TheLadders: A lipstick pig’s death rattle?

TheLadders just keeps rooting around in its pen for scraps of executive job-board revenue. But this looks like a death rattle. There’s all the posturing:

The gimmicks have run out, and this pig still don’t hunt.

But today TheLadders CEO Marc Cenedella announced a new source of funding for his beleagured operation on CNBC’s Sqawk on The Street: Guaranteed job offers. (I thought Simon Hobbes was gonna pop a vein in his neck, his head was spinning back and forth so hard in disbelief.)

Yes: Guaranteed job offers. For $2,495, Marc Cenedella will get you a job offer (never mind for how much or for what job) within six months, or refund your money. Oh, you have to qualify for the service — TheLadders can’t do this for just anyone. But 90% of the suckers who sign up should get their jobs, says Cenedella.

This is the salve Cenedella offers to last year’s suckers. The ones that have been waiting for a “$100k+ job” after handing over $35/month for the past… how many months?

For years, TheLadders has been charging desperate rubes $35/month for access to a data dump that customers and employers alike complain is corrupted with jobs scraped from unwilling employers’ websites, jobs that pay far less than the promised “$100k+,” and long-defunct positions that employers and recruiters say never paid $100k to begin with.

You can read Cenedella’s announcement in his daily missive, titled “A job offer. Guaranteed. Or your money back. Introducting  ‘Signature’.Or, you can get the real story by skimming over a few choice comments from his customers, which are posted on the same blog.

One commenter nails what’s happening: Cenedella is acknowledging that his $35 service doesn’t perform as promised.

This new program completely invalidates “The Ladders”. It implies that regular users who were spending $35 a month had no realistic expectation of finding a job. As others have pointed out, paying $2,500 upfront for the privilege of maybe finding a job within 6 months is an absurd proposal, from a business investment point of view. If The Ladders actually did as advertised, there would be no need for Signature. This seems like a clear, opportunistic money-grab aimed at desperate, out of work people. It is very disappointing. — Seemanabe3

What does Cenedella expect his $35/month customers to do? Wait patiently while TheLadders’ staff “curates” jobs for the new high rollers?

Next, another customer suggests a double-or-nothing counter-offer:

Are you ready? I’d gladly pay $5,000, doubling your money, if the guarantee stood AND the fee is billable after the first paycheck from the new employer. Feel free to contact me at cfc3803 yahoo .com. — cfc3803

Cenedella won’t take that deal. You should pay up front, he says, because that will motivate you: “Turns out a financial commitment from the professional is highly correlated with their commitment to the program, which is highly correlated to their success.” Which in turn is highly correlated to cashflow for TheLadders while you sweat it out for six months. (You could keep working on that $35/month project in the meantime… that might work, too.)

Then one of Marc’s customers slaps him upside the head, revealing that Cenedella could use a refresher course in Harvard math:

With a so called “90% success rate”, you should not have any problems billing when the job is accepted instead of up front. And since you would supposedly refund the unsuccessful 10%, you have nothing to lose. Only scammers charge up front! — Jerry

Marc Cenedella’s problem is that he likes to pretend he’s operating a headhunting firm that works for the job hunter rather than for the employer. But he doesn’t want to charge like headhunters do — upon a successful placement. He wants the fee up front. But no worries, he’ll give it back to you later if he doesn’t get you a job offer. He’s just gonna hold that $2,495 for your benefit.

Ask The Headhunter regular Larry Kaplan is a career coach. Larry has a better idea, and I agree:

I’d spend the $2,500 on taking 50 networking connections out to a nice lunch during that 6 months — I’d get a lot more out of it.

Some quick math on Cenedella’s new program suggests that for $2,495 Cenedella will give you 16 phonecalls with one of his crack counselors during that six months. Under Kaplan’s plan, for $2,495 you can do 32 generous lunches with people who might be able to really help you. (In both scenarios, as Cenedella puts it, you must make a “commitment to the program.” In Larry’s scenario, your own lunch is included!)

If Cenedella could deliver on what he’s offering, everyone earning $50,000 and up would be employed today, because they’d gladly fork over $2,500 for a guaranteed job. And Cenedella would have competitors on every street corner, selling jobs.

But you’ve never seen that, have you? There’s a reason.

A guaranteed job for money has always been the lead-turned-to-gold alchemy of the career industry. Even the most brazen racketeers don’t attempt to sell that bill of goods to desperate job hunters.

Except Marc Cenedella. He’s already drained the snake oil tank and emptied the pockets of legions of hopeful “subscribers” who now cry fraud. Now he’s cranking up the heat.

What you’re hearing is not the promise of job offers. What you’re hearing is the desperate death rattle of a career scheme cooked up by the founders of HotJobs a decade ago.

Take a pig — a churn ’em and burn ’em job board called HotJobs. Slap some $100k lipstick on it. Let the press and the media ogle and kiss up to it as the hottest idea in the biz… and you’ve got a pig waiting to be called to breakfast at the big sty in the sky. It seems pretty clear TheLadders is in deep trouble. Or Cenedella wouldn’t be guaranteeing jobs.

No matter how long I work in this business, I still shake my head when I see $100k+ suckers get turned into bacon. Scrub ’em up, get ’em ready.


Degree Inflation: Will it blow up in your face?

In the June 28, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager who has no college degree wonders how crucial a degree is, and asks whether it’s worth stretching the truth on the resume:

In the case of a successful manager, how important is a college degree to a headhunter? I don’t have a degree. With so much emphasis on education nowadays, should I fabricate the truth on my resume or completely eliminate the education section entirely? If I were to stretch the truth and include a degree on my resume, how often at my level of achievement does a search firm investigate?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Hmmm. I’m really worried about you. Just what kind of achievement is it to lie about your credentials? Can a successful manager believe it’s smart to even consider fabricating a degree?

Don’t lie and don’t stretch the truth. There’s an entire background-checking industry ready to expose you. Search firms investigate, but you don’t know how far, and they’re not going to tell you. If you lie about a degree, you will probably get caught. It could cost you an offer. Worse, because some of these background checks take time, the truth might not turn up until after you’ve been hired—then you’ll lose your new job.

If you think it’s bad to get caught by your employer, realize that once the headhunter finds out you lied, your name will be mud all over your industry.

Even white lies on your resume can blow up in your face. People might say, “Aw, everybody does it. Companies expect some inflation in a resume.” What do you want to bet? Your career? Your reputation? Let me remind you: Your integrity is everything. Protect it.

Now for the good news… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week, subscribe to the free newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)

You will of course encounter headhunters who stick to the party line. If the client says it wants a degree, the headhunter will skip candidates that lack one. This is where the truly good headhunters will surface. They will guide and advise their client, and if it’s possible, they will help the client get past the lack of a degree to get to a good candidate that can do the job well. If you’re dealing with a headhunter who refuses to take you to the next step, it will buy you nothing to argue. Unless you have an inside track to the hiring manager, let it go. Move on to the next opportunity.

I discuss ways to effectively portray your value to a headhunter in How to Work With Headhunters. If you’re changing careers, How Can I Change Careers? teaches how to overcome obstacles—like, “You’ve never done this sort of work before!”

In the end, it’s up to you to have a compelling story to tell about how the employer will benefit from hiring you. The headhunter won’t figure it out for herself. You have to explain it.

If in the final analysis the lack of a degree continues to pose a problem, then get one. With all the good distance-learning schools out there nowadays, you will likely be able to skip some courses by testing out of them. Your experience will count for a lot toward the degree. Check with your state’s department of education for a list of accredited distance schools.

Everyone fudges a bit on their resume. It’s like stealing hotel towels. It’s expected.


Tell me where you think the line is, and whether inflating your college degree information is a step too far. (If you’re a manager, would it bother you?) Everyone does it, right?


How do I tell my boss I’m overworked?

In the June 21, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader worries about burnout because the boss has piled on too much work:

I’ve had more and more work piled on me until I’m a bundle of nerves and stress. I like my job a lot, and the pay is good. But, I have now inherited more work than I can handle. I’ve absorbed the workloads of two people who left. I’m only one person and can only do so much in a 16-hour day! (Isn’t it supposed to be 8 hours?) Help!

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Even people with a good work ethic must sometimes tell management, “This is too much!” This goes for top executives, for professional staffers and even for blue collar workers.

Part of your job is to tell your boss the truth: The work you do requires more manpower. As long as you accept more work, the company will continue to heap it on. It’s their fault for expecting so much, but it’s your fault for letting them think you can handle it.

Prepare a plan. Outline:

  • The work that needs to be done,
  • The rough cost of manpower and tools required to do it,
  • An estimate of the profit produced by the work,
  • The relationship between headcount and “output” (16 hours days are not allowed),
  • The work you want to cherry-pick for yourself.

Don’t tell your boss you’re having a problem.
Explain that you have “the work” organized now, and show your plan, including the requirements for additional staff. No complaints; just the facts. Don’t be afraid to do the job your way. It is your responsibility to explain what needs to be done to handle the work effectively, but not to work 16-hour days.

If you don’t deal with this now, you will probably face overwork at your next job. The sign of a good worker is dealing with the demands of the job, not taking on the functions of other workers yourself.

A caution: Some companies prefer to kill an employee with work rather than invest in doing the job right. If this describes your company, be prepared to start looking for a new one. I hope your employer is ethical. You owe it to yourself to have a job that’s reasonable.

(Note: When you get to heaven, St. Peter doesn’t give you extra points for having worked yourself to death.)

First it feels like an opportunity: Your boss seems to be offering you more authority. But it turns out to be merely more responsibility and work. What started out as a chance to prove what you could do, has turned into your boss expecting you to do more than you can possibly do. Is there a way out? Let’s talk about getting over-worked, and burning out. Can this be turned into success?


How should headhunters fit into your job search?

In the June 14, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what percentage of job-hunting time should be devoted to working with headhunters:

I’ve heard that headhunters fill less than 10% of open jobs, so one should spend no more than 10% of one’s job hunting time working with headhunters. Do you agree? Also, could you please explain the difference between contingency and retained headhunters? Thanks.

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

You should not rely on a headhunter to put you into a job any percentage of the time, because a headhunter is paid by a client to fill a particular position, not to find you a job. To put it another way, you couldn’t devote 10% of your job hunting time to “working with headhunters” even if you wanted to, because it’s not your choice to work with headhunters. They choose to work with you — so it makes no sense to plan to make headhunters part of your job search.

(For what it’s worth, surveys conducted over the past ten years suggest that headhunters and other “third party” recruiters fill only about 3% of jobs, not 10%.)

If a headhunter calls with a position that is suited to you, for a job he believes you can do exceptionally well, then there’s a chance you’ll get a job offer from the headhunter’s client. But a real headhunter is not going to “market” you to his or her clients. You may be confusing headhunters (who focus on finding a specific candidate for a specific assignment) with employment agencies (which focus on spreading your resume around to lots of employers).

(On another note, don’t confuse headhunting with what other career practitioners do: They’re not headhunters.)

When a headhunter identifies the right candidate for a client, that’s when the headhunter coaches (and helps) that candidate. Having identified the right candidate, the headhunter’s mission is to win a job offer and to complete the assignment. Otherwise, headhunters don’t spend time helping job hunters.

Retained Headhunters
When a headhunter works on retainer, the client pays a percentage (usually one third) of the fee up front, to retain the headhunter’s services. The headhunter becomes the exclusive channel to fill the job, and gets paid whether he fills the job, or whether the company hires someone who walks in the front door without the headhunter’s involvement. The next two thirds of the retainer are paid upon certain milestones. The retainer ensures the headhunter’s attention to the project, and usually buys other services for the employer (which I won’t get into here). Employers typically use retained headhunters only for the highest-level positions.

Contingency Headhunters
In a contingency arrangement, the headhunter earns a fee only if he actually fills the assigned position. The position may be assigned exclusively to one headhunter, or to more than one.

Is it better to be recruited by a headhunter who is on retainer, than one working on contingency? Nope. The chances of success depend more on the quality of the headhunter than on how he gets paid.

How to Work with Headhunters
Of course, if a good headhunter calls you with a good job opportunity, that’s a good thing. That’s when it’s important to know how to work with headhunters effectively, and how to optimize the outcome. Likewise, it’s good to make yourself “findable” to the best headhunters in your field. Here are a few tips, excerpted from How to Work with Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you:

1. Judge headhunters before you work with them. Most people who try to “recruit” you are not headhunters. They collect thousands of resumes which they submit to hundreds of employers — unsolicited. Having your resume plastered all over kingdom come does you no good. It can hurt your reputation. So, judge every “headhunter” that calls you. Ask for references. Talk to people they’ve placed, and with companies that use their services. Otherwise, you’ll get frustrated and waste your time.

2. Meet good headhunters before lousy ones find you. Fast-buck artists posing as headhunters scrape the Net to find your name or resume. Legitimate headhunters find good candidates through trusted contacts. Meet those trusted contacts and establish your credibility with them. Who are they? They’re the respected workers in your field. They’re not necessarily famous, but they’re the experts others turn to for advice, guidance and introductions. You’ll find them on industry discussion forums, at professional events, and on the best blogs. Get to know them, and make sure they know you.

3. Be helpful. Most calls from headhunters will not yield job opportunities. The headhunter is usually looking for a referral to the right candidate. Be helpful. Introduce the headhunter to good workers in your field. But, do it only after you follow the two instructions above. Never introduce a headhunter you don’t know to associates you respect. If you think you’re the right candidate, don’t pitch yourself. Instead, ask smart questions about the headhunter’s assignment. Map your skills to the details of the job only after you find out what all of these are. Remember: The headhunter is trying to do his job. Help him, and even if this job isn’t for you, he’ll call you again next time.

If you’re going to work with a headhunter, know who you’re dealing with, and know what you’re doing. Make the experience pay off.

Headhunters work on some of the tastiest jobs. So, how do they figure into your job search strategy? Have you ever been placed by a headhunter who had a positive effect on your career? Ever waste your time with a sleaze ball who called himself a headhunter, but wasn’t?

Let’s talk about headhunters. No holds barred. Useful tips especially welcome!


How to Say It: Why are you leaving your old job?

In the June 7, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what to say when an interviewer inquires why you’re leaving your old employer:

I work in a business where there is a constant flow of people in and out of our office, and a high volume of customers calling on the phone. We get a lot of complaints from customers, and quite a bit of verbal abuse. My co-workers and I don’t feel safe. Extreme as it sounds, we worry about someone walking in the door and going bonkers.

I began a job search this week, and I’ve read online comments about what to say when asked the reasons for leaving my old job. I’ve been advised never to say anything bad about the company, including that it’s not safe. So, I am not sure how to answer this question any more. I have an interview coming up. Can you please give me some advice about what to say when I’m asked the reasons I am leaving my current job? Thanks very much.

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

You could be leaving your job because you don’t see growth opportunities, or because you have just grown tired of the work. Or, you might not get along with other employees, or with management. While any of these reasons are legitimate, how you express them could cost you a job opportunity. While some employers are interested in your motivations, I believe this question is almost always “loaded.” The employer wants to know whether you’re trouble.

As you can see, the real problem with this question is that you have no way of knowing the interviewer’s intent. And it’s not worth guessing and being wrong.

If you believe that explaining your reasons for leaving your last job will reflect well on you, then by all means explain. If you’re worried it will hurt you, then keep mum.

How to Say It
“I love my work, and I want to work in a better company where I am free to do my job effectively.”

If they ask you what the problem is with your current employer, be honest:

“I’m looking for a good job with a good company, but I never disparage anyone I’ve ever worked with… I came to you because your company seems to be one of the shining lights in this industry, and I’d like to talk about how I can help you be more profitable…” (…This is the missing part… Sorry, but you must subscribe to the newsletter to get the entire Answer and Commentary in the newsletter… Don’t wait til next week… Sign up now… it’s free!)

That’s the best way I know to approach any employer, and to get past that question. Focus on the company you’re meeting with, not on your past or your old company. And be candid about your policy of not bad-mouthing anyone, including your last employer.

I’m sorry you’ve been through so much. Look ahead, find a really good company, and explain how you’re going to help them be more successful. That’s what any good employer looks for.

It’s one of those tricky interview questions: Why are you leaving your old job? If you’re leaving because you’re unhappy, that opens up a can of worms in the interview. So, what do you say, and how do you say it? My suggestion in this week’s newsletter is one way to handle it. How have you handled this? Did it work? Or did it backfire?