The February 21, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is a special edition about career rip-offs. (You don’t subscribe to the weekly newsletter? It’s free! Subscribe now!. Don’t miss another edition!) As the regulars know, we flow the newsletter into the blog every week — and this is where we churn up ideas and comments to blow topics like this wide open.

CBC TV: Top Tips and Red Flags For Job Hunters

While taping a recent CBC TV Marketplace program titled Recruitment Rip-Off about career rip-offs, host Tom Harrington and I did another segment (7 minutes) that’s our consumer education offering. Tom and I discuss tips and red flags that smart consumers should look for when job hunting — to avoid getting scammed. (When you’re job hunting, not all those requests you get for “interviews” are for jobs you want. They may be interviewing for victims.)

You’ll have far more tips and warnings of your own to share than Tom and I discuss — and I’d like to ask you to post them in the comments section below. Check out the video for some of the basics. (Tom is the bigger guy on the left.)

Career rip-offs are everywhere

They seem to proliferate when jobs are hard to come by, and that’s when job hunters seem to get suckered more easily by rip-off artists who try to sell them jobs — or the promise of jobs.

We’ve covered TheLadders rip-off again and again, and though it costs only around $30/month, the opportunity cost can be huge. (Just ask Mike, the executive who wasted 22 months before he pulled the plug on TheLadders and shared his story.)

Then there are the “executive career management” scams that promise databases of hidden jobs, inside contacts, and exclusive access to employers. They target high-income folks — who seem altogether too willing to spend $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 or more for “expert help” that delivers nothing more than a contract worth less than the paper it’s printed on.

Take it from this Ask The Headhunter reader who lost $12,000 to a “career management firm”:

“PLEASE don’t use my name, because I am horribly embarrassed to admit that I forked over $12 large to a bunch of scum bags in Denver. They’ve changed their name twice since they cashed my check three years ago. I didn’t receive a single — no, not one — interview as a result of their lightening of my retirement fund. They have no secret sauce, they did nothing that I couldn’t have done much better reading Nick’s website and e-books. Damn.” — R.B. [name withheld]

In between are the offers of “free resume critiques.” These rip-offs deliver boiler-plate “reviews” warning that your resume is no good, and then pressure you to buy a $1,200 re-write — even when the resume submitted for a free critique was originally written by the same firm!

What prompted me to do a rip-off edition?

CBC TV: Recruitment Rip-Off

In early February, Canada’s CBC TV flew me to Toronto for a hidden-camera expose of a “job search marketing” racket: Recruitment Rip-Off. CBC’s Marketplace program is the longest-running consumer watchdog show in the world. Its target: A Canadian firm called Toronto Pathways that “recruits” job hunters via their online resumes — but doesn’t hire anyone. Pathways sells $5,000 “job search marketing” services and “absolutely” promises a job. In my opinion, Pathways’ services are absolutely worthless. The same business has operated under five different names in the past seven years. The CEO calls this name game “brand marketing” that “allows a fresh approach.” I call it “hide and seek” played with angry customers.

Whether or not you’ve ever gotten suckered like this, you’ll gag when you see a salesman promise a job to a prospect (“Absolutely!”) in exchange for thousands of dollars. Then the CEO of the firm denies that they promise jobs to anyone.

But the program is more than a rip-off story. It will save a lot of consumers from the fate suffered by the victims whose experiences are profiled. Don’t miss the entire 22-minute news-magazine segment: Recruitment Rip-Off.

Host Tom Harrington and I spend a lot of time on camera reviewing the hidden camera videos, pointing out the tip-offs that reveal something is very wrong. Key among these tip-offs is a full copy of the contract Pathways foists on its victims. Note the “Client Satisfaction Guarantee” that guarantees no satisfaction or refund. Take notes — How many signs of rip-off can you count?

Rip-Off Resources

I call this the Rip-Off Edition because I’ve been wanting to provide a reference list to help you avoid rip-offs and career scams. Here are some of the best columns on this topic that have appeared on Ask The Headhunter:

SevenFigureCareers: Anatomy of a Recruiting Scam

Resume Trafficking: The job-seeker’s nightmare

Job-Board Journalism: Selling out the American job hunter

The “Executive Marketing” Racket: How I dropped ten grand down a hole

Bernard Haldane: Busting The Bad Boys

An insider’s revelations about “Executive Career Counselors, Inc.”

Deceptive Recruiting: HR’s last stand? and Deception Rebuked

CareerBuilder Is For Dopes

Liars at TheLadders

How Much Would You Pay For A Job?

TheLadders: How the scam works

Readers’ Forum: Your favorite scams

Free resume critiques: The new career-industry racket

The Dogs of Recruiting

How can I find out whether a job board is the real deal? (video)

An educated consumer is the rip-off artist’s worst enemy

I love it when Ask The Headhunter sends a reader to bed with $7,000 in his pocket:

“I just wanted to write and let you know that your Web site saved me from making a grave error. I went to a career marketing company (Global Career Management in Colorado Springs) last week [October 2006], and they wanted $7,000 up front to get me ‘in front of decision makers.’ When I dug a little deeper, I came across your site and decided to use some of the advice to find out if they were for real. I simply asked for references in two telephone voicemail messages and one email message. I followed up 48 hours later to find out why they didn’t get back to me, and the pitchman responded with a ‘we have decided not to move forward at this time’ email. Of course, they figured out I was on to their scam and decided to cut and run to the next ‘client.’ A half hour on your site was worth more than $7,000 in my pocket.”  — Jim Myers

If just one tip-off in the above collection saves anyone money or heartache, then I’m happy. Just remember: No one can promise to deliver a job except an employer, and anyone who makes such a promise while demanding money up front is probably trying to rip you off.

Thanks to CBC TV Marketplace

Many thanks to all at CBC TV’s Marketplace for a jam-packed Saturday in the studio, and for the chance to work on this project: host Tom Harrington, producers Virginia Smart and Marlene McArdle, and the entire Marketplace crew. This program should be required viewing for all job hunters. Which leaves me wondering: The exact same recruitment rip-offs are happening across the United States. But which TV networks are deploying their hidden cameras to warn consumers on this side of Lake Ontario?

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, score one for the Canadians.

(Special thanks to Rodney’s By Bay for the fine Toronto hospitality and the best plate of oysters I’ve ever downed. UPDATE July 2014: For those looking for oysters, Rodney’s is now John & Sons Oyster House, still at 56 Temperance Street, Toronto. I haven’t tried the new place myself, but I’m looking forward to it!)

Have you encountered a career rip-off? Maybe you worked for such a firm and have an insider’s story to tell. Most important, please help us assemble the Intenet’s best list of tip-offs to career rip-offs.

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  1. Ummm. At the bottom of your blog is a Google (?) ad for one of these exec job search companies. LOL Bad timing Google
    $225K+ Executive Jobs TX
    Need a New Executive Position? FEE Based Exec Search 512-501-2033

  2. Just goes to show… If something seems too good to be true… It probably is…

  3. @Kathy: Nice catch! I block GoogleAds from a named list of “offenders” but I can’t block all because I don’t always know who they are or even when they show up. GoogleAds helps pay to keep this blog running. The way I look at it, ATH readers know ads from ATH content, and they know what’s worth clicking on and what’s not. We could spend all day critiquing Google’s algorithms for matching ads to “context” — they’re not very good. No better than HR’s “keyword matching” algorithms!

  4. Thanks for revealing something I find absolutely sickening. Particularly disturbing was the racist attempt to scam immigrants. When the guy essentially said “buy our service or spend your life working at 7-11 and driving a cab,” my jaw dropped.

    This video should be required viewing for every frustrated job hunter. Keep up the great work. If your insights save just one person from feeding the coffers of these lowlifes, it will have been well worth the effort.

  5. You mentioned targeting high income people for 5, 10, 20 K. It’s not just high income. When I was an agency recruiter I was shocked when interviewing a candidate, a network engineer, who had paid 6K for a service to find him a job. It was history by the time I met him and already figured out what I’d routinely tell candidates to not pay someone to find them a job. this is a guy who probably was in the 60K area per year, so they hit him for about 10% of his annual worth.
    Then around the same time I headed off a laid off friend who was on the front end of going down town for one of these interviews until I threw a body block on him.
    Every now & then I run across someone who’s done this.
    It truly boggles the mind

  6. Perhaps the real problem is the underlying presupposition: “This process [getting a job] is largely out of your control.”

    And why wouldn’t people believe that, when they, or people they know, have sent out bulk quantities of resumes and got nowhere? I suspect that these scammers are appealing to the idea that they can put some control back into the process, which must seem very attractive.

    If you think you are drowning, you’ll do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t do normally. I can understand that part.

    The bit that gets me is what happens when I tell people that there’s an alternative that gives them more control. They don’t want to believe it and give all sorts of reasons (excuses?) why it can’t work.

    As I’ve said before, they largely seem to come down to the fact that it requires a degree of self-confidence and belief in yourself to get the other methods to work.

    But doesn’t that apply even to the “conventional” ways of doing interviews? Or am I missing something?

  7. @Jane: Bingo all around. You’ve hit many key points.

    1. People believe it’s out of their control because the manager who wants to hire you isn’t involved in hiring. HR handles that. Boom, you lose and you know it. People come to believe that’s just how it is. At live presentations that I do, people refer to how they “got in touch with HR” as if that’s what they must do. They rarely say, “I got in touch with a hiring manager.” When you put a middleman in there, people naturally feel they’ve lost control. And they’re right. The joke is, they can wrest control easily.

    2. People would like more control, but they won’t take it when it’s offered because they don’t understand how to then exercise the control themselves. “What should I do? I sent in my resume. I asked someone to pass it along to HR. I’m waiting. What else can I do?” There’s a block: No one else is using the alternative you’re proposing, so they’re afraid to try it. It’s like offering a job to a gambling addict, as a way to make money. They look at you like you’re crazy — their number is GOING to come up. They just need to roll again.

    2. It’s all about self-confidence: Knowing that the skills you use at work are the skills you must use to get a job. Nobody hires you for your interviewing skills. They hire you because you write efficient Java code that works (for example). “Huh? How’s that gonna get me in front of HR?” THAT is the problem. They really believe they must stand in line to talk to the hall monitor (personnel jockey) before they’re allowed to go to the lavatory.

    People are SO brainwashed that they literally don’t think straight. I’ve met top execs who manage operations worth billions. They think a resume is their marketing piece and that it will get them in the door. They really believe it.

    The good news is, ANYONE who takes control and confidently applies their work skills has virtually NO competition when pursuing a job IF they chose the job thoughtfully.

  8. @Jane and @Nick

    It may be a painful process requiring a lot of hard work. I have generally had better experiences when getting ahold of the hiring manager. Even if I don’t get the interview/job, I at least know why.

  9. One of the reasons that I fell into clinical depression after losing my job in 2009 was the delusion that I would have to part with a lot of money I couldn’t afford to part with before I could even talk to someone about the slim chance of getting work.

    Fortunately, my daughter the lawyer talked me out of it. (She also smiled when I asked if I could sue the internet.)

    As the shepherd on Firefly said, there’s a special place in hell for these kinds of predators, the same place reserved for child molesters and people who talk in theatres.

    I’m normally not a vindictive person, but the best desription of depression I’ve read is that it is like living in hell.

    If I were able to tranfer my depression to these horrible people for an hour, it would be a safe bet that they wouldn’t last 20 minutes before asking for dispensation.

    (And I’m not a betting man, either.)

  10. Here’s another scam. A personnel agency posts a job/job description, you submit your resume and they call you in for the interview only to tell you don’t have a certain background (in my instance, Engineering) for the job. Why call you in when it was clear from the resume, you didn’t have the required background so to speak.

    Take it a step further. You decide to signup with said agency to take on temp assignments in between the pursuit for a full-time position. What they don’t tell you is, once you cross over to temp work, they stop pursuing a full-time position for you. Then, I’ll take it to the extreme, you work on that temp assignment for three years, and when you’re laidoff, the agency tells you, you have to come in a be tested on everything again as if you weren’t under their employment for the previous three years. Placement/Temp agencies are another big form of ripoff artists.

  11. Jean Brennan said: “Here’s another scam. A personnel agency posts a job/job description, you submit your resume and they call you in for the interview only to tell you don’t have a certain background (in my instance, Engineering) for the job. Why call you in when it was clear from the resume, you didn’t have the required background so to speak.”

    I think two things are at play here:
    1. Most recruiters are interested in only building a “database.”

    I’ve had specific inquiries about a job and whether to apply only to be greeted with “please send your resume” and if you do – nothing.

    They’ll take your resume/vet you simply to build their rolodex. Which they turn around and sell to companies (i.e. we have 1,000 names! we have someone for you!)

    2. Most recruiters have little understanding of the fields and specific jobs they recruit for. Or how people can transfer skills. For example, if I write C code doing operating system development, I can probably figure out your inventory system written in Java. But since you have no direct experience in Java or inventory systems, you’d be passed over.

  12. What exactly is the method that Jane Atkinson is advocating? I am willing to put forth lots of personal effort in order to obtain my dream job.

    And while I am posting, does anybody have information on a company called Examinetics, based in Kansas? Their web site looks legit, but the-on-the-job training for an Occupational Health Specialist seems “too good to be true.” When I tried to Google this company, I got loads of job boards, advertising this in cities across the nation, another red flag. Also, I can find no local office here in Indianapolis, but they say they are hiring here. Think I will stay away!

    Why can’t the major boards such as accept complaints regarding places like this, and not list their ads?

  13. It’s unimaginable how people can be so… inconsiderate as to rip off and scam thousands of dollars out of the pockets of a person who is looking for a job. That person is job hunting because he/she is getting a little short on finances, and you take money from them? And offer nothing in return?

    I hope they all go to jail.

  14. Hi Nick. I have to agree that people should always be careful when job hunting, and being in the industry, I know that some recruiters will not have the person’s best interest in mind. That being said, there are some recruiters out there who really do care.

  15. I too was duped by this scam by a Dallas firm which has changed it’s name and the primary’s names on a number of occasions.. My Mother was originally contacted by this firm. She had her résumé on Career Builders. She had been in successful high level executive positions and now looking back I see why they contacted her and not me. (my résumé was also posted, but I was currently an educator in the process of trying to make a transition in my career) She also believed she was being called in for an interview. They really “sold” her on their services. She had never had to look for a position before so I don’t believe she even realized these kind of crooks were out there. She mentioned her daughter (me) was trying to change industries as well as job functions. Before I set up an appointment I checked the BBB ratings as it seemed almost to good to be true. I had never been in a situation where I needed to seek new employment either… So I did not know about these scams either. They acted as if they were doing me a favor by helping me…having a lowly college education and being a teacher for all of my professional career.Long story short, we both signed contracts in March. It is now nearing the end of August and they have sent me leads (which they will not call leads, but research) that are, to be quite honest…Insulting. Insulting to me and my Mother. I realize the job market is tough, but I am getting positions a teenager could apply for or that do not require a college education. I am only receiving these so call leads because I hound them weekly. I have decided they are no longer worth my energy. What really gets me is that if I post the companies name or the names of it’s principals online to warn others (should they search) they will make my life a nightmare. If you are in Dallas PLEASE research not only the companies name, but the primaries. 12000 is down the drain. My Mother even inquired about the BBB as it seemed they had only been open for a few months and they had told her they had been around for years! They had! Scamming people so they were changing the name of the company. Why is it so tough to file BBB complaints about these companies? Why are the primaries who continuously mislead people not prosecuted? It is so obvious what they are doing after you do a little digging. This Dallas firm is associated with firms in Houston and it sounds like Waco and Austin as well! BEWARE and run! I was very polite and professional with them even after I had discovered all of the bad reviews. Of course they ignored me. Not until I started questioning them and turning up the heat did I receive any type of response. The responses were very unprofessional, rude and just ridiculous. I have decided there is no way to reason with those who know what they are doing and have covered themselves with contracts and paperwork. That is another warning…. They ask you to review services before they have provided any service! Foolishly, I filled that paperwork out…. Trusting them! They whip out that paperwork and are quick to post positive comments online when people complain. This paperwork is filled out only during the “sell” and after completing a mound of research paperwork for them… That they claim will help in their efforts to identify companies etc. An ex employee told me their is nooooo data base or list they have available. She was actually told she was spending too much time trying to help me. More time needed to be spent getting people in the door to sign these contracts. (She left her position realizing she was working for a crook) I have received maybe 6 leads in a total of 5 months… none of which even close to what I was looking for. Still unemployed and they have taken money that I could have used to pay bills while doing my own search! The primary if this company is so arrogant and rude. I’m hoping karma catches up with him sooner than later. When I have located a position I will be posting the companies name and it’s primaries… Too warn others!

    • Thank you very much for sharing this information. “THE” Career Builders just called me this morning and I have an appointment with them next Monday. I am an immigrant and only move to the US 3.5 years. I do not have too much confidence because of language and culture barrier. I guess I am an perfect victim for them. I just canceled this appointment. Thanks again for this valuable info. I really appreciate that. Jennifer

  16. @Duped in Dallas: I suggest you take your story to your state department of consumer affairs, or whatever agency oversees businesses in Texas. My guess is you will not be the first to report on this company. You might also consider filing in small claims court, depending on what the maximum claim is. (You would probably file separately.) You and your mother could also hire an attorney on contingency. (That is, the attorney gets paid only if he recovers money for you.)

    The Better Business Bureau is, in my opinion, totally useless. My own experience with BBB when I reported a contractor was ridiculous — they don’t care how a business responds to a complaint from a consumer, only that the business files something, anything. Then BBB considers the matter properly resolved.

    Stories like yours make me sick. But doing nothing doesn’t accomplish anything. Start with your state agencies, and your state attorney general’s office. In Chicago, the AG busted a series of related “firms” like this. The more evidence the public provides, the stronger the case.

    I wish you the best in your job searches.

  17. Thank you for your advice! I will follow up as you suggested after gaining employment.

    To make matters worse the attorney who represents this company happens to have graduated with me from high school! It was a large school and I did not know him.

    I find it interesting he has legally changed his last name. Perhaps he does not want people to know he is related to the primary associated with this firm? I am also a bit curious as to how an attorney would be able to maintain a decent reputation in such a large city if he is knowingly representing a company who is obviously misleading people? After all, I am sure he is responsible for creating the contracts and ensuring customers fill out satisfaction forms at the beginning of the process to be used to cover themselves later down the line.

    After expressing my opinions about the service that was being provided to the primary, his brother (the attorney), suddenly started “friending” my real friends on Facebook and requesting connections with former classmates with whom I already had connections with on LinkedIn. This has forced me to completely deactivate Facebook and close my connections and groups on LinkedIn.

    To the teachers out there… I didn’t proof read my previous post. I was posting from my iPhone. :)

    Thank you again for your advice. I can only hope others find your website before signing with crooks like this. I am aware there are great counselors out there and legit companies who could have helped. Too bad I did not come across someone legit before dealing with crooks.

    Thanks for your response!

  18. Thanks for revealing something I find absolutely sickening. Particularly disturbing was the racist attempt to scam immigrants. When the guy essentially said “buy our service or spend your life working at 7-11 and driving a cab,” my jaw dropped.

    This video should be required viewing for every frustrated job hunter. Keep up the great work. If your insights save just one person from feeding the coffers of these lowlifes, it will have been well worth the effort.

  19. @Thassos: Thanks. The race card was played again and again in that sales pitch. These were well-educated, sophisticated people that got scammed. The message is, people become so desperate when job hunting that they will believe things they’d never believe otherwise. They really want to think someone will get them a job if they just pay for the service. Job hunting has become such a painful task that people will believe anything — no matter where they’re from. And there’s always a scammer ready to capitalize on that.

  20. Rodneys By Bay as recommended in the article is an obsolete URL, sorry)

    Doing your homework and confirming the previous client list is essential!

  21. @Event Staffing: Rodney’s is indeed no longer; I’ve updated the link and information. Thanks for the tip.

  22. Here’s another scam. A personnel Consultancy agency posts a job description, you submit your resume and they call you in for the interview only to tell you don’t have a certain background for the job and after they demand some money for fixing you for a particular job….

  23. @Alice: That’s a common scam that several readers have tipped me off to. These are not personnel consultancies. They’re “career management firms” that post fake job ads to lure you in, then attempt to sell you “help” landing a job. The ad is a fraud. And so are these firms. They don’t help you land a job.

  24. Amazing! This blog site looks just like my old one! It’s on a very different topic but it has pretty much the same website framework and elegance. Great selection of colors!|

  25. There is a man in Weatherford, TX that is scamming people by taking $2500 for his “services” of finding a job or interviewing skills. There is no telling how many people he has taken money from but haven’t reported it and he hasn’t being prosecuted yet. I would certainly take part in a lawsuit against him to stop him and put him out of business because I too was ripped off.