Is it ever ethical to charge the job seeker?

There has been a spate of articles recently about TheLadders – specifically, how the site is a bad deal for job seekers. To wit:

when I see the new commercials for The Ladders, I want to puke on my shoes…the jobs on The Ladders can be found on sites like LinkUpMonster, and freakin Craigslist.       - Laurie Ruettimann

Or how about this?

What does TheLadders do to enhance anyone’s job hunting prospects — especially C-level executives? Virtually nothing, nada, zippo, zilch. This most flagrant faker among the job boards, which pretends to be exclusive and “$100k+”, is the source of hires less than 0.07% (yes, that’s percent) of the time, among employers polled. (Source: CareerXroads survey, p. 19)        - Nick Corcodilos

What’s the problem? Isn’t TheLadders (or, for that matter, JobFox) just like Monster or CareerBuilder?



Traditional job sites make most of their money by charging employers – for job postings, resume database access, site advertising, custom emails, and other types of services. In essence, they sell access to the job seeker. That’s why these sites spend a lot of time promoting and advertising themselves – they need the job seekers to keep their employers happy.


TheLadders and other ‘candidate-pay’ sites are different – they turn this revenue model on its head. They charge the job seekers to access the jobs and employers. Seems like a hard sell when the majority of sites offer job and employer access at no charge, right? The candidate-pay sites claim that their jobs are not available elsewhere. Sometimes they will offer additional services as part of the ‘membership’ fee. (Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t charge employers – they usually do, just not for job postings).


The ultimate ‘promise’ made by candidate-pay sites, then, is access – you’ll be able to reach jobs and employers that you simply can’t reach elsewhere.


So what is the case made against TheLadders by Nick and Laurie? Simple – false advertising. In fact, you can find most of the jobs elsewhere. Also, TheLadders makes an additional claim – ‘only $100K jobs’. As someone who has subscribed to the site in the past, I can tell you that – at least during that time period – this claim simply isn’t correct. I found numerous jobs under $100K (as has Nick and many others).


Enough about TheLadders. This raises a bigger question: is it ever ethical to charge the job seeker for access to jobs and employers?

Yes. If the site is truly offering something of real value to the job seeker, then I think it isreasonable to charge. Note my qualification: “something of real value”. For example, perhaps the site screens each job posting it allows on the site, verifying the company, offer, and qualifications. Or perhaps it provides a private forum where job seekers and employers can interact. Maybe the candidate gets discounts on insurance, services, and the like. What is offered will depend on the seeker audience.


As a job seeker, I have used sites that really did deliver value for the money I paid them. And, as I mentioned above, I have used sites that didn’t deliver value. I promptly cancelled the latter.


So, kudos to Laurie and Nick for telling job seekers about sites that don’t deliver on their promises. And kudos to the sites that do deliver on their promises.

Views: 3998

Comment by Ted Fitter on January 25, 2011 at 12:55pm
Interesting post. The edge of this discussion borders on a long standing outplacement issue - who pays? If a downsizing company pays an outplacement firm to help those released brush up their job-hunting skills - OK. If a high energy outplacement firm preys on down-on-their-luck seekers spending their last $5K in savings - not OK. The Ladders appears to have a toe in the water of the latter category.
Comment by Janice Worthington on January 25, 2011 at 1:20pm

Fantastic post Jeff. Many of us working with (and yes, getting paid by) job seekers have known that there's no value in The Ladders. Their resume critique service is little more than a verbatim template (I have 12 of them) with the same evaluation ultimately suggesting that a candidate spend $695 for what might be a presentation written by a writer-in-training. At least in beauty school their divulge who they are and discount their services to learn on you!


There is no doubt that job seekers need help, and not just in a tough economy. A reasonable fee, with full disclosure for expectation management, and we deserve to get paid for putting folks back to work. Following a 14-year stint as a recruiter, I crossed over to the job search coaching business model in 1987. Next month we'll celebrate our 38th year in the industry. I am one of 9 business owners featured on our Better Business Bureau's home page. When provided with value, clients learn to be strong job hunters and get hired.


So of course it's OK to charge job seekers. As long as you give $2 value and service for every $1 you collect.  Regarding the unpublished job market? Those of us in the biz recognize the come-on of a scam. Job seekers really need to make sure they don't get seduced.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on January 25, 2011 at 1:21pm

Is it ever ethical to charge the jobseeker?  Of course it is.  Anybody can charge anybody for a service.  There are "employment agencies" who charge candidates a % to find them a job.  In Texas to charge anyone for a service requires a license.  Recruiters who work for companies and do not charge the jobseeker do not have to have a license.  Do i want to charge a jobseeker or will i?  No ,that's why i left an employment agency and became a recruiter in the first place.  There are not a lot of them left because companies are more efficient at advertising themselves and have internal recruiters.


The theory behind the Ladders charging job seekers was or is that if someone pays to put their information on the site they will probably not put their information on other job boards.  I made multiple placements with candidates from the Ladders, used it as long as it was free to recruiters.  When they started charging recruiters we dropped it.    Would we have paid for it based on the placements we made of Ladders candidates?  We considered it but due to the number of resumes that were years out of date, candidates who had found a job and never responded to contacts it was not worth it.  As a free site to recruiters it was worth digging through the volume of outdated resumes.


I recently received an email that as a former user The Ladders was now going back to free to recruiters to post 100K jobs and review candidates.  After watching that obnoxious commercial i wouldn't touch them with a 10 foot pole.  It has been my experience that posting a 100K job on any of the other job boards will normally pick up most of the job seekers who do pay for the Ladders.  They may not put their resume on the job boards but they do respond to postings.  Linkedin groups seem to work better for us than the time spent digging through The Ladders even when it was free.  We did receive some good candidates from posts on The Ladders.  I want no association with any site that thinks advertising by using a guy flopped over a desk with his shirt unbuttoned makes anyone "desireable".  Yuck.  What three eyed genius came up with that and what fool at the Ladders approved it begs the question, "What were you drinking or smoking?".  If that is supposed to convice professionals to pay for joining, it's my take that they get the award for the "missed the mark" ad or at least i don't want any of the jobseekers who think that is a great ad.

Comment by C. B. Stalling!! on January 25, 2011 at 1:37pm
For like writing resume or help like that
Comment by Dalya on January 25, 2011 at 2:52pm
As a retained recruiter and a certified career coach, in all my years I have never seen a situation where a job seeker must (or should) pay a placement fee for a job or promise one will be found. I receive the generic c-level mailings and they go in the trash. I know so called "coaches" who charge a fee, take people to a few networking meetings, and that it is. There are too many no-cost, professional services, connections and tools available for professionals in transition. Pay for a professionaly written resume, a new interview suit, shoe shine, hair cut, manicure, gym membership, continuing education, self-improvement physically, emotionally and professionally as investments for career growth.
Comment by Lesley Hardy on January 25, 2011 at 3:09pm

I really think the employer, candidate balance is finely tuned.  As much as candidates are looking for a job - employers are looking for the "right candidate".

Too often in this day and age, a candidate is looking to better their situation, be it that they are unemployed, or have perhaps taken a low paid job in the interim to make ends meet.  Its not the same world it used to be where people are let go because of non performance.  To charge people to access jobs is ludicris and gives false hope. 


I think there are many ways of job hunting.  Using networks, making yourself known to the right agencies, applying for advertised jobs.  Paying for access to jobs you can see anywhere else is an insult to people already hurting.

I say lets do our jobs and make sure we know who is out there and stop leeching off those who are already potentially struggling!

Comment by Jeff Dickey-Chasins on January 25, 2011 at 3:18pm

Lesley- I agree - I'm a huge proponent of 'multi channel' job hunting. Job seekers should use every tool available - job boards, company sites, personal networking, colleagues, recruiters, you name it. 

Everyone- great discussion here! I'm really enjoying it.

Comment by Lesley Hardy on January 25, 2011 at 3:20pm

We have an opportunity to provide some value to the wider job hunting community really.  We could be writing and sharing job hunting tips to help those who don't have the knowledge we have.

If I get 5 minutes, perhaps I will write a blog of my own LOL

Comment by Keith Robinson on January 25, 2011 at 5:56pm


Hi Jeff,


Having responded to your Tweeter you know my take and I must confess I find it slightly guilty admitting this but I have NO ISSUE with charging job seekers. Why the guilt... shock and horror over here I'm called a "socialist"  and we are meant to be against "these kind of practices".

But your question was not about the Ladders which seems to have become the center of the debate. Back in the late 90's many job boards around the world charged job seekers, in Russia, Naukri, in India plus other in Brazil and China charged - why? because there were more job seekers than jobs and the "consumer" decided whether they were prepared to "invest" in finding a job.

To me the question is NOT what we as "industry expert" think is value but what those buying the service decide is value... yes with any service where people pay for a service there are unhappy customer.. equally people complain about products.. so what is the surprise and moral outrage when someone complains about a service that a "Job Board" provides.


Ultimately the consumer will decide and the Ladders will succeed or fail.. what won't happen is that a government will bail them out... now that really shameful!!


Sorry for the rant but this alone with the "job boards" add no value debate  really gets on my goat. But I suppose they make great headlines and as they say “bad news sells”

Comment by Gerry Crispin on January 26, 2011 at 12:22am

Hmmm.  Jeff.  Pretty harsh. Subtle but harsh

Here's a couple alternative thoughts:

- I've gotta question your choice of positioning Nick and Laurie's comments at the beginning of your post w/o much analysis by you other than to set up your value premise.  A little too cute for my taste. Nick opines, for example, that since employers only attribute .07% of hires to the Ladders, it is therefore a meaningless, valueless service. First, the choice to include that statement was yours. Second, Nick's statement is a serious (and relatively obvious) misrepresentation of the data. The employers were attributing .07% of ALL hires to Ladders but, assuming conservatively that only 5% of hires are compensated at the 100k level would therefore translate to the Ladders being in the mix as a source of hire for 1.5 hires of every 100 people hired at that level . This is actually a pretty reasonable number given that the flaws in how firms collect their data probably underestimates the impact by 50%. (And yes, I get irritated when folks take my work out of context).

I won't even attempt to address Laurie's hyperbole. On one hand I share her 'puke' response but, really, name ANY vendor of services in the space (perhaps with the exception of Craig Newmark) and I'll be happy to point out similar hype that crosses the line. (Then again you merely have to look at Kimberly Roden's comment to get the point that the tendency of vendors to stretch their claims far exceeds a job seekers need to stretch their accomplishments.) The Ladders is in good company.


And I gotta disagree with your premise that the Ladders is not like Monster, CareerBuilder and the like because 'Traditional job sites make most of their money by charging employers'

 While it is true that Ladders likely earns proportionately more from job seekers and Monster et. al. proportionately earns more from employers, they ALL earn from BOTH employers and job seekers. I get passionate when Monster earns from deals with numerous resume writers, some of whom are quite good and some whom are a total scams. I'm embarrassed for them because I know they won't deserve the heat when that happens. And I could really rant on and on about how CareerBuilder has promoted a so-called color preference test that they claimed predicted what kind of work you would be good at to desperate jobseekers- but I won't.


If your point is that many vulnerable job seekers are being taken advantage of by firms who make unsubstantiated claims about their ability to help job seekers, I'm with you.

If you are taking on the Ladders as a particularly onerous offender because it has job seeker fees, then something is missing for me.

I do agree that the key is value returned for the $s invested. However, I have a very different reaction to a firm that takes a few bucks a month in return for the convenience of supplying leads and a firm that charges thousands of dollars a la Haldane (who once threatened to sue me. 


And, I'm also a fan of job seekers taking responsibility for determining their value. You, Laurie, Nick and every recruiter struggling to place their next star has every right to criticize but I'm pretty confident that If more than  a few assembly line workers creep into the 100k list most of the subscribers are sharp enough to stop paying.


Don't get me wrong, I've plenty concerns about services job seekers pay for and have a few questions of my own I would like to know about The Ladders model (which I never have trouble asking directly). I do appreciate the conversation you've got going. I just think the rhetoric needs some balance.


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