In the May 7, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter gets fed up having to pay to “access” jobs online:

I have been job hunting for three weeks now and each time I come across a job that I would like to apply for, I get directed to a website that demands payment. Can you comment on this in your next newsletter or blog? I want to know how to get around it if possible.

Nick’s Reply

Websites that demand payment for jobs should deliver jobs and paychecks before they bill for sf-off-2ervices — or they should F off.

The only people who charge to match a person to a job are headhunters, and headhunters (at least the real ones) charge only the employer. They never charge job hunters. And they charge only if they actually fill the job. That is, no match, no dough.

Who is charging you for jobs?

If you can find me a website that charges money and guarantees you a job, I’d like to see it. Otherwise, it’s important to understand what you’re paying for, because there’s an entire industry that will take your money (and your personal information, which is worth money) and guarantee you only one thing: database records.

Let’s consider what you’re encountering. If we Google “headhunter,” we get two paid results at the top of the page: One for TheLadders and one for Neither is a headhunting company, so there are no guarantees about putting people into jobs. These are job boards that want lots of personal information before they will even show you a job description. (How many employers demand all your personal information before showing you a real job? And what’s up with Google? TheLadders and Monster are headhunters? Give us an F-ing break, Google!)

TheLadders (which is being sued for running multiple scams) wants money for access to jobs.

When you click on the result, Monster thinks you’re an employer and wants money to post a job.

Another result is CareerBuilder which, when you sign up, tries to sell you education at The Art Institutes — before it shows you any jobs. If you want to “make sure employers see your resume,” CareerBuilder wants you to pay for an “upgrade.” Pay enough, and you’ll “triple the number of companies who see your resume posting.” (Are you feeling stupid enough yet? I wonder if those sucker HR executives feel stupid enough yet — after paying for resume searches and getting your resume “FIRST” because you paid to “stand out.”)

You think the much-ballyhooed LinkedIn is any better? Like CareerBuilder, LinkedIn wants hard cash up front to to bump your resume to the top of the database. (Say what? Well, it works just like CareerBuilder, because now LinkedIn is just another job board.)

None of these job boards will guarantee you a job (or, if you are an employer, a new hire) if you pay them.

So here’s my challenge to all the job boards:

TheLadders,, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and every other “jobs” service that wants money up front should bill the customer only after the customer starts the job and gets their first paycheck. Job first, pay later.

Otherwise, they should all F off. Because in today’s world, access to databases with jobs in them is worthless. If you pay for access to jobs, you’re a sucker.

So let’s get back to your question:

How can you get around fees for access to jobs?

Here’s the first answer: Deal only with employers. They are the only guys with jobs and the only guys that decide who gets one. (Not even personnel jockeys, or “Human Resources people,” qualify. They don’t decide who gets hired, either, unless the job is in HR.)

Here’s the second answer: Don’t give your personal information to anyone in exchange for “access” to job listings, because your personal information is worth money. Why do you think they want it? They sell it. (Don’t understand what that means? Most of the “job boards” aren’t even job boards. They’re “lead generation” magnets that use phony job listings as bait to get your contact information, Dopey! Then they sell it to anybody willing to pay for it.)

If someone or some website offers to connect you directly to an employer without a fee and without asking for any personal information, well, go for it. Just make sure there’s no catch.

Headhunters can take you to a job, because an employer will pay them for the match. There’s no cost to you. First, learn How to Judge A Headhunter. But remember: Headhunters find people, not jobs. So don’t chase headhunters.

Likewise, when an employer shows you a job on its own website, there’s no cost to you. As soon as somebody asks you for money for access to jobs, you’re being scrubbed up for an unnatural act. Run.

Have you ever used a jobs service that doesn’t ask for money or personal information? (Newspaper want ads are an example — they lead you directly to the employer.) Should you ever pay for a job? Is America’s job market F-ed up, or what?

: :

  1. There’s one here in Japan that’s “pay-to-play” called Bizreach. (Sorry, in Japanese only) Same scam, different country.
    It ain’t headhunting.

  2. I’ve just applied to a position a friend directed me to that was listed on, a specialized site for computer programmers who use the perl language.

    No info at all required to get to the listings. I’ve sent in my resume to the job he recommended at a firm that friend’s of his have worked at.

    I’ve found that the only job listing sites that don’t see to want any info about you before giving you the listings and letting you apply for jobs are ones associated with various different Free/Open Source Software. Even though, for example, nearly all of the development time put into linux and perl is paid for by large corporations, the software itself is still open and free. Its kind of like open field pasture grazing back in the day in Europe: they are competitors, but are working on something that benefits them all equally.

    So those technologies are non-commercial, and their (admittedly small-ish) job listing boards are likewise. We’ll see if anything comes of it. Since I know of at least a handful of people who have had luck with them, I’m not holding my breath but I’m giving them a whirl.

  3. Update your Monster information, guaranteed you will get a job offer!!!!

    You, Mr. or Ms. Developer, System Admin, IT Pro or Project Manager, will be offered a straight commission position with an insurance company using tired old lists and cold-calling people who are sick to death of insurance companies old-calling them.

    No disrespect intended to legitimate sales opportunities ($100,000+ first year), but anyone who reads my Project Manager resume and thinks they should offer me an entry level cold-calling gig is either not conversant with English as a written language, or has grand delusions about himself and his company.

  4. Helllo Nick. This artical is interesting. It seems that becoming a true headhunter from the scratch would be very difficult, right?

  5. Amen, to that Nick.
    Even the illustrious “” seems to have fallen prey to many of the same problems as the others. Put in a term like photographers, and not only do you get ads, but opportunities that are nowhere near a skill set match.

    Thanks for including Career Builder, but what about Execunet?
    I think they fall in the same category. A company who’s tag line for the gullible “Connecting leaders since 1988” makes you think they have Internet credibility. Note: the World Wide Web was not even proposed until 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN.

    As a job seeker, I have been using your technique of get to know and help people you want to work with, and that has far greater potential.

  6. I have to admit – I am a “sucker”. I paid for one month on The Ladders thinking they would send me “verified” jobs in my field. My desperation got the best of me. Now I have the pleasure of viewing scam mail from “job assistance” sites from all over the country. In the job market the old cliche “something for nothing” is turned on its head. With job boards it’s “nothing for something”.

  7. I do like the job search engine It only searches positions posted on company web sites. No work at home scams, no postings that look like jobs but are really from proprietary colleges wanting to sell you education, and it is as fresh as the company sites it draws from.

  8. Wow! You are really fired up, Nick! Thanks for the post. Your article taught me to take a step back and see if something seems right, if it doesn’t then, buyer beware! Again, thanks for a great post.

  9. @Michael: If you want to look into becoming a headhunter, this might get you started:

  10. @Chris Walker: I agree. The only search engine of its size that I like is It’s a jobs search engine, not a job board. It has no database of jobs. Like Google, it returns results to your search and takes you immediately to the employer’s own job postings on its own site. The added benefit – you have to fill out the employer’s own application. Might not seem convenient to make you do that for each employer, but filling out one app on a job board for all employers is stupid and encourages stupid job search behavior. LinkUp makes you think about what’s worth applying for. Thanks for bringing up LinkUp, Chris!

  11. @RN: Yah, I thought about it for a minute, then decided to go ahead and make this week’s edition of the newsletter and the blog “The F-ing Edition.” It was time to say it. Glad you like it. :-)

  12. A QUESTION for all here on the blog:

    What do you think of the various “premium” services the job boards want to sell you? I’ve looked them over, and all I can wonder is, is this stuff legal?

    I’ll cover one or two of these offers in an upcoming editon. But I’d like to know whether you’ve scratched your heads when you see these.

    What kinds of “premium” offers have you seen, and what do you think of them?

  13. @Nick

    To answer your question: Nothing.

    What I really want to do is talk to the hiring manager/team I would be working with to determine if I would be a good fit or not. I don’t want to talk to (most) HR staff/Recruiters/HH’s because they haven’t the slightest clue.

    What the job boards generally are offering is just a lot of fluff that doesn’t get me that meeting.

    What I would really love is an agent though. Someone good at sales that has a network that can sell my skills and put me in front of the decision maker. And they would only get paid if I get the job.

  14. Every state has an “Automated Labor Exchange”. This is usually a pretty good service and provides a job board of locally vetted employers with verified job openings. Each state runs their own version, so the quality is often spotty from state to state. If you work in a state where their State Employment Service is driving their workforce system you should have good results.

    Here is a URL that links to all the states.

    Once again, your milage may vary. Many of these states overemphasise retraining at the expense of job search. Some of the sites are very good at higher paid positions, some – not so much. It is well worth checking them out.

  15. I once got a temp job because I was found on Monster. I remember this because I had to point out that I was already in the temp agency’s system.

  16. Kenatious.
    The last time I checked our MD’s version of the labor exchange, it emphasized *labor*. There were no office type jobs listed.

    As far as job boards. I have had good experiences in finding contract gigs via
    One caveat == it’s been about 6 years since I last used it so I can’t vouch for its helpfulness in the present.

    It was different than the Monster (etc.) boards in that it targeted tech professionals. I had recruiters contact me that were surprisingly on point. Too often the general job boards lead to various sales and “marketing” (aka cold sales NOT real marketing) job contacts overflowing your email.

  17. There at many industry-specific job boards that are usually part of and industry organization’s web site, such as the job board on the Washington State Biomedical Association’s site, or the one on the AAMI website. Similar to the one noted above for PERL developers.

    These sites are usually legit because, like linkup, they send you directly to the employer’s application page.

    As the postings are on an industry organization’s website, the chances are very good that they are legit, since the organization has a reputation to maintain.

    What I find most useful about those industry-specific job boards is that you can see some well-written postings that give you a good introduction as to what employers mean when they say they are looking for a “QA Associate,” for example.

    Also – and those who have been following the advice to look for companies, not jobs, already know this – the industry websites give you good introductions to the companies in the market segment and geographical location that you should be researching, and even names of people you should be learning to network with.

    Speaking of networking, how about all those events listed on the organization web sites? And the trainings and seminars? Great places to learn how to “talk shop” and who to talk it with.

    How To Say It(TM): “Hi there, Mr. or Ms. Panelist! I really enjoyed your talk about ‘Widgetizing Unobtainum Production for Optimal Outputs’! I’d like to buy you a coffee and talk about how you reached your conclusions and what you think is the next phase for the Unobtanium industry.”

  18. Dear Nick,

    Rather than spending any more time looking for the needle in the haystack of “premium” offers that are worth anything, why not help us out with more guidance in how to network honestly and present ourselves as people that others would want to network with?

    I believe that the biggest obstacle preventing people form doing more networking is the fear of appearing foolish.

    Suggestions you have on how to help us not appear foolish when doing our networking would be greatly appreciated, I believe.



  19. I paused for a moment when I read the words “newspaper ads” because I’ve actually found myself wishing there were more jobs published there, because they are direct leads to employers.

    I live in a large southern city where several large employers laid off tens of thousands of people over the last 6-7 years. Now the major job boards are blowing up with openings as these companies seek to rehire the skills they let go of. A lot of the knowledge and skillset they need is sitting right out in the local job market, but between overworked recruiters, overweighted applicant tracking systems and turnover inside, those of us who once worked for these companies, who might like to go back, will never be able to make contact with a hiring manager, too few of whom are going back through their own databases looking for the talent they lost. It costs so much less to retrain a former employee than a new one, and even if they don’t come back,former employees often lead you to your next great one through referral. But to get there you’d have to open up a dialog. And that’s not happening. If it were we might not be seeing the crap we are seeing on job boards and LinkedIn.

  20. As you know, I think “less than zero” about the premium services. The only service I’d consider paying for is up to 15% to the agent who brings me the right deal.

    If you (as an agent) want to (a) review my material and (b) can get me signed to a no-cut contract where your end is $187,500 over the next five years, I’m willing to talk.

    Until then, keep your premium sales pitch to yourself.

  21. @L.T.

    As I said, that would be a good idea. Unless a “premium service” is going to lead me to a job 100% of the time, it is a waste of money.

    I would be more than happy to pay someone who greases everything for me and handles salary negotiation.

  22. @Michael: Industry and professional associations tend to have great listings. I know FENG very well–Financial Executives Networking Group. Their lists are scrubbed daily and watched over by a hawk. Including jobs and members. And you’re right: the collateral info provided in those publications are priceless if you use them. It’s all in How You Say It(TM). :-)

    My question to all about the “premium services” offered by job boards wasn’t an attempt to identify legit ones. I don’t think there are any. It’s to take the covers off all the nonsense so we can see the shameless hawking of useless “services.”

    Thanks for the suggestion about how to network — I’ll try to do more columns about that.

  23. @L.T.: What agents are you addressing, Bub? :-) If you find one that’s legit, I’ll do a column about him or her!

  24. @Nick The only agents worth discussing are the ones who have proven themselves by getting contracts for pro athletes for a few years. No one else has that kind of track. And none of them have the stomach for dealing with the IT / PM hiring process (or HR for that matter).

    It would be nice to see say Rich Paul (LeBron James’ agent) do a study of industry hiring practices and give advice on how to get a mega deal.

  25. I’m also irritated over the fluff I see on LinkedIn. That’s not what I signed up for. I’m out of a job and the last thing I need is to dole out money aimlessly. Just because someone views your profile doesn’t mean they are going to hire you. Why pay for that? Even the wiki page on LinkedIn can cause dizziness when trying to comprehend it.

  26. Nick,
    Many of the best headhunters are retained or engaged when doing search work. So, they are not paid just when a candidate accepts a job – it depends on the agreement laid out in the beginning of the project.

    I find it interesting how often you dog headhunters, yet you use the word “headhunter” in every product you are trying to sell.

  27. Nancy: Relatively few search assignments are retained, but your point is well taken. A retained search may yield no hire, but the fee is still earned and paid. I think that’s why there are virtually no retained searches at levels lower than executive.

    I dog headhunters and I dog HR folks. I use the word headhunter in my products because I’ve never worked in HR.

  28. @J.C.

    Take a look at The Recruiter Honeypot:

    There is also a follow up:

    I consider LinkedIn to be no better than the job boards these days.

  29. Nick- First, thank you for publishing your weekly job search Q&A. I do not miss a post and have always learned something about the headhunting and job search industry.Your direct no BS style is refreshing,especially this week.To answer your question, the best NO FEE job board I use is run by my state of Minnesota.
    You can choose to search by criteria and/or upload your resume and all job posting include the companies website.
    Keep Calm and Carry On. Best Regards. Joe

  30. ” If we Google ‘headhunter’, we get two paid results at the top of the page: One for TheLadders and one for[…]TheLadders and Monster are headhunters? Give us an F-ing break, Google!”

    The key word here is the ‘paid’ results. Since these companies pay to appear with the ‘headhunter’ keyword, it’s not up to Google to refuse it (and not in its interests either). This is all honest, since the results are showed as paid ones.

  31. Sorry, Andreas, but Google letting TheLadders and Monster commandeer keywords like “headhunter” to market online job listings is a scam. It’s misleading. It’s a cop-out and a sell-out. How would you feel if you did a search on Google for “gourmet restaurant” and got results for dog food, just because some enterprising dog food company decides your search probably means you have a hungry dog, too?

    What’s honest about it?

  32. “I have to admit – I am a “sucker”. I paid for one month ”

    Jarius – for one month fee you got a lifetime of education on this topic . You arent a sucker, you put yourself out there to warn many others of this – when you do this, it pays back…..thanks for your frank post.

  33. @VP Sales: Thanks for posting that. When one contributor to this community puts out some information that’s helpful to others, then I feel like I’ve done a good job getting people together to talk about these issues. You made my day :-). Lots of comments on this blog do that – it’s a great community of very smart people.

  34. Nick –
    There are lots of searches that are engaged below the executive level. Myself and many peers work exclusively this way. There is a fee paid to initiate the project and conduct the research, to make sure the search is done correctly and it’s not just a rush of recruiters throwing junk against the wall. It’s also a way to make sure the company is serious about hiring. The balance of the fee is then paid at the conclusion of the project.

  35. Agree on LinkedIn: It is chock full of articles that are just fluff, almost a combined parody of self-help books and “post-industrial” funky businesses where people just do something creative. It totally disregards that most people actually have to go to real work places to do real jobs.

    LinkedIn is best treated like a professional Facebook: A way to keep in touch, get contacts, put your CV on the net – but use it carefully. If you put a light out in the dark night, many strange creatures come flying.

  36. @Nancy: There are hybrid models that blend aspects of retained and contingency search. And as you point out, the objective is to make sure everyone is holding up their end of a project, rather than wasting time.

  37. @Karsten: I’ve been saying that LinkedIn has turned into a job board and squandered its cred. Job boards publish a lot of crap masquerading as “content” in an effort to appear relevant. Linked is now in the habit of the doing the same. The reason is simple: LinkedIn has sold out for fast bucks, and so far it’s working. For employers, Linked has become “the next job board.” HR needs somewhere to direct its cash stash without really having to work at recruiting. I think Linked will reveal the very same weaknesses that have doomed the job boards.

  38. So far, I’ve resisted joining LinkedIn. Is it still worth joining, and if one does, what’s the best way to make use of it?

  39. @Jane,
    I think it is still worth it to be in LinkedIn. I used it to connect to my colleagues from my jobs. Its a way to keep in touch with them and send greetings when some event in their career happens.

    I also use it when I am searching for a job to find out more about the company or the people there. I’ve gotten some good conversations and introductions using LinkedIn.

    My caveats are that I only connect with people I know and whom I like. I only help people I know or I help people who are introduced by people I know. I try to cast a wide net among my colleagues, but a net that includes people I respect. I try to keep LinkedIn on a personal level. I don’t tend to join many groups.

    I also almost never find a in box message that is useful, so I just reply “inappropriate”. It’s quick that way.

  40. Recently I attended a free seminar where two staff members from gave instructions as to use their job board. The first thing they said was “don’t use this site for looking for job because it goes into a “black hole”. You are better off networking through your own contacts for a job! Wow, if her company only knew what she had just said!

    I had to chuckle to myself. How true her words were! The only jobs I had gotten in the past were through the newspaper WANT ADS or networking with other people from organizations that I had joined.

    Thanks everyone for your insight and Nick, thanks for making me smile!

  41. @Lucille

    Thank you. That has given me something useful to think about.

  42. Nick, this is so “dead on”!