“I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.”
– Employer Claire Peat, not a customer
TheLadders continues to discredit itself while suffering renewed attacks from its own paying subscribers, and now also from employers, who claim TheLadders is a scam. This article reports how job hunters and employers believe the scam works.
Recent disclosures reveal that TheLadders’s claims of exclusivity and “Only $100k+” jobs and candidates are untrue, and that it not only fails to deliver what it charges for, but that TheLadders interferes with the business of companies that are not even its customers.
UPDATE March 12, 2013
A consumer protection class action suit has been filed against TheLadders. If you believe you’ve been scammed by TheLadders, you can join the suit by contacting the law firm that filed the complaint. More here: TheLadders sued for multiple scams in U.S. District Court class action
Among the key accusations is that TheLadders takes job listings from employers’ own websites without authorization, even after being told to stop, and that TheLadders misrepresents the salaries on those jobs so that it can beef up its questionable database of “50,000, high-level 100k+ executive positions.”
TheLadders CEO, Marc Cenedella, has admitted that 50% or more of those “$100k+” jobs are “scraped” from other online databases, over which TheLadders has no authority or quality control. At best, TheLadders may thus have no more than around 25,000 verified job listings that employers have actually posted in its database.
In the meantime, Cenedella also claims TheLadders has 4.5 million subscribers, earning “$100k+”, competing for those 25,000 “$100k+” jobs. (You do the math.)
Finally, employers have revealed that TheLadders costs them money, time and sometimes their reputations, when Ladders subscribers unwittingly apply for jobs that don’t exist or that employers never placed with TheLadders, or that don’t pay what TheLadders claims.
Frustrated employers and recruiters that don’t even do business with TheLadders say that angry Ladders subscribers blame them for misinformation delivered through TheLadders’ database, creating public relations problems.
In early 2011, TheLadders convened a public relations conference of job-board “consultants” and recruiting-industry “experts,” apparently in an effort defend itself against Internet-wide cries of fraud from its subscribers. Some of the attendees rushed home and posted glowing reviews of TheLadders’ business practices on their blogs.
The stark contrast between the intent of those bloggers — to laud TheLadders — and the resulting outrage of people who overwhelmed them with critical comments, created the embarrassing impression that the blog campaign was conducted by shills of TheLadders. While complaints from TheLadders’ job-hunting subscribers are common on the Net, the surprise on these blogs was the outpouring of complaints from employers.
The loud backfire of that Ladders public relations conference has led to new outcries of “fraud” and “scam” — this time with new details about how TheLadders does its business.
Frustrated Job Hunters
We’ve covered TheLadders extensively on this blog:
TheLadders: Going Down? | Rickety, Leads Nowhere | The Dope on TheLadders (230+ comments) | Marc Cenedella Sells E-mails: $30/month | TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud? (90+ comments) | TheLadders: A Long-Shot PowerBall Lottery Tucked Inside a Well-Oiled PR Machine (including audio from a Harvard presentation) | TheLadders’ Mercenaries to Critics: They’re good eggs! (40+ comments)
(There’s lots more if you type “TheLadders” in the search box.)
Most of these articles cite job hunters who say they’ve lost their money, wasted their time, and otherwise been screwed by misinformation and misleading advertising from TheLadders.
But the latest turn of the screw is being felt by employers, who now share experiences that suggest how TheLadders scam really works. (TheLadders’ business model is ultimately propped up by employers and recruiters that pay huge fees to access its database.)
TheLadders promises to provide “only $100k+” jobs and candidates, but as demonstrated by Ladders employees, the company knowingly delivers jobs and job applicants that do not in fact earn or pay “only $100k+.” TheLadders claims to “hand-screen every job post,” but does not actually check those salaries with the employers that own the jobs.
The method is simple. Half or more of all Ladders job listings are not placed in TheLadders’ database by employers. When TheLadders does not have enough “$100k+” jobs for its paying “$100k+” subscribers, TheLadders takes jobs from employers’ own websites (and other sites) without the authorization or knowledge of those employers. (In fact, some companies complain that after they demand that TheLadders remove those jobs, and after they explain that the jobs do not pay “$100k+”, TheLadders temporarily removes them — and then re-posts them.) While Cenedella claims that two humans hand-screen every job, TheLadders’ “approvers” merely guess at the salaries of jobs taken without authority from employers. Then — without contacting the employers to verify whether a job actually pays “$100k+” — TheLadders represents to its subscribers that sub-$100k jobs pay $100k+.
At best, when job hunting subscribers bust TheLadders for wasting their time and and money with sub-$100k jobs, TheLadders offers to remove those jobs. However, TheLadders discloses no legitimate or verifiable criteria that it uses to make its salary guesses, and provides no evidence that such criteria even exist. The result is that job hunters pay TheLadders for access to “ONLY $100k+” jobs whose salaries TheLadders simply does not know.
Employers claim TheLadders causes them to waste time and money processing inappropriate and unsolicited applicants. These employers are burdened having to explain to angry Ladders subscribers that the jobs are long expired; that the jobs do not pay as much as Ladders’ promised; and/or that the employer never posted those jobs on TheLadders.
Employers say their reputations are damaged by the unauthorized use and misrepresentation of their jobs by TheLadders.
Finally, these employers complain that TheLadders’ interference with their recruiting process results in the loss of qualified candidates who get buried beneath the blitz of inappropriate applications from TheLadders’s subscribers. Employers state that their staffs simply don’t have the time to process all the drek.
That is the scam reported by job hunters and employers, many of whom don’t do business with TheLadders, and many that have demanded — to no avail — that TheLadders stop using their information.
Employers Say TheLadders Drives Up Recruiting Costs
Whether they do business with TheLadders, or not, companies say TheLadders drives up their costs of recruiting enormously. Employers complain that TheLadders:
- Takes companies’ job listings without authorization.
- Misrepresents the salaries of jobs, to make them appear to be “$100k+” when they are not.
- Fails to remove expired and inaccurate job listings when requested.
- Re-posts job listings after removing them upon a company’s demand.
- Sends staggering numbers of inappropriate applicants to employers, overwhelming HR staff.
- Wastes employers’ time and money sorting and processing inappropriate and unsolicited applicants.
- Wastes employers’ time and money spent explaining to angry Ladders subscribers that the company did not post jobs on TheLadders, and that the company does not do business with TheLadders.
- Causes damage to employers’ reputations, when candidates get angry upon realizing they are applying for jobs that were filled long ago or don’t pay as much as TheLadders promised.
- Causes companies to miss good applicants that the companies solicited through their own good sources, because those candidates get buried in the onslaught of inappropriate applications funneled through TheLadders.
In another case, an employer rejected TheLadders’ repeated sales calls because she did not want her jobs listed on TheLadders. Her pleas to remove her jobs from TheLadders went unheeded. She had to deal with inordinate numbers of inappropriate and angry applicants via TheLadders. She says, “I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.” Meanwhile, her costs kept climbing as a result of TheLadders’ behavior.
We’ll get into those new revelations shortly. First let’s look at a quick summary of problems faced by job hunters, who are referred to as “subscribers” by TheLadders.
The main complaints:
- TheLadders’ subscribers claim the company sells them access to “$100k+” job listings that (1) don’t exist, (2) don’t pay $100k+, and/or (3) were not approved by the employer.
- Other complaints are about misleading billing practices, whereby subscribers who sign up for three months, then decide to stop, continue getting charged every month without further notice.
- TheLadders “resume writing service” has also been called a racket by customers who complain that, rather than customization, TheLadders delivers copycat boilerplate that’s also used by other resume services. (When offended customers turn the tables and re-submit the resumes they purchase from TheLadders back to TheLadders for a “free resume review,” they’re advised to get their resume re-written by TheLadders’ crack team of professional resume writers.)
Many readers of this blog (and folks on other discussion forums) have cried consumer fraud and called for investigations by state attorneys general.
TheLadders Business Model: A sucker walks up every minute
How do smart people get suckered so easily? Key to TheLadders’ business plan is gullibility. It seems that the higher up the salary ladder people go, the more desperately they want to believe they can pay someone to find them a job. TheLadders capitalizes on this wishful thinking. In fact, suckerhood seems to have been at the heart of TheLadders’ business model from the start.
Having founded the churn-’em-and-burn-’em HotJobs job board for the masses, TheLadders’ CEO Marc Cenedella apparently learned the P.T. Barnum lesson quickly: There’s a sucker born every minute.
But Cenedella also realized that higher-paid suckers can be suckered for higher sums. He and partner Alex Douzet had the insight that by merely re-branding the HotJobs model as “$100k+”, they could charge people fees for what HotJobs gave away for free. The new “exclusive” service would deliver essentially the same service as HotJobs — but to executives and wannabe-executives willing to pay $30 per month.
Cenedella hit the motherlode: Many more wannabes than actual, highly-salaried executives queued up to join. Hopeful suckers were being birthed by the minute, while the business press praised the “exclusive” model:
“The exclusive, country-club attitude befits TheLadders’ business model. Unlike the larger and better-known jobs sites, it costs $180 a year (or $30 a month) to use and restricts membership and listings to ‘$100k+ people looking for $100k+ jobs.’”
– Advertising Age, January 23, 2008: A Job Site for ‘$100K+ People’: Avoid the Commoners
What to do about all those sub-$100k wannabes who are eager to join this exclusive club? Are you kidding? Did P.T. Barnum ever refuse to sell anyone a ticket to his circus? It seems Cenedella is happy to bill any sucker — and now it seems clear that TheLadders database is not just rife with sub-$100k (or long-expired) jobs that subscribers complain about, but also with sub-$100k “subscribers.”
Employers Chime In
When a leading business publication interviewed me about TheLadders, the reporter expressed dismay. “Clearly, Ladders subscribers are complaining. But the real story would be complaints from employers. And I don’t see that.”
The missing piece of TheLadders story has always been the suckers on the other side of the fence: Employers that pay to access TheLadders database of “ONLY $100k+” people. But the real story is what’s been disclosed by employers that don’t even do business with TheLadders.
Those employers and recruiters thought their bad experiences with TheLadders were unusual and unique. But something finally told them otherwise, and got them riled up: A desperate Ladders public relations stunt.
Public Relations: TheLadders gets splattered
By early 2011, customer complaints about TheLadders were getting unbearably loud. (The most hilarious example: investors’ comments on discredited stock-flack Henry Blodgett’s blog.) In January the company decided to take action. TheLadders convened a think tank of recruiting industry luminaries and sycophants, titled (Did some PR hack get paid a lot of money for this?) the Position Accomplished Summit.
Cenedella and Douzet booked the trendy Standard Hotel in Manhattan, and paid for airfares, hotels, meals and drinks to stock the place with enthusiastic Ladders fans who were flown in from around the U.S
to assume the position. (One legit recruiter, who felt duped, spit up the likker he’d been plied with — on his blog.)
The rest of the crowd went home and quickly
assumed accomplished the position. They paid off those likker tabs… with extravagant posts about TheLadders. The newly-charged Ben Dover Public Relations Agency got right on it, and the self-anointed high priests of recruiting began to hold celebratory masses absolving TheLadders of sins against its angry customers.
But when apologists John Sumser and his young protege Josh Letourneau sacrificed their reputations with ludicrous endorsements of TheLadders, this time it wasn’t just pissed-off Ladders subscribers that flooded the blogs with cries of fraud. This time, fed-up employers and recruiters told stories of TheLadders wasting their time, their money, their reputations — and even of intimidation. The PR event backfired, the shills’ swill pot overflowed, and TheLadders got splattered.
“Only $100k+” (NOT!)
We already know that Ladders customers who pay for access to “$100k+” job listings complain that, upon submitting applications, the salaries offered are often a lot lower. (See TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?) But the news that came out of the Position Accomplished fiasco was that employers and recruiters stepped up to say they are getting sub-$100k job applicants from TheLadders — and they don’t like it.
On February 12, five days after Cenedella sent that e-mail to his customers, one of them — a recruiter — told about inteviewing candidates from TheLadders who were nowhere near the $100k level she’d been promised:
“Salary range $185K base + bonus VP level position. We got several responses to the posting. As these candidates were interviewed it was determined that none of them were making over $75K. So x the claim by the Ladders that they only have over $100K salary range candidates. Maybe we got the ones who ended up in the commercial, who knows.”
— Recruiter Sandra McCartt
Those sub-$100k subscribers, which TheLadders seems to coyly allow to sneak in the door — and who probably prop up the entire business model — are now creating problems. The revenue they generate for TheLadders exacts an unwelcome cost from employers and recruiters who pay to post high-salary jobs. They say they are getting fed up with riff-raff subscribers in TheLadders’ database.
In an online comment, recruiter Sandra McCartt explains how TheLadders applicant database is further corrupted by TheLadders’ failure to remove people who long ago cancelled their subscriptions, and by the inclusion of people who are in the database apparently without their knowledge or consent:
“We used the Ladders until 2007 when we realized that many of the resumes were people who made much less than 100K. Also many were years out of date. When tracked and contacted these people told us they had cancelled their Ladders account, asked for resumes to be removed but were still being contacted and didn’t like it.
“In Nov. and Dec.  i received two resumes forwarded from the Ladders in response to a job we had posted in 2007. I sent notes to both letting them know that the job was over three years out of date. One of them wrote back and said he had never used the Ladders before and had no idea why or how his resume had been sent to us.”
Recruiter McCartt explains: “This posting ran for two weeks [in 2007] before we removed it (we thought).” In other words, expired and unauthorized jobs remain in TheLadders database for years — even after recruiters remove them.
According to recruiters and employers, contrary to CEO Cendella’s representations to his customers, TheLadders does not “only have candidates at the $100k+ level.” Worse, TheLadders seems to have people in its database who do not want to be there. The scam seems clear: TheLadders wastes employers’ and recruiters’ time and money with inappropriate applicants.
How the Scam Works
But the real revelations about how TheLadders scam works were recently shared by employers who don’t do business with TheLadders — companies whose job descriptions TheLadders takes without authorization and misrepresents as “$100k+ jobs” in the database it sells to job hunters.
Cenedella boasts that TheLadders’ quality assurance controls save employers “a lot of time when they don’t have to look through all the inappropriate applications that they might get” elsewhere:
This seems to be the heart of TheLadders’ method of doing business: TheLadders itself is the source of inappropriate job applicants that waste a company’s time and money. Without consent of the employer, TheLadders takes its job descriptions, tags them with inaccurate salary ranges, and induces its subscribers to apply for those jobs.
In a blog posting on ERE (Is TheLadders a Scam?), ERE founder (and former Monster.com employee) David Manaster cites a Ladders customer service call transcript. He suggests that, because TheLadders offers to remove sub-$100k jobs from its database when irate customers complain, that’s proof that TheLadders is honest and has good intentions. Says Manaster: “People running a scam would not remove the job post.” The trouble is, those transcripts have been piling up for years:
“We have very specific criteria we evaluate all our positions on to ensure they pay more than $100K. However, with the state of the current economy, albeit rare, sometimes a position will meet that criteria and still pay slightly less than $100K. I sincerely apologize that you came across one of those positions. I have removed it from our site to avoid further confusion.”
(Joseph Giarratano) 07/22/2009 08:57 AM
The trouble is, when employers bust TheLadders for playing the same game, TheLadders promises to remove the offending job listings. Then the job listings reappear. A company that’s not running a scam would stop.
It seems clear that TheLadders’ quality controls are inadequate, and that TheLadders must be aware of this as a systemic problem, thanks to repeated complaints. It seems clear that the real quality checks are done at the point of the job interview — by the unwitting subscriber and employer.
Another recruiter, on assignment to fill a position that paid between $80k-$90k, found she was competing with Ladders subscribers who found the very same job listed on TheLadders for a higher salary; a salary, coincidentally, that just meets Cenedella’s minimum bar. The recruiter posts online:
“I just had an ‘episode’ with Ladders. I was recruiting for a Plant Manager in Texas(a relocation)… when I spotted the same job on Ladders for 100K plus/Bonus etc. None of this was true. I called my client and told him about it and he assured me the salary he gave me was correct and there was no bonus etc.”
– Recruiter Lynda Hallock
The employer filled the position with a candidate delivered by the recruiter, in the true salary range, $80k-$90k. Where did this job listing on TheLadders come from, if not from the employer? Where did the “$100k plus bonus” compensation promise come from, if not from the employer?
- It turns out TheLadders takes (“scrapes”) job descriptions from other websites without authorization, and even after employers decline to put their jobs in TheLadders’ database.
- It seems TheLadders manufactures salary ranges (without checking or confirming them with employers) in order to beef up the inadequate database of “$100k+” jobs it sells to its subscribers.
Let’s look at how this works, based on reports from Ladders subscribers, from companies that work with TheLadders, and from companies that refuse to work with TheLadders.
Like the culprit in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter, TheLadders hides evidence of its behavior in plain sight — expecting subscribers and employers won’t bother to inspect the details. On June 26, 2010, Marc Cenedella gave a speech in Los Angeles at a Career & Networking Symposium, an event for alumni of notable business schools. The event brochure promoted TheLadders as the “#1 source of $100K+ jobs in the world.” One of the attendees, Bernadine Bednarz, demonstrated insight and cynicism unusual for a job hunter. She asked Cenedella a pointed question:
“What percentage of your positions are directly from employers?”
She reports Cenedella’s answer:
“50% employers and recruiters, and the rest culled from the Web.”
(Concerned about the quality of TheLadders’ job listings, Bednarz submitted a written request to TheLadders for names and contact information of three Ladders customers who actually obtained $100k+ jobs. She wanted to speak with them. A Ladders staffer responded and refused to provide references.)
Cenedella claims TheLadders has experts on staff that “hand check” all those jobs to ensure they actually meet TheLadders rigid criteria and actually pay “$100k+”. A Ladders customer service representative reiterated Cenedella’s “50%” answer in a transcript from an online chat with a customer, and dodged the question of salary verification with doubletalk:
Andrew: Over half of our jobs are submitted directly to us with compensation listed. For the other half, we have strict guidelines to aid us in determining whether a job is $100K or not. Each positions is reviewed by 2 rounds of approvers before it is put onto the site. [11:26:54 AM]
OMG! TheLadders guesses at salaries, charges for “$100k+” jobs
In yet another customer service chat, another Ladders rep (Perhaps the same one?) admits to customer Alishia Frey that the company has no way of knowing the salaries of the jobs that it claims are “ONLY $100k+”:
Andy: … Since we don’t have a direct way of knowing the pay range of each of these positions, we make an estimate based on a rigid set of criteria.
Andy: In this case, I see that the position requires a Bachelor’s degree and five years of experience. This is well within the experience range of a Marketing Manager who expects to make $100k per year.
Andy: Clearly that isn’t the case with this position and I thank you for letting me know about it as I am definitely going to remove it from the site immediately.
How did that job make it into TheLadders database? Because that’s what Andy, or someone at TheLadders, thinks a Marketing Manager makes. Here we go again, Mr. Manaster. Is this proof that TheLadders is not running a scam? Every time a customer busts them, they remove the job listing — but what quality controls has TheLadders implemented to eliminate sub-$100k jobs from its database?
Customer Alishia isn’t so gullible:
Alishia: omg… so you mean that you are taking educated guesses on what these positions pay??? do you think that is what users think who pay $30 per month to use your product – that you are paying for good guesses as to what a position MAY pay???
Andy: These aren’t educated guesses Alisia, it is information gained through lengthy information gathering sessions among numerous recruiters and career advisors in all of the fields we post.
If Andrew’s and Andy’s customer-service doubletalk isn’t a handjob, those “information gathering sessions” certainly qualify as a circle jerk.
Then Alishia asks the question that just one reporter needs to ask Marc Cenedella in his next interview:
Alishia: i understand pulling from third parties but don’t you verify these postings by calling the company or something?
Now the specter of fraud explodes in the face of TheLadders practices. Questions of forethought and conspiracy to defraud paying customers with misinformation are raised:
Andy: The fact is Alishia that very few companies are willing to release this information if they havent chosen to do so on the posting itself.
TheLadders, Marc Cenedella, Alex Douzet, Andrew, and Andy don’t know exactly what they are doing and why?
After admitting they don’t know the salaries of jobs they sell, they nonetheless claim they do. TheLadders explicitly states that “Our experts pre-screen all jobs so they’re always $100K.”
Alishia: Well, Andy, I mean…it’s YOUR tagline: The most $100k+ jobs, all in one easy-to-search site. Our mission has always been to make your job search as quick and easy as possible. We work hard to bring you the best $100k+ jobs around — over 25,000 a month!
Alishia cancelled her membership, after paying for six months. Two years later, Alishia Frey is still considered a “subscriber” by TheLadders, and those daily e-mails from Marc Cenedella keep coming — against her wishes. Cenedella still counts Frey as one of the 1.4 million people making over $100k that he claims are “signed up on TheLadders.” There’s why subscribers are calling for an investigation.
While crowing that “two humans” hand-check each job listing before it is allowed into TheLadders database, Cendella has never disclosed:
- How that checking is done,
- What criteria are used,
- What evidence and records TheLadders maintains to prove that those jobs really exist,
- That the jobs are posted with the employer’s permission, and
- That the jobs actually pay “$100k+”.
Cenedella has never reconciled TheLadders’ written admission that, “very few companies are willing to release this information if they haven’t chosen to do so on the posting itself,” with the claim that “all jobs” on TheLadders “are ALWAYS $100k+.”
Other job boards scrape jobs that pay less than $100k. But only TheLadders charges fees to access jobs that it promises are “ONLY $100k+”.
The complaints of TheLadders’ subscribers that “hand checking” is quackery seem well-founded. While TheLadders’ apologists disparage angry Ladders customers and suggest that actual complaints about the company’s behavior are few, Mark Stelzner, an attendee at the Position Accomplished Summit, says otherwise.
“I put out an informal request to my JobAngels network to gauge their impression of TheLadders. The results were shocking to me but may not be to others. I received over 800 messages in less than two weeks… and not one of them was positive.”
Clearly, TheLadders’ reputation is a serious problem that must have the board of directors’ heads spinning. Now the problem is far worse, with employers filing their protests in public about how TheLadders’ practices interfere with their business.
Employers Get Scammed: “It’s a time-suck”
On the aforementioned Henry Blodgett blog, this comment is posted:
One of my friends is an ex-employee of “The Ladders”. They sell access to corporations to their candidate database for $25,000 per year. They sell recruiter access for somewhat less. And they sell candidates $30 per month subscriptions. But, no one ever discusses the source of these jobs. Many of them, this ex-employee told me, come from “scraping” various job listings across the Internet. Some, perhaps, come from recruiters and hiring managers, but if you look closely at the Terms and Conditions of The Ladders, you’ll see they don’t exactly specify the source(s) they use for this listings. And, many of them are already closed or filled by the time they get to The Ladders if they’ve been “scraped”.
Martin Burns confirms the problem alluded to in that posting. Burns is an in-house recruiter who has worked in the HR departments of notable companies. He writes his own blog. But when the Fistful Of Talent Blog published one of the PR love letters that came out of the Position Accomplished Summit, Burns wanted to talk about how TheLadders’ practice of stealing job postings from employers’ own websites was costing him time, money and his company’s reputation:
“My biggest complaint – and I’ve had to deal with this from the hiring side – is when people would call to ask about a job they saw on The Ladders, or to follow up on an application they’d made. I’d have to explain to them that we didn’t list on The Ladders, that the job had been closed for months (in a few cases, for over a year), and that the job paid well less than six figures.
“The best part? They’d get mad at _me_, claiming false representation – ‘why would you tell The Ladders that this job pays more than six figures?’
“I’d have to explain – again – that The Ladders never called us to verify, that we didn’t list the jobs there, etc.
“I think they were more angry at getting tricked. Nobody likes to admit to getting suckered. I blogged about this once, after repeated calls to The Ladders didn’t seem to get them to stop crawling our career site.
“My main, and selfish, goal, was to stop the angry calls from executive job seekers, as it was a time-suck.
“Instead, The Ladders CEO made pesonal calls to complain to my CEO, CFO, and President the next morning. This was not a fun day for me. Apparently, they really do care about their image – as evidenced by the sweet junket to NYC they just laid out for a bunch of people I tend to respect, and calling to complain about random bloggers. I just wish they cared more about providing a great product to their paying customers.”
- The employer didn’t post the jobs on TheLadders.
- TheLadders listed expired jobs from the employer.
- TheLadders listed jobs with fraudulent salaries.
- TheLadders did not contact the company to verify the jobs or the salaries.
- TheLadders failed to stop “crawling” the employer’s website to steal jobs.
- The employer’s reputation was tarnished as a result of TheLadders’ fraudulent representations about the company’s jobs.
- And Marc Cenedella called Burns’ boss to complain that Burns was complaining about what TheLadders was doing.
Is this really a common practice at TheLadders? In a follow-up interview, Burns said these new online revelations – about TheLadders taking jobs from company websites without authorization – seem to have awakened other employers to how widespread this Ladders’ practice really is.
“I received e-mails from other corporate recruiters saying, ‘I can’t believe it’s happening to you, too. I thought I was the only one.’ It seems clear TheLadders is doing this because they need inventory.”
It seems this is the policy at TheLadders – this is how 50% of the job listings on TheLadders get there in the first place. And it seems this is why so many Ladders subscribers complain that jobs on TheLadders are fraudulent.
TheLadders has “two humans” who “hand check” every job even though, “The fact is Alishia that very few companies are willing to release this information.” Any reasonable person knows that, but TheLadders has built an “exclusive” service for which it charges money, promising that its jobs are “ALWAYS $100K+” because TheLadders checks them.
The cost must be staggering to employers who are forced to deal with unsolicited applicants, to deny fraudulent salaries, and to explain that they did not post their jobs on TheLadders. How many employers’ job listings does TheLadders pilfer every day — without contacting them to verify salaries? How many employers’ reputations are tarnished, in the professional communities from which they recruit, because TheLadders misrepresents them?
TheLadders Does It Overseas
Claire Peat works for a major multi-national corporation in the United Kingdom. She found the story about TheLadders’ PR stunt in the same ERE article, Is TheLadders a Scam? As an employer, she was startled to learn that “the lack of professionalism” she’d experienced with TheLadders’ was not unusual, and that “in the bigger picture it means everyone suffers.”
A sales rep had called Peat, asking her to pay to post her company’s jobs on TheLadders. Peat explained that her jobs did not meet TheLadders advertised salary minimum — not even with bonuses and benefits added in. TheLadders rep pressed anyway. But Peat’s company has clear policies to protect its reputation.
When I interviewed her, Peat explained that every job applicant is contacted and acknowledged. The company wants all applicants to have a positive experience. She told TheLadders sales reps that, “for mutual reputation safeguarding, [it's] best to not post them on TheLadders” because the jobs did not meet TheLadders’ minimum advertised salary. (In the U.S., TheLadders’s claims all the job hunters in its database earn “$100k+”. In the U.K., TheLadders’ cut-off is stated in Pounds Sterling, £50k.)
Peat’s jobs wound up on TheLadders anyway, in spite of her refusal to post them. Peat recounted her experience:
“Imagine my surprise when I did a quick internet search to find out who had been scraping my jobs, and there they were on the Ladders.
“I called the guy back and he did get his ‘scrapers’ to take the jobs down, and he also had a note put out to all not to put any jobs from our company on without passing it by him, but I found the same thing happened again a few weeks later.”
To paraphrase TheLadders’ apologist David Manaster: “People who are running a scam would post jobs even after the employer refused to permit them to do so.” By Manaster’s definition, TheLadders scammed Claire Peat. Funny he didn’t notice the proof on his own ERE blog, where Peat posted the information.
Is this a common practice at TheLadders? It seems this is the policy at TheLadders – and it seems that’s how 50% of the job listings on TheLadders get there in the first place. (Am I repeating myself, too?) Against her wishes, TheLadders was generating a flood of resumes that were interfering with her ability to recruit efficiently:
“It’s disappointing because it meant I wouldn’t think of using them [TheLadders] in future because of the lack of professionalism, and people working there that can’t follow simple instructions. It also caused me a huge amount of work speaking with disappointed candidates who were no longer interested when the actual salary was disclosed, rejecting people that were far too senior for the roles because they assumed it would be something more at the perceived salary, and of course the time it takes to get the jobs taken down from their site and then having to continually monitor if they were still scraping unsuitable jobs from our corporate page. I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.”
Peat took additional steps to stop TheLadders. What she learned was stunning. Here’s how TheLadders “hand checks” job listings after stealing them from employers’ own websites:
“When confronted, they were pretty open about their practices. The account manager explained it to me in pretty simple terms – they have their different job path ladders, and they monitor how many active job seekers they have within each of them versus how many jobs posted. If they don’t have enough jobs in a ladder that companies have agreed to be posted, they have a team of people with broad criteria of what a £50k job description should look like, so they go to corporate sites to find them and add to theirs.”
According to TheLadders official, when TheLadders doesn’t have enough £50k+ jobs to go around, it uses “broad criteria” to boost the ratio of £50k jobs to £50k subscribers by finding jobs on corporate sites, tagging them “£50k+” (or $100k+ in the U.S.), and putting them on its own site. Protecting that ratio seems to be the goal at TheLadders.
I asked Peat whether TheLadders ever contacted her to confirm the salaries of the job postings TheLadders had lifted from her company’s website against her instructions. TheLadders did not contact her to confirm the salaries.
How the Scam Works: TheLadders does not check salaries
Based on information provided by employers, this seems to expose and explain the scam — and reveals what Marc Cenedella hides behind the evangelical, cult-like zeal of his daily e-mails to subscribers:
TheLadders does not do the one most obvious thing to “hand check” the salaries of jobs it posts in its database.
TheLadders does not contact the employer
to check that a job is open or how much it pays.
Instead of delivering what it charges for, TheLadders gives unverified job listings to its paying subscribers, who expect that TheLadders delivers “ONLY $100k+ jobs.”
Claire Peat’s posting on the ERE blog starts with these words: “It’s not a scam, but it’s also not a good business model.” But the last words in her posting say it all: “I’d love to charge them for the amount of my time they wasted.”
Deane Osner is an American HR manager who was not aware that “scraping” of other websites represented 50% of TheLadders job listings until he read the ERE blog. Osner posted that he is losing job candidates:
“TheLadders’ model is horrible. They promise something to jobseekers and make them pay for it. Then they don’t delever what they promised. Also they do “job-jacking” – I wonder what percentage of their jobs are just reposts from other websites. I bet it is extremely high.”
“We do not use them here where I work. We had the same issues that Claire Peat had and it even cost us a couple of candidates on job offers. These candidates were mad at us for posting the jobs on theLadders and them not being $100K. We had to explain that we didn’t post but theLadders scraped them from our website. They too were very displeased to hear that.”
Osner says that he complained to TheLadders. His jobs were removed, but he later started getting applicants from TheLadders again:
“I see they have not done anything to change and now more people are catching on.”
The Real Cost of TheLadders to Employers: “A glut of unqualified resumes I never wanted”
Every time TheLadders steals job listings from a company’s own website — mind you, we’re talking about employers that don’t do business with TheLadders, and, in Peat’s case, employers that say no to TheLadders’ sales reps — the company gets hurt. Peat explains how TheLadders creates unexpected, unapproved, and unwelcome costs for her company:
“I can see the principle behind it, and they need to be seen to offer a service to paying clients, but it’s incredibly flawed, and in the bigger picture it means everyone suffers through the recruitment experience:
“As a sourcer, I carefully considered my target market and where to post my positions to hit the maximum relevant candidates. Anyone scraping my jobs is taking away my control of this, so a huge batch of unsuitable people see the advert and go on to apply.
“I still only have the same amount of time to handle a requisition, but now I have more than 3 times the number of candidates to screen as I would have. (Did I mention that after TheLadders had scraped from our site, a number of other people scrape from them?!). So, each candidate can only have 1/3 the attention given to their resume in a 1st cut screen. Thus, a poorly written resume that may have been a ‘maybe’ for a second screen can easily be overlooked and become a ‘no’ when you’ve got another couple of hundred to get through. The hiring manager still only wants to do the same number of interviews. If the folks at TheLadders have done what they’ve been paid for, those resumes should look better and hit the interview list. But if the people then don’t hit the mark, I have to go back through the ‘maybe’ pile, which is people who have already been sat waiting around a while. So we may have missed the boat with them, or they start to think we have a terrible, slow recruitment process and potentially withdraw, all caused by a glut of unqualified resumes I never wanted.”
Marc Cenedella asks, “Who’s got time for this?” in an e-mail blast to his 4.5 million “subscribers.” Employers could be asking him the same question.
Employers and recruiters deserve better than to have their job listings stolen, manipulated, misrepresented, and sold for money by a company that has become the leading pimp of worn-out, re-used and unverified “$100k+” executive resumes and jobs. Employers deserve better than to have their time and money sucked up — and to have their reputations jeopardized — by TheLadders.
Who or What Is Really in TheLadders’ Database?
Marc Cenedella says TheLadders is home to “the nation’s top talent”:
Former subscribers who complain that TheLadders won’t remove their resumes from its system — or stop sending them Cenedella’s carny-barker e-mails every day — suggest that the size and quality of the “community” is a fabrication. They know firsthand that their own “membership” in the community is a fraud, because they opted out but continue to be counted.
Subscriber “Mike” has been a CEO and a CFO. (Though I usually report the names of people whose stories and statements I print, sometimes I allow anonymity. Mike didn’t want to take the risk having his boss get the kinds of calls that Martin Burns’ boss got from TheLadders executives.) He acknowledges that TheLadders is a $100 million business — but he describes it as A long-shot Powerball lottery tucked inside a well-oiled PR machine.
“I consider myself a self-inflicted victim of TheLadders charade over a period of 18 months. The saddest and most debilitating result for so many is the very heavy sacrifice of time, money, self-esteem and self-confidence that results from a nearly barren source of legitimate job opportunities/referrals.”
After paying to send over 600 resumes to Ladders’ job listings during 18 months (as well as for a new resume), Mike stopped and analyzed TheLadders claims. When he concluded that his calculated odds of finding a C-level job through TheLadders were around 0.14%, this seasoned executive shifted gears and landed a job through his personal contacts.
“Now that I have a CEO job with a thousand people in my organization, I have hired about 20 corporate executives over the past four months making between $50k and $200K: 16 from networking and word of mouth, 4 from recruiters and none from job boards.”
On April 26, 2011, Marc Cenedella posted at the top of his “Stone” blog that “28% of people in the USA who make over $100,000 are signed up on TheLadders”:
When IT industry pundit and career-development author Andy Lester questioned those numbers, Cenedella responded that:
“We have 4.5 mm subscribers and there are 16.0 mm salary and wage earners over $100,000 in 2009 according to the IRS”
But Cenedella’s sweeping “logic” points to no evidence that the 4.5 million names on his list are a subset of people that earn over $100,000. The reports from job hunters and employers that we’ve reviewed cast serious doubt on Cenedella’s assertion — and leave him looking like little more than a silly snakeoil salesman. His gratuitous reference to the IRS is verbal sleight of hand, and a common advertising copy trick.
What does Mike the CEO say about this?
“When you forwarded me the PR piece citing that something like 28% of job seekers eligible for $100,000 jobs subscribe to TheLadders, it reminded me of the fact that they continue to send me many e-mails a day with additional postings and updates despite that I asked on a number of occasions to be taken off their list.“
With a straight face, Cenedella throws out his chest and ruminates…
“Yep, if you’re making over $100,000 per year in the US, you’re pretty likely to be using TheLadders to help make the most out of your career.”
Yep, if you were ever in TheLadders database, and if you ever cancelled and told TheLadders to take a hike… Cendella still counts you and Mike the CEO and Alishia Frey among his “4.5 mm subscribers.”
What Is TheLadders’ Business Model – Really?
Mike thinks he knows why Cendella won’t let him out of the database. Since TheLadders feels free to speculate on salaries it can’t prove, I think it’s reasonable to let Mike speculate on what might be going on with TheLadders’ business model:
“I think there is a very good possibility that a very large part of Cenedella’s exit strategy is the value of his subscriber list and the extremely valuable demographic imprint that goes with it. Detailed, demographically-preferred consumer lists of the type Cenedella has in his database are an extraordinarily valuable, contributing component to overall enterprise value these days. The last two Internet companies I consulted for calculated that the value of the consumer information in their customer files, to upscale “target demographic marketers,” would exceed the cap-rated value of their cash-flow when they chose to sell their companies.”
This would explain a lot about why it appears TheLadders goes to great lengths to maintain and keep feeding its “subscriber” database — without letting people escape. Could it be that the main purpose of Cenedella’s daily e-mails to his “list” is to maintain an illusion that the list itself is current, vital and valuable? (Only a handful of data points — Mike, Alishia, the job hunters referenced by recruiter Sandra McCartt — is required to demonstrate that a database is not regularly scrubbed to remove dead records.) The value of such a list could be “priceless”:
“You have to stop and think a minute about the commercial value, to Cenedella, of slowly compiling a detailed list of everyone he finds who is upwardly mobile in an upscale income demographic. His kind of information is probably priceless to a wide range of upscale consumer marketers of one kind or another. I believe that Cenedella isn’t just trying to maximize cashflow from his job-posting business. I think he is probably also amassing a treasure-trove of intellectual property that he may be selling piecemeal and or cultivating to maximize his enterprise market when he brings TheLadders to market.”
I don’t believe TheLadders is in the business of matching “$100k+” job hunters to “$100k+” jobs. Perhaps Cendella doesn’t really care how bad the company’s reputation is among subscribers or employers. Mike suggests that if Cendella were really concerned about the well-being and success of TheLadders’ subscribers…
“It is absolutely stupid for him to be boasting about millions of subscribers because, for anyone who thinks about it, his referral pool is hopelessly diluted with far too many people to make his product a valuable or manageable resource to employers. But the data he is collecting is very valuable indeed.”
Judging from the company’s behavior, I believe TheLadders is really in the business of building and selling lists. Marc Cenedella seems to count everyone whose name the company has ever encountered as “signed up on TheLadders” — when many are just hostages to the database. Have you ever told TheLadders to stop? Are you a former “subscriber” who is still held hostage in Cendella’s “community?”
You Really Want to Believe the Carny Barker
TheLadders relies on desperate, gullible job hunters who want to believe there’s a wizard they can pay to find them a job. It relies on the never-ending, annoying calls of the carnival barker who can get — How many? — maybe 28% of carnival-goers into his tent. It relies on carefully-worded claims that help suckers suspend logic and their disbelief just long enough…
“We have two human beings review each job before it is allowed on the site… to make sure they are paying at the $100,000 or more level.”
But Ladders subscribers (and employers) suggest that those “two human beings” are manufacturing salary levels for those jobs so TheLadders can beef up the size of its jobs database. As TheLadders explained to employer Claire Peat, when they don’t have enough jobs from companies that actually agreed to post them, “they have a team of people with broad criteria of what a £50k job description should look like…” and BAM! more “£50k+” and ”$100k+” jobs are instantly manufactured to load the database.
The question is, how do the relatively few subscribers who pay for the service feel about competing with all the other millions of “free” subscribers for the same questionable jobs?
Is Marc Cendella Really the Wizard of $100k+ Jobs?
While TheLadders shamelessly cites absurd statistics and misrepresents its operating policies, one truth keeps surfacing:
Whether you’re a job hunter or an employer,
TheLadders may be misrepresenting you or misrepresenting jobs to you,
and either charging you or wasting your time and money
— and possibly laying waste to your reputation –
even when you tell TheLadders to stop.
That’s TheLadders scam described by the people cited in this article. And now both job hunters and employers realize they’re paying for it.
Is This Legal?
Dissatisfied, angry Ladders customers are calling for class action lawsuits and investigations by state attorneys general. Perhaps the employers who believe their time, money and reputations are being wasted need to get a legal opinion on this crucial question:
*Are an employer’s job descriptions proprietary intellectual property (IP)?
When TheLadders takes those job descriptions and manipulates them, misrepresents them, and sells them for money, does that constitute theft of IP and fraud?
For a long time, these disclosures came mainly from angry, frustrated job hunters. Now employers and recruiters are telling their own stories, which seem to corroborate the experiences of job applicants. And, perhaps in a Freudian manner, in a slip-of-the-tongue disclosure of his own, Marc Cenedella asks the world:
Does your company have time? Do you?
[* UPDATE: After publishing this article, I got an informal opinion from an attorney with expertise in intellectual property rights. Here's what he said: "As far as legal liability for copyright infringement for reposting job ads without permission, I think there is no copyright infringement because the job listings are probably just factual in nature. As just facts, they are not registrable as a copyright. Even if I'm wrong on that, the employers would have to file registrations for all of their job listings before they could sue. Probably not worth it for them."
However, the attorney also said, "The employers (and job seekers) may have a claim for fraud for what TheLadders is doing and a gov't agency like the FTC might like to get involved..."]