NOTE:The original version of this post contained much stronger accusatory language. In October, 2010, I was contacted by someone who claimed to be associated with the companies in this post. He was very upset at my accusation that the companies were running a scam. Although I have no intention just to buckle to his pressure, I re-read the post and realized that my accusations were not based on my direct experience. Although all the information I’ve gathered leads me to believe strongly that these people are misrepresenting themselves to scam money out of desperate job hunters, I have no direct evidence of it. Therefore, I changed the language in this post to reflect this more directly.
When I was a few weeks into my recent job hunt, I received call from HCI International that went something like this:
Caller: Hi, I’m so-and-so with HCI International. Our vice-president So-and-so would like to meet with you to see if we can help you with your job search.
Me: Great; he can call me at this number at any time, or we can schedule a time to talk on the phone.
Caller: The vice president can only meet you in person at our offices.
Me: Well, does the vice president have a particular opening in mind that I might be a good fit for, or is this just a general intake interview?
Caller: The vice president can tell you that when you come in for your interview.
The direction of this conversation was so different from conversations that I had had with other recruiters that warning bells were going off. Also, I figure recruiters are opportunists: if they had an an opening for which they thought I was really a good match, then they would be much more accommodating to get me to work with them. I just ended the call at this point and blew them off.
After the call, I did a little research and found some pretty damning comments about HCI on yelp.com: here and here. It seems they charge the candidate a large retainer fee–apparently several thousand dollars–to try to match them with jobs or provide career coaching services or something:
This is basically a company that attempts to charge you a ‘retainer’ fee after meeting with you three or more times. I went for the initial ‘interview’ and noticed that the agent i spoke to, a person by the name of Linda Whitney (with the title of vice-president) did not even look at my resume. The initial meeting was less than 10 minutes long. I noted that there were a few clients in a classroom environment undergoing improving interview techniques. I was scheduled for a followup “second level” interview the following week. The next day I called, deciding to corner Ms. Whitney about the retainer fee. I asked how much it was, she refused to answer citing that each client is individually researched. I asked for a ballpark estimate, saying I needed to know if this service was going to be in the hundreds, the thousands, or over ten thousand. Upon being pressed she informed me that maybe HCI and myself were not a good fit. An interesting thing to say to a client and definitely a red flag, after all what’s wrong with asking for a ballpark estimate of what you’re going to be charged for a service? All in all I got the impression that they were using Amway like techniques from her demeanor, and use of the phrase “fair enough?” which she used over and over again. I’ve attended aggressive sales training technique seminars and recognized it for what it was.
Perhaps HCI International isn’t a scam, maybe they do offer career counseling services that some people find useful. However, their tactics to get you in the door are certainly deceptive at best, and according to what I’ve read online from people who’ve been through their sales process, they use high pressure sales tactics. I’m glad I smelled a skunk in the initial telephone call.
In high tech at least (that’s what I’m familiar with), you should absolutely never have to pay a recruiter to find you a job, and if you need help with job hunting, or ‘career counseling’, I think there are plenty of reputable firms who can sell you specific services (e.g., resume review, interview techniques, etc) a la carte and at much more reasonable prices than HCI International seems to be charging.