Around once a year I have seen enough additional examples of executive marketing firm rip-offs that I find myself compelled to write another article on the subject.
Over more than 30 years in the career services profession, I have spoken with numerous executives and senior managers who have fallen prey to unscrupulous career marketing firms making outlandish promises about how, for a substantial fee, they will provide them with access to the hidden job market and unadvertised job listings. They promise to do this by using their exclusive network of contacts in hiring companies or by blanketing the corporate world with their resume in a completely untargeted fashion. I have spoken with executives who paid large sums–often $10,000 to even $25,000 or more–and received essentially nothing, except in most cases a very poorly written resume. In just the past several weeks, I have spoken with several very unhappy executives who had been ripped off in this fashion.
These scam artists are constantly reinventing themselves when the consumer outrage mounts, the authorities begin to take notice, and legal action begins. They will often reappear down the street or in a new city city under a different name, many times with the same owners. In fact, one way to quickly eliminate such a firm from consideration is to Google the owners’ names and look at all the bad press they have left in their wake. Some names that have generated considerable notoriety in this regard are Bernard Haldane, McKenzie Scott, and WSA Corporation.
You may ask: How can I distinguish a legitimate career services/career marketing firm from a racketeer? After all, most resume writing firms (including mine) offer additional job search services to help their clients maximize the effectiveness of the self-marketing documents they have created. Here are a few characteristics of a legitimate firm:
* Fees charged are reasonable compensation for actual services rendered.
* The firm is willing to provide legitimate, verifiable references from its clients.
* If they “place” candidates (function as recruiters), they will also provide names and contact information for companies where they have done so.
* You as the job seeker remain the owner and architect of your job search; no claims are made that the firm will find you a job. If they do make such a claim, there is a money-back guarantee effective within a specified period of time that does not require you to meet virtually impossible requirements to qualify for it.
* No representations are made of exclusive access to executive opportunities or hiring decision makers; rather advice about effective strategies and tactical assistance are offered to help you identify and access those opportunities and decision makers.
The characteristics of the executive career marketing racketeer will of course be the exact opposite of the above.
I also wanted to mention a a new breed of career services firm that has emerged in the last several years that call themselves “executive agents” or “career agents.” Where a headhunter works on the demand side for talent (filling companies’ orders), the career or executive agent works on the supply side, representing the candidate. These agents attempt to determine the marketable value of the executive, to define a campaign strategy, and to position the executive to the market. Once they have “packaged” the client, the presentations to companies and headhunters begin. These firms are few in number, and typically represent only high-profile CEOs, senior executives on the CEO fast track, turnaround experts, high-power attorneys and consultants, and cutting-edge technology experts.
Executive agency could develop into a viable model, but the field is so new and there are no standards, track record, established ethics, etc., to point to. Just as would be the case with a movie star, athlete, or recording artist, you will be 100% dependent on the skills and ethics of your agent. You will have relinquished responsibility for your own career management, generally an inadvisable thing to do, in my opinion. Fees are usually substantial, and often involve a percentage of salary and bonuses–on an ongoing basis. So if you are considering hiring an executive agent, thorough due diligence would be imperative.
What actually prompted me to write this today was an article by Nick Corcodilos, entitled “How Much Would You Pay for a Job?” As with all of his columns that expose the executive marketing rackets, he is right on target. Dave Opton of ExecuNet also provides some valuable tips in his article on executive marketing firms featured on CIOUpdate.com. Execcareer.com used to be an excellent resource for sorting out the scams, but the site was long ago 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. You can still view how the site appeared in previous years through the Wayback Machine, a site that archives everything that appears on the Web. Mark Swarz also has some excellent observations in his article at Workopolis.com.