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A company found Jane’s resume online and contacted her, offering a pathway to the career she coveted.

Jane went to the company’s local office. The “counselor” asked for $4,500 up front to help her tweak her resume and get access to unpublished job openings.

Jane left. Smart Jane.

I repeatedly hear from job-hunters, many of them professionals seeking high-powered positions, who — too late — regret paying big money up front to an organization that promised access to the “hidden” job market.

Their egos had been massaged, and their wallets had been drained. In return, they got little more job-search assistance than what they could have done on their own.

Legitimate headhunters — who are paid by employers to submit qualified candidates for consideration — do not ask job-hunters to pay for their services.

Repeat: You shouldn’t be asked to pay to find a job.

In my mind, and in the minds of most ethical career counselors, attorneys general and certified career counselors, there’s something morally bankrupt about a business plan that preys on people at vulnerable times.

Yet companies continue to operate nationally with this business model.

Legitimate career counselors charge for specific services such as resume-writing assistance, practice interviews, skills and interests testing, or guidance in how to job search in the online world. But these fees should be charged for specific services and paid for as they are rendered. And the cost is far more likely to be in the hundreds than the thousands for most people.

It’s difficult to call out specific companies for questionable practices. Names change when authorities or bad publicity enter the picture. What unfortunately endures is the pitch followed by the ask.

When a salesman — yes, a salesman, not a counselor — contacts you and says they’ve spotted your resume and have contacts waiting to meet you, be very, very vigilant. You have entered a place that may not have your interests at heart.

When you have doubts about a pitch you’ve just received, ask for the names and contact information of several past clients. If you can’t get them, or if the contacts offer only glowing recommendations that sound scripted, that’s another warning sign.

Your time and money are far better spent by reading a few career advice books, attending job-search support groups at area churches or colleges, doing your own research online, and attending meetings. Go to chamber meetings, fraternal organization meetings and professional chapter meetings in your field. Talk about your job search to friends and neighbors.

Jane told me that she’d scoured the internet to look for evidence that the company she visited was a scam. She couldn’t find anything concrete. But she wants others to know that it’s better to walk away when your instincts tell you something isn’t right.

stafford@kcstar.com

(816) 234-4359

Twitter: kcstarstafford

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