Australia’s leading international student news website

$800 for career advice? Maybe not.

Diane Leow

Wed Nov 28 2012


DESPERATE for a full-time job, Diane Leow visited a career consultancy firm in the hope of increasing her chances at employment. To her shock, career advice can come at a high price. 

Not long ago, I officially graduated from university. Armed with two degrees and a couple of internship experiences, I thought finding that first job would be as simple as sending out a few resumes and cover letters… But I could not be more wrong.

Three rejections and nine no-replies later, I realised my Master of Journalism and Bachelor of Arts would do me no good if I didn’t have a job to show for it. It didn’t help that relatives were beginning to ask my mum a barrage of questions:

“So, what’s Diane doing now? Has she gotten a job? She has a Masters, right? How much is she getting paid?”

Thankfully, mum does not mind my lack of employment. But I minded. Very much.

Thus began the search for someone out there who could perhaps raise my chances of looking for a job. Then I remembered one of my friends used to work at a career consultancy firm – perhaps I could look it up, and maybe it would be easier for me to gain employment.

I then left my contact details and uploaded my resume on their website. Less than 12 hours later, I received a call from one of their consultants who set up an initial appointment.

The night before our appointment, I decided to Google the company on a whim. To my surprise, I found a forum thread where many of their ex-customers claimed what the company offered was a scam. There were also a few contributors who mentioned how the company’s advice benefitted their job search, but the negative sentiments far outweighed the positive comments.

I considered not turning up for my appointment. But I decided I had nothing much to lose, since the initial consultation was free.

On that fateful day, I arrived slightly early and sat at the waiting room for about 15 minutes. On an iPad screen were YouTube videos of previous clients and an employer extolling the virtues of said company. I was told to fill in a form with my career objectives and field of expertise.

Later on, I was ushered into an office decked out in mahogany-coloured furniture by Sophia (not her real name), my career consultant. She proceeded to ask how many resumes I’d sent out in the last few months, and if I had gotten any responses or interviews.

She then explained how the interview process worked. Companies typically spend a minute or less scanning a resume before deciding whether the candidate is suitable. Larger companies tend to ask promising candidates to go through an initial interview, followed by a psychomatic test, then a second interview before offering them the position.

After taking a look at my resume, she told me while I had the relevant experience, I did not elaborate on projects or particular skills I had that would make me seem like a suitable candidate on paper. From this, I understood that a resume is like a snapshot of one’s life – you only have that piece of paper and one minute to impress a future employer.

Sophia asked me a few mock interview questions, and gave me some feedback on my answers. So far so good.

She then asked if I had any questions. I brought up the forum thread, which she knew about. She reassured me that while she cannot speak for other consultants, she would not offer the same shoddy service to all her candidates.

Then came the “consultancy fee” pitch.

For a cool $600, I could expect the company’s dedicated resume department to help beautify my existing resume to make it more desirable. They would also help film a video resume, to demonstrate my English-speaking ability to future employers. On top of all that, they would also help craft my cover letters and follow up emails, all in the hope of landing a job. Best of all, this was a one-time offer. If I chose to come back another day to take up this package, it would cost an extra $200, bringing the total to $800.

In the midst of my shock, I almost felt like I was watching a bad infomercial. “Call this number now and pay only (insert number here) over 12 months!”

I thanked Sophia for her time and let her know that I needed to sleep on it.

Back home, I started wondering if there were any alternatives out there. To someone who is unemployed, $800 seems like an insurmountable amount of money.

After doing some more Googling (thank God for Google), I decided to pay my university’s career centre a visit. It turns out that students at my university have free access to their services. For those like me who have graduated, it’s free to make as many appointments for up to 12 months after the completion of your last exam or assignment (yay!).

Interestingly, my career advisor at my uni gave me the same advice – except I didn’t need to pay a three-figure sum this time around. I did, however, need to do the hard work myself. I needed to think about how exactly I wanted to expand on certain skills sets and experiences I had. In contrast, had I gone with the career consultancy firm, I could have relaxed while their resume department agonised over my resume.

I recently made a follow-up appointment with my career advisor after taking all her tips and advice. She gave me further advice on customising my resume according to each job description, and taught me how to write a winning cover letter.

At this stage, I am still without a full-time job. But I am thankful that I am not $800 poorer, simply because I couldn’t afford that amount. Thanks to all the advice I have received, I am now more hopeful about finding a job – fingers crossed!

Have you ever paid for careers advice? What was that like?