TheLadders just keeps rooting around in its pen for scraps of executive job-board revenue. But this looks like a death rattle. There’s all the posturing:

The gimmicks have run out, and this pig still don’t hunt.

But today TheLadders CEO Marc Cenedella announced a new source of funding for his beleagured operation on CNBC’s Sqawk on The Street: Guaranteed job offers. (I thought Simon Hobbes was gonna pop a vein in his neck, his head was spinning back and forth so hard in disbelief.)

Yes: Guaranteed job offers. For $2,495, Marc Cenedella will get you a job offer (never mind for how much or for what job) within six months, or refund your money. Oh, you have to qualify for the service — TheLadders can’t do this for just anyone. But 90% of the suckers who sign up should get their jobs, says Cenedella.

This is the salve Cenedella offers to last year’s suckers. The ones that have been waiting for a “$100k+ job” after handing over $35/month for the past… how many months?

For years, TheLadders has been charging desperate rubes $35/month for access to a data dump that customers and employers alike complain is corrupted with jobs scraped from unwilling employers’ websites, jobs that pay far less than the promised “$100k+,” and long-defunct positions that employers and recruiters say never paid $100k to begin with.

You can read Cenedella’s announcement in his daily missive, titled “A job offer. Guaranteed. Or your money back. Introducting  ‘Signature’.Or, you can get the real story by skimming over a few choice comments from his customers, which are posted on the same blog.

One commenter nails what’s happening: Cenedella is acknowledging that his $35 service doesn’t perform as promised.

This new program completely invalidates “The Ladders”. It implies that regular users who were spending $35 a month had no realistic expectation of finding a job. As others have pointed out, paying $2,500 upfront for the privilege of maybe finding a job within 6 months is an absurd proposal, from a business investment point of view. If The Ladders actually did as advertised, there would be no need for Signature. This seems like a clear, opportunistic money-grab aimed at desperate, out of work people. It is very disappointing. — Seemanabe3

What does Cenedella expect his $35/month customers to do? Wait patiently while TheLadders’ staff “curates” jobs for the new high rollers?

Next, another customer suggests a double-or-nothing counter-offer:

Are you ready? I’d gladly pay $5,000, doubling your money, if the guarantee stood AND the fee is billable after the first paycheck from the new employer. Feel free to contact me at cfc3803 yahoo .com. — cfc3803

Cenedella won’t take that deal. You should pay up front, he says, because that will motivate you: “Turns out a financial commitment from the professional is highly correlated with their commitment to the program, which is highly correlated to their success.” Which in turn is highly correlated to cashflow for TheLadders while you sweat it out for six months. (You could keep working on that $35/month project in the meantime… that might work, too.)

Then one of Marc’s customers slaps him upside the head, revealing that Cenedella could use a refresher course in Harvard math:

With a so called “90% success rate”, you should not have any problems billing when the job is accepted instead of up front. And since you would supposedly refund the unsuccessful 10%, you have nothing to lose. Only scammers charge up front! — Jerry

Marc Cenedella’s problem is that he likes to pretend he’s operating a headhunting firm that works for the job hunter rather than for the employer. But he doesn’t want to charge like headhunters do — upon a successful placement. He wants the fee up front. But no worries, he’ll give it back to you later if he doesn’t get you a job offer. He’s just gonna hold that $2,495 for your benefit.

Ask The Headhunter regular Larry Kaplan is a career coach. Larry has a better idea, and I agree:

I’d spend the $2,500 on taking 50 networking connections out to a nice lunch during that 6 months — I’d get a lot more out of it.

Some quick math on Cenedella’s new program suggests that for $2,495 Cenedella will give you 16 phonecalls with one of his crack counselors during that six months. Under Kaplan’s plan, for $2,495 you can do 32 generous lunches with people who might be able to really help you. (In both scenarios, as Cenedella puts it, you must make a “commitment to the program.” In Larry’s scenario, your own lunch is included!)

If Cenedella could deliver on what he’s offering, everyone earning $50,000 and up would be employed today, because they’d gladly fork over $2,500 for a guaranteed job. And Cenedella would have competitors on every street corner, selling jobs.

But you’ve never seen that, have you? There’s a reason.

A guaranteed job for money has always been the lead-turned-to-gold alchemy of the career industry. Even the most brazen racketeers don’t attempt to sell that bill of goods to desperate job hunters.

Except Marc Cenedella. He’s already drained the snake oil tank and emptied the pockets of legions of hopeful “subscribers” who now cry fraud. Now he’s cranking up the heat.

What you’re hearing is not the promise of job offers. What you’re hearing is the desperate death rattle of a career scheme cooked up by the founders of HotJobs a decade ago.

Take a pig — a churn ’em and burn ’em job board called HotJobs. Slap some $100k lipstick on it. Let the press and the media ogle and kiss up to it as the hottest idea in the biz… and you’ve got a pig waiting to be called to breakfast at the big sty in the sky. It seems pretty clear TheLadders is in deep trouble. Or Cenedella wouldn’t be guaranteeing jobs.

No matter how long I work in this business, I still shake my head when I see $100k+ suckers get turned into bacon. Scrub ’em up, get ’em ready.


  1. Mick,

    I noticed that the Ladders is advertising heavily on cable news shows this past week. Being quick with the remote, I have managed to skip most of these ads since they can lead to nausea at dinner time.

  2. I have received numerous very good $100k+ job offers from The Ladders, one of which I accepted and had a really great $100k+++ couple of years in sales/marketing. I have sworn by the site, and encouraged others to join. Granted, that was in 06 and 07 and I was in New York at the time. After the crash of 08 and leaving NYC, I found it nearly impossible to find anything I was fit for, especially on that site. Only now am I back “in action”, thankfully without the help of a website. Just good old fashioned networking got me the job.

  3. @CFSteak: Would you give TheLadders $2,495 to find you a job in six months?

  4. Nick – no I wouldn’t pay $2,495 for them to find me a job. Or anyone, for that matter. It would be too easy for TheLadders to present me with a less-than-ideal job opportunity and then I’d be forced to take it, or lose my $2,495.

  5. @CFSteak: Nice job boiling it all down, from the consumer’s standpoint.

    “It would be too easy for TheLadders to present me with a less-than-ideal job opportunity and then I’d be forced to take it, or lose my $2,495.”

    I’ll go a step farther: I don’t think anyone can find jobs for money. If they could, you’d be paying for a job, gladly. TheLadders can’t even deliver what it has promised for 10 years — “$100k+ jobs” for a $35/mo membership fee.

    As others have pointed out, I wonder how TheLadders’ $35/mo customers feel about this new deal.

  6. @Nick: Headhunters have been finding others jobs for money for years (albeit paid by future employer).

    TheLadders has, indeed, delivered on its promise for me, and for several other people I know (yes, all above $100k, all good, quality jobs). I seem to recall having paid a monthly membership fee. If I still paid this fee to TheLadders, or anyone else, I would not feel jipped, jilted or scammed over the $2,495 “guarantee”. All it would confirm for me is, “thanks, but I’ll keep looking and decide on my own what’s best for me.” It’s my choice to sign up, it’ll be my choice to cancel the membership.

    Let TheLadders implode on its own. If it’s really not legit anymore, it won’t be around for much longer.

  7. @CFSteak: It’s an important distinction. Headhunters don’t find jobs for anyone. Follow the money. Headhunters are paid by employers to fill jobs. When they find a good candidate to fill a position, they’re not “finding others jobs.” Though it may look that way to the happy hire. Consider the unhappy “rejects” who can’t get a call back from the headhunter, who has no obligation to them legally or financially (though he may have an ethical obligation).

    Likewise, paying Ladders (or any other job board) money for access to job listings doesn’t constitute Ladders “finding you a job.” There is no promise of a job in Ladders’ agreement on the $35/mo deal. (I find it hilarious that a Google search for “headhunter” turns up CareerBuilder!)

    If you know a service that actually delivers $100k+ jobs for money, I’d like to know about it. (I’m excluding employee-fee-paid “employment agencies” that handle low-level jobs. They are a racket unto themselves.)

  8. @Nick: Not really interested in getting into a cyber semantics argument, but whatever. I have had a headhunter “find” me a job (thanks, fully aware they are paid by employers – I stated that previously). Whether you want to call it “filling a position” or not, the end result is still the same. You are approaching this conversation from a headhunter’s perspective, and I, from an employee.

    That same headhunter was unable to “find me a job” once I moved outside of NYC, but I’d hardly call myself a “reject” because of it, nor would I recant the fact that at one time, she did in fact FIND A JOB for me. (She found something for me that I was unable to find on my own. Sorry, but in most people’s books, that’s “finding me a job”)

    TheLadders once helped me “find a job” that I probably would have not found otherwise… but you’d probably argue that they were simply “filling a position”.

    No one is arguing that a monthly subscription guarantees you landing a job.

    There are no guarantees in life, much less a career. In answer to your last question – and as I’ve stated 3 times now in my previous posts, TheLadders actual DID deliver for me once upon a time, but never once did I imply that I expected/demanded success. Fine, call them an aggregator. Again, this is semantics. The site “found me a GREAT job”.

    And as a consumer, this is the only thing that matters.

  9. When I was in search, and if I ever am again, I would gladly pay any career “specialist”, call it what you will, even 15% of my first year’s salary to find me an acceptable job, provided it was payable once I’m on the payroll. Needless to say, anytime I made this offer to people who called me to offer their services, they quickly lost interest.

    One individual got quite irate with me – how could he “trust” me to pay the fee once he found me something, and then was highly offended when I asked why I should trust him to provide me viable leads after I paid him.

    R.L. Stevens burned me out of $4500 to help find me a job – that was 2004 and I’m still looking for the first promised job lead from them. Their services didn’t even point out the obvious things anyone in search should do, and of course, no leads. Just the inevitable resume critique, interviewing tips, instructions for a cold calling campaign, and that was it. Oh, and toss in a Myers Briggs test just for good measure. Never again.

  10. @CFSteak: Sorry if you think I’m playing semantics or even arguing with you. I’m not. Nor am I arguing about whether Ladders helped you land a job. (When I used the term “reject” it wasn’t pejoratively. By reject I mean someone who was not hired. Every search results in rejects. It’s not a personal judgment of the candidate.)

    If I’m slicing this more finely, it’s because it does affect people’s lives. I get a lot of complaints from people about headhunters and recruiters — much of it justified. But some complaints are based on a misunderstanding of the business model behind most recruiting.

    Let me try it this way (because I understand why the find point doesn’t matter to you): If you know headhunters don’t find jobs for you, you won’t waste as much time and energy pursuing them, hoping for their attention, and getting frustrated when they ignore you or “don’t find you a job.”

    You might get this, but many people don’t.

    Again — I respect your point of view, and if headhunters have placed you, that’s great. But the fact remains that people who believe headhunters find jobs and rely on that belief wind up wasting a lot of time and energy waiting for delivery.

  11. @Nick: point taken. I’ve been on both sides – landing and not landing a job. A professional who is at the, say, $100k+ point of his/her career should be savvy, intelligent and realistic enough to know that there are no guarantees. There is no magic wand. If a candidate falls for a promise that seems too easy, too good to be true, then shame on them.

    To anyone else reading this: Headhunters do, in fact, find people jobs. Not always. But it’s another resource for someone looking. If they have not for you, find another way to getting a job. Sorry it didn’t work out.

    Focus on helping people sharpen their interview, networking and conversational skills. Put the Lipstick on a Pig issue to bed.

  12. CF, please,please don’t tell people that headhunters find people jobs. We don’t market people. If you as a jobseeker contact me as a headhunter to let me know you are looking for a job I am more than happy to speak with you. If I have a job listing from a company at that time that you fit in terms of experience and salary I will move forward with your resume. If you or any of the other candidates I have submitted get hired, the way headhunters work, I have filled the client’s request and one of my candidates has been placed. So somebody got a job through a headhunter.

    If you contact me, we talk, I don’t have a listing that you fit I will keep your resume on file but I will not start calling companies trying to find you a job. If I get a new listing I will review my database. If your resume comes up I will review it for that new listing and contact you and we move forward if you fit and are interested.

    Your resume could sit in my database for 3weeks or 3 years or forever with nothing happening for you because we do not find jobs for people. We find people for jobs. If anyone contacts me asking if I can find them a job, the answer is, I am happy to take your resume in the event we have a listing that you might fit but we don’t find jobs for people. The misconception happens when someone contacts a headhunter,submits their resume to the headhunter then feels the headhunter is not doing anything for them because they expect us to market them. We don’t. Many times I have to tell people ,based on what they do ,that I would never have anything in their field. Many will offer to pay me to help them find a job. Sorry I am a headhunter, I am paid by companies to find people for them. Because I do not find jobs for people I can not accept payment for a service I do not provide.

    Employment agencies find jobs for people. They will interview you then start calling companies who might be interested in your qualifications. Sometimes
    they will find an employer who will pay them a fee. But, they will always have you sign a contract that indicates if they find you a job, the employer does not pay the fee, you are responsible for paying them to find you a job.

    The question about the lipstick on this pig is, what flavor is it?
    Are they finding a candidate for an employer? If they are then why is the jobseeker paying for a service that the employer also pays for?
    Are they guaranteeing a job offer that the jobseeker wants and will accept or they get their money back? I don’t think so, I think if the jobseeker doesn’t accept the offer all they guarantee is an offer not that you will like it.

    Or is this deal just a marketing bait and switch to generate traffic with requirements structured so most people will not plunk down 2500.00 so they will be encouraged to just join the 35.00 a month program. Which may not be generating much since they are offering the regular deal at half price. Do the math, it doesn’t take many 2500 dollar deals to make up for a lot of 35.00 a month memberships at half price. With a lot of restrictions on the 2500 deal the 35.00 dollar deal at bargain prices sounds much better and at that point your name is in the database…for life…no matter what you do.

  13. @Sandra: This discussion is getting repetitive for me; no one is reading what I previously wrote. So this will be my last response.

    Thanks, I am fully aware of how a Headhunter works. Fully. Aware. And I’ve stated exactly what you are trying to argue in the first place. I got a job as a result of having a headhunter. Period. You headhunters can argue the semantics amongst yourselves.

    Sorry that you are having trouble communicating exactly what you do to people. It’s really not that difficult to understand.

  14. @Nick & CFSteak: Agents actually go out and FIND you a job. Too bad none of them have the ability to do so outside of the publishing / entertainment / pro sports industry. It gladly part with 10 – 15% pre-tax to see the kind of income I think I deserve.

    The good news is that by virtue of having some skin in the game, an agent isn’t going to present the talent (in this example, ME) with some crappy short-term, low-pay contract position in Moose Neck. They are going to come back with a top dollar offer from a top-flight firm within bicycle riding distance of my house. Why? Because 10% of $250,000 annually (plus a signing bonus) is a much bigger chunk of change than 10% of $42,500.

    So to answer Nick’s question: Would I pay $2495 to the Ladders for anything? No. Would I give a real agent $2,495? Again no, because this is only 10% of $24,950 and seriously NOT what I am looking for.

  15. @LT: I believe sports agents collect their 10% annually until a client’s contract ends – not just upon “placement.” Big difference. It’s also been a long-accepted practice for both teams and players. Likewise in entertainment – the percentage is paid as long as the contract pays. Again, very different from headhunters.

    The only issue that’s relevant in this discussion is whether TheLadders’ new “product” has any precedent. It doesn’t. Could Ladders’ have perfected a new model that no one else has been able to make work? Perhaps. But since Ladders can’t make its $35/mo deal work, I don’t see any wisdom in handing over $2,495 – even for 6 months. As others have pointed out, the guarantee isn’t for a job offer that you’ll accept or find acceptable. It’s for a job offer.

    LT, you answered the question. Thanks. I don’t doubt that quite a few people will fork over the $2,495. Compared to the $20,000 that many rube-ish execs fork over to “career management firms,” this will seem like a reasonable “bet” to them. A bet they can afford to lose.

  16. @Nick: You are correct. Sports agents collect from the signing bonus, and the annual salary during the entire pendency of the contract. For other agencies (publishing, music, TV air talent, movie talent) it varies. Very different from head hunters, who work for the company paying the bill, rather than the talent.

    Would I fork over $25,000 a year to an agent to get me $250,000 a year guaranteed contract for the next 5 years at this stage of my career? You bet. Especially so if I can avoid future job hunting and simply hit my mark and say my lines, er, do what I’m being paid to do.

    Notice to all sports / talent agents out there: I just gave notice of a potential $125,000 just lying on the table. Feel free to call, fax or stop by to talk about it.

    The Ladders $2,495 deal is as much fraud and fantasy as the $35 a month deal. Even the third-string bench warmer at Cal Poly-Pomona can see that.

  17. Nick, I applaud you for “calling a spade a spade.”

    No one can guarantee a candidate an offer – whether it’s a recruiter, headhunter, placement agency, or even The Ladders.

    Well, I guess you could if you had a bunch of sleazy companies lined up that are willing to take a cut of the money to just “make an offer” – no matter what the pay rate – so you fulfill the terms of the agreement with the job seeker.

    I’m not saying this is the case with The Ladders or any other company – just a thought that immediately came to my mind when reading the latest “marketing ploy.”

    If a recruiting firm, placement agency, or company (like The Ladders) states to job seekers that they will “guarantee a job offer,” one phrase comes to mind:

    “Run, Forrest, Run!”

    So, why do people get sucked into these scams?

    Unfortunately, there are so many job seekers who are desperate to find a position “at any cost.”

    And, in this economy, I can understand why, as desperation sets in when a person is unemployed for a long time.

    However, I always tell my clients to NEVER pay someone to find them a job.


    The obvious reason is that for a majority of people it doesn’t work and is a waste of money. Just Google “Bernard Haldane lawsuits” to see what I mean.

    But, there is more to it than people getting scammed out of money (although that is the main reason).

    Even if a job seeker pays someone else to find him / her a position and the search is successful, there is NO loyalty on the side on the employer.

    What do I mean by that?

    Well, the employer hasn’t paid a dime out of pocket to “acquire” you as an “asset” to their organization.

    If you don’t perform, you will be tossed to the street without a second thought.

    But, when a company seeks out and PAYS a recruiter with expertise in a specific industry to find candidates fitting their position requirements, they are INVESTING in the person they will eventually hire.

    The recruiter will find them the best possible people to interview who will be able to “hit the ground running” and produce results for them.

    That’s what good recruiters with great reputations are paid to do and they take their position very seriously.

    Further, the company won’t be so willing to “kick the new-hire to the curb,” as it will be costly to go through the process again.

    What is the real role of a recruiter?

    Sandra hit the nail on the head regarding the true role of a recruiter. How she stated it is exactly what I tell my clients.

    Recruiters are NOT in the business of finding people jobs.

    They are in the business of identifying and vetting the RIGHT PEOPLE with the qualifications that meet the employer’s requirements.

    Then, the company has a pool of candidates from which to choose to conduct interviews.

    It is ultimately up to the company to make an offer and hire the best person for the job (even though many recruiters will provide input to ensure their reputation stays intact).

    I would like to offer some words of wisdom to job search candidates:

    1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

    I provide this advice to all my clients regarding how to conduct a successful job search.

    Think of a job search like a “wagon wheel.”

    The job seeker is the “hub” and all the “spokes” are the avenues that should be utilized to find a position.

    Those avenues include, but are not limited to:

    A. Networking in your industry
    B. Initiating and maintaining relationships with great recruiters
    C. Talking to friends / family members about your job search
    D. Applying on all-encompassing and / or industry-specific job boards
    E. Joining church / synagogue / community job clubs
    F. Developing a thorough profile on LinkedIn and seeking out / giving great recommendations to your connections

    2. Don’t expect anyone to do the “heavy lifting” for you.

    When searching for a job, you have to be an “active participant.”

    Don’t sit at the computer hitting “send” to job postings. There are hundreds, if not thousands of other people doing the same thing.

    So, what can you do?

    Get known and make a great name for yourself in your industry.


    1. Join relevant industry (or even community-minded) organizations, serve on a committee (best one is membership), and be helpful to other people.

    2. Participate in LinkedIn groups, offering your advice and knowledge without expectation of receiving anything in return. Be respectful, even if you don’t agree with someone’s opinion. If you insult someone, it will come back to haunt you.

    3. Write articles for industry-related publications or contribute to industry-related blogs.

    4. Offer to speak at industry-related conferences or meetings on a topic in which you are an expert.

    These are just some ideas to ponder. I hope my advice is helpful.

    Remember, there are no guarantees in this life except death and taxes.

  18. Where were these articles when I signed up for the Ladders last year. I had no expectations at all that they company would FIND me a job for my $100 for 3 months but I did have expectations that they would HAVE job listings in my field and in my area.

    In 3 months there were only 2 new listings and all of those I had already found on indeed.

    They did do a hard core press though on the resume front, offering a free “resume review” and once doing that, offering their resume service. I saved my money on that offer.

  19. Talent agents are a big help to aspiring stats who want to succeed and make it big in my opinion.

  20. Hi Nick, i am late to join the “conversation”. I am from India and have found a site which charges a fee for a 6 month membership. You can join free of cost too but you can only apply to 6 jobs. There are 3 paid packages ranging from 15$ to 180$ (adjusted to current forex rates). This website is backed by India’s oldest, largest and the most reputed recruitment firm. There is no guarantee from the website regarding anyone landing an offer or a job but they assist in job search and follow with clients on candidate applications. Any thoughts from you ?

  21. @Akshay: Any recruitment firm that turns to such database techniques and charges membership fees reveals itself to be about to go out of business. It’s a move of desperation. Why would a firm like that, which earns handsome fees for placements, expose its business to the masses for such tiny fees? I don’t know what the search fee is in India, but in the US a placement at a $100,000 salary yields about $25,000 in fees. The foundation of the search business is in highly-focused searches, not in mass-marketing or big databases of jobs and resumes. Do you see my point?

    It seems this particular “site” is modeling itself after TheLadders, which has completely discredited itself. If there are jobs in India, ask yourself this: Should you approach them carefully through contacts you have personally cultivated, or make yourself one of thousands or millions who submit their vitae through the same channel, with no personal contacts at all?

    Job hunting is a big task that requires a lot of work. Just like your regular job. There is no magic. You cannot pay anyone to do your job for you. Check my articles on, buy one of my PDF books if you need to. But do this job yourself, or you will make yourself a statistic. Which of the millions of resumes should an employer look at next?

    Meanwhile, the individual who has invested in developing credible personal contacts is already talking to the hiring manager and discussing an offer. Managers hire through personal referrals they trust. Not from databases.

    I wish you the best.

  22. The only person who can find a job for you is an agent.

    I keep saying I’d be happy to pay 10-15% to one who could bring me the position / pay I have deserved for years now, base don my skillset and experience.

    It’s just not going to happen. Far to many people coasting along working the low-hanging fruit jobs of the industry, waiting for the economy in the USA to improve. And all the while, doing absolutely NOTHING to improve the economy.

    I tend to ignore recruiters, unless they are exclusive to a company I really want to work for.

    Your mileage may vary …

  23. @L.T.: Let me know when you find an “agent” who will find you a job. :-)

  24. @Nick

    Ha! Since I am neither an actor (and I do not play one on television) nor possessed of any sports skills whatsoever, I’m job hunting the old-fashioned way: making friend, keeping in touch, keeping up and participating in relavent groups … and going riding on the weekends to keep the mind clear.

    May have a chance at an agent as my first book comes together. The jury is still out on that.

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  26. “TheLadders: A lipstick pig’s death rattle?” was written back in 2011. It is now 2021. Ten years is a rather long time for a ‘deathrattle’.

    I don’t know how Mark C. keeps TheLadders in business, I doubt he is doing it in a commendable way. But they are still here, still worth avoiding!