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Career Consultant or Con Artist?

One of the first things I discovered when I became a career consultant is that there are many companies out there who prey on discouraged and desperate job-seekers, taking them for thousands of dollars, and delivering very little in return. On the other hand, there are many more honest, ethical, insightful, and genuinely helpful career consultants who change people’s lives for the better on a daily basis.  So, how can you tell one from the other, and how do you choose a career consultant that is right for you?

First of all, let me tell you a few warning signs and common practices of the career management con artists.  They often:

–       Attract candidates by posting phony job openings on major job boards and in newspaper classifieds.

–       Are in office spaces that reek of pretentiousness, filled with leather couches, mahogany desks, brass fixtures, and other ostentatious trappings designed to both intimidate you and entice you with their success.

–       Have you meet with a sales representative, or “intake specialist,” not the actual career consultant you will work with.

–       Both flatter you and undermine your confidence by telling you how much more you should be making (and why aren’t you?)

–       Say that they accept “only a few select candidates” who “must be approved by a committee.”

–       Promise to “market you” using a “proprietary database of inside contacts” to tap into the “hidden job market.”

–       Ask you to sign a contract and pay a large up-front fee, typically anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 or more. They typically justify it as “a small investment compared to what you will be making once we’ve marketed you into a job that pays what you SHOULD be paid.”

Thankfully, the internet has made it easier for consumers to spread the word about such con artists.  Visit a site such as or, to see who else may have had experience using that firm.  Note however, that some firms change names on a regular basis, attempting to outrun their reputation. 

So, how can you select a reputable, ethical career consultant who actually can help you?  For starters, try the same techniques you would use to find a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or real estate agent – ask people you trust if they know of any career consultants they would recommend.  Whether you find them from referrals or from the Yellow Pages, talk with at least three potential consultants personally for about 15-20 minutes each. (Most consultants will offer an initial meeting either for free or for a very reasonable fee.)  Aspects to look for include:

–       Office Space – Open and comfortable, not pretentious.

–       Credentials and experience – Most good career consultants have an advanced degree in psychology, counseling, or social work, plus many years of hands-on experience in the business world. You should also ask about how much experience they have specifically in career consulting, and how many clients they have worked with.

–       References – An ethical consultant should gladly provide you with names AND phone numbers of several past clients.

–       Approach – Some consultants prefer to use psychological assessments such as the Myers-Briggs or the Strong Interest Inventory (See the “Can a test tell you what your perfect career is?” post).  Others use more creative, open-ended exercises, and still others prefer a very down-to-earth business approach to career problem solving.  Ask them about what approaches they use, and select one that you feel will be most effective for you.

–       Rapport – It is essential to find somebody you would feel comfortable speaking openly with about your fears and aspirations, your successes and failures.

–       Fees – Most ethical consultants charge the same way other counseling professionals do, on a per session basis, typically ranging from $75 to $200 per hour.  Some also offer package programs of a set duration, for fees ranging in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars.

Richard Bolles has a good chapter on this topic in “What Color is Your Parachute?” along with a directory of hundreds of career consultants worldwide.  While Bolles cannot personally attest to the quality of all the consultants in his directory, I consider it to be to be as good of a resource for finding quality career consultants as any I can think of.

A good career consultant can help change your life without emptying your wallet. Just keep in mind what Sergeant Esterhaus used to say in Hill Street Blues“Let’s be careful out there.”