Beware of “Career Marketing” Predators


Recently the topic of career marketing firms came up as I was talking with one of my executive clients, who indicated he had been contacted by several and wasn’t sure what to think. He said, “I was contacted by Bernard-Haldane, McKenzie-Scott, and Montgomery-Gray Associates. They all have the exact same tactic. Fear. They build fear about the career situation, tell you the resume is horrible and then they have the answer.”

After I e-mailed him my thoughts on the subject, he observed, “I did my research on ExecuNet and the horror stories were in parallel to what you have said. You must publish [this], because it is exactly how I felt.” So reprinted below are some things executive candidates will want to consider before engaging a career marketing firm:

“It’s important to realize that these firms are NOT recruiters. They are retail outtplacement or direct mail firms. I receive inquiries from many clients about this type of firm and have always advised them to be very cautious and make sure exactly what you are getting for your money before signing any contracts. I’ve accumulated a number of horror stories over the years. I have yet to work with a client who felt the $5,000, $10,000, or more spent for one of these types of marketing services was well spent.

60 minutes and other news outlets have done multiple exposés over the years. I have had clients come to me defeated and depressed after having spent as much as $25,000 (yes, that’s 3 zeroes) on “marketing campaigns” with not a single response. The quality of the delivery of the services is highly variable from firm to firm and market to market.

You may want to consider the following fact: A recruiter will get from 20 to 33% of a candidate’s first year salary as a commission for placement. This is industry standard. If a candidate is worth say $100K a year, then he’s worth a potential $20,000 to $33,000 in commission. If he or she is worth $200K, that’s a $40K to $66K commission. So why don’t these firms just go after the real cash for placement? I mean, if they know where the jobs are, then they should know where the money is.

Some very savvy clients have asked me about these services, flattered at being contacted and mistakenly thinking these were high caliber recruiting firms eager to represent and place them. I have also had clients for whom I’ve prepared excellent resumes meet with them, only to have their professionally prepared resume ripped to shreds. Fortunately, they have enough confidence in what I’ve done for them to see through this tactic. I’ve also re-written many resumes for clients who had inferior, boilerplate 1-page resumes or “marketing letters” prepared by such firms and then spent well into 4 or even 5 figures having themselves “marketed” (mass mailing), for little or no response.

Career marketing scams are not new, but the number of complaints against these companies has increased dramatically in recent years. A quick search on Google will verify this fact. If anyone promises you that they have access to “the hidden job market” and to “hiring decision-makers” that will allow you to bypass normal job interviewing processes, run, do not walk away. It is well known that any legitimate recruiter will be paid by the company, not the candidate.

The Web has info and resources for people who have been burned by career marketing firms and executive marketing firms, also called retail outplacement or advance-fee placement firms. There are discussion groups for well-known firms such as Bernard Haldane, McKenzie Scott, and ProSavvy. Complicating the issue is that the most aggressive of the career marketing firm scammers continually morph into new companies and change their names to escape the bad press and law enforcement interest they have generated.

The appeal of a firm that tells you they will do all the marketing for you and find you a fantastic new job is obvious. However, the reality of job search is that it is work, takes time, and that there are no guarantees even for the most qualified person with the best resume in the world. For higher level positions, the standard formula for many years has been that it takes approximately one month per $10K of expected salary for the search, and although that has thankfully decreased somewhat in the current market, it is still not far off the mark.

Candidates who actively build and heavily leverage a professional network in their search are generally the ones who land a new position most quickly, as well as those who pursue a variety of approaches to the search (traditional and e-networking, cultivating recruiter contacts, efficient use of job boards, researching and individually contacting a selected group companies of interest to them, etc.), rather than depending on one avenue.

You’d think I don’t have a very good opinion of career marketing firms, wouldn’t you ;-)? All of this is certainly not to say that there are no reputable firms out there. I would just be very circumspect before agreeing to work with one. If you decide to go with one of these services, I strongly urge you to get in writing exactly what they will provide for the money, and especially the terms for a refund. You should have a contact assigned to you and should deal with that person exclusively. That person should be reasonably accessible. You should inquire about their contacts and track record in your career field. And ask if they will prorate the fee if you find a job quickly on your own.”

A quick Google search will reveal numerous articles and resources that provide further information on career marketing scammers. (Beware that there are some pretty unhappy consumers commenting on some of these sites, and their language may be offensive.)

Please understand that I do not personally endorse what is said on any of these sites and that I have not personally had a bad experience with any of these firms. However, I feel that the consistent negative experiences related to me by clients and prospective clients over many years, input from numerous career transition professionals in my network, along with articles written by career experts whom I consider reputable and reliable make it incumbent on me to make sure my executive clients are aware of the potential dangers out there.