The career transition industry plays a big role in helping laid-off executives and managers address the harsh realities of a tight job market, generate leads for job openings and put their best foot forward.
Without it, many would founder in a cold, cruel world.
And chances are, when the job- seeker’s morale is at its lowest ebb, a parasitic business will come along, promise a prestigious, high-paying career, collect a fee of several thousand dollars and deliver little or nothing.
Welcome to the world of the “career consultant,” the enterprise with the well-appointed downtown offices that directs its siren song to the job-seeker who desires meaningful, well-paying employment.
It is important to note that there are two classifications of players in the personnel placement business.
There are the reputable outsourcing businesses such as Right Management Consultants, whose clients are the human resource departments of responsible corporations that want to help their laid-off employees find suitable new employment.
And there are the consultants hired directly by the job-seeker. Some conduct their businesses in a manner where their clients do not feel moved to file a complaint with their local Better Business Bureau or provincial government.
Others are little more than brigands.
They publish ads that claim they hold special knowledge of a “hidden” job market – leads to jobs they have identified through their prodigious networking. For the paltry upfront consideration of, say, $6,000, they’ll place you in a job that pays $80,000 to $110,000 a year.
But the only thing hidden, according to complaints received perennially by Better Business Bureaus and provincial consumer protection agencies, is a meaningful position that pays anywhere near what the glib, well- spoken salesman suggested.
At the Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta, where I am director of trade practices, I find the nub of most complaints is an expectations gap: The job seeker was led to believe that the agency would do all the legwork, only to find later that the company only intended to provide coaching and that the actual job-seeking would be left up to the client.
But sometimes the issue goes beyond a simple “miscommunication.” The BBB of Southern Alberta, for example, received a complaint from a laid-off bank clerk who was relieved of a large sum of money by a consultant who then put her through the same procedures it would a CEO.
Consultants who go about their business honestly can be a valuable ally. They show the client how to make the most productive use of their job-seeking time, and they provide access to the latest in office equipment that gives the client’s presentation a professional edge.
But the more predatory elements tread boldly on the fringes of the law. They score big time with appalling frequency, and damn the consequences. Some are small, independent companies; others are large, with branches in Canada and the U.S.
One player, an American franchise, has dozens of offices in Canada and the U.S and a checkered past.
The reliability of each local office is governed to a large degree by the integrity of its owners. Some do business without complaint, while others have unsatisfactory ratings at their local BBBs and a record of prosecutions.
On occasion, the franchisor has stepped in and taken control after the volume of complaints has reached an uncomfortable level.
In the mid-1980s, the senior vice-president of a U.S. national career consultant set up shop in Vancouver and Calgary after the American firm found itself the target of numerous complaints and legal actions by consumer protection regulators.
“At best, I believe that the service was more of a secretarial nature than professional consultation,” one client complained to the company.
The owner since has returned to the U.S.
Not to be outdone, a Calgary woman hung out her shingle this year as a career counselling service and brazenly took payments from job-seekers, then made herself unavailable when these clients attempted to obtain her services.
“I’m tired of her broken promises and just want to get my payment back for service that wasn’t rendered at all,” a Surrey, B.C., woman, who paid a $1,000 cash deposit, wrote the BBB in April.
“(A) coaching package was purchased,” wrote another client from Calgary, who paid $642 in cash. “Nothing has been delivered – no interviews, no portfolio, no career coaching, no contact from placement agent.”
Clients now have begun obtaining small-claims court judgments.
The BBB and U.S. Federal Trade Commission offer the following tips:
* Be suspicious of any employment service that promises to get you a job.
* Be skeptical of any employment service that charges an upfront fee.
* Be aware that some services may place ads that seem to offer jobs, when in fact they’re only peddling their own services.
* Avoid dealing with any service that gives you evasive answers to your questions.
* Do not give your credit card or bank account information over the phone unless you agree to pay for something.
* Obtain a copy of the firm’s contract and read it carefully. Run – don’t walk – from any agency that has given you verbal promises that are not written in the contract.
* Always check the firm’s reliability with your local BBB. Avoid dealing with any firm that has an “unsatisfactory” rating, because that likely means there have been complaints and the owner chose to ignore them.
(Brock Ketcham can be reached at email@example.com)