I’ve been getting more queries than usual lately about “executive career management” firms. No surprise. There are lots more executives out of work.

These are the firms that offer to provide top-level consulting to top-level executives who need professional help finding a job. One of these outfits quotes Tiger Woods to make its pitch: “Professionals hire a manager to increase their chances of winning, amateurs don’t.”

In the career world, we can put it more accurately this way: “Professionals use their skills to get hired. Amateurs get scammed.”

The psychological underpinnings of the Tiger Woods pitch are classic. The message is, if you’re not paying for help, you’re an amateur. You’re not an amateur, are you? Of course not. Pay up.

This racket has not changed a bit. In The Executive Marketing Racket: How I dropped ten grand down a hole, a CFO tells how he got burned when he signed up with one of these outfits. Since I published this expose written by someone who lived it, Ask The Headhunter has turned into the place “the burned” turn to tell their tales. Executives and their spouses have shared demoralizing and depressing stories of getting taken for tens of thousands of dollars — at a time in their lives when they need that money to survive while they get re-situated.

There are good career counselors and coaches out there. But none of them go by the moniker “Executive Career Manager.” It’s the first sign of a crook. Another sign: The “firm” in question claims that it is an executive search firm and a career management firm. In other words, companies pay them to fill positions, and people like you pay them for jobs. Come on. No self-respecting headhunting firm does that. The ones who turn to selling “executive career management” are failed headhunters.

There is no one out there that you can hire to get you a job. Headhunters don’t do it; career counselors don’t do it; and career coaches don’t do it. Best case, you’ll get advice. The honest practitioners don’t promise a job. You will find the honest practitioners through their satisfied clients. And I don’t mean you ought to ask a coach or counselor for references you can call. I mean, find people who got good help from good practitioners — and ask them who they used. That’s who to go to, if you really want someone to advise you.

But job hunting is something you should do for yourself. If you can’t, you probably don’t deserve to be hired. Think about it: What good are you to a company that needs a job done, if you can’t do this job for yourself? That’s what Ask The Headhunter is all about. Try it before you relinquish your future to someone else. (No, I’m not trying to sell you a book. You can get the book for free at your library. And virtually everything else on Ask The Headhunter is free, too.)

Sorry if you’ve been job hunting a long time or if you’re very down on your luck. But paying someone to find you a job is not the answer. Because no one can guarantee you a job. Unless you believe what you read in an advertisement.

  1. Well said, again, Nick!

    And, as a career counselor and long-time facilitator of monthly ExecuNet Networking meetings in the NY tri-state area, I would suggest one additional important criteria that will help a job seeker distinguish the good career counselors/coaches from the “crooks”: If you are approached by the career management company, chances are they are anxious to take advantage of you, and take your money!

  2. The spouse of a colleague was taken in by one of these firms after the grant ran out on his grant-funded position at an area university. After spending close to ten grand with very limited results, he dumped the clowns and, on his very own, found a comparable job with a local government agency. This particular outfit bills themselves as “Executive Career Search Experts” on their web site.

    Before I read Nick’s book, I talked to them up to the point they asked for $2500.

  3. Nick,

    Thanks for your practical advise. Actually, Kimberly Schneiderman in NY referenced me via email to your webpage.

    I, too, hired an Executive Career Search Expert after searching fruitlessly on my own for 2 years. Three years and over $5k later, I have yet to receive a single interview as a result of their help (although they told me before I signed on the dotted line that I could expect a job within 90 days that paid $89k or higher with a $25k signing bonus!)

    So, for 5 years I have been without a full-time job! I cannot comprehend how I could have so many degrees and certifications; a 100% success record of turning around four nose-diving companies into debt-free, renovated, expanded, growing, and cash-flowing corporations; have served on the National Executive Board of an association that oversaw 1/4 million people; and led as a VP for 9 years over a region from NC into the Caribbean and not even have a job offer on the table!

    In this economy of seeing corporations, businesses, and companies going out of business (and often due to poor leadership choices or exhorbitant salary demands of execs), I would think that my 25 year track record of bringing viability to near bankrupted businesses would put me in demand!

    Oh well……I am just glad for a P-T job as a university prof and Area Chair of a department.

    I will look forward to your advice and email postings. Thanks!


  4. Another great article, Nick. As in any industry, a few bad apples can taint the entire barrel.

    I disagree, though, with this comment: But job hunting is something you should do for yourself. If you can’t, you probably don’t deserve to be hired.

    My finance execs understand numbers and many are quite savvy around how numbers work with operations. Most do not understand how to position and market themselves, and they come to me because they recognize that fact.
    My point is that people are gifted in different ways. That makes them an excellent choice for the job they are being hired to do, but not necessarily able to function in a role they do not understand how to do or how to do effectively.

    Cindy Kraft, the CFO-Coach

  5. Thanks for all your good thoughts, Nick. I am a career consultant and I do refer my clients to your web site.
    I am wondering if you or anyone else has worked with jobbait.com I have talked some with Mark Hovind and he is very determined…

  6. I’ve sometimes wished there was a service that could be launched where you would pay someone to land you a job.

    It’d be arranged similar to affiliate marketing on the Internet. The way that usually works is clicking on a link to buy something gives the affiliate a cut of the purchase for leading you there.

    I’ve always been a big fan of delegation, and one thing I’d love to delegate is the whole prospecting / filtering portion of job hunting. Unfortunately, I haven’t found exactly how to ensure that the person doing that sifting really has your best interests at heart or just wants to make a quick buck off you, esp. in your time of desperation (when you’ve switched from WANT a job to NEED a job.)

  7. @Cindy: Most do not understand how to position and market themselves, and they come to me because they recognize that fact.

    I agree partially with this, especially since I switched careers from engineering to marketing. I used to not understand what people meant by “If you want to get a job, you have to market yourself.” Now that I’ve done marketing, I actually prefer that 1 of its 4P’s called “Promotions.” You have to let people know you’re out there.

    Where I don’t agree, however, is this notion that only certain people can sell. We’re all sellers. Those CFO finance guys who say everything is about numbers are doing a sales job. Convincing my lover to go to a certain restaurant over another is a sales job. Getting a job is a sales job. Buying into my Point of View is a sales job.

    Have I sold you?

  8. I know this is belated/older posting, but want to say Thank You for having something on your site that can be a warning to job seekers!

    My husband responded to one of these predatory search firms, and I was skeptical. It took a fair amount of effort between searching and correlating information that I could find on Google, Technorati, the Better Business Bureau, etc. before I determined home many differently named “search firms” had been run by the same people out of the same office building. That’s one way to clean up your Google Trail or BBB negatives — change your business name! Frequently!

    I’d mention the name of the firm, but they are in the habit – somewhat famously in the blogosphere – for suing parties who “diss” them online – and heaven help anyone who signed a contract with them, agreeing to pay damages if they later complain on any public forum.

    Oh, and it would appear that the scammers are getting sufficiently sophisticated that they will have a few contacts, maybe an interview and some questionnaire/self assessments for you to fill out, before they actually tell you that their services come at a hefty fee to the *candidate*. (It’s about first getting someone to psychologically “buy in”, maybe even feel guilty about “how much effort” the recruiter “has already put in”.)I know that my husband was initially told that there would be no fee to the job seeker.

  9. Nick — While I agree that many of the “Executive Search Experts” out there are scammers, I DO NOT agree that “finding a job is something you should do on your own.” The very thing that makes executives good executives makes them really bad job seekers, and many of them DO need a great deal of help. The solution is to find a good Transition Coach who will be honest that WE DON’T FIND PEOPLE JOBS. This is posted in capital letters in my office. What I do,however, is assist executives with my network in the Colorado Front Range to identify the top positions, get in past H.R., interview well, and negotiate well. I NEVER promise anyone a job in a specific period of time, nor a job at all. And as for headhunters…do you tell them that they’re just your inventory? That you only have about 2% of the jobs that exist out there? That a headhunter fee can run 35% or more of their salary and make the client company less likely to hire them? Or that headhunters often present candidates that have little chance of getting hired to make their main candidate look good? Let’s be fully disclosive here of the realities of headhunters, too.

  10. What can you tell me about ECPI.Careers? Real? Not Real?

    • Sorry, Stan – never heard of them. I’d ask them for three references, and be a bit skeptical. Make sure they’re real, not confederates of the firm. Good luck.

  11. Seems one of the problems with executive career management firms is the fact that they are open to the general public.After all, the reason Harvard Business School and other top-ranked educational institutions in placing graduates is because their career services is, obviously, limited to those who have been admitted, and recruiters are dealing with a very select group. Also, one does hear of individuals (usually a CEO’s nephew or niece) Well, sure it’s possible that a career coach, being human, may have a relative who’s a CEO and could have the latter create jobs as a favor to clients,

    • @Dick: There’s a huge difference between a career coach who charges you by the hour and an “executive career management firm.” With the coach, you have a stop-loss built in. A good coach promises nothing but advice — never a job. The latter wants a lump-sum payment up front and guarantees you nothing, but strongly implies it’s going to get you a job. That’s what makes the latter a scam almost every time. There is no comparison between HBS and a career management firm. HBS delivers an education and a degree. The c-m firm delivers only an education, which you realize only after you realize you’ve been duped.