CHICAGO — When my seat mate on a recent flight found out that I was a recruiter, she told me she was not impressed with her recruiter who insisted on charging her a fat fee to find her a job.  She then used a phrase that can best be translated as people like me are pond scum.

We are recruiting now on blackboardI had work to do but when I realized she did not understand the job placement process — nor  did several of her college classmates who had encountered a similar financial arrangement — I thought I had better clear the air and help her avoid being abused in the future.

Yes, there are agencies which charge candidates for helping them find a job, but they are a small part of the job search industry as are the companies which claim to have the inside track on hundreds of top-paying executive jobs, for a fee, but may or may not produce anything remotely resembling a legitimate, high-paying executive position. Frustrated and desperate people who need a job will sometimes resort to sound-good sales pitches.  One executive paid a retainer and more than $12,000 in installments before stopping.  The intelligence for the lucrative “hidden jobs” was glorified data of area companies with information easily obtained from the Internet.  While there are some legitimate companies in this space, the best advice is let the buyer beware.

Here is a breakdown of the various job placement/job search resources:

Placement AgenciesCompanies in this field build relationships with employers, typically for entry level or mid-level managers, and then recruit candidates to fill those job orders.  Part of the allure for businesses, especially those smaller companies that do not feel they can afford recruitment fees, is that the candidate will pay for the cost.  Fees range from $3,000 to $15,000, depending on the starting salary. The truth is that candidates who are savvy about how to find a job do not need those types of agencies.

Outplacement ConsultantsCompanies that specialize in outplacement vary in size, approach and fees.  Most of their clientele are executives who have been terminated.  Most outplacement consultants prefer to be paid by the employer, although some executives who did not get outplacement in their severance package, may opt to pay the fee themselves.  These consultants do not find the clients jobs.  Their role is to coach them in establishing their value for future employers and then helping them structure their message, which includes the development of a resume. Fees for this service range from $5,000 to $35,000.  Hint for executives:  insist that the consultant have industry specific experience.

Contingency RecruitersFirms in this arena typically represent the clients who engage them to find qualified candidates for a specific position. They are only paid if they find a candidate the client hires.  The candidate is not responsible for paying any fees and usually the client will reimburse them for any travel expenses incurred if they are called in to interview. Candidate screening is typically more superficial than that done for senior executives. Candidates have to be careful if they get a call from another firm with a similar sounding job. Explain you are being recruited by “x” company for a job that sounds very much like theirs and that you are working with someone else.  Candidates who end up in the middle of two recruiters fighting to see who should get paid may not be selected if the company seeks to avoid that kind of recruiter fight.  There are instances when a contingency firm operates with an exclusive for a specific position.

Retained Recruiters Search firms in this space operate on an exclusive basis. These types of firms typically conduct the senior level and C-suite job searches. Clients pay fees ranging from 25 to 33 percent of the successful candidate’s base salary. The candidate is not responsible any fees or expenses for travel.