If you were unemployed, how much would you pay for the guarantee of a decent job offer within six months? For many people—particularly the 46 percent of jobless Americans who have been out of work for more than six months already—the answer might surprise you. A median-income position pays about $4,185 a month, pre-tax. Given that every week you remain out of the workforce leaves about $1,000 on the table, and given that jobless workers have been searching for a whopping average of 41 weeks, spending even tens of thousands to guarantee a job, if you could afford it, would hardly seem crazy. But TheLadders.com, a job search site, is willing to guarantee a six-figure job offer within six months for the low, low price of $2,500. Granted, there is a catch: Anyone qualifying for the program probably does not need it anyway.
Launched in 2003, TheLadders is essentially the ritzy version of Monster.com. It specializes in matching workers with positions that pay more than $100,000 a year—for certified accountants or experienced public-relations representatives, for instance, rather than recent college grads and construction workers. The company does not explicitly bar people who lack the education, résumés, and chops to get those plum jobs. But it does charge users a $15 monthly fee to discourage the riffraff from applying to its 55,000 posted openings and using its career advising services. Businesses, in turn, post jobs for free. (Most other sites' fee structure is the opposite: Job seekers look for free, businesses pay to post.)
The money-back guarantee deal, which launched this month, is called the Signature Program, and it comes with a sleek website, personalized career-consulting services, and a $2,500 price tag. To ensure that it makes its guarantee, TheLadders is choosy about who it admits. It notes that "applicants will be pre-screened and accepted to the Signature Program on a case by case basis." Needless to say, the company seems unlikely to take on many of the lower-income, longer-out-of-work, or otherwise less desirable prospective applicants.
There are other measures to increase the chance of job-matching success, too. TheLadders requires members of the program to attend scheduled training sessions, follow a "roadmap" delineated by the company (for example, "defining your personal brand including polishing your online presence, and crafting your elevator pitch"), apply to at least six TheLadders-vetted jobs, and complete "all follow-up activities assigned." A résuméand cover-letter rewriter and other career professionals walk the applicants through the work. The company claims it has a 90 percent success rate thus far, though it does not say how many applicants used the program in its trial period.
Does anyone who might get accepted such a program really need it? Of course, there are some workers who might want or require the extra level of vetting and hand-holding TheLadders is offering. There are many workers struggling to find new positions that would happily pay $2,500 to know something will come through. And certain high-paying careers have seen serious squeezes on hiring, like legal services. But the answer, by and large, seems to be no.
If you want to pay cash for help, you have a host of cheaper career-advising and headhunting to choose from. Professional résumérewrites come for hundreds of dollars, not thousands. Interview coaching is even cheaper than that. And the Internet offers a host of other low-cost options to people seeking work—the job-matching services on sites like LinkedIn, for instance.
More importantly, the American jobs crisis is just not that severe for the people targeted by TheLadders. As a general rule, the less-skilled the profession and lower-paid the work, the higher the unemployment rate. (This trend holds true in expansions too, by the way.) Higher-income workers take longer to find new jobs, in part because they can afford to be choosier. But not as many of them are unemployed.
A 2010 study by Andrew Sum, Ishwar Khatiwada, and Sheila Palma at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies demonstrates the point: The recession hit all workers, but it did not hit them equally. According to the study, the unemployment rate topped 30 percent in the lowest income decile. For workers in the second-highest decile, those making about $100,000 a year, the unemployment rate was only 4 percent. And those in the highest-income bracket, making more than $138,700 a year, the jobless rate was just 3 percent.
In short, unemployment was 10 times worse for those in the bottom rung of the income ladder than for those at the top of the ladder—the people TheLadders is targeting to begin. The researchers concluded: "A true labor market depression faced those in the bottom two deciles of the income distribution, a deep labor market recession prevailed among those in the middle of the distribution, and close to a full employment environment prevailed at the top. There was no labor market recession for America's affluent."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the "professional and business services" sector, where many of those cushy, six-figure, white-collar jobs are, has a higher rate of job openings than any other right now. And if you're looking for one of them, you probably do not need a $2,500 hand to hold while you find it.