Since the first job boards came online, entrepreneurs have been trying to find ways to create a true headhunter-class service for job hunters and employers. The objective: to be able to charge the top fees headhunters do. Hey, a smart, no-barriers-to-success business mind should be able to figure it out. So it began. Bill Warren’s Online Career Center — the true granddaddy of job boards — launched on a gopher system, quickly followed by and others. Niche boards followed, and “executive” services sprouted — and came and went, and came and went. No one was able to crack the headhunter code. No online service has been able to charge, say, $30,000 to fill a position.

So, these wanna-be’s started to do the next best thing: Lie. offered a higher-class service, based on nothing more than its name. More recently, TheLadders was launched as the job service offering “the most $100k+ jobs.” For $180 per year, you get access. To what? Well, it’s not clear.

TheLadders uses the term “$100k” — $100,000 — 23 times on its About page. $100k appears four times in one paragraph of just three sentences. This is headhunter country, and Ladders comes right out and says it caters to “executive-level” people — and to HR departments seeking them. The message is that Ladders isn’t your run-of-the-mill jobs site. It’s “expressly for the $100k+ job seeker.” The promise is that, “Never again will you find yourself trolling through mid-level or bogus job listings on other, less-targeted job boards!”

And there’s the test: Bogus job listings. Bogus methodology. Bogus promises. Bogus business practices. If Ladders can rise above that, then they truly are who they say they are. But, it must walk the talk. And it doesn’t. It fails so embarrassingly, miserably, and transparently that TheLadders should just shut up, shut its doors, apologize to its investors, customers and advertisers, and Marc Cenedella should go home and start a chain letter, because it would be a more honest business than he’s got now. (According to his clients, he writes something akin to that, which he sends them regularly, and they want it to stop.)

I’ve been watching TheLadders, and I’ve critiqued it based on what I’ve seen — and based on what its customers and my readers have shared with me. My critique is also based on what I’ve learned from independent resume writers — third-party contractors who were paid by TheLadders to help start its resume services, until Ladders finished picking their brains and dumped them — to start its own resume services. And those resume services seem to reflect the quality of the company’s other services. What can you say about a company that charges you $1,375 for a resume, but you’re not allowed to talk to the resume writer? Anyone who has fallen prey to the Bernard Haldanes of the world knows the story: A sharp point-man sells you career-management services. You fork over your money. And you’re assigned to a greenhorn you’ve never met. Who is really writing all those $1,375 resumes?

Early in my review of TheLadders, the company did my research for me. I held the material back because I wanted to gather my own information before drawing conclusions. I admit it; I don’t like job boards. But I can always hope. So I kept an open mind. Maybe Cenedella had figured it out. But, everything I’ve seen puts a shine on the first solid piece of data about TheLadders that ever came across my desk. It’s an e-mail from a recruiter who works at TheLadders. It reveals how the company recruits for itself — and it must be judged on this, because this is what it’s selling: Expert recruiting and placement services.

Ladders CEO Marc Cenedella’s own words are the best way to characterize this e-mail: “Look, people don’t get to the $100k+ level by making rookie mistakes like this.”

Here’s the e-mail I received last fall, when Ladders was recruiting resume writers to write “executive-level” resumes. I’ve deleted the recruiter’s name, but the e-mail is otherwise un-edited. (The poor greenhorn doesn’t deserve to have her name turn up like this in a Google search the next time she goes looking for a job.)

Subject: Resume Writer Opportunity @
Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2007 17:01:09 -0500
From: “[deleted]” <[deleted].[deleted]>

Hi Nick –

I’m a recruiter at, and am working on many internal hires – our company and business is growing quickly!  In fact, I’m currently recruiting for a full-time Staff Resume Writer position.  Our resume services are a successful and growing line or our business, and we’re at a point where we’re looking to strengthen our team.  Your name came up in conversation as a talented Resume Writer who really knows the industry.  Will you consider a full-time opportunity at The

I’ve attached a copy of the job description.  Please let me know if this is an opportunity you may be interested in!

Thank you,
[deleted] Recruiter
137 Varick Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10013

I am a headhunter. If you Google “headhunter”, my web site, comes up #1 or #2 — as it has for the past eight years or more. I’m not famous, but I’m a reasonably prominent name in the business. I don’t write resumes for a living. I’m not looking for a job, because I run a company that I own. A few minutes on my web site will tell you I’d never take a job with a job board. Next to a chihuahua with no opposing thumb to hold a pencil or tap a keyboard, I am probably the least likely candidate for a job as a resume writer. Even a headhunter-in-training would know to Google my name before thinking to get in touch with me about a resume-writing job. A recruiter working for a company that helps executives land $100k jobs wouldn’t waste the juice that runs between two synapses on a passing thought about me.

And, no professional resume-writing company would ever offer me a job.

Cenedella should go home and eat his own dog food: “Look, people don’t get to the $100k+ level by making rookie mistakes like this.”

Cenedella’s entire busines is one big rookie mistake. It’s a rickety ladder that goes nowhere. What else is there to say? What other test is there? TheLadders uses the same random recruiting tricks to hire its own staff that it delivers to its paying customers. There’s nothing “executive-level” here. It’s greenhorn operators dialing for dollars. Worse, Ladders customers — for all they know — are being served by chihuahuas that Ladders hired via that e-mail recruiting campaign that bombed my e-mail box.

No one at any salary level should waste a dime or ten seconds on a job service of any kind that can’t recruit effectively for itself. And any HR clerk, recruiter, manager, or executive who wastes his or her company’s and shareholder’s money on TheLadders should be fired and restricted to finding their next job… via TheLadders.

The problem with job boards is simple, and it is fatal. They are not job- and people-finding services. They are data base companies. They churn data. While some are based on clever algorithms, they are all dumb, thoughtless, mindless data bases. (Want proof? Look at the Google ads on this page. They are generated by a very expensive, sophisticated data base. The ads include some job boards because I can’t stop them all, try as I might. Watch this: JOB BOARDS SUCK! The ads are still there. Mindless.) The managers of job boards invest massive resources in their data bases; they invest nothing in content, knowledge, advice, guidance, or insight to serve their clients. They invest in hardware and software. That is the product — not jobs, not resumes, not hires. That is why they don’t work.

It’s not just my judgment, but a judgment of the market: Nothing that job boards offer is worth more than the loose change in your pocket, because that’s all the market will bear for their services. And that’s all they’re worth. So, why are they lying to you, and why do you want so badly to believe them?

  1. We want to believe that these sites are useful because we’re Internet junkies. We can go to and order up books, movies, t-shirts, guitar strings, and personal hygiene products; we can buy cars on Ebay and even list our houses for sale on real estate sites.

    So why can’t we go to some Internet site and find a job? I can Google myself up just about anything you can imagine, yet finding a job requires going to cocktail events and “networking”?

    That’s why we want Monster & Dice to do what they say. We can get everything else in our lives online; why do jobs have to be so different?

  2. Steve,
    Yah, well, we still can’t buy people online. Monster, Ladders, CareerBuilder are all supported by the HR League – executive personnel jockeys who fund those companies with outlandish HR budgets. An HR exec at a Fortune 50 company tells me the top HR dogs at his company are so tight with the big job boards that there is almost no funding left to do real recruiting. Where are the boards of directors at these companies? Answer: Nobody wants to tangle with HR, which operates under a cloak of bureaucracy.

  3. It is very possible the name on the email you used was not a real person. This doesn’t change the argument, just an interesting thought. If they followed direct marketing techniques, they may use a different name for each emailing, to track responses. Those who contact them based on that email would be unlikely to care who they ended up talking with.


  4. This post and the one about the joke named Jeff Taylor ( are as much an indictment of corporate HR departments as they are of these useless job boards.

    Until recently I worked in the IT department of a large firm, with a pretty large staff and freqent hires, mostly technical. But even the time or two I needed to hire a skilled non-technical person, the “dedicated” recruiter – who actually knew NOTHING about our business, our positions or the skill sets we needed – first resorted to job boards to recruit (cross-charging our department, if you can believe that) for the cost of the online ads. Then, having delivered no candidates, he wanted to hire an outside recruiter at an exorbitant cost.

    What, pray tell, was HIS job as a “recruiter?”
    Evidentoly, to shill for the job boards and recruiters and funnel the firm’s money to them, even as he was drawing a generous salary.

    It’s no wonder HR is most hated and useless department in any business. Speaking of, this article from Fast Company offers some further insight to the “people profession” (yack)

  5. Brad: One must give the benefit of the doubt. That way, if it turns out there’s a little itty bit of fraud, it’s easy to smack them all the harder for it.

    Bill: Thanks for the Fast Company link. When I got out of grad school, I joined a small search firm in Palo Alto. During training, the owner said to me, “Avoid HR at all costs, because they don’t fill jobs. They push paper.” I was startled, but quickly learned how right she was. While I know some very good HR folks who can run circles around other managers and headhunters, in general HR is the biggest bureaucracy in most companies. Your characterization of the HR recruiter is apt. In the sales world, they are akin to order-takers: people who sit by the phone waiting for someone to call. They do nothing on their own. Calling them recruiters is like calling the hospital gurney handler a surgeon. I’ll tell you how to recognize a good HR recruiter (there are some): They live in the department for which they recruit. They live there and work among the staff, absorbing the dept’s business. They really recruit. The rest of them are unnecessary overhead. There is software that will run ads and hire external recruiters. Your point about shilling for the job boards is right on the money: HR execs get wined and dined by the big boards, and that’s where the recruiting budget goes. But don’t just blame HR. The board of directors deserves the biggest salvo: They fail to pay attention to where their recruiting dollars go.

  6. I too have been scammed by the resume service on the Ladders. It all starts with a resume critique — which will look impressive, until you realize that 95% is the same thing that everyone else receives… see this link ( for a reprint of the 95% duplication.

    You’ll then receive a worksheet to provide the resume writers with material. This worksheet is so bush-league, words can not do justice to how amateur and unprofessional this process is:

    1. The resume critique will rip you to shreds (which is okay) — they’ll pepper the critique and future correspondence with smileys so not to hurt anyone’s feelings.

    2. The worksheet they send will say “Please email your old resume with your completed worksheet.” Huh, don’t you already have it? How did you do the critique then?

    3. The worksheet will also say, “so I have everything from you in one email”. Huh? You cannot attach multiple documents from the Ladders website. Clients cannot send everything in one email!

    4. The worksheet might as well have been developed in crayon. There is such a mix of font sizes, styles, highlighting, tabs, and paragraph marks that it makes me car sick just trying to work with it. One would think that for $600+ that this orgnaization could put together a form with data entry fields and a consistent flow of text.

    5. After you send the worksheet in, they will send you follow-up questions. They make it seem like the questions are custom tailored to your worksheet responses. They’re not… the follow up questions are the same questions they send to all their clients.

    When you receive your resume, you’ll find that you wrote it. Yep… about 95% of the text on your $600+ resume is taken directly from: your old resume (which mind you was ripped to shreds during the resume critique), your worksheet, and your responses to the phony “follow-up” questions.

    Marc Cenedella has quite a racket going… dupe people on a job search into spending over $600 for the privilege re-writing their OWN resume. To be fair, the website appears to be honest and provide a valuable service — but the resume writing aspect of The Ladders is nothing but a SCAM!!!

  7. I run a retained search firm, working typically on positions in the $125K to $250K range (that makes me low-end among retained firms, where the big boys laugh at a $250K job and an $83K fee).

    Many execs come to me for advice, which I give for free if I like them. I did find that a surprising number had gotten results from responding to Ladders postings – particularly with getting interviews for real jobs for searches conducted by retained search firms, both small and large. This surprised me, but I started to recommend that senior execs who were actively looking that they sign up for Ladders, because $180 a year isn’t a lot when the result could be a job paying $225K, and it takes little effort (job boards are worth the effort as long as you don’t spend more than maybe 5% of your job hunting time on them, I think – most job hunters spend half their time trolling the internet, which is a mistake).

    Ladders always charged only the job hunter – recruiters and employers could post jobs and mine resumes for free.

    However, as of August 1, 2008 (new users were charged this back in 11/2007, but existing users were given a grace period), Ladders will charge employers and recruiters $4500 to $10,000 a year to use their service and dig for resumes or post jobs to Ladders’s job-seeking members – while they continue to charge job hunters their $30/month. My guess is that their members will see a lot less activity from potential employers and recruiters starting August 1.

  8. Alan,

    I don’t think many people “get” what’s happening with TheLadders. I agree with your assessment. Once they start charging employers and recruiters, activity will drop. People will pick low-hanging fruit if it’s there – but it won’t be low-hanging once a fee is imposed. I also agree with your suggestion that job hunters should spend no more than 5% of their time on the boards. But headhunters shouldn’t spend much more than that, either.

    If I’m an employer, and I know a headhunter is using Ladders to find candidates, what am I paying him for?

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  10. Hi Nick,

    I know this is an old post but I thought you’d might enjoy the transcript from a chat with TheLadders – needless to say they do not verify that the positions they post are $100K+ – though that is their tagline!!!!

    Alishia: Hi Andy
    Alishia: I have a problem
    Andy: Sorry to hear that Alisha, how can I help?
    Alishia: I found this job on your website: XXXX
    Alishia: and after spending time researching the company, writing a letter and resume
    Alishia: when I got a call from the hiring manager
    Alishia: he tells me this position pays $50K
    Alishia: and when
    Alishia: I asked him why he posted the position on The Ladders
    Alishia: he said he DID NOT POST IT on TheLadders
    Alishia: so
    Alishia: I am very concerned
    Alishia: about the time and effort and money I am spending
    Alishia: using your site
    Andy: Okay Alishia, I can definitely understand why you’re concerned about this and I’d be glad to explain.
    Alishia: if you are pulling ads from a third party
    Alishia: without verifying the salary range
    Alishia: ok – please explain
    Andy: First of all, we make no claims that all of our jobs are submitted directly to us. Many of the positions on our site are linked directly to from external job boards. 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.
    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.
    Alishia: i understand pulling from third parties but don’t you verify these postings by calling the company or something?
    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.
    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!
    Andy: I stand by that statement Alishia and assure you that we make every possible effort to ensure that all of our positions pay $100k+
    Alishia: I think you cannot guarantee this claim if you do nothing to verify your information. It is totally irresponsible to make a claim you cannot backup.
    Alishia: Needless to say I am very disappointed and feel that I have wasted hundreds of dollars using your site and will be sure to let my colleagues know about my experience.