No question about it.  Looking for a new job can be a hard, stressful, and frustrating experience — especially for those folks facing particular challenges (e.g. gaps in their work history, lack of a college degree, etc.) or whose confidence may be suffering due to a recent layoff or termination.  As a result, I get asked frequently whether a person can just “hire a headhunter” to help them land interviews or whether some of the fee-based job sites out there (e.g. TheLadders, IvyExec, Resume Rabbit, numerous others) might be a worthwhile investment.

Alas, I’m afraid that in all of my years of studying the job market and working with people through this process, I just haven’t seen any true shortcuts  that one can avail themselves of simply by writing a check.  As tempting as it might sound, and as much as we might wish otherwise, you can’t outsource your job search to someone else.  Ultimately, unless you happen to be in the tiny minority of professionals with skills that essentially sell themselves — such as being a world-class computer programmer or creative talent — you’re going to have to accept responsibility for promoting yourself and finding your next opportunity.

To speak to the first issue that many people inquire about, involving hiring a recruiter to serve in an “agent” capacity of some kind, that model really doesn’t exist, despite a lot of confusion to the contrary.  Recruiters work for the companies that hire them to fill jobs, not for individual candidates.  The supply/demand curve in the job market doesn’t currently support the possibility that people could pay money to get directly placed in a position unless, again, the individual had an exceedingly marketable set of talents to begin with — in which case they likely wouldn’t need such a service.

If you’d like to read more about the reasons this is the case, and how recruiters actually work, you’ll find some enlightening articles on this topic here, here, and here — as well as a few dozen past articles from my own blog, here, describing the true role of recruiters in this process and how best to engage them.  And while I’ve heard tell about an exceedingly rare set of firms called “reverse recruiters” out on the fringe, who might work directly for a candidate willing to pay, I’m not aware of any such firms in the local area and have never heard of a legitimate success story from people using this approach.

Beyond this avenue, there is then the slew of more passive websites/resources that purport to be able to provide job hunters with “exclusive” leads and contacts for a fee.  Or that promise to “blast” your materials to thousands of recruiters and companies, at once, in the hopes of a decent opportunity materializing.  Again, if I ever hear a genuine case of one of these services working, I’d be the first to recommend it.  But time after time, and site after site, these tempting services either turn out to be scams at worst — or completely ineffective, at best.  As just one case in point, take a look at the article here describing the hot water that one major fee-based employment site, TheLadders.com, is currently facing after charging job hunters millions in subscription fees in recent years.

So again, despite the understandable temptation, make sure to keep your guard up and beware of any resource that seems to promise a magic bullet when it comes to the job search process.  Do your due diligence.  Search for reviews about the service on Google.  Read the fine print to know exactly what you’re paying for and the guarantees.  History clearly demonstrates that most sites and services that sound “too good to be true” usually turn out to be exactly that — so don’t let them distract you from the real work of building your own comprehensive job search plan and taking responsibility for executing it.

Any comments out there from people who have either been burned by these types of fee-based sites or services — or, to the contrary, have invested in a resource that actually lived up to the hype and generated useful results?