Job Seekers Confess: I Paid Big Bucks to Get the Gig

Penny Wrenn

job searchIn 2007, Alexander Williams*, 38, was hating his job as a corporate attorney at a major law firm in New York City. Bottom line: Williams felt that his work was no longer fulfilling, so he hired a career coaching firm to help him figure out what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life.

A series of personality tests revealed that Williams had the potential to excel in more of a do-gooding profession, so he quit his lucrative lawyer gig and took a job as a public affairs director at a university.

There was just one problem. Six months into his new career, Williams found himself in the exact same position—feeling similarly unfulfilled, but also now … underpaid. He wanted to go back to law, but the recession had just hit, so firms weren’t hiring.

“I couldn’t go back to my old law firm because they were laying off people left and right,” says Williams. And although he was getting interviews at other practices, the meetings weren’t turning into offers. So when a friend told him about Karen Elizaga, an executive coach who specialized in helping people find what she calls their “sweet spot,” he pounced on the idea. Maybe this time he’d find his perfect match.

Of course, he wasn’t making attorney money anymore, so hiring Elizaga—whose expert advice starts at $500 per hour—was a splurge. But Williams was desperate. “Even though the market was bleak,” he says, “I wanted every possible advantage to make sure that I was coming across well in interviews, and basically doing everything that I could to get back into legal practice.”

Over the course of about five sessions, six months and lots of hard work, Elizaga helped Williams to ultimately land a plum position with a firm in Austin, Texas, where he’d been dreaming of moving.

RELATED: 10 Questions for a Career Coach

“When Alexander came to me, he was down in the dumps and thinking that his life had totally taken a wrong turn,” says Elizaga. “So my number-one job was to get him to feel good about himself—and project that positive confidence to potential employers.” Mixed in with the self-analysis was also rigorous practical work: Elizaga prepped Williams for interviews the way someone would train a prizefighter, recording him in mock scenarios, and then playing back the videos to give him a blow-by-blow of what he was doing wrong.

Elizaga admits that her approach can seem like therapy, but Williams, who paid around $2,000 for her services, notes that he’s proof it works. “I don’t think I would’ve gotten my job if it weren’t for Karen,” he says. “She got me to focus on my strengths and helped me realize that I’d be a valuable asset to potential employers.”

Paying … to Get Ahead

It may seem extravagant to pay for someone like Elizaga when you’re on the job hunt, but experts say that shelling out money for an executive coach, a résumé writer or even an image consultant can be money well spent—especially in this tough employment market.

  • DC

    If you’re fat, you need to hire a personal trainer; if you’re house is a mess, you need to hire a personal organizer; if you’re unemployed/underemployed, you NEED to enlist a career coach. You won’t get there by yourself.

    I was fortunate to experience an outplacement service when I was laid off that changed my approach entirely to getting hired.

    Instead of seeing the process as something that I can manage, I now see it as a laborious, systematic, lottery that requires more labor, detail, and tenacity than I can summon alone. If I had done all of the prep work, I wouldn’t have energy left to be chipper and cunning during the interviews.

    • Kimberlee, Esq.

      I disagree with pretty much everything you say. If you’re fat, you CAN hire a personal trainer, and many people have success with that. However, tons of people also have success learning about how to exercise at home and spend absolutely no money to do it. Or buy a $10 exercise DVD and drop the weight that way, or read a nutrition blog and revolutionize their diet.

      People clean and organize their houses everyday. Hiring a professional can help, but its an expensive option if you can do it yourself.

      I think that there are a lot of people that can really benefit from professional services, especially if they have been trying other approaches to no avail. But there’s a tremendous benefit to really working to figure it out on your own and doing what you need to do.

      • paganheart

        Spot on. Not to mention that at least some of these “career counselors” and “life coaches” can do more harm than good, and are little more than con artists. The principle of “those who cannot do, teach” (and it’s more modern equivalent, “those who cannot do, consult”) comes to mind.

        Several years ago, after going through a rather ugly job loss situation, I met with a “life coach” and “career consultant” who came highly recommended from a professional contact. “She changed my life,” the woman told me. Yeah well $500 dollars later, she’d changed my life too–for the worse! For more than three hours this woman proceeded to destroy my self-esteem, telling me that “everything about you screams ‘I’m a loser!’” From the clothes I wore (“Successful people do not wear clothes from Kohls”) to the car I drove (“You will not be taken seriously if you drive a boring, suburban mom car, successful people drive power cars, get an SUV!”) to the neighborhood I live in (“This place is practically ghetto! What possessed you to live here?”) To the makeup I used (“Cheap drugstore brands make you look like a cheap streetwalker, if you don’t spend at least $40 on your foundation, you aren’t spending enough!”) To even the music I had on my iPod! (Yes, she even demanded to see my iPod and pronounced it “the iPod of a homicidal teenage boy” and ordered me to “get rid of this garbage and replace it with stuff people actually listen to, like Top 40 and hip-hop! Successful people listen to what is hot right now, not this trash!!!”) When she finally got a chance to look at my resume, she deemed it “hopeless.” And said she’d advise me to “go back to school and get an MBA that’s actually useful” and announced that she’d need at least another $500 to “turn this sh!t into applesauce so you can at least get a job at Starbucks or something!” At that point I ordered her to leave, and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to think of reasons not to kill myself!

        It took awhile–and some real therapy from a real therapist–but eventually I was able to retrain for a more satisfying career, without spending a ton of money to basically change myself into someone I am not. So forgive me if I am a bit cynical about the idea of paying someone $2000 to help you get a job. To me, it’s just a sign of how low our economy has sunk. I suspect a lot of these so-called “career coaches” and “life coaches” are just people who lost their jobs when the economy crashed, can’t get new ones, and now make their livings trying tell other people how to do what they themselves cannot. Just sad.

  • Kimberlee, Esq.

    I totally disagree. There is so much free, high quality advice out there that most of these services are completely unnecessary. There’s Ask a Manager, there’s Nick Corcodilos (Ask a Recruiter), and tons of others. Do you have to separate the wheat from the chaff? Sure. But you have to do that with professionals anyway, as this article illustrates.

    Sure, if you do a lot of reading a research, a lot of resume and cover letter tweaking, and still find yourself getting no bites, then you should think about a professional. But there’s very little a professional can do for you that you can’t get for free if you take a look around.

    An entire industry has sprung up around the job search since the recession. Like most industries, its primary motivation is profit. There are a lot of scams out there, and the vast majority of people who want you to pay them to get you a job are scams.

    • DC

      That argument is demotivating and unproductive. My outplacement was in 2005 prior to the recession and a little due diligence to avoid a scam is a lot easier than becoming a temporary expert in another field.

      These are problems that don’t just need a little tweak, but are missing a fundamental understanding and require a reprogramming. My free advice is just that and provokes you to have a superficial response.

      Keep thinking personal services (weight loss programs, electricians, plumbers, trainers, coaches, lawyers) are a scam. Don’t try to be the expert and DIY in everything and don’t make a career out of “looking for a job.”

      If you found yourself unemployed without a strong network and follow-on work, you are already behind the curve as if you are 100# overweight. Now is not the time for moody self-help, you need intervention.

      “Your heart is where your treasure is” and allow yourself to experience a transformation.

  • Mint and Honey

    Interesting article; I don’t understand why the first guy just didn’t go into non-profit work some of those orgs hire lawyers all the time. Wanting a change and then doing it with the help of a firm only to go back to what he was doing before just didn’t seem to be a good judgment call. I’m glad he got what he wanted in the end.

    As far as paying for a service, I have hired a professional resume writer but I didn’t have to pay 1K for it. I got more interviews than I did in over 4 years using my own written resume so for me it was worth it. I got my resume recently updated by the same writer and began looking for a job at various places, one of them being a public employment agency. The guy there wasn’t very friendly and he took the liberty to point out what he considered the “bad” things on my resume. The resume is very clean and professional looking and I took what he said into consideration; but I didn’t make any changes because those aspects are an integral part of my experience.

    Next time, I might try a new writer just to see if I get even more responses. If it’s a good service within my budget then I’m for it…mine was tax deductible. Now, I have landed interviews with this resume but landing the job is another story so that is something that I need to put forth more effort.

  • Amelia

    I have been thinking about hiring a career coach or a resume writer so this was helpful for me. Although I am a very DIY sort of person I think there are times in everyone’s life when you feel stuck in a situation and you need an outside party to help you figure out how to get to the next stage of your life. That is why trainers and career coaches and stylists find work.

  • csmingus

    Another article proving that the coaching industry once again has segregated those unemployed who can afford the help and those that cannot. Everyone tells the unemployed that their resume is wrong, their cover letter is wrong, their interviewing skills are wrong, their networking is wrong, their follow up is wrong, their salary negotiation is wrong, etc. And of course they will tell the unemployed how to do it for a fee.

    This article proves the ridiculousness out there and especially when someone has to pay $500 an hour for it.