If you're discouraged by how long it's taking to find a new job, you might be tempted to pay an advance-fee career-marketing firm to speed your efforts. Many promise access to "the hidden job market," a high rate of success with past clients and fast results. All they ask in return is your signature on a binding contract . . . and a few thousand bucks upfront.
In most cases, however, what job hunters receive isn't what they're promised. Sure, they'll get a new resume, several lists of hiring managers at local companies and lots of interviewing tips. But much of this information is already available at the local library, and it's free.
Advance-fee firms take a variety of forms. At the low end of the scale are job-listing agencies, which typically charge between $25 and $800 for lists of job openings in the United States and overseas. In most cases, these lists are compiled from telephone directories and newspaper classified ads.
Higher-priced retail placement or career-marketing firms charge from $1,500 to $10,000 or more for help with resume and letter writing, career counseling and psychological assessment. Fees aren't contingent on a person's job-hunting success. Having paid money upfront, job seekers have little bargaining power if they become dissatisfied with the service.
Though not all advance-fee firms are swindlers, job hunters should keep their antennae up.
Many displeased customers are afraid to complain. Some are still employed and don't want their bosses to know they're job hunting, while others are embarrassed "to admit they've been conned out of money," says Stuart Alan Rado, a consumer-rights advocate in Miami. Mr. Rado, who serves as an informal clearinghouse of complaints, can be reached at: Box 40236, Miami Beach, Fla. 33140.
Deborah Jacobs, a business writer specializing in legal topics, regularly contributes to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Newsweek. Write to her in care of Chronicle Features, 870 Market St., Suite 1011, San Francisco, Calif. 94102. Please include your name, address and telephone number.