Executive Resumes & Career Transition Strategies Blog

Reflections of an Executive Resume Writer
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Career Marketing Firms: Buyer Beware

Career Journal Q&A;: Should I Pay $6,000 Upfront for Career Aid?

“People often are at their most vulnerable when they are unemployed and scared they won’t find new work. They are particularly susceptible to the pitches of some career-services or career-marketing firms that promise to help connect them with the ‘hidden’ job market or opportunities that haven’t yet been advertised. The catch is that job seekers must pay large sums of money up front and sign multi-page agreements before they receive any assistance.

Margaret Riley, who has run The Riley Guide, a site providing free career and employment information, since 1994, notes the four telltale signs that you may be dealing with a disreputable career-marketing firm:

* It claims to have access to the hidden job market.
* It offers only one package of services and charges only one price.
* It needs your decision — and your payment — right now.
* The career-marketing company contacted you after finding your resume online.”

Laurie’s Comments:

I feel I would be remiss if I did not pass along this caveat regarding career marketing firms. If anyone promises you that they have special access to “the hidden job market” and to “hiring decision-makers” that will allow you to bypass normal executive search and employment interviewing processes, do not do business with them. It is well known that any legitimate executive recruiter will be paid by the company, not the candidate.

A very satisfied executive client of mine recently passed along this web address to me, saying that it had saved him a great deal of potential grief and money:

Unfortunately this site no longer exists, as Margaret Riley notes on her site, because it “has been taken down under threat of multi-million dollar lawsuits from the same executive career firms who are constantly cited by job seekers as fraudulent and/or unethical.”

However, there still remain some sites that can provide valuable information to aid executives in evaluating solicitations from career marketing firms. Ms. Riley provides a good list of resources:


I have sadly encountered many executive candidates over the years who felt they had been ripped off by an unscrupulous firm. Fees paid ranged from $5,000 or $6,000 to $40,000 or more.

I remember especially vividly an executive who contacted me several years ago who sounded as if he were about to break down in tears. This clearly broken man had paid $25,000 to a firm that created a one-page, cookie cutter resume filled with boilerplate, and blasted it indiscriminately to companies nationwide. In 6 months he had received a total of 3 replies, of which 2 were nothing more than automated responses and 1 was for a position far below his salary level and totally unsuited to his qualifications.
After a bit of hand holding and major reality checking, I worked with him to put together an executive resume that did him justice and restored his shattered confidence. I then helped him to select and implement a targeted and cost effective search campaign that resulted in a great position, in the near-term, at reasonable cost.

There are certainly reputable firms out there that provide value and do not lure in executives by appealing to vanity (“You must be specially selected to work with our firm”) or offering inflated and impossible-to-fulfill promises. However, the truth is that no one ever lands a new position without putting some personal effort into it. Success requires your personal involvement in development of your executive resume and the identification and use of savvy SELF-marketing strategies. A reputable executive resume service or career coach can help you in these areas.

The basic message here is: If it sounds too easy – “Just give us your credit card number and we will do all of the work and leverage our ‘exclusive’ contacts in the hidden job market to get you a job” – run, do not walk away.