Help Wanted — Finding A Job
"I saw an ad in the newspaper for jobs in
corporate finance. I faxed my resume to the 800-number listed and
got a call from a woman who said her company works with businesses
to find employees to fill their positions. She said the service
would cost me $495, but the fee was fully refundable if I was
dissatisfied or found a job on my own. She guaranteed me interview
opportunities and told me that if I found a job through her
company, there was a good chance my new employer would reimburse
me for the fee.
I never got any interviews, let alone a refund,
and now I can't even get the company to return my calls."
If you're looking for a job, you may come
across ads for firms that promise results. Although many of these
firms may be legitimate and helpful, others may misrepresent their
services, promote out-dated or fictitious job offerings, or charge
high upfront fees for services that may not lead to a job. Some ads
may direct you to call a toll-free 800-number. Once you're connected,
you may be switched to a pay-per-call 900-number without your
knowledge, or you may be asked to call a 900-number without a proper
fee disclosure. Both practices violate federal law.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sues businesses that fraudulently
advertise employment openings and guarantee job placement. Consumers
who respond to these ads think they are contacting a bona fide
placement service that's seeking candidates to fill specific jobs.
Instead, they're reaching a business that rarely helps consumers
obtain employment through its "services." To make matters
worse, these businesses invariably charge advance fees - ranging from
several hundred to several thousand dollars - for their "services,"
typically imposing the fees without consumer approval, or promising -
falsely - that most or all of the fees ultimately will be refunded.
Types of Employment Service Firms
When you're looking for help in finding a job, it's important
to understand the differences among employment services. Many terms,
such as employment agency, personal placement service, executive
search firm, or executive counseling service are used interchangeably.
Find out what services a firm offers, how much the services cost, and
who pays. If you are required to pay the fee, find out what you'll owe
if the employment service does not find you a job or any leads.
Six basic types of service companies/agencies offer consumers help
in finding a job. They include: public employment services; employment
agencies; executive search services; temporary help services;
executive counseling services; and job listing services.
- The federally-funded and state-operated public Employment
Service, also known as the Job Service, operates in all 50 states,
the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
There are some 2,300 points of service nationwide; about 1,700 of
them are full-time, full-service offices. The Employment Service
provides its services free to both employers and job seekers.
Openings range from entry level to technical and professional
positions. The Employment Service provides Internet access to
America's Job Bank (AJB). On
any given day, this national resource lists over 400,000 job
opportunities. It also provides links to numerous employment and
training programs in each state, including programs for people with
disabilities, minorities, older workers, veterans, welfare
recipients, and young people.
- Employment agencies or personnel placement services work to fill
specific positions available within companies. Their purpose is to
bring applicants and employers together. Often, the hiring company
pays the placement fee, but when state law permits, you and the
employer may share the fee or the fee is billed to you after you've
secured a job. Employment agencies usually are licensed in the state
where they do business.
- Executive search firms or executive recruiters are hired by
businesses to find the "right" person for a particular job
within a company. These recruiters sometimes are referred to as "headhunters."
The executive who is hired does not pay the fee; fee payment is part
of the agreement between the hiring business and the search firm.
Executive search firms usually subscribe to a code of ethics
established by industry members; some firms are licensed by the
states where they do business, as required by state law.
- Temporary help services provide workers to businesses on a
temporary or as-need basis. Businesses pay an agreed-upon wage to
the temporary service for work performed by the employees. The
temporary service firm pays the workers, not the temporary employer.
- Executive counseling services or career counseling services help
job seekers with career directions and decisions more than with job
placement. They may offer such services as skill identification and
self evaluation, resume preparation and letter writing, and general
information about companies in a particular location or job field.
Fees can be as high as $4,000, and payment often is required before
any services are provided. You'll probably have to pay this fee even
if you don't find a job. Placement is not guaranteed. State law
dictates whether executive counseling firms are licensed.
- Job listing services or advisory services sell information about
getting a job in the U.S. or abroad, rather than provide actual job
placement. Often, they use pay-per-call 900-numbers to do this.
Information may include lists of job openings, general tips on
conducting a successful job search or interview, and broad guidance
in resume writing. These advisory firms often require an upfront fee
for their listings.
Before you spend any money responding to job ads or completing
job placement contracts, the FTC suggests that you:
- Be suspicious of any employment-service firm that promises to get
you a job.
- Be skeptical of any employment-service firm that charges upfront
fees and guarantees refunds to dissatisfied customers.
- Don't give out your credit card or bank account information on
the phone unless you are familiar with the company and agree to pay
for something. Anyone who has your account information can use it to
take money from your accounts improperly.
- Get a copy of the firm's contract and review it carefully before
you pay any money. Understand the terms and conditions of the firm's
refund policy. If oral promises are made that don't also appear in
the contract, think twice about doing business with the firm.
- Be aware that some listing services and "consultants"
may place ads that seem to offer jobs when, in fact, they are
selling employment information.
- Follow up with the corporate offices of any company listed in an
ad by an employment service, to find out if the company's really
- Be wary of firms promoting "previously undisclosed"
federal government jobs. All federal positions are announced to the
- Check with your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney
General's Office, and the Better Business Bureau to see if any
complaints have been filed about a company with which you intend to
In addition, note that federal law prohibits the use of a toll-free
800-number for pay-per-call 900-number services. This means that
anyone calling an 800-number cannot be charged simply for completing
the call, and that an 800-number call cannot be transferred, or
connected to, a pay-per-call 900-number service. Federal law also
prohibits any telephone message that solicits calls to a pay-per-call
900-number service from failing to disclose the cost of the call.
For More Information
A variety of free and low-cost resources are available to help
you in your job search:
- Job Service offices post vacancies and offer counseling and
referrals to other job resources.
- Local and county human resources offices provide some placement
assistance. They can give you the names of other groups that may be
helpful, such as labor unions or federally-funded vocational
- University, college, and community college career service offices
usually limit their help to students and alumni, but some may let
you look at their current job listings.
- Local libraries can direct you to information on writing a
resume, interviewing, or compiling a list of companies to contact
about job openings.
- The Internet, through major online services and electronic
bulletin boards, has information and options to help you, including
classified ads and resume postings.
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