Should You Hire A Job Search Firm?
Should You Hire A Job Search Firm?Susan Adams, 08.26.09, 11:20 AM EDT
Often they charge you thousands of dollars for things you can get for free.
Amidst the worst employment market in a generation, does it make sense to hire an outfit that promises to help you find a job?
The short answer: No.
Forbes canvassed a half-dozen staffing professionals, including John Challenger, head of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, and Dale Winston, chief of Battalia Winston, an executive search firm. The consensus: While job search companies might offer some useful advice on topics like career counseling and résumé writing, job hunters can find all those services, and more, for free.
In some instances, say the pros, job seekers should consider paying for specifically targeted help. More about that below.
First, what's a job search firm? It's a company like ITS in Denver that promises a soup-to-nuts job-searching strategy for the unemployed. A couple of ITS' selling points: The company puts together a "custom marketing plan" for each job seeker. It also boasts "revolutionary new software" that helps find job listings quickly.
ITS was the subject of an Aug. 17, 2009, front-page expose in the New York Times that focused on a disgruntled client who said he'd forked over $8,250 and never landed a job. The client, Kerry Fischman, 58, said that ITS misrepresented its services and exaggerated its capabilities.
But ITS chief Robert Gerberg, Jr., insists he's served tens of thousands of happy customers. Indeed, a recent Forbes story, "Get Hired In Four Easy Steps," quoted an ITS client, Kendra Trahan, who said the firm helped her land a great job at Salix Pharmaceuticals ( SLXP - news - people ) in Orlando, Fla., after being out of work less than a month.
Nevertheless, career pros say that the services offered by ITS and its ilk are not worth the fees, which usually range from $3,500 to $5,500, according to ITS's Gerberg.
The No. 1 piece of job-searching advice from career pros? Good old-fashioned personal networking. "Ask everyone you know, who they know, and who they can introduce you to," advises Dale Winston, chief of Battalia Winston.
In addition to traditional networking, Melanie Holmes, vice president at staffing firm Manpower, advocates online social-networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Because so many people are out of work right now, much of the chatter on those sites has to do with where the jobs are, who's holding job fairs and where job seekers can get free help. Holmes says Manpower routinely attends job fairs, where pros help job hunters with résumé writing and interviewing techniques.
Headhunters like Battalia Winston also help job seekers for free. There is no cost for listing your profile with an executive search firm or employment agency, and those outfits are in the business of hooking up job seekers with the employers who pay the outfits' fees.
Headhunters also sometimes dole out free job search help. Douglas Arms, chief talent officer at New York headhunter Ajilon Professional Staffing, says his firm gives job seekers free career counseling, help with presentation skills and advice on résumé writing.
Likewise, Manpower offers free help on everything from résumé writing to presentation skills like hygiene and interviewing. "It's in our best interest to put people to work," says Manpower's Holmes.
Another source of free job tips: Online job boards like CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, Hotjobs.yahoo.com, Vault.com, and in the non-profit world, Idealist.org. Idealist currently offers 5,000 postings and is packed with helpful information, including three free books about how to pursue a nonprofit career.
Company Web sites and good ol' Uncle Sam are also great sources for job listings. Max Stier of the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Public Service, a group that promotes government jobs, reports that government employment is surging right now. The feds will hire 600,000 people over the next four years, a 50% increase over the previous four, Stier says. USAJOBS, the U.S. government's federal job site, is a centralized repository for job listings and information.
In some instances, it makes sense for job seekers to pay for individualized help, either from a career counselor, or from a media training and presentation coach like Jane Praeger of Ovid Inc. in Manhattan.
Praeger's specialty is prepping clients who need to deliver speeches or appear on television. But lately she's seen clients who are looking for work. Praeger says she helps them figure out what an employer wants. Then she works with the job seeker to hone presentation skills. Praeger charges $350 to $500 an hour. After a recent two-hour session, a woman who had been laid off from a financial firm devised a plan to look for a job as a college admissions officer. Within a month, says Praeger, the woman had landed a position.
"When you've been fired, it's hard to think of it as an opportunity," notes Praeger. "But this is a moment when you can think about what you really want to do. It's a time to think about what would make you happy."