P.T. Barnum & TheLadders.com

Legend has it that it was P.T. Barnum, the larger-than-life circus promoter, who once uttered the famous phrase “there’s a sucker born every minute.”  Along these lines, if you’re a senior-level job hunter in transition, and especially one who has forked over subscription fees to TheLadders.com or any other fee-based employment site, you owe it to yourself to read the article here that was recently published by Nick Corcodilos of Ask the Headhunter fame.  The long and short of it?  If you’re paying any career service for access to “hidden” or “exclusive” job leads of any kind, I hate to break it to you, but there’s a pretty good chance that you’re on Barnum’s list!

It’s an insidious racket, to be sure.  With millions of Americans out of work, and millions of people willing to throw money at the nasty problem of unemployment to try and make it go away, predatory and/or fraudulent career services of all kinds have been crawling out of the woodwork.  Some of them charge thousands of dollars, promising access to important contacts and decision-makers.  Others tell you they’ve got an exclusive database of job leads and opportunities that you can tap into for a nominal fee.  And others, like TheLadders.com, have an even slicker sales pitch.  They not only claim to sell you access to a pipeline of hidden leads, but also claim to “filter” these leads in a way that will save you lots of time and ensure you’re only bothered by $100K+ opportunities.  Throw some high-profile television ads and snazzy web design around this concept, and boy, it suddenly sounds like an irresistible bargain for the low, low price 0f $30-40 per month!  The problem?  These claims are bogus.  As Nick points out, you’re paying largely for smoke, mirrors, and the exact same job leads and opportunities you could easily compile for yourself using free sites like Indeed.com and Simplyhired.com.

Of course, that’s what great advertising does.  It short-circuits your critical thinking and gets you to buy stuff based on less-finicky emotional factors like hope, fear, and greed.  Combine this approach with the anxious state of most job hunters, and the lack of knowledge most people have about the job-hunting process, in general, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for exploitation — and many employment-related services are laughing all the way to the bank, as a result.

Think about it for a second.  If you were a company with a senior-level job opening, and wanted to recruit the best and brightest talent for the position, would you limit your advertising to a single site (that’s what exclusive means, after all) that’s not even close to being one of the most trafficked job sites on the Internet?  Would you put all your eggs in one basket?  If so, why?  What could possibly be the motive to limit your sourcing efforts in this fashion?  And in return, if you worked for a site like TheLadders and realized that there just aren’t that many $100K job leads floating around out there to begin with, how would you build up your database large enough to keep people hooked — and keep them dutifully paying their subscription fees?  You’d do it, I suspect, largely in the way Nick points out.  You’d either make some jobs up (which I suspect, but can’t prove) or you’d simply corral a bunch of lower-paying jobs into your site, which are far more common, and then just make excuses if and when people complain that these jobs don’t reach the six-figure compensation mark.  Not only can you trust that the average unsuspecting job hunter will usually accept this explanation at face value, but you also know that $30-40 a month is not enough for most people to bother “lawyering up” around.

So again, give a careful read to Nick’s article, above, and make sure you are fully armed with a “baloney detection kit” (to borrow a phrase from one of my personal heroes, Carl Sagan) to make sure you don’t get taken in by phony or misleading career scams.  Having monitored the Internet career scene since the early nineties, when Al Gore invented it, I honestly can’t think of a single website or web-based employment service I’ve come across that held up to real scrutiny.  They’re darn tempting, I know, and decent folks just can’t imagine somebody could stoop to fleecing unemployed folks barely hanging on between paychecks, but sadly, there’s an offshoot of our species that somehow seems to be able to live with this.

As always, I’m standing by to help with the “debunking” process.  If you’re ever tempted by a website or a service that promises to sell you contacts or exclusive job leads, for a fee, let me know — and I’ll help you evaluate the site, at no charge, to see if you’ve amazingly stumbled across the first such site that lives up to its hype or its promises.  In fact, should we find one, I promise you I’ll be signing every single one of my clients up to it almost immediately!

7 Responses to “P.T. Barnum & TheLadders.com”

  1. Excellent post. We need to keep the pressure on these kinds of sites. Hound dot com is the other completely worthless scam out there praying on people and spamming them relentlessly. How do these people sleep at night? How can they look themselves in the mirror?

  2. Good post, Matt. The more we all call these kind of job boards out, the better. Unfortunately, the so-called leaders in the space are all drinking from the same koolaid bucket. Keep up the good work.

  3. I subscribed for one month during the latter half of 2008 and decided it wasn’t worth the money, it was full of job postings that I was already very aware of – which seems to be a recurring theme.

    The sad part is that since this appears to be another jobless recovery (the 2nd recession in a row where this is the case), it’s easy to get desperate and use all the tools available, including “The Ladders.” Save the money.

    BTW, love the “baloney detection kit” quote from Carl Sagan!

  4. I have to say, I just saw a commercial this week from The Ladders and I found it a bit offensive. The one with the tennis court and the only candidate to be found by an employer is the 40ish preppy white male. They are obviously targeting this demographic. I quit posting on The Ladders when they started charging candidates. No one else double-dips that I know of.

  5. There’s another way to build up your inventory of “exclusive” jobs: scrape corporate sites for them, and keep republishing them for years. I lost track of how many times I would get a call from someone who’d applied for a role they saw on The Ladders and hadn’t heard back. The roles they were calling about had almost invariably been filled, in one recent case two years prior.

    Oh – and the role capped at $90k.


  1. Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – TheLadders’ Mercenaries to Critics: They’re good eggs! - February 10, 2011

    […] thorn in TheLadders’ side, Matt Youngquist (Career Horizons), had already published P.T. Barnum & TheLadders.com, discussing what TheLadders’ customers have been screaming about: fraudulent promises and […]

  2. Who Pays? | HR Examiner with John Sumser - February 10, 2011

    […] theLadders (the $100K plus jobsite). Various pundits, most of whom seem to be recruiters, are unsettled (sometimes vehemently unsettled) by the idea that a job hunter could or should spend money in […]

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