$800 for career advice? Maybe not.

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. 

Photo: NoHoDamon via flickr

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?

There are 21 comments

  1. Malificent

    It seems to be the trend here in Australia, especially Melbourne.
    I’ve had friends who’ve gone jobless for years after a degree or masters, subsisting on hospitality or if they are lucky, admin jobs to get by.
    Of course, there are many issues that underline a much more insidious reason behind the high unemployment rate, especially with international and Asian students.
    The Asian ‘modesty’ could be a cultural trait that translates to weakness in the wider professional industry here in Australia, and I find being unabashedly assertive and aggressive in what you are after really helps.
    Do a quick read up of the company in question and make sure key words and traits which they find desirable are reflected in your resume, always attach a cover letter, proof read your resume, and most of all – to keep in touch with follow up calls and emails to whomever is in charge. If there isn’t one listed, check who’s in the hiring manager of the company, call in and ask reception who to speak to regarding hiring people.
    Basically, be prepared to step out of your comfort zone when seeking a job, because if you’re not prepared to do so, there are a hundred others who will and you will be the poorer for it.

  2. Yvonne Giltinan

    I felt upset reading your story. Thankfully it had a happy ending.
    Many careers services at universities offer assistance to their graduates. And did you know that only about 80% of graduates find work in their field in the first 6 months? I got my first job as a graduate for 1 month and I am still here 7 years later! Take anything that is offered to get your chance of employment.

    The most important thing I tell students and graduates is that they must not pray and spray. “Dear God, bless my resume as I spray it all over Melbourne”.
    Every resume MUST be written for each job application. It must be changed every time so that the skills match what each employer wants.

    1. Dominic Soh

      I totally agree with Yvonne that one shouldn’t just spray and spam his resume all over the place. It definitely helps to tailor your resume to suit the job requirements and the position description – especially when hiring managers have thousands of resumes to sift through.

  3. Sarah Greene

    Having been through a similar experience I crashed badly with depression that was almost severe. There are so many sharks out there and when you are desperate you don’t know where to turn or what to do. I was lucky, my family sent me to http://www.theredcouch.com.au. The counselling psychologist there worked with me for almost a dozen sessions and after each one I found my confidence and competency dealing with recruiters and interviewers increasing. I got a fantastic role in a top 200 corporate and it was the competence, resilience and sense of self I reconnected with that got me there. Try some counseling if other approaches aren’t working, it really helped me.

  4. Christophe Gautier

    I am in a similar and distressing situation; I was made redundant from my last job of 10 years and thought it would be just a matter of applying for a few positions and I would be working again. How wrong was I, its been just over 12 months and still no work.

    I have sent out close to 100 applications and still not offer; I have only received a handful of responses but these were all the generic, thank you but no thank you.

    I have been looking into career consultants as of late out of desperation, due to being almost broke with no form of income, as Centrelink will not give me any allowances for another 6 months… and as your article states, there are so many sharks praying on people like us. (could you please tell me which consultants you were referring to – privately) I just don’t want to be burnt.

    Also, I have been studying online towards a Master of IT Project Management and have also sought out the advice of the career centre, but in my case… the advice they gave me was very vague and limited. So, I left them feeling even more anxious.

    I am really in need of some honest and ethical advice and some sort of position direction.


  5. Bing

    The article treat the cost like buying something. However, instead, the fee should be treated like an investment. If by paying $800 you can find a job one month earlier that pays $3000, what a return of investment! And what if that job pays more than the job you finally get without using a consultant?

    I am not saying using a consultant is a good or bad idea – that depends on the situation you have, and whether the consultant is good, or suit your situation. However, don’t treat the service as a cost – like you buy a nice dinner – but treat the fee as investment (to yourself) and think if it has good return

      1. Bing

        I’m not a career consultant. In fact I’m thinking about hiring a career consultant and was directed to this post by Google search.

        I’m not trying to argue whether anyone should or should not hire a career consultant. In my view, the answer should be different for one and another. What I try to argue, is that the fee for career consultant is not a matter of cheap / expensive or affordable in a way of expense (or consumption) rather in a way of investment.

        If it’s a good investment, then you may want to go for it even you may need to borrow money (like “gearing” in investment terms. WARNING: this is just a metaphor, I’m in NO WAY encouraging anyone to borrow money to invest, as it also involves high risks). Assume (I am not saying the assumption here is true, it’s just a hypothesis for the discussion) the consultant charges $800 and can get you hired 2 months earlier, your salary in these two months will be $3000, then if you borrow money to pay the consultant and return the money plus interest after being hired and get the salary, your investment to the consultant earned at least 2 times of the money. So, in fact you cannot afford NOT to use the consultant.

        On the other hand, if the consultant cannot help you to achieve a good result, your investment can go in vain and even you can afford it, you should not invest it.

        Again, I’m not arguing whether one should or should not use a certain consultant. I’m only arguing the way of viewing “cheap / expensive” or “affordable”. Also, as in investment, there are lots of options for one to choose. In fact, in the case of this post, I believe the university service is a good choice for the author. I’m not arguing against her choice to use the university service, which is free and the adviser knows a lot about the student’s situation. I only argue the view point.

        Again, any investment involves risk (with potential return, of course). So it’s not my purpose to argue for or against investing in career consultant. I am only arguing one should view the fees for hiring career consultant in the view of an investment: just in terms of “cheap / expensive” but in terms of Return on Investment (ROI) and risks.

        1. Bing

          the last sentence should reads:

          not in terms of “cheap / expensive” but in terms of Return on Investment (ROI) and risks.

  6. Brian

    I wouldn’t judge the consultancy on the price they charge, which I don’t think is excessive, and I wouldn’t call them sharks based on that price.

    The $800 would be a lot of money to someone without a job but they are running a business and offering a service. If people don’t want to use it then that is fine. If the business takes your money and does not give you what they promise then you can call them names. Taking into account their running costs (which of course we don’t know) and the notion that businesses generally try to make a profit, how much should they charge?

    If I was unemployed and looking for a job and someone helped me get one I would think it was great and I’d know that I’d covered the cost of the consultancy in my first pay packet.

    If you got a job quickly using their service and paying the $800 do people think they would be better or worse off by saving the $800 and not getting a job or saving the $800 and taking longer to get a job?

    The question people should ask is, “Will they help me get a job?”

  7. Pepi

    Essentially what you are saying is that the careers consultant advice was accurate but it cost money. Unfortunately not every one has the Universities free careers advice to turn to.
    What I understood from the headline of this site is that careers advisors are not to be trusted, will take your money and offer nothing in return, when in fact they charge a fee for the service they provide, that is called business.
    I think your story is a classic over dramatized one.

  8. Rob

    Career advice is a load of BS. Especially, when you get paid ones. Find sample resume templates yourself online, job interview preparation tips and of course consult recruitment agencies and apply for jobs in the hidden market and target employers relevant to your field. Have also an open mind to do a job a bit different from your expectation, but not too different. Keep applying, but don’t waste time applying for the wrong jobs. You should find a job if you have good credentials. I made some applications and got an interview the next day. But you need to look carefully at the job market for places. Internships should help as well. Finally, ask god for a bit of guidance, and I am sure that would be the last help you need.

  9. Genny

    Career Advice is very important. I am in education after 25 years in industry. Listening and deciphering what a persons need and wants for career is expert advice. I have helped hundreds od people reskill and find new career paths and payment for this service comes at a cost as paid testing for worker habits may be used. A degree or masters does not guarantee work, vocational experience is key and finding even a small entry level job may be the stating point. Career counselling is a spring board to get you started. I agree with it and myself having reskilled three times over 30 years assisted in this process from nurse to legal to teacher to education management. It truly works.

    1. Kazi

      Hi Genny, I’m in a similar situation and seeking help from a professional career adviser. You seem like the go-to person with years of experience in the field. Can I ask you for your email so I can contact you for further discussion? My email is: aur.nov@live.com
      Thanks, looking forward to your reply.

  10. Liz

    Bing appears to be a marketer. No one has to pay that much, even if you’re desperate!

    We are now in the information age and almost anything that you want to know is on the internet. Just do your research and if you need some guidance, seek professional help such as from the career advisor from the University or from a non-for-profit organizations providing assistance to job seekers.

    You may want to do some research on misleading conduct of recruitment agencies on google, particularly on publishing a job ad but in reality there’s really no job vacancy. if you’re still working, be careful on putting your referee to recruitment agencies, and you can also find information on google in relation to this situation. This is just to advise people to be careful when applying for job. You’re probably not receiving a call because the job ad that you applied for doesn’t really exist or the job that you probably applied for was a real job ad. If you know these factors, you may feel a bit better and less disappointed because you got the information on your hands for you to make an inform decision. Go to the ABS website and you will find the current unemployment rate and the real status of the economy.

    I would recommend that you also focus on your health and well being while looking for job because I think this is very important. Best of luck!

  11. Melissa

    Hi All
    If anyone has used a reputable careers counselling service please let me know. I am in Melbourne, there’s allot of sharks as correctly pointed out in the article so would be keen to know of any recommended organisations.

    1. Daniela

      Hi Melissa,

      Check out my website and Facebook page. No sharks here. We try and keep our prices low and our highest priced package contains services where we do most of the work for you (except the interview of course). We are also in Melbourne and strive to build a brand that is considered a trusted service. After seeing so many posts about scams and below average services, I decided to branch out and offer a service that is reputable. I have over 10 years experience in the human resource industry and many contacts within this sector.
      Flick me an email if you have any questions – dmcareerconsultants@gmail.com

      Visit us on http://www.dmcareerconsultants.com.au
      Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DM-Career-Consultants-1339573706119748/

  12. Daniela

    Hi All,

    If you are after a reputable career consultancy service, I recommend D.M. Career Consultants. My business model is based on realistic assistance and setting goals that are achievable. The packages are transparent and tailored to suit various needs. I have 10+ years experience in the human resource space and have seen some of the best and worst resumes and interviews. There will be special discounts soon so you can head over and like our Facebook page to stay tuned. All of our service offerings are held after hours and are over the phone, email and Skype. You can see more about us at http://www.dmcareerconsultants.com.au

  13. Judy O'Donohue

    Just some advice to help when trying to find a good and qualified careers advisor/counsellor/practitioner. A good one will be a member of an organisation like the Career Development Association of Australia or CDAA. Go there and do a search and see what is available to you – (but start with your university and see what they can do to help.)
    The website for the CDAA is http://www.cdaa.org.au.
    A good careers practitioner should be qualified and experienced and this organisation makes sure of it!

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