The Truth About Job Fairs

In the January 24, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader blasts employers for job fairs and bogus recruiting. 

Question

I’m sure a lot of employers read this newsletter, so this is an open question to them about job fairs. Maybe they will respond. But I’d like your opinion, too.

job fairsTo Employers:

I go to job fairs to meet your company in person, but your representatives tell me to visit the company website in order to apply for a job. Call me crazy, but I thought the purpose of a job fair was to actually meet you — a real, live hiring manager.

By going to a job fair, I am separating myself from those who are sitting at their computers all day just sending out resumes. I am making an effort to drive (mind you, the cost of gas) to a job fair after getting all dolled up in a great suit and actually seeking to talk to someone to place my resume ahead of someone else’s. I’m trying to stand out and show you I’m serious about working for you.

And my reward for this effort? You slap me in the face and tell me to go home and apply on-line.

Why do you even bother “recruiting” at job fairs? Why is it that your representatives don’t know anything about jobs at your company? Why do they tell me, “We are not taking resumes?” I didn’t need to drive 20 miles to see you only to have you tell me to go home and apply online. What if I’m someone who does not have Internet access at home? What if I’m that person who is strapped for cash and had to decide between paying for groceries this month or keeping an Internet service provider and I chose to forego the Internet?

Come on! Give me a break. I go to job fairs so you can see a face behind my resume in hopes of landing that interview! I attend so I can meet real flesh-and-blood hiring managers. And you send “personnel representatives” who don’t even act like they work for your company! Maybe they don’t! Why are you wasting my time?

(Thanks for letting me vent, Nick.)

Nick’s Reply

Oh, you’re welcome. Venting is good, especially when you’re not the only one doing it. I get frequent mail on this topic. And I’ll tell you, you’ve nailed it. I don’t recall the last time anyone told me they went to a job fair and got a job.

The truth is, job fairs are largely a waste of time.

Companies go to job fairs because HR clearly has nothing better to spend its money on. They send greenhorn HR reps to collect resumes or to direct people to the website. You could do better standing on a street corner handing out your resume.

The other little secret some HR folks have sheepishly shared with me is that job fairs enable them to check off more boxes on federal employment regulation forms. Maybe this is how they identify race, color and disabilities and get credit for entertaining certain applicants. I welcome HR managers to explain their behavior.

You have dispelled one of the key myths about job fairs: that they are a good place to actually meet the hiring managers. Let’s dispel two more job-fair myths.

Job Fairs: Myth #1

You can cover a job fair with 300 employers in one day.

Or some huge number. The pitch is that more is better, so why not go? Even if you slice it down to 100 employers, a six-hour job fair will allow you 3.6 minutes for each employer. (Do you think that if you were to spend anywhere near six non-stop hours at a job fair you might get dizzy and pass out?) Trust your common sense: That’s not enough time for a meaningful exchange.

The alternative to job fairs: Get detailed job-fair information, including lists of employers, jobs and departments that are hiring. Invest that six hours identifying and contacting people who work at three good target companies that are “going” to the job fair. Tell these folks you can’t make it to the job fair, and ask for their insight and advice about their company.

Then ask for introductions to managers who seem to be hiring. Save gas and use it to attend interviews instead.

Job Fairs: Myth #2

Job fairs are a great place to find unadvertised jobs.

Any job openings advertised at job fairs are already old news. Job fairs are often a company’s last recruiting resort. While a personnel jockey is scanning your resume at the job fair booth, my candidate (or some other headhunter’s) is sitting in the hiring manager’s office demonstrating how she’s going to do the job profitably for the manager. That’s who you’re competing with.

But if you really think about it, why would an employer try to fill good jobs with the best candidates at a job fair — when so many of the best potential candidates have jobs and aren’t likely to attend a fair? That’s not to disparage unemployed job seekers; the best candidate for a job may be currently unemployed. But how does the job-fair strategy for hiring make sense for employers? Either HR is goofy, or HR isn’t being honest.

The alternative to job fairs: Truly unadvertised openings are in managers’ heads. Even HR doesn’t know about them yet. So skip the places where HR clerks hang out (job fairs). Instead, go where the hiring managers and their employees go: professional conferences, trade shows, and training courses. Get ahead of your competitors rather than stand behind them.

Sure, bring a resume, but first make some friends. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for the gold ring that smart headhunters reach for: insight about the person’s company and work. That’s what leads to real relationships, real personal contacts, and valuable personal referrals to hiring managers. And that’s where you will learn about unadvertised openings. (For more on this, see Meet the right people.)

Beware of the empty sales pitch

Like online job boards, job fairs are where many HR departments gleefully waste corporate recruiting budgets. Why? Because job boards and job-fair operators are very good at marketing their wares. You’ve seen the promotions: “Hire the best people! Use our service!”

It’s not a stretch to imagine this sales pitch by a job-fair operator to HR: “You can send your greenhorn clerks instead of expensive managers to the fair! Save money and still get applicants!” So HR saves money while appearing busy.

Need I say more? Thanks for sharing your story and ire. I hope your open letter draws responses from HR folks who spend money on job fairs.

Have you been to a job fair? What was your experience? If a job fair paid off for you, what’s the secret? If you work in HR, please give us the straight dope. I mean, the truth.

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Jobs plentiful! Pay is up! But, how are you doing?

In the January 10, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we attempt a reality check — about jobs. Disclosure: I wrote a snarky column to start the New Year. But it’s not as snarky as the news.

Question

Nick, I know the newsletter has been on vacation over the holidays, but have you been reading the jobs news? Am I crazy, or do people really believe unemployment is down and pay is up? That there’s suddenly a job for anyone who wants it? That all our troubles are over? Man, sign me up for a new job for 2X what I was making when I had a job!

Nick’s Reply

jobsDuring my Christmas break, the news kept coming hot and heavy from the U.S. Department of Labor and associated pundits and experts: You should stop complaining about jobs and salaries. Everything’s great!

I’m sure you’re reading the same good news, but all I want to know is, does this reflect your experience with the job market and employers? Or is your head spinning?

Jobs: U.S. Department of Labor News

In the past few days, the DOL reported:

  • “Unemployment rates were significantly lower in November in 18 states and stable in 32 states and the District of Columbia…”
  • “The national unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in November, down from 4.9 percent in October, and 0.4 percentage point lower than in November 2015.”

Fewer people unemployed!

Bloomberg News

Recent Bloomberg reports tell us:

  • “The 4.7 percent jobless rate remains close to a nine-year low, even with a tick up last month.”
  • We’re seeing “enduring wage gains as labor market tightens.”

You’re getting paid more and employers are working harder to hire you!

  • “Worker pay rises at fastest pace since end of last recession.”
  • “Fiscal stimulus would stoke further gains as labor [is] scarce.”
  • “Average hourly earnings jumped by 2.9 percent in the 12 months through December, the most since the last recession ended in June 2009.”
  • “Workers in almost every category, from mining and construction to retail and education, saw paychecks rise from November.”

JPMorgan Economic News

Michael Feroli, JPMorgan’s chief economist, says:

  • “I expect to see continued acceleration in wages this year.”

And get this: Labor shortages may become more common. Employers are going to be begging you to take a job! I hope that makes you feel better if you’re facing a shortage of exactly the one job you need to pay your bills.

But then there are the gotchas from from the DOL reported by Bloomberg:

  • “More Americans joined the labor force but had not yet found jobs.”

Oops. And try this double-talk on for size:

  • “The number of people who were jobless and gave up looking for work declined to a three-month low…” but “One caveat: fewer people who were already in the labor force but unemployed were able to find jobs.”

Associated Press News

The Associated Press isn’t being left behind:

  • Since 2009, “the job market is in infinitely better shape. The unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. Jobs have been added for 75 straight months, the longest such streak on record.”
  • But, er, ah… “The proportion of Americans with jobs… dropped a full percentage point.”

Uh… apply the grammatical logic tool to that one and you get… More Americans are without jobs!

  • “Hiring has been solid yet still hasn’t kept up with population growth.”
  • “…many workers, especially less-educated men, have become discouraged about finding jobs with decent pay and have stopped looking.”

Yes, that means many, many Americans are screwed, but they’re probably not educated enough to parse those sentences to glean the economic reality. But when they try to pay for food next week, they’ll grab their pitchforks and torches.

Middle America

And don’t miss this troubling factoid: The “routine work” that pays middle-income wages is disappearing. But the good news is, those of you doing “higher- and lower-paying jobs” should have no trouble finding work! Tech jobs have “soared” 42%. Hotel and food service jobs have “jumped” 19%!

Apply the grammatical logic tool to that one and you get… Middle America can’t find a job!

  • More good news: “Over the past year, average hourly pay has risen 2.9 percent, the healthiest increase in seven years.”
  • But, uh, in a “robust economy” pay gains would be more like 3.5%.

There’s more, but your under-paid, under-fed or unemployed (or under-employed) brain probably couldn’t take it.

Let’s stop pretending

The jobs news is so contradictory that nobody knows — or will admit — what’s really going on. While the government, economists, banks and pundits spin a story that makes heads spin, I think the wisdom about all this is in the crowd. The people living, succeeding, failing, giving up, dropping out, scraping by and dying in this economy have a clearer picture of what’s really going on than what’s being reported.

How are you doing?

Early January of a New Year is a good time to sweep away the news and ask you — How are you doing in all this? I think we all want to know what’s really going on in our economy and job market.

  • Does this news reflect your experience?
  • Are you finding more jobs — real jobs — are begging to be filled?
  • Are you getting paid more money?
  • Are employers hiring you more quickly at higher salaries?
  • If you already have a job, has your boss increased your salary to avoid losing you?
  • What’s really going on with respect to jobs, employment and pay?

I don’t think we’ll sort this out, but we can do a more honest job of discussing the truth than the news pretends at!

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Is your job search stuck?

Finding a job is not about prescribed steps. It’s not about following rules. In fact, job hunting is such an over-defined process that there are thousands of books and articles about how to do it — and the methods are all the same.

What all those authors conveniently ignore is that the steps don’t work. If they did, every resume would get you an interview, which would in turn produce a job offer and a job.

But we all know that doesn’t happen. That’s why I wrote Fearless Job Hunting.

Try Ask The Headhunter for free!

The key to successful job hunting is knowing how to deal with the handful of daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks.

I didn’t bring you here just to sell you books for 40% off. Of course, I’d love it if you’d buy my books, but Ask The Headhunter regulars know I publish my advice for free. My business model is simple: If you love what you read here for free, you’ll see the value in buying my books. But that’s up to you. My job is to keep delivering tips and advice you can find nowhere else — tips and advice you can use now.

So try Ask The Headhunter for free!

Here are some excerpts from Fearless Job Hunting — and if you decide you’d like to study these methods in more detail, I invite you to take 40% off your purchase price by using discount code=MERRYATH. (This offer is limited — it’s good only until New Year’s Day!)

4 Fearless Job Hunting Tips

You just lost your job and your nerves are frayed. Please — take a moment to put your fears aside. Think about the implications of the choices you make. Consider the obstacles you encounter in your job search.

FJH-11. Don’t settle

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search, p. 4:
The myth of the last-minute job search

When you’re worried about paying the rent, it seems that almost any job will do. Taking the first offer that comes along could be your biggest mistake. It’s also one of the most common reasons people go job hunting again soon — they settle for a wrong job, rather than select the right one.

Start Early: Research the industry you want to work in. Learn what problems and challenges it faces. Then, identify the best company in that industry. (Why settle for less? Why join a company just because it wants you? Join the one you want.)

Study the company, establish contacts, learn the business, and build expertise. Rather than being just a hunter for any job, learn to be the solution to one company’s problems. That’s what gets you hired, because such dedication and focus makes you stand out.

2. Scope the community

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), p. 6:
It’s the people, Stupid

FJH-3You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in the community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of.

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work.

The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

3. Avoid a salary cut

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), p. 9:
How can I avoid a salary cut?

FJH-7Negotiating doesn’t have to be done across an adversarial table — and it should not be done over the phone. You can sit down and hash through a deal like partners. Sometimes, candor means getting almost personal. Check the How to Say It box for a suggestion:

How to Say It
“If I take this job, we’re entering into a sort of marriage. Our finances will be intertwined. So, let’s work out a budget — my salary and your profitability — that we’re both going to be happy with for years down the road. If I can’t show you how I will boost the company’s profitability with my work, then you should not hire me. But I also need to know that I can meet my own budget and my living expenses, so that I can focus entirely on my job.”

It might seem overly candid, but there’s not enough candor in the world of business. A salary negotiation should be an honest discussion about what you and the employer can both afford.

4. Know what you’re getting into

From Fearless Job Hunting Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, p. 23:
Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it:

FJH-8I think the failure to research and understand one another is one of the key reasons why companies lay off employees and why workers quit jobs. They have no idea what they’re getting into until it’s too late. Proper due diligence is extensive and detailed. How far you go with it is up to you.

Research is a funny thing. When it’s part of our job, and we get paid to do it, we do it thoroughly because we don’t want our judgments to appear unsupported by facts and data. When we need to do research for our own protection, we often skip it or we get sloppy. We “trust our instincts” and make career decisions by the seat of our pants.

When a company uses a headhunter to fill a position, it expects [a high level] of due diligence to be performed on candidates the headhunter delivers. If this seems to be a bit much, consider that the fee the company pays a headhunter for all this due diligence can run upwards of $30,000 for a $100,000 position. Can you afford to do less when you’re judging your next employer?

Remember that next to our friends and families, our employers represent the most important relationships we have. Remember that other people who have important relationships with your prospective employer practice due diligence: bankers, realtors, customers, vendors, venture capitalists and stock analysts. Can you afford to ignore it?

* * *

Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this community throughout the year. Have you ever settled for the wrong job, or failed to scope out a work community before accepting a job? Did you get stuck with a salary cut, or with a surprise when you took a job without doing all the necessary investigations? Let’s talk about it! And have a wonderful New Year!

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Why am I not getting hired?

In the December 20, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we address some of your biggest complaints about job hunting — why you’re not getting hired.

Question

Let’s look once again at the perennial problems job seekers continue to face:

  • “I don’t understand it. I must have responded to over 50 job postings in the last month, and I haven’t gotten a single interview.”
  • caneI’ve completed over a dozen job applications, and I haven’t heard from one company.”
  • “The tight market puts employers and recruiters in the driver’s seat once again. Fewer jobs are available, and there’s a larger talent pool to choose from.”
  • “Companies that once had to make offers on the spot to snare candidates now have the luxury of time. They can postpone making hiring decisions until they find someone who meets all their criteria.”

The question behind all these plaintive protests is clear: Why am I not getting hired?

Nick’s Reply

Whoo-whee! It’s that time again — a difficult time for getting hired. (See The Third Fallacy.) Companies are indeed hiring. They’re just not doing it the way you’d expect. They’re in a hurry but they don’t want to make mistakes — though it somehow seems they don’t really want to make hires. Throughout Ask The Headhunter and throughout the year it seems we keep coming back to the same challenge: how to help employers make a decision — to hire you.

Be the right candidate

Consider the logic of the frustrated job hunters above. It’s not logic at all. It’s pure frustration that stems from not being the right candidate. Who’s fault is that? Difficult as it might be to hear this, please listen:

  • Don’t approach a company if you’re not the right candidate.
  • Don’t make rationalizations when a company ignores you.

It’s true that many companies are hiring more slowly, but that doesn’t mean they have the luxury of time. In fact, the opposite is often true. Some managers are under great pressure to fill precious slots before the year ends and budgets close (or are cut). Thus, employers are not hiring slowly because they can, but because they can’t get the right candidates. They are deluged with every Tom, Dick, and Jane who has a minute to submit an application — and those same managers are burdened with applicant tracking systems that can’t distinguish strong candidates from weak ones.

Remember that most hires are made via trusted referrals and personal contacts. Why? Because this is the most reliable source of good, appropriate candidates. When managers can’t get a hire through this preferred channel, they turn to lesser sources, like job boards and applicant tracking systems. They know the odds of finding a good candidate are low but they, too, are frustrated and desperate. They need to fill a job now.

Put that in your Santa’s pipe and smoke it — and you’ll sweep past your competition.

wreath‘Tis the season to be truly right. If you are the candidate a manager needs, you can capitalize on the rush to hire. You can give a manager the gift he’s been waiting for: your earthly presence. Help him to spend his budget and make the hire. Be ready to articulate your value, but do it face-to-face or on the phone — not via an application form or a resume.

These concepts and methods are laid out in how-to fashion in the Ask The Headhunter PDF books, and we’ll summarize some of them here.


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Make it personal

Like Baba Ram Das said in 1976, “Be here now.”

Getting hired means actually being there. A resume doesn’t cut it. An application doesn’t cut it. When you hide behind a form, you’re admitting that you’re not sure you’re the right candidate. You are afraid to face the manager because you have nothing compelling to say. If you’re the right candidate, then you have exactly what it takes to make a manager say, “Yes!”

There aren’t 400 jobs out there for you. You can be the truly right candidate for only one, or two, or maybe three different jobs. Pick them carefully. Study, prepare, create a business plan to prove your value to the specific manager, and go after those two or three jobs and no others.

Here’s the secret to showing an employer why she should hire you: Estimate as best you can how your work produces revenue or reduces costs for the company.


Excerpted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, p. 8:

Identify your role in the profit equation
If you work in sales or product design, you help produce revenue by selling or by creating products. That’s good for the company. The more you contribute to revenues, the more value you add to the business.

If you work in information technology or in manufacturing, you have a daily impact on the company’s costs. (But, of course, every worker is part of a company’s costs.) High costs are not good. Your job contributes to the success of the business by helping minimize costs (also known as increasing efficiency) while performing a function necessary to help produce revenue.

The difference between revenue and cost is profit. So, regardless of what your job is, ask yourself what you do to enhance profits. Do you sell more stuff at higher margins, or do you do some other job smarter, faster, and cheaper? Explaining this to an employer helps you demonstrate your value.


Getting hired: Take the right path

The frustrated candidates who submitted the complaints above are not being dismissed because their resumes are lousy, but because they are cows. If you merely send in a resume, what’s the chance you are really the right candidate? If you rely on nothing but a dopey job posting, how can you know what a job is about or what a manager wants?

Please: Be realistic. Take the most reliable, proven path to a job. If you are really the right candidate, prove it by getting referred by someone the hiring manager trusts.

hollysprigI know I sound a bit harsh. My suggestions seem like an unreasonable burden on a job hunter. The notion that it’s up to you to pick the right job creates a daunting task. And making personal contact with hard-to-reach managers is so difficult. This is all very hard work.

Yep. But so is that great job you want. The task of finding and getting hired has never been easy. If you believe otherwise, it’s likely because the media and automated recruiting systems have brainwashed you and employers alike. (Zip Recruiter, anyone? Just watch applicants come rolling in! LinkedIn, anyone? Just watch opportunities fill your e-mail box!) You already know this isn’t simple. You already know that being dead-on for a job is a rare experience. But if you don’t make it happen, it’s not likely to happen on its own.

Take advantage of this high-pressure time when managers really do want to fill jobs. But don’t be casual about it. Be the right candidate who picks the one right company, the one right job, then picks up the phone and delivers the solution a manager has on his wish list.

Stand out

Who’s getting hired? The candidate who gets personal, picks the right companies, and delivers a solution to the right manager is who you’re competing with, whether she learned this approach from here or whether it’s just her common sense. Long-time ATH subscriber Ray Stoddard puts it like this:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

Lets review some key tips to help you get the edge you need over your competitors:

I hope Ask The Headhunter helped you get an edge in 2016. We will continue to discuss the details of the methods outlined here in upcoming columns.


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christmas-treeI’m taking a break for the next two weeks — See you with the next edition on January 10!

Meanwhile, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (no matter what you celebrate or where you celebrate it), and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

How have you used the ATH methods to land the job you want, or to hire exceptional employees? What methods of your own have you used successfully? Please share, and let’s discuss — what matters most is what works best out in the field!

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Hack your elevator pitch

In the December 13, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to formulate an exceptional elevator pitch.

Question

elevator pitchI have been out of the corporate world for over 10 years. I recently sold my business and am contemplating my options. I am too young to retire (in my mid-50s), yet too old to be a hot prospect for most companies, so I am networking.

I was recently asked for an “elevator speech” about myself. Of course, I know what that is, and admit it has value because it forces focus. Yet I am vexed by the prospect of re-developing such a tool, partially because I am not sure what I really want to do and I want to keep my options open, and in part because I always question the value of a bumper-sticker-tool in changing times.

What are your thoughts? Is an elevator pitch valuable? What are the critical elements as you see it? How should it be developed and delivered? What’s the best you have heard?

Thanks for your time. I have been a subscriber for several years and recognize a great content developer, and blogger, when I see one!

Nick’s Reply

There’s no way to focus on what you cannot see, but more about that in a moment. Your instinct is right. It’s time to hack the elevator pitch, because I think elevator pitches (or speeches) are nonsense.

They’re a product of the career coaching industry, which wants your money, and which tends to fabricate stuff it can sell you. (I tell this to Executive MBA students at Cornell, Wharton, UCLA and other schools whenever I do workshops for them.)

What’s an elevator pitch?

By definition, an elevator pitch is about you. You meet me in an elevator and you spout your pitch. But I don’t know you, so I couldn’t care less about you. I don’t need or want to hear about you. Why would I be impressed that you can talk about yourself?

I care about my business and the problems and challenges I face. And they’re all unique to me. (See How to get the hiring manager’s attention.) Hearing about you does nothing for me, because when you rattle off that speech your objective is for me to listen carefully, then to invest my time trying to figure out what to do with you. That’s an unreasonable presumption.

What’s worth listening to?

Now, if you have something useful and specific to say about my business that reveals you’ve already made an investment to understand my plight — that’s worth listening to.

If you say something on the money about my business, the encounter shifts. I’m suddenly interested in who you are, and I might want to know more about you. We might even become great friends.

The trouble with job seekers

This brings us to the fundamental trouble with job seekers. On the whole, what’s painfully lacking in their presentation is attention to the person they’re addressing. An elevator pitch is all about the speaker — it shows no real respect to the listener.

Similarly, a resume that you hand to every employer is about you, and your objective is for each employer to figure out what to do with you. Consider how presumptuous that is. More to the point, consider that no employer has the time, interest or ability to figure out what to do with every job seeker that comes along!

(Think I’m daft? For all the resumes you send to employers where you’re convinced you’re perfect for the job, how many of them invest the time necessary to conclude that you’re the perfect candidate? Employers don’t do what job seekers presume they do. That’s why using automated job application tools to hit as many employers as possible is stupid and unproductive. So why do people keep doing it?)

Who are you pitching to?

If you think about it, investing time in producing a canned elevator pitch is pretty silly. Selectively and thoughtfully investing some serious time in understanding the business and problems of someone you want to work with — that’s smart. Of course, it means you must carefully select your target, right? Or, why bother making such an investment? You must prepare a short speech that’s highly specific to that individual — one that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else.

Only if you have time to do that do I have time to hear you out.

When you ran your business, did you ever stand on a street corner reciting information about your products to impress people? I know the answer. So, why would you even consider doing that now?

Hack your elevator pitch

The best elevator pitch I’ve ever heard goes like this: “By doing XYZ, I can increase your profitability by 10%.” There’s the focus you mentioned — but to bring that kind of focus, you must first clearly see and examine the object. And that object is my business. Can you hack my business? (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

Thanks for your kind words. Glad you enjoy Ask The Headhunter. Please use your good business sense when pursuing a job, if it’s a job you want. Because employers don’t pay for elevator pitches or interview skills. They want business acumen that addresses their specific issues, and that contributes to their bottom line. One size does not fit all.

What will get the attention of someone you want to work with? Do you use a prepared speech? How do you know what to say?

: :

“Make personal contacts to get a job? Awkward…” Get over it!

Quick Question

Thanks for your advice about meeting people and making personal contacts to get a job in Do you discriminate against employers? You should. It makes sense… except when you don’t have friends! LOL! Besides, it’s awkward!

personal contactsNick’s Quick Advice

Yeah, I know — it’s awkward to meet people to get a job. (It makes you cringe, right?) You’re in good company. And everybody in that company is wrong.

When I bring up making new personal contacts, everyone likes to excuse themselves by saying they just don’t have professional contacts, their old work buddies are long gone, no one can help them.

My answer is: Bunk.

It’s an excuse, my friend. We all learn to be lazy because we feel awkward reaching out to new people. You have to get over it.

Meeting people, making contacts, making new friends and talking shop is a skill. You learn it and practice it. (Please see I don’t know anybody.) If you don’t practice this important skill, you lose — and the job boards and online applications will not be your automated substitute for the 40-70% of jobs that are filled via personal contacts.

If you quietly fill out online job applications, you’re at the mercy of HR departments that process database records all day long while you wait for them to contact you. You already know that doesn’t work, so why do you keep pretending?

The only alternative is the one that has worked for centuries:

Personal Contacts: Go talk to people.

Meeting people to get introduced to hiring managers and new job opportunities makes sense. You know it does — but you just don’t want to think about it. I know it’s awkward for many people. So go into your bathroom, lock the door, look in the mirror. Smile at yourself for a few seconds, then scream at yourself:

PRETENDING A DATABASE IS GONNA FIND ME A JOB IS BUNK! I KNOW BETTER!

And you do.

Diddling the keyboard to find a job makes no sense at all — except to “job services” like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Monster, and every other job board. Their entire business model is based on you not finding a job, and on you returning again and again to the digital swill pot for a drink. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Those companies make more money when you can’t find a job and when employers can’t fill jobs. That’s how the employment industry works. It’s not how people get hired.

I’m not beating you up, just shaking you a bit. Please listen.

For more about making personal contacts, see “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” and “How to initiate insider contacts” in How Can I Change Careers? It’s not just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out when applying for a job. Until Dec. 5, 2016, you can get 40% off any Ask The Headhunter PDF book — at checkout, use discount code=MERRYATH.

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Do you discriminate against employers? You should.

Quick Question

How do you deal with online and phone interviews where they blatantly ask, “What year did you graduate?” Upon receiving the answer, they hang up. This is clearly age discrimination!

Nick’s Quick Advice

talk-to-the-handWell, you decline to answer, hang up, and chalk up another company you’d never dare to work for. In other words, you discriminate.

When employers rough up job applicants like that, it’s a sign that you’re dealing with jerks. They run through applicants like chaff in the wind; you can (and should) do the same to them.

And when you’re fed up with all the chaff in the wind, stop applying for jobs via ads. Start hanging out with people who do the work you want to do, make friends, build trust, get accepted, get referred, get hired. (See Get Hired: 3 steps to become the wired insider for the job.)

Just because 50 million people apply for jobs the way HR wants them to doesn’t make it right, smart, or productive. Just say no.

Go meet the people you want to work with where they congregate. That means it’s up to you. It’s not automated. Automated is a lie.

See How and when to reject a job interview. (This cuts both ways.)


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Who’s behind the SevenFigureCareers recruiting scam?

recruiting-scam[See Update at end of this article.]

SevenFigureCareers is a recruiting firm that doesn’t recruit. Real recruiters are paid by employers to find candidates to fill jobs — they don’t charge job seekers. In a recruiting scam, you pay the fee.

SevenFigureCareers’ recruiters charge you a fee to set up bogus interviews with phony managing partners at fake private equity (PE) firms. And then you’re out $1,500, $2,500, $4,500 or $10,000 — depending on which iteration of this racket you did business with.

After months of research driven by loads of information crowd-sourced from the Ask The Headhunter community, best estimates are that this international scam has generated as much as $18 million since 1999.

A 17-year racket

The people behind this scam have operated at least four different recruiting firms that have each operated under several names themselves:

  • Executive Headhunter Group (Executive HGG)
  • Private Equity Headhunters (PEH)
  • Executive Top Gun Search (Top Gun, ETG)
  • SevenFigureCareers (7F, 7figcareers)

With each iteration, complaints have piled up on sites like RipOffReport, Scam.org, and Ask The Headhunter. Victims have sued for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, common law fraud, and consumer fraud — and won judgments in court.

The owners of these firms have impersonated attorneys and threatened their victims. They use invalid contracts and have had their credit card merchant account cancelled as a result. Since 1999, when the heat got too high from victims they burned, the scammers created new fake websites, new fake PE firms, and new fake recruiters — and kept running the same racket.

Who could fall for such a scam? How can a fake business collect millions in fees via credit cards? Who’s behind this — and why haven’t they been busted?

We’ve already answered the first two questions in 7F: Anatomy of A Recruiting Scam and in WWEJSS: How does a fake recruiting firm get a credit card merchant account? Information and documents supplied by people familiar with the scam lead step-by-step to companies, websites, street addresses and names that are all connected by WWEJSS, LLC, “a Texas corporation” that does not exist.

WWEJSS

In the current scam, SevenFigureCareers, victims sign a contract for services and pay thousands of dollars by credit card. As we’ve already seen, the contract is bogus because the company behind it, WWEJSS, LLC, “a Texas corporation” is phony. (Even the wording on the contract is bogus, because an LLC is not a corporation.) The Texas Secretary of State confirms there is no such legal entity registered — and it must be registered if it is to conduct business.

While the contract is legally invalid, an American Express merchant account tied to that contract was very real. The contract, the account, and the domain SevenFigureCareers.com are all tied to WWEJSS.

We know WWEJSS is phony because American Express cancelled its merchant account and refunded charges collected from cardholders for fake “services” rendered.

7f-wix-1So, who’s behind this scam outfit, and who owns SevenFigureCareers.com?

A search for WWEJSS turns up a tech-support thread loaded with profanity at Wix.com, a website developer tool. The customer wwejss refers to his website, 7figuresrecruiting.com, one of the Internet domains related to SevenFigureCareers.com.

This bit of information will be helpful later. But what we’re looking for is a name tied to WWEJSS.

Who Is It?

A WHOIS database search for SevenFigureCareers.com turns up a domain registration whose owner is hidden. For a few bucks, anyone can privately register a domain name. Note the creation date of this domain registration: March 20, 2015.

7f-whois-db

DNS Record History

But what’s hidden on the Internet is not always completely hidden. StatsInfinity — an Internet statistics tool — reveals a Domain Name System (DNS) record history that confirms SevenFigureCareers.com was registered on March 20, 2015.
7f-statsfinity
Unlike WHOIS, StatsInfinity also shows the history of the domain, which reveals the owner’s name, street address, e-mail address, and phone number. The owner’s name is listed as “Worldwide WWEJSS.”

Note the phone number: (832) 912-4445. We’ll call it later to see who answers.

Apparently, whoever established this domain locked the ownership information afterwards. But the details were captured and preserved by StatsInfinity.

Craig Chrest

Closer inspection delivers the gold nugget of information we’ve been looking for. There’s a name now connected to WWEJSS and SevenFigureCareers.com on a public document that also serves as a legal Internet registration: Craig Chrest.
7f-statsinfinity-chrest

Iterations of the scam

Internet research reveals that this recruiting scam is not new. Several iterations going back to at least 1999 can be traced to the same operating entity — WWEJSS — and Craig Chrest. Before we get to the name connected to SevenFigureCareers.com, let’s go back to the domain name we found on the Wix.com support page, 7figuresrecruiting.com. (If this is not a chronological history, it’s how Internet data led to each of the companies involved.)

#1: Private Equity Headhunters

A Google search for “7figuresrecruiting.com” takes us to ScamOrg.com, where we find a lengthy report about another company, Private Equity Headhunters LLC, which pre-dates SevenFigureCareers. (You may need a score card to keep track.)

7f-pehhsOne victim connects this firm with 7figuresrecruiting. And who turns up in the complaints but “Art French (salesman),” who refers to himself in e-mails as “VP Recruiting” at SevenFigureCareers.com. (For more about Mr. French and his twin brother Tony, see 7F: Anatomy of A Recruiting Scam.)

And right beside French is “John Chris, account manager,” known as “James Chris — V.P. Account Management” at SevenFigureCareers. He apparently goes by “Chris Johnson” at PEH.

#2: Executive Top Gun Search

An earlier recruiting firm surfaces when we examine the addresses of these entities, and it’s tied to the same owner.

The street address on Craig Chrest’s current SevenFigureCareers.com domain registration is 12841 Jones Road, Houston, Texas. A search for this address on TexasCorporates.com turns up another Chrest property: Executive Top Gun Search, LLC — at the same address.

7f-top-gun-address

While WWEJSS and SevenFigureCareers are not legally registered entities, Executive – Top Gun Search, LLC was registered in Texas on May 30, 2002 by Craig N. Chrest at 12019 Bexhill Dr., Houston, TX, 77065. The registration is still active.

Now let’s jump forward to SevenFigureCareers. Note Chrest’s middle initial on the Top Gun registration — N. While his name is never used by anyone at SevenFigureCareers, his initials make their way into the business. 7f-chrest-nAccording to myrelatives.com, the N stands for Nicholas.

When victims of SevenFigureCareers filed disputes with American Express, the merchant was required to document the transactions and submit supporting information to AmEx. When those victims also complained to Art French, he called them back to announce “we won the settlement — we always do.” Then French offered to put them in touch with “the CEO of the company” — C.R. Nicholas — because “our CEO would like to make things right with you.”

Listen to a voicemail left by French for a victim:

 

      Art French

Mr. Nicholas” (CRaig Nicholas Chrest?), later left this message for the same victim:

 

      CR Nicholas

When the victim spoke with Nicholas, Nicholas ranted about how Ask The Headhunter is “scamming” SevenFigureCareers and causing trouble — but Nicholas would “look into getting you your money back.”

French was lying, and so was Nicholas. AmEx not only refunded the victims’ money, AmEx cancelled the merchant account.

Now that we have a first, middle and last name for the owner of these companies, let’s get back to Top Gun. Websites for Executive Top Gun Search disappeared after customer complaints revealed the scam on sites like RipOffReport. (See links to complaints below.) Searches for the firm turn up nothing but complaints.

#3: The Executive Headhunter Group

The earliest iteration of Chrest’s recruiting business is referenced in a press release that claims Craig Chrest started The Executive Headhunter Group in 1999. This glowing article on SBWire is dated 2011 and is loaded with text links to Top Gun — but they’re all dead pages.

7f-hhg-sbwire

A 2013  prweb press release refers to this iteration by another name — “Executive HHG.” It’s filled with links to a “domain for sale” page.

7f-hhg-prweb

The firm’s website is gone, but there are plenty of complaints lodged against it and Craig Chrest. The complainants tie Executive HGG to Top Gun.

#4: SevenFigureCareers

7f-wwejsslss-usplacesThe most recent iteration of this recruiting scam has been documented extensively on Ask The Headhunter.

WWEJSSLSS?

Another variation of the WWEJSS name turns up on USplaces.com — this time as WWEJSSLLS. LLS has no meaning I’ve been able to discern.

Is this another recruiting business? Perhaps it’s just another sloppy error — intended to be “LLC.” More likely it’s intended to cause more confusion for potential suckers doing their due diligence.

But it’s yet another business listed at the 12841 Jones Road address that again and again leads back to Chrest.

Unraveling WWEJSS

Legal filings connecting WWEJSS and Craig Chrest tie all the entities together with names, addresses, and telephone numbers.

There was no indication what the letters WWEJSS stood for until one of the victims pressed American Express for more detailed information about the name of this merchant on credit card bills and on the SevenFigureCareers contract. AmEx coughed up the solution: Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions. But the only address AmEx would provide is “Suite 201, Houston, TX.” A spokesperson for American Express declined to explain why it won’t give cardholders the full address of one of its merchants.

While WWEJSS is not a registered entity, thus rendering the SevenFigureCareers contract invalid, Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC is registered in Texas. But the registration — like the SevenFigureCareers.com domain name — is hidden, this time behind a “registered agent service.” Someone doesn’t want to be found.

7f-wej2

But in the world of government registrations, you can’t hide. Ask The Headhunter’s attorneys turned up this summary of the LLC’s true owners:

7f-wej1

Craig Crest is listed as a member, or owner, of the LLC. The rest of the details are in the complete Certificate of Formation filed by Chrest’s partner, Franklin Wescott Straussbaugh, with the State of Texas.

LLCs are interesting legal entities. They’re not corporations and technically they’re not partnerships. They have members (owners) and they have managers. The formation certificate declared all the members managers. Less than a month later, Straussbaugh filed a Certificate of Correction making Chrest the sole manager of the LLC. The other two members, Jaree Zafar and Franklin W. Straussbaugh, remain members and owners. (Soon we’ll see that Straussbaugh is more than just a member.)

[See Update at end of this article. Zafar claims Chrest added him to the LLC without his knowledge or consent and says he is taking legal action to be removed.]

Executive Top Gun Search, LLC (a.k.a. ETG) was registered by Craig N. Chrest on May 30, 2002.

7f-etg1

The Ask The Headhunter legal team pulled ETG’s Articles of Organization, filed May 30, 2002 by Chrest. He is the only member and manager of record.

Privateequityheadhunters.Com, LLC (a.k.a. PEH) was registered June 27, 2013 by another registered agent, InCorp Services, Inc. But PEH’s Certificate of Formation shows this LLC was organized by Jaree Zafar, Chrest’s partner at Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC. [See Update below. Zafar claims Chrest forged his digital signature.] But according to the Certificate, Craig Chrest is the real manager behind all the legal shielding — he’s the guy behind Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC, which is listed as “the governing person…” and “Managing Member”:
7f-peh-cert1

By skipping from one business entity to the next, Chrest and his team tried to escape the torches and pitchforks that were pursuing them online and in the courts.

12841 Jones Rd Ste 201, Houston, Texas

 

The address listed by Chrest on business filings, 12218 Jones Road, Suite D-108, Houston, TX, 77070, is a Mailboxes Plus store — a mail dropbox.

7f-12218jonesrd-ste-d

According to public records, Executive Top Gun Search (ETG), Top Gun Executive Group, Worldwide WWEJSS and WWEJSSLLS are located at 12841 Jones Road, Suite 201 in Houston, Texas, phone number (832) 912-4445. It’s not clear why American Express hides the “12841 Jones Road” part of this address from cardholders who have demanded contact information about the AmEx merchant that bilked them.

Earlier, we noted the phone number listed on the domain registration for SevenFigureCareers.com — it’s the same. While the number listed on the SevenFigureCareers website (at 600 W. Broadway, San Diego, CA), and the number C.R. Nicholas says he’s calling from, is (866) 621-1062, the telephone number under which the businesses are registered, (832) 912-4445 is answered by a man who says, “Billing.”

When I called for comments about the subject of this article, the man answering denies he is Craig Chrest and says he is not familiar with any of the firms or people we’re talking about. He says he’s not in Suite 201, but in 301. The building’s manager says there is no Suite 301 or third floor in this building, where offices are rented to lawyers and other businesses.

The voice answering  (832) 912-4445 is, in my opinion, the same as the voice on voicemails left by C.R. Nicholas.

When Ask The Headhunter visited the building, we found a directory of occupants inside the front door. The business occupying Suite 201 is “CNC.” Could that refer to Craig Nicholas Chrest? This seems to be the real home of all the recruiting firms connected to WWEJSS.

Who is Craig Chrest?

Craig Chrest, the documented owner of the SevenFigureCareers.com domain is also the man who owns, manages and controls Top Gun Executive Search, Private Equity Headhunters, Executive HGG, and Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions (WWEJSS) — but has no LinkedIn connection to any of these business entities.

What successful business person isn’t on LinkedIn? Not Arthur or Tony French. Not C.R. Nicholas or Wesley Strauss or others connected to these firms. Franklin Wescott Straussbaugh does not exist on the Internet. Not even the notable entrepreneur Mark Allen is on LinkedIn, and he’s the managing partner at the notable Agile Capital Partners who “interviewed” victims for seven-figure jobs… just on the phone.

But Craig Chrest has quite a presence online, if you know to look for him.

According to public records and to promotional materials he published himself, Craig “Chip” Chrest played football at the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse, and later in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns.

Chrest published the Top Gun Executive Group’s Blog during 2011. Judging from comments on his posts, the blog was used to create a “presence” to bolster the brand. The names and comments on his posts are nonsense.

7f-weebly
Many other Top Gun pages appear on third-party hosts, clearly intended to create as big an Internet presence as possible. For example, Yola lets anyone build a free business web presence.

7f-chrest-pix-17f-chrest-pix-2Chrest published The Top Gun Executive Group on Yola. It includes a promotional headshot, reproduced here.

Another photo captioned with Chrest’s name appears on a recruiting association website, Top Echelon.

A biography published on fandom reports that Chrest majored in journalism and marketing, sold software and medical equipment, and founded Executive HHG in Houston, Texas in 2013.

Top Gun In Trouble

Fandom also reports that:

In 2013, Chrest and Top Gun were defendants in two civil court cases in which the jury awarded the plaintiff all actual damages and attorney fees of 4 times actual damages for one and subsequently additional damages for the second.

The biography links to Texas attorney Bradley J. Aiken, whose website provides more details about Michael Heartsong v. Executive-Top Gun Search LLC.

7f-lawsuit-1

Chrest testified in this trial and lost. A unanimous jury awarded four times actual damages to the plaintiff for “misrepresentations and breach of an employment search services contract.” Michael Heartsong never collected a dime of the judgment. Chrest claimed bankruptcy.

In 2010, New Jersey resident Vincent Peters sued The Top Gun Executive Group and, after multiple appeals, in 2013 won a final judgment from the 14th Court of Appeals in the State of Texas. LawCitations.com provides details, including this excerpt:

BACKGROUND Peters is a resident of New Jersey, and Top Gun is incorporated in Texas with its principal place of business in Texas. Peters and Top Gun signed a contract for Top Gun to locate employment opportunities for Peters, among other things. Peters paid Top Gun $4,500 for the service. Peters eventually sued Top Gun in New Jersey for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation, common law fraud, consumer fraud in violation of a New Jersey statute, and attorney‘s fees. Peters obtained a default judgment for $18,680.62 and filed the judgment in Texas pursuant to UEFJA.

According to public court records obtained at MoreLaw.com, Top Gun “owner Craig Chrest” was the only witness. Additional court documents are available at Justia.com. According to plaintiff Peters, Chrest has never paid the judgment. He claimed bankruptcy.

Complaints

Websites connected to older iterations of Chrest’s recruiting firms have disappeared. But complaint sites document more PE firms, addresses, and names of individuals connected to this series of scams. While people posting complaints do so anonymously, their stories are consistent and the pieces fit together across sites and time.

7f-scamorg-3 7f-scamorg-4Complaints dated 2013-2016 appear on FacebookYelp, Scam.org and RipOffReport and refer to Craig Chrest, Arthur French, Wes Strauss, Wes Anderson, CR Nichols, Wade Ahmed, Douglass Robinson, to “The Top Gun Executive Group AKA Executive Headhunter Group (along with other aliases),” and an enormous cast of characters.

7f-scamorg-5

7f-yelp-1

7f-scamorg-6

Threats against victims

One of the RipOffReports features “retaliation responses” trying to discredit victims. The responses are never credible and offer no trackable source. A legitimate company would respond and provide a name and contact information.

Perhaps the most interesting collection of victims’ stories appears on ScamOrg.com, about Private Equity Headhunters LLC. It’s chock full of names associated with various iterations of the scam, among them some familiar to victims of SevenFigureCareers. These complaints also triggered “responses” threatening the complainers.

7f-scamorg-1 7f-scamorg-2
It seems the threats frightened some complainers into silence, including a case where the scammers posted the full name of a victim — apparently to intimidate her. But judging from Scam.org postings, victims caught on and lost their fears.

Evolution of the non-disclosure threat

As complaints mounted, each firm disappeared and a new one popped up to replace it. This seems to explain why the newest “contract” — for SevenFigureCareers — includes a wild non-disclosure (NDA) clause that warns victims they’ll be liable for tens of thousands of dollars if they ever speak up.

7f-contract-2

This NDA strategy seems to have shut up new victims, notably John Rice, who first posted his complaint on Ask The Headhunter. Rice then asked me to remove it when a phony lawyer sent him a nasty e-mail invoking the confidentiality clause. The NDA seemed to be working — for a while.

But we learned the lawyer was fake — which prompted legal review of the contract, and investigation of WWEJSS. It’s all phony, thus the threats are once again empty. And now victims are not just posting complaints. Victims are delivering documentation that has led to the exposure of the entire ring and the whole string of recruiting companies under Craig Chrest’s registrations.

How big is the scam?

It’s big. Multi-million-dollars big.

Size of the operation

While it might seem there are many people involved in the operation discussed in this series of articles, indications are that it’s just a handful.

According to victims, Chrest handles the database and operations from Houston (including “Billing”). People familiar with Straussbaugh suggest he’s the voice on the phone — Arthur and Tony French, a.k.a. Wesley Strauss and Wes Anderson — doing the sales pitches and coddling the victims until they realize their money is gone. A changing roster of programmers seem to be helping with the back end in Pakistan. According to a 2013 prweb article, Jaree Zafar — an LLC organizer and current member — handled information technology, though his involvement today is unclear. [See Update at end of this article.]

It doesn’t take many people to run a scam when it’s automated. Judging from communications received from SevenFigureCareers by victims, boilerplate “reports” and “updates” are mail-merged with different names and sent out en masse every day to hundreds of victims and targets at a time. Most notable is the boilerplate included in supposedly confidential e-mails between French and the managing partners of PE firms. This bit of social engineering has generated loads of laughs among the Ask The Headhunter team:

Good talking to you and glad to hear Julie is doing better.

— See 7F: Anatomy of a recruiting scam

Suckers are supposed to think they’re listening in on personal repartee that reveals the close connections between Art French and his clients. But Julie is referenced in e-mail threads attributed to multiple sources and included on mails pertaining to multiple job opportunities from different “managing partners.” Poor Julie.

Big bucks

Ask The Headhunter has been contacted by people to whom Chrest has bragged about his accomplishments. How much money have victims been scammed out of since at least 1999?

Reasonable estimates are between $4 million and $10 million, possibly more. Chrest has changed his fees over 17 years to what the market will bear — $10,000 per “client,” $4,500, $2,500, $1,500. The number of victims per month is shocking.

When American Express cut off the WWEJSS merchant account, the credit card company’s fraud unit kicked into action. Victims have confirmed that AmEx has already begun refunding fraudulent charges to cardholders. VISA and MasterCard participate in a fraud clearinghouse called MATCH. Because of the scope of the scam, it’s reasonable to expect that federal authorities are investigating. One victim has reported that:

The good news is that I have all the addresses, contracts and bank info to turn over to the FBI.

The credit card companies and banks have a lot of explaining to do. Now that victims are demanding charge-backs, does anyone think the card companies are going to eat the costs in dollars and damage to their brands? How did they let this go on for 17 years?

International

Art French solicited a leading telecommunications scientist in Israel who contacted Ask The Headhunter immediately. He played cat and mouse with French while feeding along French’s e-mails and audio recordings of their conversations.

The scientist believes French found him in an executive networking database he’d recently joined. This suggests time zones and country boundaries are no obstacle when everything is done online and on the phone — and that there are many more overseas victims and targets who will come forward.

Here a condescending French pitches the “opportunity” for a phony job with Apax — a renowned London-based venture firm — and an interview with the non-existent Mark Allen. It’s all very, very confidential. (Audio approx. 3 minutes.)

 

      Art French

At the end, French lays the hook — he’s got to get approval to “let” his victim do the interview.

In the next call, French tries to reel in the victim. He explains how “the program” works. Finally, the frustrated French discloses that an interview for the job in San Jose is going to cost $1,500. And, if the Apax job doesn’t work out, for thousands of dollars more, “7F” will make him “a client” for three months. (Audio approx. 6 minutes.)

 

      Art French

International fraud is what attracts federal authorities. French is still waiting for the scientist in Israel to wire $2,500.

Craig Chrest: “Someone is scamming us!”

When victims have confronted Craig Nicholas Chrest — calling himself Mr. Nicholas — after they realized he’d ripped them off, he has responded that, “Someone is scamming us!” Someone was using his firm’s name, ripping people off, and making it look like it was him.

But Chrest’s signature across a span of 14 years doesn’t lie about who’s behind it all. Here it is on the 2002 Articles of Organization for Executive Top Gun Search, LLC that he filed with the Texas Secretary of State:

7f-chrest-sig1

And here’s Chrest’s signature, dated September 1, 2016, on a contract he signed as SevenFigureCareers with one of his victims — while claiming he was C.R. Nicholas, CEO of the firm:

7f-creditcard-sig

This particular victim’s $2,500 was refunded by American Express after the credit card company’s fraud unit turned off the lights on Chrest’s merchant account.

Scam firms beyond this series of articles

Fortune recently published two articles by Dan Primack about a recruiting scam the magazine referred to as The Ghost In The VC Machine, but they never got to the actual culprits. (See also The Venture Capital Firm That Wasn’t There.) Could these be connected to Chrest and SevenFigureCareers?

I think they are. The names are different. But note the address of one of the scam recruiting firms discussed in the Fortune article: 600 West Broadway, San Diego, California.

7f-fortune

That’s the address of SevenFigureCareers, which appears in press releases like the one below, and on the firm’s erstwhile website, and which is confirmed by the receptionist when you call (866) 621-1062:

7f-600bwy

This scam is bigger than anyone has guessed until now.

Have you been scammed?

Repeated calls to SevenFigureCareers’ advertised phone number, (866) 621-1062 (which is also the number on the firm’s contract) to reach Art French, C.R. Nicholas, Franklin Straussbaugh, Craig Chrest, and Jaree Zafar for comment failed. Only an answering service is available.  [See Update at end of this article. Zafar contacted Ask The Headhunter after publication of this article and provided a detailed comment.]

What’s interesting is that the receptionist — like the guy answering the phone at 12841 Jones Road — answers, “Billing,” then denies you’ve reached SevenFigureCareers. When pressed to speak with Art French, she goes to get him, then says “your account representative is not available” and denies any of the aforementioned individuals are at the number.

If you’re a victim of any of the recruiters and recruiting firms described, I’d like to hear from you. So far the people behind these firms have stayed far enough under the radar to trigger only small lawsuits — which the plaintiffs have always won.

The scam continues

Recently an Ask The Headhunter reader who paid SevenFigureCareers with his VISA card contacted me and referred to Chrest & Crew as the “7F CROOKS.” He said:

Anthony French solicited and sold me on a PE package and I actually got an interview with a PE firm that was questionable at best. Now their emails are all dead! I welcome a chance to share this bad experience with your readers.

Is it possible to go after people who hide behind ever-changing business names? Lawrence Barty, an attorney who has specialized in employment and labor law, offers this:

If you can identify the person who perpetrated this fraud, a tort claim of fraudulent inducement might be possible (as always, State laws vary) against that person — not against the illusory 7F. You were induced by X (identity presently unknown) to enter into a contract that cost you money, but was known in advance by X to be worthless. So, you should sue X, the person who tricked you into entering that contract. A claim of that type can be a tort claim, possibly giving rise to compensatory and punitive damages.

While Chrest’s victims have sued and won judgments in court, it seems the mistake they made was to sue his LLCs. According to attorney Barty, they should have sued Chrest personally. As in TheLadders case, individual victims need not hire lawyers. As more evidence and more plaintiffs surface, a massive consumer class action is likely the best legal strategy. (See TheLadders: How the scam works and Federal Court OK’s Suit Against TheLadders: Breach of contract & deceptive practices. This action arose out of complaints published on Ask The Headhunter, too.)

In the meantime, American Express found enough evidence in these articles to start refunding money to victims who were each defrauded of thousands of dollars by “WWEJSS.” No matter which credit card you paid with, you should contact your credit card issuer, include links to this series of articles, and ask for restitution.

All crooks are sloppy

This story started with an Ask The Headhunter reader who complained about getting scammed out of $2,500 by SevenFigureCareers on the comments section of this website. (See SevenFigureCareers: Threats and fraud.) He immediately received a threatening e-mail from a lawyer. The lawyer’s name was real — but the lawyer didn’t write the threat. He was impersonated by someone at SevenFigureCareers — a crime in all 50 states.

Arrogance makes scammers sloppy, especially when they do their business on the Internet. But when it’s on the Internet, information is forever — and any number of people can play.

Many thanks to all who have shared their experiences and information, and e-mails, contracts, recordings, and other documents to help expose this recruiting racket. Special thanks to the Ask The Headhunter legal team for digging up and reviewing documents, and for their insights, comments and legal advice. A big shout out to the field team that visited actual locations discussed in this article.

>Update: November 30, 2016

Jaree Zafar contacted Ask The Headhunter after publication of this article and says that he himself is “a victim of this fraudster,” referring to Craig Chrest.

Zafar says, “I am not his partner,” but that he worked for Chrest as an independent contractor “handling his IT needs between 2012 and 2013,” and decided to leave when he discovered Chrest’s “fraudulent practices.” He says that since 2013 he has had “absolutely nothing to do with Craig Chrest or his businesses,” that he has “not been paid a single cent from him” since 2013 — and that Chrest “still owes me thousands for my last month” of work.

Commenting on the LLC filings that bear his name, Zafar says, “I found out that [Chrest] had forged my signatures on his LLC formation and added me as a member without informing me and without my permission.”

It’s worth noting that, while Craig Chrest’s and Franklin Straussbaugh’s actual signatures appear on the Texas State filings obtained by Ask The Headhunter (see links above), Zafar’s actual signature does not. He explained that the forms were filed online and that Chrest merely had to type a name in place of an actual signature — without Zafar’s permission.

In 2013 Zafar “assumed that [Chrest] would have removed my information [from the LLCs] after receiving three demand letters from my attorney.” Unable to afford legal costs, Zafar says he did not go through with litigation.

About Chrest, Zafar says, “This guy has a long history of impersonating and defrauding people. I have contacted my attorney regarding this matter and I intend to start criminal proceedings for identity theft and fraud… but since he has all my personal information including my date of birth and social security number, I am now seriously concerned about the extent of this thief’s intentions. I am sorry for everyone who has been victimized by this fraudster.”

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Have you been solicited or ripped-off by a similar scam?

Comments on this post are closed. If you’ve encountered what you believe is a similar scam, send details here.

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My references died: how do I get more?

Quick Question

How should a person deal with the fact that his best references for a job have died?

Nick’s Quick Advice

references

Sorry to hear it — but it’s actually a problem we headhunters encounter from time to time. It’s a very real problem, and a challenge, but you must address it. People who can endorse us are actually all around. You just have to stop and see them. That’s how you’ll develop the new references you need.

References are everywhere

Consider people who worked in your department or in related departments. Your best advocates don’t need to be your ex-boss or even someone you worked with directly. For example, if you’re an engineer, there are probably people in your old employer’s manufacturing, quality, and sales departments who can probably speak about you.

Who else saw the work you were doing? Not just other employees — but perhaps customers, vendors, and consultants who worked with your company. Anyone you did work with can speak up for you. But you have to ask them.

Call, don’t e-mail

Call them. Don’t send an e-mail request. References are a personal favor, so demonstrate that you’re willing to make your request personally.

Don’t start by asking them to be references. Just reminisce — try to get them to talk about their memories of when you worked together.

How to Say It

“Hey, remember the X project we both worked on… What did you think of how it turned out?”

Then lead them into a discussion about stuff you worked on. Get them to talk about it. If they can discuss it a bit, you’ve got a reference.

Here’s the magic

Helping people talk about your work and past performance helps them formulate what they’d say later as references. It’s your job to help them talk about it. Then, when you ask them to be a reference, they feel like they’ve got something to say. (See Don’t provide references, LAUNCH them.)

Does this sound like manipulation? It’s not. It’s like priming a pump. By helping people remember, you help them find the phrases they need to talk about you to an employer. Just do it honestly.

(If you’re an employer, see References: How employers bungle a competitive edge.)

Ever provide a surprising reference that helped you land a job? How would you advise this reader?

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WWEJSS: How does a fake recruiting firm get a credit card merchant account?

WWEJSS, LLC — a.k.a. SevenFigureCareers — is a “recruiting” company that does not legally exist, yet major credit card companies have authorized merchant accounts that it uses to fraudulently collect fees for services it never delivers, while it silences its victims with a confidentiality agreement that’s fake, too.

WWEJSSA credit card scam

In a series of recent articles, readers shared their experiences with phony recruiters at SevenFigureCareers (a.k.a. 7F, 7figcareers, and loads of other names) who scammed job seekers out of loads of money:

But, how does a racket like SevenFigureCareers get a merchant account to collect fees via American Express, MasterCard and VISA — then win disputes when victims complain about being scammed?

By getting victims to sign a contract.

To defend against claims of fraudulent credit card charges, 7F tells credit card companies that its “customer” signed a contract and that 7F delivered what it promised under the contract — hence, no refund is due.

One victim, John Rice (not his real name), told me that AmEx said it was a contractual problem between him and 7F because 7F reported it had fulfilled its obligations. AmEx suggested he hire a lawyer after AmEx rejected four requests for a refund.

After reports detailing the scam appeared on this website, AmEx eventually refunded Rice and other cardholders thousands in fees collected by 7F, and cancelled 7F’s merchant account. But it seems that AmEx issued that merchant account without confirming whether 7F is a legal entity. AmEx declined to explain exactly how it vets merchants before signing them up. AmEx also won’t disclose what problems it found with 7F after a phony lawyer threatened a user of this website who spoke up about getting scammed.

The SevenFigureCareers contract is a fraud

Two real lawyers reviewed the 7F contract for Ask The Headhunter. One of them explained the problem:

“A contract is between two parties. If there are not two parties, then there is no contract. This contract is invalid because there’s only one party — the victim.”

When high-salary executives don’t recognize that an agreement they’re signing is invalid, then everyone needs to learn the basics.

Read the contract

Let’s start with the SevenFigureCareers contract. Several victims provided me with copies. Each seems to be coded with an ID at the upper left, to identify the victim. I’ve redacted that.

Here’s why the contract is a fraud, and why AmEx — and MasterCard and VISA — should never have issued merchant accounts to SevenFigureCareers.

7f-contract-1

Although it calls itself by many names, SevenFigureCareers does business under a name its victims don’t see until they receive a contract: WWEJSS, LLC. But this “Texas corporation” does not exist. Thus, there is no contract.

Did credit card companies get scammed, too?

So, how does a fake company collect payments through real credit card accounts? Why would credit card companies with anti-fraud departments authorize merchant accounts for crooks? Good questions, for which we have no answers. And that means you should never assume that paying with a credit card protects you from fraudulent vendors.

Did these credit card companies get scammed, too? How? Will they ever admit it?

Tip: If you have concerns about a company you’re about to contract with, investigate the entity. If SevenFigureCareers’s victims had done due diligence, they’d never have gotten suckered. They never would have paid — even with a credit card. John Rice, a seasoned executive, has said to me several times, “I was such a dumb shit.” Yes, he knew better — but he suspended his concerns because he figured American Express would protect him from losses. American Express, however, apparently didn’t take reasonable precautions to protect Rice from this phony merchant.

Caveat emptor really does mean that due diligence is always your responsibility.

WWEJSS, LLC is a fraud

American Express credit card charges from SevenFigureCareers appear as WWEJSS, LLC or WWJESS, LLC on victims’ statements.

After doing some basic research, one victim learned the company is not licensed in Texas and confronted 7F recruiter “Tony French.” French replied in an e-mail that SevenFigureCareers doesn’t have to be licensed, but that it is registered in Texas under “WWEJSS, LLC.”

7f-e-mail-1

On September 29, I contacted the office of the Texas Secretary of State. Victoria, a helpful employee, told me that, “If it’s a legal entity, like a Texas corporation or LLC or limited partnership, it has to be registered with the State, even if it only does e-commerce.”

She then looked up WWEJSS, LLC and WWJESS, LLC, “a Texas corporation,” in the Texas registry.

“There is no WWEJSS or WWJESS registered,” Victoria reported.

That makes Tony French a liar and his “company” illegal.

7f-whitetailsHunting… scammers, or deer?

Nor is there a registration for SevenFigureCareers, Seven Figure Careers, 7Figures, or any other such name. (In 1993, “Seven Figure, Inc.” was registered to Carl Poston, but that expired in 1996.)

There is, however, a registration for 7F, Inc. — to Gary Benbow in Yoakum, Texas. I spoke with Gary, who runs the respected 7F Whitetails Ranch. The 7F comes from an old cattle brand that’s been in his family for generations. He’s never heard of SevenFigureCareers. Gary’s not in the recruiting business. His family raises cattle and offers trophy deer hunting on the property. And he’s not happy about scammers tarnishing his registered brand.

Targeting the credit card companies

American Express and other credit card companies have permitted an unregistered legal entity to collect payments with their credit cards even after the victims gave notice that this merchant is a fraud. Apparently, AmEx failed to do the simplest due diligence. (When I asked, AmEx would not disclose exactly how it vets its merchants.) Then AmEx rejected requests for refunds out of hand, relying on what we now know is an invalid contract used by a fake company operating illegally in Texas.

These credit card companies have put a target on their own backs that says “Fraud.” I didn’t ask Gary Benbow whether he takes credit cards. But I’m sure he’d love to find the guys who call themselves 7F.

As of the date of this column, Texas Company Search lists no registrations for any of the SevenFigureCareers legal entities — least of all WWEJSS, LLC, the name listed on its contracts.

WWEJSS: How it silences its victims

It seems clear that WWEJSS has flourished because it keeps its victims quiet.

After John Rice’s credit card dispute was rejected, he posted about the scam on this website. Within minutes, SevenFigures silenced Rice with an e-mail. A phony lawyer “representing” SevenFigures threatened him with a contractual penalty of $25,000 if he didn’t remove what he posted. It was actually that threat that publicly unraveled the entire SevenFigureCareers scam.

What scared Rice and other victims into silence is an intimidating non-disclosure clause (or NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement) in the contract — “Mutual Confidentiality Regarding ENTIRE AGREEMENT and your Search.”

The NDA threat

We’ll forget for a minute that the entire contract is invalid because WWEJSS doesn’t exist. Let’s take a look at what these people agreed to — and at what a lawyer says about it.

7f-contract-2

This clause essentially says that the signer can’t reveal anything about their experience with 7F, or comment about it anywhere to anyone. Victims I interviewed were convinced that, even if they knew they’d been scammed, they’d have to pay 7F $25,000 if they told anyone.

But, this section of the contract by itself wouldn’t stand up in court, say two attorneys who reviewed it. That is, it seems there is no danger to SevenFigures’ victims if they tell all to the world. (Note: The opinions of the lawyers I spoke with are not legal advice. If you have a specific contractual controversy, you need to get advice from a lawyer about your specific problem.)

Phony Lawyering: liquidated damages & penalties

It’s worth understanding a legal concept that’s key to many contracts. The idea is pretty simple. If we bind ourselves with a contract, and I do something that violates our contract, I will cause you damage, and I must reimburse you for that damage.

But, how much could the damages be worth? The law acknowledges this can be hard to calculate. Here’s how one lawyer explains it:

In situations where it’s not practical or maybe possible to come up with an actual number, in a contract parties can “pre-decide” what the damages will be (called liquidated damages), but there has to be a reasonable relation to the actual harm caused. It can’t just be some outlandish number like a bazillion dollars because then that would be more like a “penalty” and less like compensation for actual damages received.

If a court (judge) feels like the amount pre-decided (the liquidated damages) is actually a penalty then they may decide to throw out that figure. That is why lawyers go to great lengths when using a liquidated damages clause to make it seem as far from a penalty as possible, starting with not calling it a penalty!

7f-contract-3In this lawyer’s opinion, the fact that the contract calls the payment a “penalty” would probably invalidate any damages claim. What this — along with the other sloppy wording and writing in this “contract” — tells us is that a lawyer didn’t write it.

My guess is it was written by the same putz who impersonated a lawyer — illegal in all 50 states — in the e-mail threatening John Rice.

This is how 7F silences its victims, using an unenforceable confidentiality agreement in a fraudulent contract to intimidate them into keeping their mouths shut. They naturally worry that speaking up would cost them $25,000 for violating confidentiality. But liquidated damages normally can’t be a penalty — only compensation for damage.

Go suck rocks.

All that Tony French’s victims have to do is tell him to go suck rocks when he threatens them. And that’s why we’re having this brief legal lesson, courtesy of two friendly lawyers who hate scammers.

(We won’t get into it here, but SevenFigureCareers violated its own NDA when Tony French shared confidential communications from his private equity “clients” with the candidates he was supposedly recruiting. Except those PE clients don’t exist — so where’s the harm?)

Who should sue whom?

Well, it seems Mr. French might be doing more than sucking on rocks soon.

I asked Lawrence Barty, a retired attorney who has specialized in employment and labor law, for his views on this case. He suggests the SevenFigureCareers victims may have grounds to sue whoever is behind this phony recruiting firm. Even though SevenFigureCareers doesn’t legally exist, someone convinced the victims that the firm does exist and that the contract is real. And that person faces trouble.

The persuasion of this “person” led you into a situation in which you lost money. If you have a legal claim, it can’t be against an entity that doesn’t exist — right? So who can you sue?

If you can identify the person who perpetrated this fraud, a tort claim of fraudulent inducement might be possible (as always, State laws vary) against that person — not against the illusory 7F. You were induced by X (identity presently unknown) to enter into a contract that cost you money, but was known in advance by X to be worthless. So, you should sue X, the person who tricked you into entering that contract. A claim of that type can be a tort claim, possibly giving rise to compensatory and punitive damages.

Ah. Now we get to penalties. Not just compensatory damages, but punitive damages. Except now the penalty is against the scammer.

This is tricky stuff — maybe more than your readers need to know. The threshold issue is to identify and locate who is behind 7F. You can’t sue someone whom you can’t identify. And, because he is a crook by any definition, he therefore is likely to be a very, very elusive target.

Yah — like a deer on Gary Benbow’s ranch.

What’s next?

Since this series about SevenFigureCareers.com was published, the “firm’s” website has gone dark. Many of the associated phony websites of phony private equity and venture capital firms have disappeared. But SevenFigureCareers continues to operate and collect fees, with a web presence on Manta, a business web-hosting service. It’s newest customers have been in touch with Ask The Headhunter — after they lost their money.

Where is the crook? Has American Express found him?

How does someone running a fake company get merchant accounts with American Express, VISA and MasterCard? What basic controls against fraud do these credit card companies have in place? I mean — how hard is it to look up a corporation’s or LLC’s credentials? A dog with a note in its mouth can do it.

In the next edition, we’ll go down to the bottom of this wormhole: Who’s behind the SevenFigureCareers recruiting scam?

Are you one of the victims scammed by SevenFigureCareers? Or did you see the scam coming and walk the other way? How would you avoid getting fleeced by a “career service?” What due diligence do you do?

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