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 Amazon.com.

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.