Want to Pay $4,400 for Career Help?

by Sharon McCormick

A local business owner whom I'll call "Mary" contacted me about helping her to write her resume. After assessing her needs and accepting her as a client, I wrote her resume and gave her career advice and guidance about the job search process. She e-mailed me weekly to keep me abreast of her job search progress. Mary saw an ad in the local newspaper about a company I'll call "ABC" Company, and asked me what I knew about the company. Here is what I shared with Mary:

For the past four consecutive Sundays, an ad ran in the employment section of my local newspaper. The ad simply stated: Seeking Career Advisers / Consultants," ten years experience, knowledge of the local business community." I certainly met those qualifications, so I read further. No company name was mentioned, only a fax number and e-mail address. It always makes me leery of a company that doesn't advertise its name. I looked the fax number up online and found nothing. I looked for career counseling companies in the same city as the fax number prefix for a match, again, nothing. I e-mailed blind, asking the e-mail recipient for the name of the company. I stated that I wasn't interested in outplacement work, as I prefer "prevention" work.

To my surprise, a gentleman e-mailed me back a few days later stating that they did, in fact, do "prevention" work. He also gave me the name of the company. I immediately contacted my best resource, a Librarian and expert researcher, and asked her to give me whatever she could find on this company. She e-mailed me a synopsis of the business straight from an online company database source. The company has 5-9 offices, sales under $500,000 and has one office listed in my city. That was the only office she could find, anywhere. The company was listed as "Outplacement Consultants" which was opposite of what the company contact stated to me.

Out of curiosity, I sent the company my resume and he agreed to meet me when he was in town. We never met. He kept e-mailing me short, cryptic, miss-spelled e-mails. He never called me and I never heard from him again.

I shared the above story with my client Mary. Because she loves a mystery and a challenge, she e-mailed her resume to this company that advertises that they are "experts at helping people get results." She is contacted by the Manager at ABC, and meets with him the next day. He asked about her background and the usual career counseling questions. He stated he WILL give her a Myers-Briggs but for now just some career intake forms to fill out. He asked her to return the following week with her spouse to discuss her needs. He gave her quite a bit of information about how people find jobs, and stated that their company contacts the "decision-makers" and has an in-house job bank where jobs are inputted by their 69 Career Advisors across the country at all of their other offices. He stated he had two degrees, a PhD in Philosophy Management (from a school that doesn't offer Ph.D.'s according to their website) and an MBA. We knew that none of his information could be verified online.

Mary shared with me the "intake forms" and I noticed they are not very professional; seem to be written from a sixth-grade level and consist of checklists of what she didn't have at her last job and what she wants so badly now. One form in particular outlines their explanation of the different career counseling professionals. It states that "Private Practice Career Counselors" are "usually retired HR people or professors. They charge $200 per hour - consume 10-15 hours of your time - and send you out to market yourself." This is verbatim from the form.

Mary returns without her spouse and is given more information that as a Senior-level professional, she already knows. Finally the Manager at ABC hands her a form from a top outplacement company which list costs for outplacement; and tells my client that they would charge her $4,400 for two years work. There is no discussion on how this figure is concocted. She politely declines to make a decision right then and there and leaves.

Obviously this company sounded less than legitimate. How can job seekers protect themselves from "shady deals"? Here are some questions to ask in discerning a legitimate career service:

  • What are the professional qualifications of the staff?
  • Can the qualifications be independently verified?
  • What professional association(s) regulates this company or the company's stated industry?
  • What professional association(s) does the company belong to?
  • Are these generic associations or academically-based associations that have ethical practice guidelines (I.e. their industry is based on an actual academic body of knowledge and training)?
  • What services do they offer?
  • What do they offer that the clients cannot do or find for themselves?
  • What is their purpose and policies, procedures, parameters of service, techniques used?
  • What are the charges for each service?
  • What results are they guaranteeing?
  • Are the results tangible? (I.e. "We contact decision-makers" vs. "We give you a list of the 500 decision-makers we'll contact to market you with the results of those calls.")
  • Can you speak with one of their previous clients?
  • What companies or industries do they specialize in?
  • What documentation is available that lists their claimed offices across the country?
  • Can one look at the job bank to verify its existence?
  • How does the company approach the possibility that they have no control over the job market and that there might not be jobs that the client wants in their state? What would the company do then for the client?

    NCDA lists Ethical Guidelines on their website, which can be found at: www.ncda.org. Look under "Need a Counselor" for Consumer Guidelines for Selecting a Career Counselor . NCDA publishes Ethical Standards for all professional career counselors. This code of ethics enables NCDA to clarify the nature of ethical responsibilities, specifically by explaining why and how a career counselor functions in the helping relationship.

    My client is going to continue to pursue her job search with the tools I gave her, for far less than $4,400. And I am going to continue to offer my legitimate career services, under the guidance of NCDA's ethical practices!

    Sharon McCormick, MCC, NBCCC, has 15 years experience in career and clinical counseling, consultation, curriculum development, program creation, teaching, training, and workforce development. She has an MS in Counseling from Indiana University, and holds numerous other certifications and memberships. She can be reached at Email: career1@ij.net

    If you are interested in learning more about professional ethics please attend the NCDA Orlando conference presentation, #411 "Are You in Compliance? A Presentation by the 2004-2005 Ethics Committee" on Friday June 24, 1:50-3:00pm, or contact David M Reile, NCDA Ethics Committee Chair at Reile@Mindspring.com

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