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Times are tough.  The number of executives who remain out of work is staggering.  They are, understandably, concerned.   Some are scared.  Others are panicked.  You cannot blame them. Many people are at risk of losing everything they have worked a lifetime to accumulate.

Working from posh offices, Vultures posing as career counselors and coaches are luring  out-of-work executives with phony job interviews.  It is a scam.   Here is how it works:   The executive receives a call from a “Gina” or “Jan” — personable and engaging assistants — telling the out-of-work executive that their name surfaced in research and that the Senior Vice President or the Partner would like to interview them for a top-paying job that seems to fit their profile perfectly.   When the executive arrives, he receives a little career insight about his resume or experience but, in the end, the meeting turns into a  full-court press to have them sign up for job placement — usually for a fee ranging from $5,000 to $6,500 as was the case last week in Houston.  These people call themselves coaches, career counselors or some other catchy current title of the month but what they really do is take people’s money and produce very little in return.

These “career coaches” have been at this “game” for a long time, and they are good at it.  They are not to be confused with the thousands of outplacement counselors and career coaches — certified or not — who provide a legitimate service with real value.  The legitimate ones often put some actual effort into the work, and definitely will not ask you for exorbitant amounts of money to match you with a suitable job. They may even have a proper business website and some useful blog posts providing advice on what content on your resume could make an impression on recruiters, and the like. So you can clearly see that the real career counselors take their job seriously. In no way can they be compared to those who can only be called as “scam artists” looking to make a quick buck. No, these people work for franchises of a company that traces its history back to the late 1940s and which, for many years, provided a legitimate service, for a fee, to people who were looking for a job.  However, along the way, some investors and executives with questionable pasts, hijacked the concept and they are hurting desperate executives and the reputations of honorable career consultants.

They justify their fees by saying that their “secret database” costs more than $200,00 a year to maintain.  Some even suggest they know about jobs that no one else knows about, prompting one career counseling victim to call it “the phantom job market.”  In another case, an information technology manager, skilled in managing software developers, was told by “Gina” that they were calling about a great job with Hewlett Packard.  They set up a screening interview with the Senior Vice President of the counseling company  for the next day and the unsuspecting candidate walked in to a high pressured sales pitch to pay $5,500 to get access to HP’s job.  If the candidate had only searched the HP website, he would have seen a description for a position that sounded almost exactly the same.  They even encourage candidates who are strapped for cash to borrow from their children, relatives or friends.

If you fall for the pitch and sign their contract, there is little anyone can or will do to help you get your money back.  The contracts are virtually airtight, one state attorney general said.  Some agreements even have non-disclosure clauses that preclude the duped job seeker from disclosing any of the company’s information.  

How do they get the candidate names?   The Vultures, like legitimate recruiters, use job boards to find their targets which suggests that candidates should think twice about posting their career information in hopes of landing a job.  What they are really inviting are telemarketing calls and email spammers.

So, if you hear from “Gina,” “Jan,” or some other assistant — they are usually women — with a friendly personality, slow down and start asking questions:

  • Ask how did you got your name
  • Ask for specifics about the position:  location, salary range and scope of responsibility, for example.  If it is a legitimate recruiter, the person making the call should be able to validate that it is a real job.  If they cannot, then why waste your time?
  • Ask for information about the company the caller represents — its history or whether they are a search firm or a career counseling operation.  The latter is perhaps the biggest indicator of a sales pitch in the making

Outplacement consultants are paid by the employer and it is almost always a component of the severance package.  It is better to find one who is industry specific.  Legitimate executive or career coaches  are not necessarily experts at helping candidates find a job.  If you are out of work, and you feel the panic building,  fight the temptation to want to believe some salesman’s glib pitch.  If you cannot find a colleague in your sector who has heard of, or been contacted by “Jan” or “Gina,” or has heard of the organization’s name, then, as my grandmother used to say:  “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

For all those legitimate counselors and coaches, pay attention.   Your industry’s reputation is being tarnished by skunks who prey on people’s fears and vulnerabilities.  


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