x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Beware the dead-end job advice

It is a pity there are so many pretenders in employment guidance who gladly accept money without being qualified to help the unemployed.

Advice on landing and keeping jobs for the masses of newly unemployed is everywhere, ranging in price from free to expensive. But how much of it is quality?

Consider the following gem offered by Timesjobs.com, the Indian online recruitment portal: "Getting any UAE job is a fairly simple task. First decide on the exact location in the UAE that you are searching for a job in. Is it the Qatar jobs that you're after? Is it the Oman jobs that interest you? Are the Bahrain jobs beckoning to you?" Applicants for jobs in the Gulf region would probably find their tasks simplified by not blurring the borders between four sovereign states. But mercifully, there is no charge for the "career advice" at Timesjob.com; and there is an old saw stating that, "You get what you pay for".

Increasing numbers of job seekers, however, are forking over cash for bad advice and placement services that have no chance of landing them a position. "Beware of scam artists who are exploiting those who are struggling to land a job in these turbulent times," writes Ramon Greenwood, a former senior vice president of American Express who publishes a career coaching newsletter. "They are stealing identities and collecting fees by offering to land jobs that do not exist.

"Don't respond to unsolicited e-mails or form letters touting ideal jobs and overnight career success. Check out the potential employer's history. Call the organisation to verify its existence and the legitimacy of the offer. Avoid ads that ask for personal information not usually called for in legitimate job offers." Writing in the Chicago Tribune recently, Kayce Ataiyero, advised job hunters to "put as little personal information as possible on your online resume".

But beyond the obvious scams lies a huge grey area in which unregulated career consultants charge fees for advice that may not be worth the paper it is written on. Increasingly, unsatisfied clients are speaking out. Billie Sucher runs a career consultancy in Des Moines, Iowa, but nearly missed out on her successful entrepreneurial move after paying "a couple of hundred dollars" for a battery of vocational aptitude tests.

Analysing the results, the test administrator advised Ms Sucher not to pursue the graduate degree she felt she needed because, "you like things to move quickly and you would be too impatient to sit in a classroom". She ignored him, earned a master's degree, and set up a consulting practice that enabled her to combine her interests in business, psychology and writing. Commenting on Ms Sucher's story, a college career adviser said his role was to help clients figure out what to do with their lives, not tell what they should or should not do: "It's just wrong. It's not advice, it's criticism, and not even the constructive kind."

Another who bought "empowered job search" services from a self-styled "leader in the field" said he knew within five minutes of starting the consultation that he was not going to be helped. "The person had not reviewed my resume and spoke of ways to find my 'perfect job' that I could have found, and I had found, by basic internet searches," the job hunter says. As the manager in charge of hiring, firing and staff development at a US non-profit organisation, Alison Green offers perspective on some of the free advice in circulation.

"I'm sometimes unnerved by some of the career advice that gets repeated over and over in job-hunting guides and career columns," Ms Green says. Among the recurrent tips that make her cringe: "When interviewing, figure out what the interviewer is looking for and shape you answers accordingly"; and "When an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, offer up a positive framed as a weakness." The first "is a recipe for landing in a job that you either hate or aren't good at", Ms Green says, while the second "is the fastest way to exasperate me.

"Candidates who can't or won't come up with a realistic assessment of areas where they could improve make me think they're lacking in insight and self-awareness or, at a minimum, just making it impossible to have a real discussion of their potential fitness for the job." Michael Wade, a management consultant in Phoenix, Arizona, says he has also been struck by the extent to which people receive "wacky" career advice. He offers the following examples, assembled from personal contacts:

"You should stay at least five years with an employer or people will think you are a job-hopper." "They carefully monitor the talent bank in most of these large companies." "If your background doesn't exactly match what the employer is asking for, don't bother applying." "They don't care about your appearance. They're interested in what you can do." "Don't toot your own horn. Just keep cranking out the work. Some day it will be recognised."

"Don't waste a lot of time preparing for the interview. Just think of it as a conversation." One job seeker has this insight to offer: "As a well-educated individual, I seek advice from many, follow the advice of some and evaluate my application of that advice. "I am saddened and disappointed that some 'experts' are taking money from those that need it most: the unemployed." tcarlisle@thenational.ae