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Are Not Headhunters

By Nick Corcodilos

Job hunting is a big enough challenge. It becomes even more daunting when you try to get help and quickly become confused about your options. (Before we go any further, I’ll tell you a little secret: your best option is to do it yourself. No one has the vested interest in your job search that you do. Learn to Be Your Own Headhunter.)

Who pays, and for what?
Two of the most confusing options you’ll face are headhunters and career consultants. What’s the difference?

  • A headhunter is retained and paid by an employer to fill a position. He earns a fee for actually putting a person and a job together. He’s an expert in the industry he hunts in, and he actually has access to open jobs. However, he doesn’t work for you; he works for the employer. So, don’t expect his attention unless you fit the parameters of a search he’s conducting.
  • A career counselor will charge you a fee, ostensibly to help you figure out what kind of job to pursue and how to pursue it. He has no more access to open jobs than you do, and he probably doesn’t specialize in any particular industry. You pay a career counselor whether you win a job or not — he earns a fee for giving you advice.

There’s nothing confusing about this distinction once you understand it. But, people get frustrated when they realize that the hired guns of the employment world (headhunters) aren’t in business to help them. So, job hunters turn in desperation to career counselors. The problem is, counselors don’t find people jobs, no matter what their marketing materials imply.

Career counseling unveiled.
That’s the point of this article: when you wish you could hire a headhunter, understand what you’re paying for when you hire a counselor instead.

  • A good counselor makes it clear her product is counseling. She won’t pretend she’s going to find you a job. Make sure the promised outcome of your counseling is objectively spelled out in the written agreement.
  • Find out in advance exactly what tools and materials the firm will use to help you. Most of the help a counseling firm will provide can be gleaned from a handful of books at your local library — for free.
  • Beware the "point man". The big counseling firms are better salesmen than counselors. You’ll be sold a program by an impressive "partner" who talks a great line, only to learn that you’ve been handed off to a guy in the back room who has no personality and only a few months’ experience at counseling.
  • Watch out for the "guarantee" because it’s usually worthless. (I’ve yet to see the career counseling deal that guarantees a job.) Here’s what it usually says, in very fine print: "If you don’t land a job, you can keep coming back for all the counseling you can swallow, either at a reduced rate or for free." Translation: no refunds. The added hidden cost is your precious time.
  • Remember that contacts aren’t jobs. Some firms will boast of the great industry contacts they have. It doesn’t matter where past clients have found jobs, if the firm won’t guarantee you a great job.
  • Counseling firms usually charge in advance because you’re not likely to pay if you don’t find a job and become dissatisfied with their services. Fees can range from $2,000 to $15,000 or more. A legitimate counselor will charge you as you go, by the hour.

Be careful. The career business lends itself to shysterism because there is no objectively-defined "deliverable" (like a job). The worst firms prey on people’s fears and wallets. When the sales pitch says they’re going to take you by the hand and lead you to a job, run -- don’t walk -- to the exit.

Know what you're buying.
If career counselors don’t deliver jobs, why do people hire them? Because most counselors deliver two things a desperate job hunter needs: (a) a sense that you’re "doing something" (paying them) to win a job, and (b) a good swift kick every day to get you out to start "looking". With a little help, you can do this for yourself and you can do it better.

The legitimate reason to hire a career counselor is because you need help with career issues (e.g., issues regarding your motivation, discouragement, long-term goals, inter-personal matters, and so on) rather than with the job search process itself. This requires an expert, probably a psychologist with a specialization in career counseling.

Tips to avoid trouble.
While career counseling can be helpful when it's done right and for the right reasons, counselors aren’t the next best thing to headhunters if what you need is to quickly land a good job. So, do a reality check on your expectations, then check counselors out carefully.

  • Talk to their references and insist on meeting the actual counselor who will work with you.
  • Make sure you understand what the "deliverable" is, and decide whether it's worth the fee.
  • Ask for a pay-as-you-go deal; this keeps the counselor on his toes.
  • Finally, exhaust other possibilities before you spend thousands of dollars (the library is one good place to start).

Ask The Headhunter has taught thousands of people how to be their own headhunter. This site is one place where you will continue to get an insider’s edge on job search — without a catch.

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Learn more about The Executive Marketing Racket: How I dropped ten grand down a hole, why Headhunters find people, not jobs, and How to judge a headhunter.

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