Career Consulting Firms: Treating Asian Clients As Cash Cows?

This is a true story that happened a few weeks ago. At times, it really is worth wondering whether career consulting firms really do genuinely aim to help their clients who are seeking work to land a job or just swindle away their money. All names have been changed.

She steps into the lift at 11.50am on a cloudy January summer’s day. It whooshes upwards just seconds after she presses the button for the floor where the career consulting firm is located in the sky-high Melbourne CBD office building. Decked out in black pants and a spiffy blue jacket with her straight dark brown hair neatly flowing down her back, she looks just like – and is – any other ordinary short Asian girl in her late teens-early twenties.

Just a few days ago, she answered her ringing handphone to a chirpy career consultant called Mindy who probably wrangled her number from one of the career mailing lists she signed up for a year ago. Over the phone, Mindy offered to help her gain employment in the field of HR.

Some people employ the services career consulting firms in hope of securing a job. But there really is no guarantee they will land a job. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

The petite girl had no interest in buying the services of this firm. After all, she wasn’t sold by those a similar firm offered her face-to-face two years ago. But she is an open-minded person who likes to keep her options open.

The lift doors open. Palms resting lightly on top of the pockets of her pants, she wanders over to the white spick-and-span reception desk. The receptionist tells her Mindy will be out in a jiffy.

Ten minutes later a smiling Mindy waltzes out, shakes her hand and leads the way into an empty room with a white round table and chairs and shuts the door. Wearing a grey power-suit, from the looks of it Mindy – definitely Chinese – couldn’t be much older than her.

They sit. Mindy asks if she brought her resume with her. She duly takes it out.

“Tell me a bit about yourself,” Mindy says in perfect English and in a laid-back tone one would use when chatting with a good, kind friend.

“I majored in mathematics in my undergraduate degree and media in my postgraduate one. Graduated six months ago. Currently working here and there. Erratic hours,” the girl says.

“That’s very impressive. So you’re looking at dipping your toe in HR? What attracts you to working in HR? With your background in media, this is very much possible. I see, from your resume, you’ve many transferable skills.”

“I’m definitely considering pursuing a career in HR. There’s a lot of communication involved, especially interacting with a great variety of people. Never a dull moment.”

“Let’s look at your resume.” Mindy pulls out a pen and swiftly draws arrows all over the resume. “This is great. You have a lot of experiences. To show off your media skills, this section has to go here…and this….”

She watches Mindy in silence, thinking, This resume is tailored towards an office job, not for one in showbiz media, so that’s why it’s a bit wonky. Why not read the objective statement and acknowledge this?

She clenches and unclenches her fists repeatedly and twiddles her thumbs under the table. She robotically nods once every ten seconds to appear attentive. I’m wasting my time.

Done butchering the resume, Mindy casts it aside and pulls out some blank paper. Mindy draws a diagram (picture below) and says, “There are many stages you need to traverse to reach your dream job. You’re stuck here.”

'Stages towards achieving your dream job' as outlined by career consultant Mindy. Recreated by Mabel Kwong.

‘Stages towards your dream job’ as outlined by career consultant Mindy. Recreated by Mabel Kwong.

She listens to Mindy explain the ins-and-outs of landing one’s dream job. Mindy really does genuinely seems believable, she muses silently. Mindy’s a career consultant who confidently shows, tells and draws a career path right before your eyes – logically.

Mindy’s iPhone that is on the table vibrates and its screen lights up. 12.45 p.m. Mindy’s next client has arrived. How time flies.

Mindy pulls out a single sheet paper detailing the courses her consulting firm offers. A one-off session that reviews your cover letter, resume and interview skills costs $445.

For roughly $1100, one gets 8 one-on-one sessions with a consultant, a package of services including refining your resume, access to the “hidden market”, training in salary negotiation and a list of job vacancies. Add another $600, you get additional sessions.

For close to $3000, one gets a 12 month-long program that offers all the services above and a 100% money back guarantee if one doesn’t secure a job by the end of it.

Sounds too good to be true. I don’t see the fine print anywhere. And, securing a job is usually pure luck.

Drawing

‘Stages towards achieving your dream job part II’ as drawn by the career consultant. Recreated by Mabel Kwong.

Mindy says, “After the first consultation, as part of the 8 session program, we’ll have your cover letter and resume ready to go so we can focus on networking. There’s lot of flexibility as to when you can attend these consultations. It’s up to you.

“It really is just about the cost of a unit at university per semester. You can pay upfront in full. There’s a 10% discount if you do. You can pay by installments, but you’ll incur a 10% interest on the total price. We accept credit cards.”

“I’m not worried about the financial aspect of the course,” the small girl honestly says, combating the urge to cross her arms like an angry monkey refused a banana. “But I don’t have a credit card.”

“You can do a money transfer.”

“But I don’t do Internet banking.”

“Neither do I,” Mindy laughs.

Two-second silence. Which feels like an eternity.

“There’s an ATM just downstairs,” Mindy suggests, sounding honestly honest.

Cash payment. Which is a valid option. She places her right palm flat on the table, making the slightest thudding sound.  “I’ll come back another day.”

“The discount is only applicable today. That’s what my boss says. When did you graduate? You’re wasting time. It’s been, six, seven months already.

“Six months.”

Another round of two-second silence. She sees Mindy directing a rueful look at her.

“Well I don’t like sitting around without a ‘proper’ job. I can go home and come back around 5 p.m. with the money,” the small girl proposes, wondering if sarcasm and annoyance reeked in her voice.

“I’m not free then. There were people waiting outside at reception when you came in, you saw. I’m free at 2 p.m. I can see you then again.”

Yes, I saw those people.

Yet another bout of silence.

Mindy continues. “You have a lot of potential. But you don’t seem to be motivated enough to take the next step.”

* * *

No one has the right to feel pressured by career consulting firms into making an immediate decision involving parting with hundreds of dollars or so much cash at once.

Contrary to popular belief, fresh graduates and international students are not made of money, especially those from Asia. These Asian young people might swing their Gucci bags around and dress in designer garb, but most of the time their money is hard earned (be it from waiting tables in restaurants or from their parents).

Most of the time, they are relatively unfamiliar or just can’t get acquainted with local working culture and expectations that are often so different compared to their homelands’.

Many of them might wonder how one of Asian ethnicity can attain a successful career in an Anglo-dominated city. Seeing other Asians so outgoing, gung-ho and passionate about their jobs, in particularly Asian career consultants who look sharp, fervently gush over how they love what they do and emanate a “I’ve made it career-wise in Oz!” persona, can encourage these Asian graduates/students to look up to them and these agencies.

Many Asian international students come from cultural backgrounds where having a stable job that pays bucket loads is highly admired. In the eyes of many career consultancy firms, climbing the capitalist corporate ladder is a defining marker of success, financial success. It’s not surprising then that many Asian students/graduates in Australia meekly sign up to programs these firms offer without thinking their decision through.

Prospective clients of career consulting firms are definitely entitled to a second opinion before making a decision about the services they offer. These firms can be useful to some. After all, many of them boast glowing testimonials from satisfied clients who are supposedly employed with their assistance.

There are undoubtedly other places that dish out similar services. Career centres are a staple at universities today, offering free individual career consulting sessions with a trained career consultant and resume polishing services. There are countless of job application writing tips and tricks online.

* * *

8.07 p.m. She sits at her desk and sees an unread email on her laptop. She clicks on it.

“…As I mentioned in the consultation, a 10% discount remains for the full payment of our programs or instalments if required which entails a 10% interest…Regards, Mindy.”

She leans back in her chair, stretching and splaying her stiff fingers.

She feels good for adamantly refusing to buy the firm’s services. She feels good about making her own decisions and even better, choosing her own career path at her own pace.

The future is definitely in the palms of her hands.

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8 thoughts on “Career Consulting Firms: Treating Asian Clients As Cash Cows?

  1. Well done, Mabel! I have heard one too many stories about rogue career/job agencies. They promise you the sky but usually not without making you part with some $$$. At the end of the day, if one fails to secure a job, they say you have to buy another package! I am just wondering if there are authorities out there to whom we can flag such unethical practices. I am just so glad you didn’t fall for their hard-sell tactic.

    • I absolutely love how you sat that career consulting/job agencies ‘promise you the sky’ but don’t deliver! They do deliver, but only in what is presumably small and select cases/contexts. I also suspect that at times, if you don’t land a job after completing one of their packages, they will simply abandon you, or at the very least continue to help you find a job in the most minimal ways possible (e.g. tell you to keep applying for jobs). I don’t think there are any authorities or watchdogs out there that police consulting firms…if there was a watchdog for career consulting firms, it would be expected that all other kinds of firms would be monitored in some sense too! Too hectic :P

    • I love keeping things fun on my blog! So all I am going to say is that this anecdote is either a personal anecdote or a true anecdote of someone I know…

      I for one also strongly believe that each and everyone of us is capable of finding a job on our own without having to part with a large sum of money :)

  2. Great blog post Mabel! I find that these agencies don’t have that much to offer because they seem to concentrate on marketing, business, HR, accounting and banking etc, not a lot of other offers.

    It’s important to follow your own pace when you are trying to get to your dream job, and never be someone you’re not. I’ve been told my several people before that I don’t have the ‘personality’ to be a journalist. I answer back to them “I am not afraid to pursue my goals, and there’s no set rule as to how a journalist should act and behave. Most of all, I am not afraid of failing and there’s no meaning in one’s life if you don’t follow your goals”. And at times I would say them “at least I have a goal, unlike you”.

    Despite these doubts, I still try my best to write articles and have things published. Although it’s difficult now because I am working full-time, but at least I try and I have set up my own plans and pathway.

    Don’t listen to people who put you down – they are the ones who are afraid to step out of their comfort zones, accepting challenges and failing. They don’t have the determination and strong character to be persistent. Remember the old Chinese idiom “Heaven never bars one’s way” – (in Chinese “天无绝人之路”)

    Career consultants are a bunch of wankers (excuse my less elegant language), they are blood sucking vampires and like to take advantage of people and yes, especially international students because they don’t know where to look for jobs. That might explain why there is a high number of career consultants are Asians.

    • It is really intriguing that a high number of career consultants are Asians. In general, Asians tend to bond with other Asians or at least approach other Asians. So having Asian career consultants is a no-brainer – these agencies are able to suck money away from international students from Asia more easily. More perplexing is the fact that these Asian career consultants want to take advantage of these poor people who are tirelessly looking for work. Or at the very least they put their own success career-wise ahead of others.

      It’s great to hear that you are actively carving out your own career path. Good on you! It’s not hard to be yourself and start and take steps to create your own future. Rather, it is hard to sustain the effort and continuously keep doing what you do – and especially believing in yourself. However, as long as one tries, sooner or later it might just pay off :D

  3. It’s not unreasonable to believe that this particular company can live up to most of what they promised. Touching up resumes (sometimes even when you insist otherwise) is fairly standard practice, salary negotiation tips can be easily rehashed from content in books and on the internet, job listings can simply be a rebadged list from a site like Seek and getting a job within 12 months (albeit one with far from ideal conditions) is far from unachievable. Only the hidden market claim sounds implausible, as that tends to apply to higher end jobs or companies hiring the contacts of their existing employees, something which isn’t accessible to recruitment companies. But $3000 for freely accesible content is pretty poor value for money.

    I’ve only dealt with recruitment agencies that place experienced job seekers, who get paid by companies to recommend those with the appropriate credentials and filter out those who don’t (although some of the worse agencies blindly send everyone through for an interview). Given the far lower requirements for graduate positions, there’s not as much value in using this model and I wouldn’t expect many companies to be willing to pay. Presumably, the recruitment agency mentioned is surviving on charging job seekers and there must therefore be an awful lot of people willing to pay the $3000.

    I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. The financial and time pressures of finding that first professional job are tough enough for locals, and I imagine it would be many times worse for international students who are further encumbered by visa requirements. This desperation not only makes them more likely to succumb to such dodgy deals, but also places them at the mercy of businesses who insist they work for free (or sometimes even pay the business for the priviledge) in return for experience and a reference, a practice now seemingly routine in certain industries. Personally, I find the idea of lengthy, unpaid internships much more invidious than dubious career consulting packages.

    • I thoroughly agree with you that quite a lot of services that recruitment companies offer can be accessed for free elsewhere. Personally, I believe the “hidden market” is not that hard to access sometimes. The “hidden market” is also equivalent to jobs that are not advertised by companies, a.k.a word-of-mouth jobs. One really just has to make the effort – a lot of effort in some cases – to repeatedly call up/visit employers (even the professional ones) and network with them, making it known to companies that they are looking for paid employment. And if one is lucky, a job that pays minimum wage might just be offered to them this way.

      Yes, lengthy, unpaid ‘slave-labour’ internships have definitely spruiked up over the last few years. These internships are increasingly no longer tied to a formal educational or university course. I don’t feel too warm towards them either. I’ve never done such a lengthy internship before, but I’m guessing half the time one is given mundane tasks to do and a few months later shown the door if one doesn’t come across a potential star employee in the eyes of their “employer”.

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