Feel free to skip to the end for the juicy stuff…
JL Kirk & Associates found my husband’s resume online. They contacted him a couple of weeks ago and offered their services as an ‘Executive Placement Firm’. As I’m wont to do, I of course Googled them as much as possible and found very little in the way of solid information. So I’ve decided to write up our experiences with them for anyone else who is interested in finding out more about this particular operation.
Anyone who has been searching for a job for any length of time is well aware of the various vulnerabilities that are part of the process. There’s the self-doubt, frustration and impatience, coupled with no small amount of worry. So when a job searcher gets an email that says “maybe we can help!” the relief is almost immediate.
My husband filled out an application and questionnaire, and returned it directly to the company. He then received an appointment with a counselor the following week. During that appointment the representative of JL Kirk & Associates interviewed him just as one would for a position. The afternoon after the interview he received an email that congratulated him on making it through the first step of the process. They wanted to schedule a second interview which required my presence as a Support Person/Spouse/Significant Other. When he scheduled the interview he questioned them directly about their fees and payment arrangements. He was told that if we received approval after the second interview the money would be discussed at that time.
So today was the second interview, and we drove to Maryland Farms for our 2:00 appointment. We sat in a waiting room next to a fake fireplace and a lone man in a suit. At 2:11 a matronly woman came out and announced to the other man–in front of us–that she would not be able to meet with him because he wasn’t able to bring his Support Person. They had a lengthy conversation in front of us about this failed meeting and his disappointment. He asked to speak with her behind closed doors (as would I) and then five minutes later that conversation ended with him leaving dejectedly. She then turned to us (it is now 2:17pm) and greeted us warmly.
We were led into an office that appeared to have been the result of a decorating war between a loan officer and an eccentric grandmother. The prototypical office furniture clashed with a giant print of Raffael’s Cherubs a reproduction oriental rug and a handmade mosaic table with a tilted top. The Husband and I were seated in two chairs across from the interviewer, who sat on a sofa next to a pile of throw pillows.
Here’s where the fun starts. We heard all about how hard it is to find a job, how most jobs aren’t posted online and are only found through networking. We heard about how the really good jobs are available only to those ‘in the know’ and can only be obtained through some wizardy combining Masonic handshakes, good dentistry and whatever pixie dust this particular company stores in the backroom. This interview seemed very carefully designed to exploit every potential vulnerability that any jobseeker feels. After about 10 minutes of conversation subtly designed to push every button we may have, the interviewer handed us a booklet that was said to be a tailored write-up of my husband’s profile as a job-seeker. The interviewer left us alone in the room to digest the booklet on our own terms.
The booklet consisted of three pages of reiteration of the interview’s strong-arm tactics, followed by a regurgitation of information from my husband’s resume, all summarised with a couple of pages essentially saying “the job market is tough but we think you’re really great and so we’ll be here to help you get a job!” We skimmed the booklet and reviewed our game plan, then signaled the interviewer by opening the door.
Our game plan was to ask direct questions about the company’s operation and placement record. In short, ‘what exactly do you do and how well do you do it?’ We had test answers in mind. In short, if we ask a direct question and get a vague answer such as “every case is different so numbers are hard to apply here” that tells us a great deal about the company’s services.
Sure enough, our first question about placement rate was answered with an “every case is different, etc.” style answer. Ultimately she gave us the figure of “90 to 92% placement rate” and then proceeded to tell us a long tale about a ‘failed’ client who showed up 37 minutes late to an interview with a CEO from an out-of-state firm. We all agreed that was indeed very unprofessional of said client and what a shame and how good to not work with him. (I of course was thinking about how we were on time for that interview which she failed to start until 17 minutes after the promised appointment time.)
She then gave us the very good news that they were prepared to accept us as clients. Then the fun began. We were told that Headhunters and Employment Agencies took fees only when a job had been secured for the job seeker, and they took their fees (generally 30-40%) from the hiring firm. But that means the job seeker gets a lower starting salary because all of their good money is going to the headhunter/employment agency. Thankfully, though, JL Kirk & Associates will be able to get my husband a job making a far larger starting salary. All we need to do is put $4,420 on a credit card today. Once we do that the entire weight of the firm of JL Kirk & Associates will begin the task of navigating treacherous shark-infested landmines of the job search on behalf of my husband. And just trust them, because they find jobs for 90% of the people who pay them to.
So that’s how it works. And that’s pretty much how we expected that it would work. But both the spouse and I believe that it’s irrepsonsible to not pursue any lead during this time so we thought we’d go through the process. Especially since they kept so much of it in the dark from the outset.
JUICY STUFF BEGINS HERE
But I’m very angry about it. If you’ve made it this far, I suppose maybe you could tell that I’ve been supressing most of my irritation. However, irritation makes for good blog reading, and so here it is.
I get really ticked off at people trying to use fear to motivate others. I don’t care if you are a fire-and-brimstone preacher, an insurance salesman, a used-car salesman or a cat burglar. Finding someone else’s fear and vulnerability and using that vulnerability to somehow enrich yourself is a cheap and underhanded tactic. It’s wrong and it’s cruel. And I think that’s exactly what this placement firm did to us today. There were times when I felt like I was sitting across from a spider. We were meant to feel at home enough to let down our guard so that the woman could then ply us gently with tales of terror. All of it was designed to make us hand over nearly $5,000 without question and without possibility of a refund.
The husband and I are not always idiots. We both expect to pay for services rendered from any provider. But we generally like to be treated as responsible adults. We had legitimate questions about the fee structure and we raised those at several points in the process. For them to not even discuss that fee structure until they had battered us emotionally for half an hour is what I would consider to be unethical. I’m sure there are other employment agencies and headhunters out there. We’ll continue to look for them.
In the meantime, I would discourage anyone who stumbles across this entry from even going through the JL Kirk & Associates “interview process”.
I should also mention that this company was formerly Bernard Haldane before it was purchased by Mr. Kirk Leipzig. One of the accusations against Bernard Haldane was that they would make an examination of the potential client’s assets and charge accordingly. I find it interesting to note just how close our “fee” was to the tax refund we recently received. Hmmm. Makes you wonder, no?
UPDATE 2, 4/17/06: Attorneys for JL Kirk & Assocs. contacted Media Bloggers Association attorney Ronald Coleman shortly after receiving his letter stating that the MBA was representing me in this dispute on Thursday afternoon. Both sides expressed their wish to avoid litigation or further aggravation of the situation. JL Kirk’s main concern at the outset was that we communicate their position – which is different from the information originally told to me by a JL Kirk employee – that JL Kirk is not a continuation of the defunct Bernard Haldane company, either in terms of corporate identity or stock ownership, and that JL Kirk’s principal, Kirk Leipzig, is only a former Bernard Haldane employee but did not buy any assets or stock of Bernard Haldane. I can’t vouch for the truth of that statement because I have no first-hand knowledge of the facts, but evidently anyone who wants more information can obtain it from JL Kirk.
As you know if you read their cease and desist letter, the company disagrees with what I have said about them here, but they have told the MBA lawyer that they are interested in discussing this with my husband and me personally rather than litigating in court. I have not decided if I am interested in talking, but I don’t mind the idea of putting this behind me and moving on, and will not write on this topic again.