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Job search firms draw attention, but not all see their benefit

Job seeker Evan Siegel is trying to spend more time with his son, Adam. Job seeker Evan Siegel is trying to spend more time with his son, Adam. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Nicole C. Wong
Globe Staff / February 1, 2009
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In this tight labor market, some people are paying for the inside track.

With thousands of Massachusetts residents being laid off each week, some companies that help job hunters land work - after they shell out fees ranging from $10 to more than $6,900 - are benefiting from an influx of customers. But the companies, whose services range from providing simple job listings to the phone numbers of hiring managers, are getting mixed reviews from human resources professionals and clients.

TheLadders.com, which lists jobs that pay at least $100,000, said the number of subscribers, who purchase as little as one month for $30 or as much as a year for $180, has spiked in the past year: 63 percent nationwide and 54 percent in Boston.

"It is clear during a downturn we get a lot more customers," said Marc Cenedella, TheLadders.com's chief executive. "A lot of people have been laid off."

R.L. Stevens & Associates Inc., a Waltham career marketing firm with 13 offices nationwide, said business has been up slightly from a year ago. The company charges $250 to more than $6,900 for services that could include an assessment of what kind of position to seek based on personal preference surveys, a revamped resume, and company press releases that job hunters can read to try to predict which firms might hire soon.

When R.L. Stevens decides a customer is ready to apply for a job, a process that typically takes a month, the company provides job leads, chief executive Randy Stevens said.

"We give them the name of that person in the right-size type industry, right-size type company where they're headed to circumvent HR," he said.

A new website offers job seekers the phone numbers of hiring managers. Topjobleads.com was launched Jan. 10 by Rainmaker Recruiting Group, a headhunter firm that receives a finder's fee from the hiring company whenever its candidate accepts the job. While Topjobleads.com and Rainmaker are both run by chief executive Rick Probstein, he said there's "no double-dipping" as the headhunting side deals with senior executive positions commanding salaries of $300,000 or more, while the website so far has worked with positions that carry salaries of between $50,000 and $250,000.

Here's how it works: A job seeker uploads a resume to the site, selects three industries in which to search for a job, and pays for forthcoming job leads, which cost as little as $9.99 each if 10 are purchased at once. A recruiter then calls the customer to gather more information (like what city you want to work in), conducts a Google search to find job openings, and taps into the headhunting firm's network to get the hiring manager's name and contact information. The process typically requires four to six phone calls and takes 30 minutes per job lead.

"The real value of what we're providing is the real decision maker," Probstein said. "That's the gold. That's the information you don't get on the job boards."

But some HR specialists and customers say the services these companies offer aren't worth the money. In fact, the number of complaints customers filed with the Better Business Bureau against job listing and advisory services has nearly doubled in the past four years, totaling 386 complaints nationwide in 2008.

Some HR specialists say many of the resources that companies provide can be found for a lot less money - or even free. Job seekers can often get free help with resume writing and other components of job hunting from counselors at government-funded community centers. And much of the advice and services these companies offer is available at public libraries or online.

"Most often when people get jobs through networking, they're getting jobs through their own personal connections," who will vouch for their character and work, said Kathy Robinson, a Boston career counselor who previously worked in HR at an Internet start-up, a software company, and Gillette Co. "It's usually a friend of a friend."

Robinson said people often inaccurately think that these paid services can make the job search process easier. "That's like saying the college course can be easier by reading the CliffsNotes," she said.

But Randy Stevens said his company provides a valuable service to job hunters. "Most people don't understand their resume and their interviewing usually isn't hitting the needs of the people they're talking to."

Executives at TheLadders.com also said the company's executive job listings are getting harder to find elsewhere. "At the $100k-plus level, those jobs aren't on Monster.com, those aren't on the free job board because the recruiters have learned if I put it on the free job board I'm just going to get spammed," said Cenedella.

And Probstein, with Topjobleads.com, acknowledged that some of the job leads his recruiters have provided only included the hiring company's main phone number, but he said his recruiters come through "95 percent" of the time. "We try to get the direct line. It's not possible in every situation."

Some job hunters agree. Devin Sylvester of Charlestown said he was pleased with the results he got from Topjobleads.com. The 29-year-old software developer, who was laid off in November, said he received a job listing that wasn't on the hiring company's website and wasn't posted on the job boards he checked.

And Evan Siegel, a 46-year-old technology salesman who was laid off in September, also was happy with a free trial he got at Topjobleads.com. He said he may pay $10 to $15 per job listing to receive leads with the hiring manager's contact information. "I'm trying to get a little bit of an edge, anything extra that maybe the next person isn't going to get," the Natick man said.

Nicole C. Wong can be reached at nwong@globe.com.

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