Job-Search Help: Be An Alert Buyer

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There's always some risk when paying for information you hope will boost your odds of landing a great job. Yet with so many careers dislocated by the recession and financial crisis, it's no surprise that more professionals are turning to job-search services such as career counselors, resume writers, and subscription-based job information sources.

While no one can guarantee you'll find a job, the good advisers will spend time educating you about what they do and will provide clear written service agreements, says ITS, a broad-based career services company with headquarters in Denver and offices in six other U.S. cities.

To control your risk of disappointment, here are some questions ITS suggests asking prospective career coaches and other paid career-services providers:

1. What do they do to help you... before you start a search?

This should include identifying options for your career and industry, helping clarify goals, figuring how to minimize career "liabilities," pinpointing transferable skills, and creating a "campaign action plan to guide your search.

2. Will they professionally write your resumes and letters... or just guide you?

ITS draws a bright red line between helping a job-seeker revise an existing resume, and creating one from scratch. They say it's misleading for a job-search firm to promise they'll deliver a better resume when their help consists of "advising you on how to develop a resume or offering to edit your existing resume."

That's not how I see it. Career and resume coaching, like all coaching, can only work if the client is highly motivated as well as competent. Tossing a stack of raw information at an expert you expect will hand you back a finished document with no further effort on your part might work fine when it comes to preparing your taxes. But a "Here, you do all the work for me" approach makes little sense when we're talking resumes. Every coach and recruiter I ever worked with started by editing my existing resume. No one said, "Leave it all to me"....nor would I have wanted them to.

3. Will their technology connect you to all the published jobs?

4. How will they help you connect with unpublished jobs?

ITS rejects the widely heard phrase, "hidden job market." But the company does acknowledge an "unpublished" job market, which it says can be accessed in only six possbile ways:

- Placing a resume with officers of key employers

- Going to "non-web recruiters"

- Working through venture capitalists

- Placing a resume with board members of an employer

- Uncovering leads through events "which may signal emerging jobs"

- "Expanded networking," especially e-mail campaigns that draw people to your personal marketing website.

5. Will you get help with interviews and negotiations... and will research be supplied?

Ask about the depth of expertise a firm has available, whether they are negotiating deals for clients in a wide range of industries, and whether a client can draw upon a full-time research staff as needed.

6. How do they bring you current on the latest strategies?

This might include written guidance on such challenges as what to do if you're unemployed, how to create your own job, the best ways for handling references (both good and bad), plus career-advice staples like the best ways to answer ads, how to get the most from recruiters, interviewing tips, and personal image and dress.

7. What happens if you don't get a new job within 90-120 days?

While a job-services firm can't guarantee to find anyone a job, ITS says there should be some type of performance guarantee. In ITS' own case, after 90 days without success the firm says it assigns a new marketing team, creates a revised plan, and rewrites and redistributes several resumes and marketing letters.

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