Beware of the Sharks

I recently sold my deceased mother's house. The sale is in the public record in New York State. Immediately, dozens of financial planners and realtors came out of the woodwork wanting my money. If you've ever gotten a speeding ticket or been involved in an accident, you'll find your mailbox filled with ads from lawyers. This is no accident. Again, it's a matter of public record.

When sharks smell blood, they follow the trail to the wounded source.

Unless you are a public official and have been impeached or elected out of office, your unemployment isn't a matter of public record. In one way, this privacy is a bad thing. If honest people know you are looking for work, they are willing to help you. In another way, this is a good thing. If dishonest people know you are looking for work, they will try to feed on you.

When people lose jobs, they are vulnerable. They have lost their means of making a living and are highly motivated to re-establish it. The sharks are out there, and they are looking for you. Once you start posting your resumes on boards, you are telling the world that you are vulnerable. It's like trailing blood in shark-infested waters.

Nobody has this secret database of jobs that only they know about. Companies may have exclusive contracts with recruitment firms, but it is the firms who pay the fees, not the candidates. Nobody who doesn't know you and doesn't know the hiring manager is going to get your resume into the right hands.

Yet there are companies that will make these claims. If you just pay them, they will find the job for you. The truth is: there is only one person who has the key to your successful re-employment -- you!

One of the biggest reefs off which the sharks lie is in career coaching and resume writing and distribution.

There are legitimate outplacement firms, and they do provide valuable services. Mostly, these firms are hired by the company that is laying you off, and there is no cost involved to you. These companies do not make claims that they have a job for you. They claim to teach you how to look for a job. While a company-sponsored program is nice because it consolidates your job searching education all in one spot, most of these same services are available for free if you know where to look. Sometimes it may cost you as much as a library card.

Resumes engender more discussion and controversy than any other element in the job search. Some people feel that they just don't know how to write a resume.

I contend that the perfect resume is like the Loch Ness Monster; there have been many sightings, but no confirmed scientific evidence that it actually exists.

Most jobs need a resume that is "good enough" to get you an interview. As the job for which you apply gets more exclusive as far as pay goes, the more difficult "good enough" becomes. For most jobs, a good resume is all you have to accomplish.

If you feel that you are inexperienced at writing a resume, buy a book, or visit the library. There are hundreds of books on how to write a resume, and not just any resume. There are books on how to write a resume for specific fields from agriculture to zoo keeping.

If that's not good enough, write your resume and submit it on line to Monster.com or some other free service for review. Job Link will not only review your resume, they have samples and instructions on how to write one. They won't write the resume for you, but they will give you good guidance.

If nothing else, throw your life history on a piece of paper, and ask your friends and colleagues for help. Many of the organizations mentioned on the resources list have members who will be willing to help.

As a last resort, you can pay someone to write a resume for you. This is a poor choice. Nobody knows you as well as you do, so they are not going to be able to tell a good story on your behalf. Also, if your writing skills can't get you a good enough resume for someone else to review, chances are you don't have the writing skills required to get a job that needs a professionally-prepared resume.

The only word of advice I can offer here is that if you are going to pay a fee, be wary about your expectations. Chances are you won't get much more for $500 than you would for $25.

Then there are the resume services that say that they can get your resume into the hands of thousands of decision makers. There's a name for this technique: SPAM. We all know how warmly we all embrace spam when it arrives in our mailboxes. Your resume is relegated to a piece of trash littering up someone's mailbox. Surely you are worth more than that, and surely you shouldn't want to pay for this privilege.

Another notable scam is home business. "Make $1,000 a week stuffing envelopes." They can hire people at the minimum wage to do this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and still not pay $1000. There is more to this than posted in the job offering. Perhaps they will pay you a good amount of money to stuff the envelopes. All you have to do is hand address and stuff 600 envelopes a day and you supply the envelopes and the postage and burn your gas to drive to the post office and wait in line. Don't even bother pursuing it.

Other companies offer to set you up with a home business. They won't tell you what this business is until AFTER you pay them their fee. You may have to pay to attend their "training program." It is also likely that they will try to sell you a "business kit." This may be nothing more than group publications available for free from the Government Printing Office. Or they will sell you a franchise to a business in an already saturated field. Or the job itself will be a pyramid scheme of selling more franchises to all your soon-to-be-former-if-you-try-it friends.

There is legitimate work you can do at home. The way to tell the difference between the scam and the real thing is that people offering legitimate home work will tell you what it is up front, and won't ask for any money from you. You may be required to own your own computer, have internet access, a valid state driver's license, etc., but they won't be asking you to "invest" cash in the business.

All this is not to say that there are not legitimate fees associated with a job search. Legitimate fees are ones you initiate. Nobody solicits you and asks you to pay. Things like memberships in professional associations, subscriptions to business publications, fees for Chambers of Commerce networking meetings, tuition for training you decide to get, etc. are all legitimate costs of job searching, and may be worth the money you spend on them.

I've used the analogy of a shark to describe these people. Sharks, at least, are predators; they earn their keep and attack their own prey. People who feed on the unemployed are more like scavengers that make a living off the wounded and vulnerable. They are the jackals, hyenas, and vultures of the employment jungle.

I am making a collection of real-life scams. If you've seen one, please contact me using the email link above.