Career Book: Retreads (Zane Smith)

With all due respect to the author of Retreads, Zane Smith, I must confess up front that this is one of the strangest books I think I’ve ever read in my life — at least of those within the “business book” genre.  At 150 pages, Retreads is one part public service announcement (exposing predatory career firms), one part morality play (note to self: don’t cheat the IRS), and one part erotic fiction (the story kicks off with a fairly tame business storyline and then wham, steamy sex passages start to materialize out of nowhere!)

So honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss about how to fairly review this book, other than to just plow ahead and break it down one component at a time.  So let’s start with the main theme behind Retreads, that one that makes it so incredibly unique and relates directly to the focus of this blog.  At its core, Retreads is a book (and to the best of my knowledge, the only book) that takes a direct run at exposing the scams and predatory practices of firms in the “executive career marketing” industry.  The author, having worked in these firms for a period of time, himself, lays bare the incredibly devious tactics and aggressive sales practices that such outfits (there are dozens of them throughout the country, including a few in Seattle) use to sucker worried job hunters out of thousands of dollars — in return for some lackluster job hunting advice and a huge bag of empty promises about “hidden job leads” and such.  You’ll be absolutely shocked at the lengths to which these firms go, should you read this publication, and here’s the scary part — based on what I’ve heard from my own contacts within the industry, these claims are all 100% true!

The title of the book itself, in fact, refers to the derogatory term these firms use to describe their typical prey — older middle-managers and executives who have been out of work for a long time, are running out of options, and who are therefore highly susceptible to hopeful pitches promising exclusive leads, inside contacts, and sure-fire interview results.  How do they find such people?  The most common strategies include cold-calling and spamming executives who have posted their resumes on job boards, as well as running “dummy ads” on-line in order to lure people in, thinking a real job exists, before hitting them up with a classic bait-and-switch maneuver along the lines of “well THAT job has already been filled, but for a modest investment, we can (almost) guarantee to set you up for lots more similar interviews to that one…”  Think you’d see right through such shenanigans?  Tell that to the thousands of otherwise-savvy Americans who have fallen for them, some putting the last bit of their savings on the line in the hopes these firms can deliver on their promises.

Mr. Smith is such an honorable champion of this cause, in fact, that he’s launched a companion website to the book that can be found here and that seeks to further educate consumers about these shady operations.  I’d encourage all of you to pay the site a visit, just to learn more about this niche of the career services world, and if you’re interested in buying a copy of the book, as well, you can either order it directly from this site or also find it for sale on

As for the non-educational aspects of the book, and the author’s decision to make his point by weaving it into a fictional plot line, full of intrigue and “adult” encounters, well, that’s the part I wasn’t expecting — but if you’re not averse to such material, it’s actually a pretty enjoyable read and certainly makes the book a lot less boring than the alternative!

So long story short, here’s the scoop.  If you enjoy thriller novels and have a burning fascination to learn more about the career services field and/or the depths people will stoop to in order to con their fellow human beings, you’ll probably enjoy this novel quite a bit.  If instead you’re offended by racy material, or DON’T really need an extra dose of depression about the state of today’s job market and the depravity that exists in some pockets of the business world, Retreads might be a safe title to bypass.  I couldn’t resist reviewing it, though, given its noble premise and its unique positioning as the ONLY book or fictional novel (again, to the best of my knowledge) to ever shine some light on this shadowy, little-known offshoot of my professional field.


2 Responses to “Career Book: Retreads (Zane Smith)”

  1. I have to believe the “job search” business has made it into the top 3 best money making business on the internet(btw, the first are #1 Pornography (unfortunately) and #2 telling other people how to make money on the internet.
    As for the book’s layout, I would probably be happier with a 50 page book that makes the points it needs to rather than drawing it out to something of more bulk so more can be charged for it. Thanks for the review, I’ll go through the website and hope I can pull out some (depressing) gems.

  2. Matt
    You know it is going on and I have run into many
    many executives at FENG meetings who ask if such and
    such firm has contacted anyone else in the group and
    is it wise to pay xxx thousands of dollars for help.
    I think the fact that some people do land a job by
    just doing some of the things that are run of the mill
    job hunting tasks they attribute that to these firms.
    There are also subscription computer groups that
    hook people in to be disciples for the cause and
    then start to milk them for everything under the
    sun. Pep rally webinars,books,boondoggles to
    events.conferences you name it wherever they can
    turn a buck. Very subtle but very deceptive
    practices done in the name of getting someone a job.
    Placement firms are also doing these same practices
    of phony ads…I went and met with an employer just
    this week. The job is posted on internet, the employer is not hiring, just collecting resumes. and
    yet on Careerbuilder the job is listed by the employer and the next job underneath is the agency
    also advertising a job that is not being filled.
    Agencies will invarably ask what I have been doing
    and suck out job leads from candidates. Pretty obvious stuff but one of the ways they get there
    Topic of the book is all too true. People can be
    sold pretty easily …….go into a car dealership
    any day of the week ……it’s not what they say
    that counts it what they don’t say.

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