and allowed me to get off from unemployment and land the perfect position

    and yes, their memberships auto renew. but seriously, how stupid are you to not turn this off?! it’s 2011, everyone autorenews. (i guess you’re all too gullible, eh?)

  25. sara-may care to share more details of your “success story?”. My astro-turfing sensor just beeped at your post.

  26. Sara-may is obviously a Ladders shill.

  27. @Amanda H: Oh, I don’t know. Sara-may may have found a job through Ladders. I’m sure it happens, and if it was good for her, I’m happy for her.

    What troubles me about Ladders apologists (not necessarily Sara-may) is that they suggest a positive data point somehow erases clear trends of bad behavior and systemic misrepresenation of the product.

  28. Nick, since you asked. Yes, the article is way too long. And it seems to repeat the same information quite a lot. I couldn’t make it all the way through. No worries – your previous warnings about The Ladders have warned me off anyway.

  29. Someone who wants me to change my opinion on something needs to do better than just call me names.

    I’ve got this peculiar preference for data.

  30. WHa…..???? Hey JaneA, I didn’t understand what you were driving at in your post, and I didn’t see anyone call you names. Am I missing a post?

  31. @Patricia: I wondered after I posted that if I’d been too subtle (or obscure), but there’s no edit function on this blog.

    No, there’s no post missing, and no one was personally calling me names. I was referring to a post above which refers to people who believe the content of Nick’s article as “gullible” and “stupid”.

    The point I was trying to make is that data will influence me to change my mind, while questioning my intelligence won’t. Well, it will, but in the wrong way.

  32. @Dan: Thanks for your candid comments. The article took a long time to research, fact-check, write, and edit. If I’d had more time, I could have edited it down more, and I should have. But time was short and the publication deadline loomed… I figured, better to leave it all in than to cut the wrong things out. But your point is well-taken. Sorry you couldn’t make it through to the end!

  33. Nick, I respect its length. It’s an easy read. Besides being vintage Corcodilos, the content is a substantiated and grave indictment of unprincipled business practices. It deserves the serious journalistic treatment you give it. Such treatment doesn’t neatly fit a contemporary communication culture defined by 140 characters. Repetition isn’t always bad. If it were, MacDonald’s back in the day would have advertised once that it sells burgers and that would have been it. Unprincipled businesses need outing. You’re doing that in a principled way. Thank you. So keep on keeping on. If more folks like you were in financial services the past 10+ years, maybe our economy and nation would be in a far better place at the moment.

  34. @Nick, I think the length is fine because it is a summary (well maybe not a short summary) of all the Ladders info you have and you have put it all in one place.

    I was looking forward to comments from Paddy. But I don’t see them.

  35. On 9/19/2010 i received an email from TheLadders/Sales jobs. Please note the date of the contact i made to a posted resume in TheLadders database at the time we used them. I have removed the candidates name and contact information for obvious reasons. Neither of us could figure out why his resume was posted on The Ladders in 2007. He could not remember ever signing up but when he did do a Ladders trial in 2010 he found his resume already there and a three year old message from me sent in 2007 in regard to a resume that he said was 5 years out of date. It would appear that The Ladders and the song “Hotel California” have a lot in common. Once you check in you never leave. Whether you know it or not. If anyone thinks this is “crap” i am happy to forward the email without the candidates identification for your review. My email is at the bottom as part of the Ladders message.

    Message to me sent from the Ladders. 9-19-2010

    Mark xxxxx has responded to your Contact Message sent on 9/19/2007.

    Candidate: Mark xxxxxxxx View Profile
    Recent Title: Director, Business Development
    Recent Company:
    Email Address:


    I have not used The Ladders in the past and am sorry for the delayed response. I am interested in speaking with you. Please contact me directly at xxx.xxx.xxxx or xxxxxxxxxx@hotmail.com. If you provide your contact info I will call you back. Thanks


    — On 9/19/2007, Sandra McCartt from Professional Search, Inc. Int’l. wrote:
    We represent a client in the reference lab industry.

    Always interested in reviewing candidates with your background.

    End of Message

    If you have any questions, contact your Account Manager:
    Recruiter Relations Team

    ©2010 TheLadders | Privacy | Terms of Use | Contact | Post Jobs
    TheLadders.com, Inc. | 137 Varick St., 8th Floor | New York, NY 10013

    You’re receiving this email from our secure server at TheLadders.com because you signed up on 2006-01-17 from prosearch@suddenlinkmail.com with the zip code . Learn more about email security.

    To manage any of the emails you receive from us, edit your email preferences.

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  36. Ladders posted a VP online corporate marketing job at Citrix so I called the CMO who I know personally. He said they had no such job posting or position available. I called Ladders to complain and they said they would look into it. I never heard back from them. I immediately cancelled my paid subscription and regretted the $300.00 plus that I spent with them!

  37. Nick,

    I run a small (1-man) consulting firm. Got an email from these guys to post my “open jobs” with them. As I said one-man operation, ergo, no open jobs. Makes you wonder if there are any real human beings behind this. The CEO obviously isn’t.

  38. Seems to me (using amateur linguistic forensics) that the sara-may “testimonial” was written by a 20-something marketing agent assigned to write and post it. Read the language, and the lack of specific details, and see if it evokes the genuine words of a real person or a TV informercial script.

    Quite a hostile and sarcastic attitude to be embedded in a story of good fortune (another clue to fake).

    And honestly, how could someone who cannot even punctuate correctly (as in no caps except the K after $100K, and the word “only”) in a post land a $100K plus job?

    So this anomaly raises the question, as to why would someone who uses no capitals as punctuation, suddenly use caps for “$100K”, unless there was an autofill/autospell for that term, or they themselves wrote it so often (both signs that the writer works for TheLadders.

    Certainly looks suspicious to me.

  39. @James G:
    My cognitive dissonance meter also shot over to somewhere near maximum when I noticed the linguistic and punctuation details of the sara-may post.

    Very similar characteristics can be seen in certain responses posted to an earlier article on TheLadders antics.

    I find this interesting.

  40. You identified the Achilles heel of the next Internet bubble collapse – “lists” that have been comprised using (once) valuable data that has aged beyond use.

    Ladders isn’t alone. There’s a very popular IPO happening this week (whose name also starts with a “L”) based on the same rickety logic structure.

    For those reading this and surprised at what you’re hearing – go on believing in fairy tales. The fact of the matter is there’s no shortcut to where you want to go.

    Work requires work.

  41. @Maureen: There’s a silver lining in that cloud. A fellow named Ray Stoddard put it very nicely (and very generously) a few years ago. Ray has been a subscriber since the beginning:

    “The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

    It’s not just my recommendations — it’s common sense and hard work. So, don’t worry about the L’s (including the Lists). Just… go around them. The L’s help keep your competition corraled and out of your way…

  42. Nice article Nick. A little wordy but there was a ton of info that needed to be said.

    As a note, please be aware the sales team at theladders is out promoting their newest products TLC and FitFinder.
    I didn’t bite so I don’t know what these products are.

  43. I finally found a way to deal with the excess mail I receive from TheLadders. The ‘Spam’ button. Now, if there only were an easy way to also delete my information from TheLadders database and prevent unwanted marketing, I would like to know that too.

  44. For those who “cancelled” their Ladders “subscriptions,” and who want to make sure their information is no longer in Ladders’ database, you might want to read the terms and conditions to determine what it really means to “terminate.” Does Ladders agree to remove your information? I haven’t reviewed that section of the T&C’s.

  45. This is a very interesting article but, one professional to another, you seriously need an editor. You could have covered every point you made here in half the time. Blog posts are meant to be short. This is not a blog post, it’s a full-fledged investigative article — and like a newspaper article, it deserves an editor. I’m sure you are a fantastic headhunter but, like many fine writers, you can’t edit your own work. I encourage you to find someone to help out in that department.

  46. Also, anything you write, including a mundane job description, is intellectual property. It achieves copyright automatically after being created in a fixed form and is protected by copyright law. Any of the companies whose ads were scrapped could easily sue for copyright infringement and they should get their IP lawyers involved if they are serious about stopping the practice.

  47. @SK: Point taken. I’ve commented elsewhere on this thread that the piece is way too long. I invested a lot of time in the research, and didn’t have enough time left to edit it down further. I opted to leave it all in so that nothing important would be left out. Mea culpa. I might get inspired one day and trim it down.

    I’m afraid you’re incorrect about IP, however – just as I was. I consulted an attorney about this very point, and I should update the posting. Job listings are factual. Facts can’t be copyrighted. Even if job postings are protected, each employer would have to register each job listing before it could file suit for infringement. No employer is likley to register all its job listings. But you were thinking what I was thinking…

  48. I would have read this, but I don’t have time to read a f***ing novel.

  49. Nick,

    Thank you for the fantastic article. I have been a Ladders subscriber for a while now, and have become very frustrated over time with them and their bogus postings. I have just cancelled my subscription and feel like just another sucker looking for a better career. Your article needs to be read by everyone who is using and/or contemplating joing TheLadders.com . I will be happy to participate in any future class action against them.

    Thanks again,


  50. This is a shame because there really needs to be a place where executives and management can set themselves apart.

  51. I registered with TheLadders at the free “entry level” — and cancelled 12 hours later. I didn’t have any of the information that you’ve presented here, but their amateurish “carrot-on-a-stick” style convinced me that there was no way these guys could ever help me to find an honest job. I just got half a dozen e-mails with minor variations on “Donald, we have a great job for you! Upgrade to paying membership and learn about it.”

  52. This was very informative, however, are there any alternatives being offered? What credible avenues are available? Are there other websites or accredited companies that offer a solution to TheLadders shortcomings?
    Any information would be appreciated.

  53. @Ben: The bottom line is simple. You can’t pay anyone to find you a job, especially at $100k+ levels. Think about it: Only an employer can control whether it hires you. So how can anyone else promise you a job in exchange for money?

    The facts are pretty clear: about 50-70% of jobs are found and filled through trusted personal contacts. It takes time and effort to do it that way. It’s hard work. But so is the job you want (or anyone wants). Employers actually know that, even if they don’t talk about it. They judge personal referrals very highly. It’s the best way to get a job.

    If people would stop wasting time on getting someone else to do it for them, and instead invest the time in doing it for themselves, there would be a whole lot less frustation.

  54. Hi Nick,
    Thanks so much for the write up on “The Ladders”. I am so mad at myself. I just paid $49 for platinum access to recruiters and employers to contact me earlier this month for jobs….I have not heard from any yet. I just earned my MBA and I get recruiter calls and emails all the time. However, no such chance for work. I do not know who to believe but myself. So I am in the process of re-inventing myself and doing somethings different to get “a fish bite my bait” for employment. Grad school was/is very expensive and I need to work….any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

  55. @Tara: You’re asking for a job search strategy, and that’s what this blog and all of Ask The Headhunter is about. There’s no way to outline it all in a blog comment. Sorry if this sounds like a sales pitch (you won’t find me plugging my books in my comments – that’s what the sidebar ads are for), but the shortest path to learning these methods is my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers? The book isn’t just for career changers – it’s for anyone who wants to stand out among the competition. It’ll teach you how employers justify a hire, and how to do the presentation that helps them do that. Check the book covers at top right of this blog page. You spent $49 for useless “platinum access?” For less than that you can get both HCICC? and my book about How to Work With Headhunters. Buy them, read them, use them, and if within 7 days you don’t think they’re worth it, you can get your money back.

    Don’t want to spend a few bucks? The Ask The Headhunter website, blog and weekly newsletter (all free) are loaded with lots of free advice that works – people have been using it for over a decade. I created the books to make it easy to study the material all at once.

    The answer to your problem is in your post: “I do not know who to believe but myself.” No one will find you a job. You need to go show the employer you want to work for how you will contribute profit to their bottom line. That’s what ATH is all about. These methods are hard work — but so’s the great job you want, right? Only you can do it. I try to teach people how.


  56. TheLadders has a new signature service, claiming to find you a job for $2400 in six months or your money back. I signed up, but unfortunately have not seen any real service beyond incompetent resume writing. I am wondering how I can get my money back. Any similar experience?

  57. please do your research on Barnum – he never actually said that (it was actually his competitor).

    Barnum’s book avail for free on Kindle – what happened to checking sources?

  58. I’m one of the suckers who fed them money when I was lookign for a job. I finally figured out the jobs were not real….and the employment agents would never call you. I did cancel my subscription, but they hit my card again. I declined the charge and changed my card number so they couldn’t do this again. Now I can’t stop them from sending me emails. They will not remove me from their list. they say I need to be a current member to make changes to my profile….and you can’t access the profile without paying the money. What a racket…. total FRAUD.

  59. I signed up for the Free/basic version membership back in 2007. After landing a job (on my own, through networking), I tried cancelling my membership. It took forever to finally remove my name from their database.

    Then suddenly a few days ago, I start getting emails again. I unsubscribe and immediately get another email. I unsubscribe, and remove all job search agents from my resume. The next day, another “hot job in my area”. Finally, I just closed my account.

    What does it take for these losers to leave me alone? I do not wish to be affiliated with this scam in any way…

  60. From a recruiter’s perspective, The Ladders is even worse. I signed up for a two year contract in March of 2011 and still have about 5 months to go on it. They just announced FREE service for all headhunters but refuse to let me out of my contract. The expanded service I am receiving includes an “account manager” who is non existent, as is the technical support. The training sessions they offer are a joke to anyone who has been a headhunter for more than a day and the candidates they are listing have been around for years and are not removed unless specific requests are made. What started out as a great job board has deteriorated significantly. I assume this means they are planning to sell the company to some unsuspecting and naive group and are padding the number of candidates and jobs.

  61. So I never fell for the paid service offering, but I did apply for a couple jobs many many many months ago… So out of the blue, today, I get an email from the ladders acknowledging that I had applied for a position. It offered links to check the status, follow up, etc…

    I followed the links to see what was up, and it seems that a ladders job posting that expired back in June was the one I supposedly applied for. And sure enough, the links in the email show the status of the application as having been just submitted today… However when I pull up the job, it says the listing is expired, and no longer accepting applications.

    So they claim that they have send my personal information to someone I didn’t approve.

    The position they applied for on my behalf is no longer valid.

    So I am left to wonder WTF? Did they send an application to an expired posting, and create an image in the mind of a recruiter that I’m a dumbass? I doubt the recruiter wants to hire a dumbass applying for 6-month expired positions.

    Clearly somethging scammy is going on. I haven’t been on their site in months, I did not apply for this position, and yet they are claiming to have send my personal info to some place in the cloud. And since the name of the company is witheld, I don’t even know who the hell they sent my info too… What if they sent it to my current employer? Does that mean my employers thinks I’m jumping ship, so they need to replace me as soon as possible? So will I be out of work soon because of these guys?

    These guys are clearly out of control and grasping for straws. Do they think I will be happy that they are “working” for me?

    And the job is for a position that in no way pays as much as they claim. The town I live in is not a town that pays $150k for an $85k position. We are paid well under national averages here, so even if the employer is real, most likely the salary in the posting is NOT real.

    Someone needs to take these guys out!

    These guys need to be shut down.

  62. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for your blog! I almost commited to pay TheLadders.com, but just thought about searching for its review and found yours. It is very helpful.
    On the side line, what job boards you know will do the real things that you feel confident to recommend to me?

  63. Isn’t Execunet even worse. They used to say that they only had jobs that were $150k plus. When I sent an inquiry to Customer Service in that regard, surprise surprise, I never got a reply.

  64. I never got fooled into paying for the Ladders, but luckily I have a job and am only casually looking. However, that doesn’t stop their endless spam. I finally got fed up today, April fool’s day 2013, when they sent what I feel is a tasteless prank given the current job market. See the attached email saying you just got fired…

    From: Marc Cenedella
    Sent: Monday, April 1, 2013 6:42 AM
    Subject: Bad news, you just got one year’s severance

    Suggested Jobs
    Senior Director, Data Science
    Boston, MA

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    Good Monday morning,,
    It’s not just an April Fool’s joke when the pink slip arrives as you’re looking over the latest job openings for you.
    Sometimes that bad news comes in the prettiest packages. One of the most common I’ve seen in the careers business is the generous severance payout. What seems like a gift from the highest graces too often turns out to be bad tidings in disguise.
    The “severance vacation” – that fool’s gold of “time off” that turns a few well-deserved weeks into several empty seasons – has led too many professionals, executives, and high-performers to mistakenly act against their own best interests.
    How can it be that something as seemingly non-controversial as a full year’s “money for nothing” can end up hurting you?
    First off, the severance vacation can lead you into a false sense of security. “I’ve got enough cash put away so that I don’t have to worry for a while” or “I’m in good shape so I don’t need to look right away” are how we hear it from our clients here at TheLadders. This phony freedom from fear lulls you into believing that the future is far away. Instead of your sixth sense flashing warning signals and blaring the alarm siren, your pleasant-enough living situation inhibits you from securing your future cash flows and career prospects.
    That serene sense of calm is harmful. When urgency is low, and the bank account is flush, it seems there’s always a good reason to spend another day contemplating instead of cold-calling. And more time spent on the sidelines leads to ever-worse habits and rustiness. You forget the more obscure industry buzzwords. All that sun leaves you a little slow on the uptake when it comes to the tough interviews. You get softer, you get happier, you get lazier.
    That’s because the alternative – the job search – welcomes avoidance. The job search involves rejection, rejection involves pain, and pain is something most of us want to experience at the gym and not carry through our waking day.
    The pain of the job search is the result of how unusual the job search is relative to the rest of our lives. A job search occurs perhaps twice a decade and involves meeting a lot of strangers so that they can assess you. That the assessment is in regards to your professional ability to meet their specific, narrow, corporate need, does nothing to alleviate your feeling of being a-foot-and-a-half short of puberty and still in braces at the junior high dance. It’s embarrassing.
    It’s true, the job search is the most unusual, unnatural, unenjoyable part of our lives that is, nonetheless, unavoidable. (And avoid it, we try! If Dr. Seuss were still about, he could write a book about the job search entitled “Oh, the excuses you’ll make!”)
    So how to handle the bad news that you got a year’s severance?
    First, a layoff notice is actually an acceptance letter for your new job – and that job is at “Your Job Search, LLC” with you as the President and Chief Search Officer.
    You’ll need to negotiate a start date. Give yourself an enjoyable, but manageable, severance vacation: one week if you’re antsy, two weeks if you’re bold, three weeks if you want to follow a flight of fancy.
    Having a tight schedule for your severance vacation will make those days of leisure sweeter for their scarcity, and allow you to tough it out in a better class of airline, hotel, or amusement park. You need to take the break you deserve and recharge your batteries.
    Because once you come back, your new job is full-time. You’ll need to approach it with a seriousness of purpose and dedication to success befitting a professional. And your new job has just one goal – getting yourself into a new seat at a new company getting paid in dollars, not promises or favors.
    So don’t let good fortune ruin your luck. When the breaks go your way, bank your plenty rather than fritter it away, and make a timely transition into your new job-finding job.
    It’s the best way to ensure that you’ll be collecting a year’s pay, and not a year of empty wandering.
    Good luck with the job search this week!
    I’ll be rooting for you,

    Marc Cenedella, CEO & Founder

    You’re receiving this email from our secure server at TheLadders.com because you signed up on 2010-04-06 from billsqrd@yahoo.com with the zip code 01867.
    To stop receiving the newsletter ‘From: Marc’, unsubscribe.
    To manage any of the emails you receive from us, edit your email preferences.
    Find this email in your spam or junk folder? Click the “Not Spam” button at the top of this email.
    To make sure this email is not sent to your “junk/bulk” folder, select “Add/save to Address Book”*in your email browser and follow the appropriate instructions.
    © 2013 TheLadders | Privacy | Terms of Use | Affiliates | Contact | Employers | Site Map
    TheLadders.com, Inc. | 137 Varick St., 8th Floor | New York, NY 10013

  65. Is this sit real? I know I’m qualiifed for all the jobs I have applied to. No reply. I write to a guy who is supposed to be the VP for the site. He want to be my job coach on Saturday mornings at 8. Only time hes able. No one can answer about the job listings

  66. Not to sound like an inconsiderate douche, but anyone who is stupid enough to believe that paying to subscribe to some random site will “guarantee” them a $100K+/yr job without having to actually WORK towards getting there…is a total idiot who deserved to be scammed. Sorry.

  67. never pay to apply for a job period! Even if its a penny. Scam!

  68. Ot is like working in Hollywood…if someone really wants your talent they will wait for a % cut.
    Also, we do need to set a higher bar, a real Benchmark for Hiring Employers, and some transparency for recruiters to post salary ranges and any significant pkg issue such as corp housing, car, etc. + ben pkg& bonus. Whether applicants search databases or use an Agency or specialized recruiter, we all need our dats znd keywords

  69. Great article! Here’s another scam doing the rounds http://thedevilcorp.wordpress.com/ .

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  74. 5 years later and “the ladders” is still at their old tricks… I keep receiving job postings from Burns and Mcdonnell about Project Controls Manager positions paying 180K to 200K range, but when I go to the company website to research the positions they are not available. I got laid from a $135/hr position at Shell this past May and have been struggling to find any even close. With over 30 of experience in the industry I can’t and won’t settle for a “Project Manager” position where the description requires “at least a high school degree and 5 years of experience. That job is merely a title without substance! I wasn’t taken in by ladders and certainly haven’t paid for any “executive” job services, but I’m growing weary of the “new” recruiting strategy that simply spends 30 seconds on a resume and never gets any real results.

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    Placed an Ad with indeed, Ziprecruiter and The Ladders. Got HUNDREDS of applicants from Ziprecruiter and indeed. Receive 6 applications from The Ladders.
    Their database and candidate pool is extremely limited. This is a true scam and false advertisement deal.

    • @Natalia: Perhaps Ladders believes its “members” are elite, so there are fewer of them to share with you. But, what are you going to do with “hundreds” of applicants from Zip and Indeed? This seems to be two sides of the same plug nickle. Zip and Indeed seem to be in the “volume” business — not quality.

  78. The Ladders is spam & a scam. Please spam their website. They are the crooks from hell. They never stop emailing you all day long with unwanted money schemes & won’t unsubscribe you.