Today TheLadders folded up its shell game and announced that it’s just another job board.

Just last month, TheLadders’ announced its highly-exclusive “Signature” service: “guaranteed job offers” for “qualified” $100k+ job seekers — for $2,500. Then the “Executive Jobs” company started offering its “Premium Service” for just $15.

In a press release titled “TheLadders: Now LinkedIn’s number one competitor,” TheLadders says that it will now take anyone’s money, at any salary level, to provide the same services as, HotJobs, CareerBuilder and every other jobs database.

“[TheLadders] will soon be available to all motivated job seekers looking for the next opportunity to move their careers forward.”

It’s not clear who is the bigger sucker: TheLadders’ executive customers, who thought they were paying for exclusive job listings. Or Ladders’ public relations firm, Allison & Partners, which is now grappling with a Tiffany’s wannabe that has opened a bargain-store basement. Or the media, which happily air these Ladders commercials in their editorial content. Or employers, which have been funding this “exclusive” shell game for eight years.

Since 2003, TheLadders has been playing games with $100k+ job seekers, charging them $35/month for access to supposedly $100k+ jobs, and billing employers for access to those same people. There’s plenty of documentation showing that TheLadders’ database is full of drek, both on the applicant side and the job side. Recently, employers revealed that TheLadders scrapes jobs from companies’ own websites, inflates the salary levels, and publishes them for sale to its paying members. When companies that aren’t even Ladders customers complain, TheLadders leaves the fraudulent listings in its database. Employers get stuck processing applicants to those dishonest job listings.

TheLadders does not deliver “ONLY $100k+ jobs” or “ONLY $100k+” job candidates. It never has.

It’s a well-known customer service dictum: When two or three customers make complaints, a company should worry about the many, many more who don’t take the time to complain publicly. What then of the teeming hordes of Ladders customers who swarm and post complaints every time an article or blog post appears about TheLadders?

The shell game couldn’t go on forever. Now TheLadders is just another job board. But the problem for Cenedella’s business plan is that, CareerBuilder, and HotJobs don’t charge people to look at their job listings.

Nonetheless, TheLadders gamely tries to keep up appearances:

“According to a Harris Interactive survey, 43 percent of $100K+ job seekers who changed jobs in the past year utilized TheLadders.”

Maybe Harris Interactive is a sucker, too. “Utilized?” What does that mean? People who signed up for TheLadders’ free trial since 2003, and who’ve wanted to get out, complain they’re still stuck in the database. Ladders CEO Marc Cendella won’t stop sending them his e-mail “updates” no matter what they do to get off his list. But Cenedella’s intent all along hasn’t been to offer useful advice in those e-mails. It’s been to keep his defunct “list” alive for public relations purposes — and Harris Interactive, a respected market research company, has now put its good name on this shell game. (I challenge Harris to disclose all the data and details behind the 43% claim.)

One wonders, what does the $100k+ customer think of all this, while paying for exclusivity and access to jobs at the highest levels? My prediction: Those who are still paying will stop. They should take note: A common complaint from Ladders customers is that terminating those monthly, automatic credit card payments to the company is not easy.

Coming fast on the heels of $900 resume-writing services and the $2,500 “Signature” program, the newly-discounted $15 “Premium” memberships and jobs at all salary levels reveal a company that’s thrashing, incapable of finding its market.

Clearly, the claim that “43 percent of $100K+ job seekers who changed jobs in the past year utilized TheLadders” is bullshit. If it were true, TheLadders would not be admitting failure, dropping its claim of exclusivity — and its prices.

In the dust surrounding TheLadders’ demise, the simple truth remains: Most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. The development of sound relationships required to pull this off take a lot of time and a lot of hard work. Trusted contacts who’ll refer you to good employers can’t be paid for — they are cultivated through shared experiences into a circle of friends. Learning The Basics of job hunting isn’t difficult. But there’s no shortcut. You can’t buy a job offer.

After enduring eight years of caustic customer complaints, TheLadders has folded up its shell game. TheLadders is in its death throes, lying by the online roadside, gasping for a new business plan — because TheLadders is running on empty.


  1. I’ve said it all along, and will continue to say it … personal contacts are key … forget major job boards.

  2. Excellent work Nick!

  3. Good job Nick.

  4. Any thoughts on ExecuNet?

  5. I, for one, was really shocked this recent move by TheLadders served as a catalyst for you to write such a sharp-edged condemnation post. #sarcasm

  6. The Ladders never did anything for me when I used them in my previous transition. I didn’t waste the $$ this time as I learned the hard way.

  7. I got suckered into the Ladders once. Never again. Plus I found that their “value” differed greatly depending on which market you’re in as the number of jobs vary greatly from market to market. Seems odd to me to pay the same monthly price when I’m living in Denver and see on average 1-2 jobs per day versus New York where you’re seeing 10+ jobs per day. I mentioned this to them and it just fell of deaf ears.

  8. @Joel Cheesman: Thanks for serving up the #sarcasm sandwich ;-).

  9. @Observer: ExecuNet is an unusual case. I hear complaints about them, as I do about lots of services that purport to help people find jobs. But there’s certainly a continuum, and I think ExecuNet is way on the other end of it from TheLadders and job boards. I’ve known ExecuNet a long time, because we both started out early online. They’ve been in biz since 1988, and they’re not a job board, and they’re not a subscription service like Ladders. ExecuNet really is a members-only operation.

    What’s lost on Ladders and the job boards is the concept and practice of Networking. ExecuNet has been providing this since they started. You actually get access to one another if you’re members. Founder Dave Opton heavily encourages his paying members to reach out to one another, just as I teach ATH readers to do the same.

    Unlike job boards and “subscription jobs” operations, ExecuNet has very good content and advice on the site. Contrast it to Ladders’ CEO Marc Cenedella’s carny-barker e-mails, which are pure garbage. ExecuNet (and a company called Netshare) publish legitimate white papers on topics that are important to job hunters at higher levels.

    ExecuNet doesn’t scrape job listings. They come directly from search firms and employers. You might find them elsewhere, too, but the listings are managed closely. (This concept is foreign to the big jobs databases, which prefer to claim they have lots, and don’t care about the quality.) ExecuNet says it keeps jobs on its list only 45 days, if they aren’t taken down by the employer sooner.

    ExecuNet is a real community; they actually get together face to face for meetings, discussion and networking. I think they do this because even back in 1988, that was the way you found a job. Job boards don’t do this. Ladders doesn’t do this. Nor does LinkedIn, though LinkedIn — unlike job boards — facilitates networking if people want to do it.

    Like Netshare, which has been around as long, ExecuNet is a real executive network, or community. These are the two most legit groups of their kind, I think, and the fact that they’re still here 25 years later says something.

    Disclosure: I periodically contribute ATH Q&A content to ExecuNet, and I’ve done webinars for them and for Netshare over the years. I know the owners of both companies pretty well, and I respect them. They don’t pay me. But we have overlapping audiences, so it makes sense for us to contribute to one another’s work.

    I’ve seen complaints from folks about ExecuNet, but nothing that indicates systemic problems as with Ladders or the big job boards. Anyone searching for a job, who uses a service to get help, could find faults with the results if they don’t get what they want out of the experience. True networking groups like Netshare and ExecuNet can work if you work them. But they don’t, and can’t, guarantee success.

    Boil it down, and here it is: I think both these companies operate honestly and deliver real networking opportunities for a fee. How (or whether) you use them is up to you. I think anyone can do their own networking if they really want to, but they can also sign up to be part of a group.

    LinkedIn understands this, and is trying to leverage its huge database into a true network. I don’t see success there yet, because LinkedIn is fundamentally a database business. ExecuNet and Netshare started out as networking groups before databases were integral parts of their business.

  10. @Nick: To answer your question directly: I wouldn’t give The Ladders the time of day, much less $15 of my hard earned money. Heck, I wouldn’t give the $15 if I was a trust-fund baby with several millions in old money stashed away. There is probably some homeless vet who slept last night under a bus stop bench who could use it more effectively.

    Nick, I DO however, still have a potential $125,000 (over 5 years) for the right agent …

  11. Thanks for the information. I appreciate your insights.

  12. I discovered your blog today and found it very informative, however your constant harping on The Ladders really detracts from everything else you say. One or two posts are great, we get the idea, but you have post after post all rehashing the same thing. It makes it look like you have a serious chip on your shoulder against this one individual and company, which makes me question your overall professionalism. Your blog and you can post what you like, I just wanted to point out how you’re impacting your image from the point of an outside observer.

  13. @Pickles: You are absolutely right. I have a big chip on my shoulder about “this one individual and company.” Marc Cenedella and TheLadders have been fleecing gullible job hunters and employers for many years. As long as they keep doing it, I’ll keep writing about what they’re doing. For what it’s worth, my “image” is founded on publishing Ask The Headhunter for longer than Cenedella has been foisting TheLadders on the public. TheLadders is one topic among thousands I write about. I’ve got no worries. But thanks for your concern.

    (PS: Dick Bolles, author of the esteemed What Color is Your Parachute? refers to one of my seminal Ladders columns (“Liars at TheLadders”) in the latest edition of his book Job-Hunting Online:

  14. I agree with Pickles on how there’s an unusually high amount of posts on how it’s a scam. I think it’s very easy to gain support when users are more likely to get upset because they are paying for a service as opposed to recieving it for free. The fact of the matter is that this particular company seems to have no problem continuing operations for 8 years running even under a tough economic climate. I think you lose a lot of credibility when you make really bombast posts like the one you made 4 years back predicting the company will go under. It shows your frequent and bombast posts is almost purely on speculation and boarder on slander more than it shows your credibility and professionalism.

  15. Thanks for your insight Nick; I find your blogs & articles to be impartial and intelligently written. I appreciate your disclosures. I agree with Candace that ultimately one is responsible for their own job search and leveraging key relationships is what gets one the desired position. I’ve corroborated overwhelming evidence from friends and other sources that The Ladder is very likely a risky proposition with minimal ROI.

  16. This is a symptom of HR folks at companies justifying their jobs… This is why i have eliminated the HR function altogether at my company, and let the legal team oversee any specific compliance activities. Each dept head is responsible for their own hiring, and suddenly excuses like “skills gap” have vanished.

    HR people have literally no usable skill set, despite their inflated degrees, how can any respectable company expect these folks to evaluate STEM talent?!?

  17. @RJ: Can you drop me a note? nick at asktheheadhunter dot com. Thanks.

    • Wow. I understand why you want to speak with RJ. My last company did not have an HR department and lacked consistency in an interviewing and in processing during onboarding. I think there is a middle ground.

  18. RJ is dead on the money about these HR types. Nothing measures their success much less their cost to an organization. Good job RJ.