Ask The Headhunter®

the insider's edge on job search & hiring™
June 9, 2009
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This week's Q&A

Should I pay to apply for a job?



I am a 23 year-old recent college graduate, and this week I have applied to this employment company — let's call them ABC Professionals for now. Neither my parents nor any of their friends have heard of them. They seem like good people who genuinely want to help me with my job search. They operate by being the middleman between their clients who pay them to recruit good employees, and people like me looking for employment. I will get my paychecks from ABC Professionals as their employee, and not from the places that I will be working at. They also want me to pay $73.00 for a background check before I start working for them.

The Blog

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Readers hash it out on The Blog. Chime in!

What do you think of this? Is this type of operation considered to be a normal practice? Does it seem to be a legitimate way to find work?

Nick's Reply

As new grads hit the job market, there's an entire industry of scammers waiting for them. You need to be especially careful in this economy about getting fleeced.

There are legitimate firms that put people on their own payrolls then farm them out to other companies — their clients. They call themselves consulting firms, job shops, and contractors. If you're going to work with one, your challenge is to make sure it's legit.

My buddy Scott Henty wrote an excellent article about this: Consulting Jobs Primer. While Scott's company specializes in information technology, his tips are relevant to almost any business.

I have two concerns about the firm you're talking about. First, job shops don't usually hire new grads. They go for seasoned professionals because employers need help finding specialized skills. Don't take offense, but new grads are a dime a dozen. (I've been there myself!) Why would any company pay a "consulting firm" to bring it new grads? Something's wrong here.

Second, don't pay a fee to apply for a job, including to cover the cost of a background check. If they believe they can assign you to one of their clients, they should absorb that as their cost of doing business. It's suspicious. Anyone who wants you to pay for a job is suspicious.

Here's what I'd do. Check their references. Talk to five or six significant companies in your town; companies where you'd love to work given the opportunity. Call the HR department in each. Ask them, do they do business with this firm? Do they know the firm?

If these companies do not deal with this firm or if they cannot provide you with a good reference, I'd walk away. The alternative is to ask the firm for references — what companies does it do business with? Then I'd call those companies to check. I would not call the names the firm provides. I would call the HR department and make a clean inquiry to avoid getting a biased or "loaded" reference.

There are lots of scams out there. Know who you're dealing with before you invest your time. Be very careful. Maybe this firm is so successful that it can afford to charge fees to job applicants, but "employers" who want you to pay them are highly suspicious.


Nick Corcodilos
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How to Say It

I'm ready for a regular job!

I have my own business but like so many other small businesses I can't keep it afloat, so I am re-entering the job market. I have been on a few interviews. I feel I have done well, but I don't know how to answer the question, "Why are you looking for a position with us when you have your own business?"

How to Say It: "I've done what I set out to do. I tried my hand at my own business. I'm glad I did it, but I'm done with that phase of my career. Now I appreciate how every part of an operation contributes to profitability. I know what I'm not good at, and I learned that without putting any employer at risk. I also know what I'm very good at — the work we're discussing. The work you need done is the work I want to do, not anything else. That's my commitment to you. I don't think most people can honestly say that."

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Old, skilled & locked out

A reader asks the Forum: I have 30 years' experience up to the VP level in 4 of America's top 10 ad agencies. My next career step is with one of the Top 100 advertisers. They tell me to go to their website to view open positions and apply. Maybe this is a polite way to say I’m too old. I've mailed letters and an index card with my elevator pitch on one side and the logos of impressive firms I've done advertising for on the reverse. I'm out of ideas. Is there a way to get past the gatekeeper (in this case their careers webpage)?

Just how stupid do you think employers are? I know my answer. What I want is fresh answers and advice for this reader from you.

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