The Ladders Scam

Update: I closed the comments on this post on 8/17/09. The point has been made.

Well isn’t that a nice title.  I’m really drawing a line in the sand on this one, especially since The Ladders was on the list of companies that might one day acquire JibberJobber.  I guess I’ll have to scratch that one off the list.

But this is such an important topic, and one I’m asked about on a regular basis, that I want to let my users, and other professional and executive job seekers (who should be using JibberJobber to organize their job search :p), know about.

First, the caveat: I have never sent my resume to The Ladders asking them for a review.  So all of what I’m sharing here is not from my first-hand experience.

Here’s the situation: You send a resume to The Ladders for their free critique.  Then you get back a letter telling you what all the problems with your resume is, and for a fee they will get you a new one.  Last I remember the fee is around $700.  Remember, we are usually talking about resumes for executives.

The biggest red flag I’ve read is that the critiques are form letters.  They will even critique their own, The Ladders generated, resumes!  It’s a simple process that a salesperson goes through to make a sale, not a real resume critique that a professional resume writer would give.

In other words, it seems they hardly even look at the resume… they just get you back a scary letter saying how bad your resume sucks, and that they can make it shine like new.  Scare tactics.  I’m sure it’s done well for them.

Here is some more reading on this…

Google The Ladders Scam or The Ladders Rip-off.  All of the links below come from those search results.  And do your own due diligence – like I said, I have not had first hand experience with this, but I’ve heard about it plenty.

Susan Ireland is a professional resume writer who wrote a nice post about how she set up her The Ladders account, to help you know what to expect.  The comments quickly turned nasty, though… that’s where the meat of the feedback is and a lot of talk about getting resume reviews from The Ladders.

The third comment from Susan’s post points to a bad link for Manager Tools, but I searched and found a good one, with the text of the canned response (below).

Mr. Ask the Headhunter himself, Nick Corcodilos, has two enlightening posts on the Ladders – one called TheLadders: Going down? (15 comments) and the other is the dope on TheLadders (95 comments).  Nick DOES NOT like The Ladders… the comments are enlightening.

A person on epinions writes: ” I had the resume professionally constructed and I was very pleased with it. The Ladders has a resume review service for free, so I sent it along thinking they would recommend tweaks here and there…. I received back a letter stating things wrong with my resume that I did not have in there. They even referenced companies I have had no association. I wrote back and said “No thanks, but thanks for the form letter” and was then bombarded with “you have to have your resume rewritten” form letters. “

So here’s the form letter I got from Manager Tools… this really is the scariest thing, since when you are vulnerable, looking for a job, in despair, and ready to drop money to fix any problem, this speaks to you.  It’s Scare Tactics 101.  The letter (with my own font formatting), in response to a resume that was professionally written:

Dear [name],

Thank you for your resume submission! My name is xxxxx and I will be providing your resume critique.

In this email I will outline my thoughts, provide a price quote to you, explain the process, and give you instructions at the end of my review to get started. If you decide to proceed, you will be working directly with one of our top writers versed in your industry and level.

Our methodology is simple: We apply extensive resume writing experience and knowledge of the $100k+ job market to determine how well your resume represents your value and distinguishes you from the competition.

Please note that I am NOT critiquing your background, experience, or potential for success. I am commenting on how you are MARKETING those assets to potential employers and how you are competing against others with similar goals. Your resume needs to be assertive in showing prospective employers how you would be of value to them, because no matter how good you are at your job, the resume is what really lands the interview.

Before I begin the critique, I do need to warn you about my style, because my comments can seem blunt–but the reality is the job market is very competitive now, so I find it beneficial to tell it as it is rather than “yes” people to death. (I hate when it’s done to me!)

Here are the major issues I see on your resume:


Your summary is missing the “WOW” factor. You’re relying on too many “business clichés” – things like, “Excellent written and verbal communication skills”. These “crutch” phrases don’t really tell the reader anything about you and what you’ve done! You need a much more results-focused introduction, to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading!

The five main aspects within a distinguished summary indicates: your highest career achievements, experience level, your value, your industry and your immediate career goal, and convey, “Look how what I have to offer will be an asset to you”.

I also recommend including a “Core Competencies” subsection just below the summary — specific areas of expertise and knowledge that can be supported by solid accomplishments. Including a list of “Core Competencies” is a great executive strategy, and provides both a quick and comprehensive look at your strengths from the beginning. Additionally, a core competencies or “keyword” section also increases the odds of an electronic screening agent making a match between your resume and an open job requisition.


Today’s job descriptions briefly sum up your position in paragraph format, then uses bullets for your most marketable attributes – results of the duties listed in the paragraph. This strategy separates the duties from the results and really highlights your key accomplishments, making them easy to find when the resume is quickly scanned. As you only have SECONDS to grab their attention. You have everything bulleted – resulting in NOTHING standing out to the eye of the reader.

On another note…the “references” tag line just isn’t done anymore – ESPECIALLY for upper level executive resumes! It’s like saying “the end” at the end of a movie.


The language could be MUCH stronger. You vacillate between active voice and passive voice in the document (“Responsible for”, etc.). In the active voice, the subject acts. In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. The active voice is more natural, direct, vigorous and emphatic – traits you want your resume to have in tone.


The vast majority of resumes are handled now by resume databases whether online or Human Resource Information Systems within companies. The databases have “preferences” for certain design elements. One of them is a preference for sans serif font styles. Change the font to something that is sans serif and avoid the default Times New Roman or other serif fonts.


Jamie, your resume is your self marketing tool. It gets you in the door. It must be strong on ALL levels in order to achieve the best results. All-in-all, I don’t think you’re putting your “best foot forward” if you plan to use this resume in its current condition. You’re underselling yourself. You are in need of a self-marketing brochure – one that shows your high caliber. This document isn’t doing that for you.

Please understand, all of this is not to say that you are not a good candidate, merely that the way your resume presents your career is not yet very effective or exciting to the reader (who typically has read 100+ resumes just before getting to yours).

You need to remember the purpose of a resume — to take an AGGRESSIVE approach in selling you to a potential employer. Why does that employer want to interview YOU? You need to be MUCH more active in pulling out your forte — things that will show potential employers what they get for their investment (your compensation). What can you bring to the table that your competition cannot? What sets you apart? Right now you are not giving the reader the best information to excite him/her enough to contact you for an interview. Remember, unless you can convince them of your VALUE, they will not contact you.

Most people are like you — they struggle to put themselves down on paper effectively — but that’s where we come in, because we are experts at knowing the best way to present you. In fact, even Marc Cenedella, CEO of TheLadders came to OUR writing team when he needed a resume!

I’m not sure that the resume they turn around will be awesome, and it should be done by a professional resume writer, I just want to bring out the idea that they are using a sales form letter no matter who writes your resume… I’ve heard of them sending this form letter to people who have had their own resume writers write the letter!

Need your resume reviewed? Get the review from a professional resume writer, not a salesperson who uses a form letter. JibberJobber has partners who are resume writers – you can learn more about them here (we stay out of it – it’s between you and them). Or you can go to Career Directors, National Resume Writers Association, or the Career Management Alliance.

60 thoughts on “The Ladders Scam”

  1. Jason

    Thank you so much for writing this post and bringing attention to this scam. I recently wrote a resume for a client with more than 30 years of experience (created it from scratch because he didn’t have a resume at all) and after we were done he sent it to the Ladders for their free critique. He got this exact letter back and forwarded it to me. So, just out of curiosity, I did an internet search on the name of the person who signed the letter. I wont list her name here but it was a very unusual name and the only web reference I could find was her Facebook page which indicated that she had graduated from college in 2008. Give me a break.

    I always tell my clients to research the qualifications of the person you hire to coach you or write your resume. If you don’t think my qualifications (or those of any resume writer or coach) are up to snuff then don’t hire me. Period. In this business it is about the person who is doing the work not the number of Superbowl commercials their employer can pay for.

    Liz Handlin

  2. As you know, there has been much discussion about this on the e-lists of careers industry associations, sharing of horror stories and how to handle this dilemma.

    The situation with The Ladders has gotten so bad for resume writers, that some of us have put disclaimers in our Client Agreement forms saying that we will not discuss Ladders’ critiques of our stellar resumes, and direct clients to Google “Ladders Scam” to get the skinny before pointing the finger at us.

    I haven’t had a run in with a Ladder’s critique yet, but I expect I will sometime.


  3. I agree that The Ladders is unethical. I’ve had clients that have gotten the critiques from The Ladders on resumes I have written. I am open to a thoughtful critique and feel I am always willing to revisit a decision I’ve made. But when the critique is a form letter, the level of thoughtfulness, expertise, professionalism does not go anywhere above CUT & PASTE. The Ladders uses scare tactics and relies on quantity and impersonal sales / marketing strategy. It’s an example of the worst trend in the dehumanizing corporate world. Jibber Jobber’s condemning of The Ladders shows great integrity in pointing out the unethical practices of The Ladders. I admire Jason greatly for “sticking his neck out” on this topic! / Michael Kranes, Owner, Resume Slayer

  4. Jason: Thanks for a gutsy post. The thing that really bugs me about ‘scare tactic’ reviews is that it is taking advantage of people when they are in an emotionally vulnerable space … it’s criminal in my book.

    Like getting a second opinion on a medical issue, job seekers would be wise to do so with their resumes. I know of many professional resume writers (members of the organizations you mention) who provide complimentary critiques and do so responsibly and ethically (and sacrificially, I might add). Unfortunately, the buyer/jobseeker may be leery because the jobseeker thinks the reviewer/critique-er has something to gain–business. The reality is that many of the professional resume writers I know are under-charging for their services … most professional resume writers put blood, sweat, and tears into their writing and have a huge heart to see jobseekers succeed.

    Two other thoughts: to get a ‘neutral’ opinion, jobseekers could ask a colleague/friend in the HR industry or someone who does hiring on a regular basis to offer feedback on the resume. Another idea is to go to the library and look at resume books (for example, anything authored by Wendy Enelow, Louise Kursmark, Kim Isaacs, and, at the risk of blatant self-promotion, myself!) and compare their resume to the great samples in those books. Comparison can be very enlightening.

    Susan Whitcomb
    Author, Resume Magic
    President, Job Search Academy | Career Coach Academy

  5. I’d also add the Professional Association of Resume Writers as another reputable professional resume organization.

    I’ve seen the Ladders critiques. I’ve been on the receiving end of their critiques. The Ladders is what it is — cookie cutter criticism trying to make a sale … at any cost. I choose not to do business that way. While frustrated by the craziness, I have to believe what goes around comes around.

  6. Hi Jason – caught this link on Twitter…

    My experience is that all the online resume critique companies use the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to get people to subscribe to their services. I received a letter almost word for word like the one you posted from another online service. I would suggest staying away from the online services – meet with someone in person so you can gauge their sincerity. I’ve had a number of interviews and I have sent my resume to any number of head hunters and I’ve only gotten positive feedback on my resume and my career – these online sites are not altruistic, they are there to make money. Too bad they are so phony.

  7. Hi Jason,

    Yes, they provide awful cookie-cutter critiques to scare the clients into buying from them, but the other issue I had was that the writers themselves weren’t/aren’t ethical. One of my executive clients had such a lousy experience there (after paying $900 for a resume) that he came to me for a complete rewrite a week later (felt so bad for him, had to blog about it — ).

    We have hardly even touched on the fact that a good portion of the jobs aren’t “$100K” jobs– at least not the ones a few of my execs have looked at.

    It’s frustrating, but all we can do is educate our clients and hope they don’t put too much stock in what The Ladders is trying to sell.

    Erin Kennedy, CPRW, CERW
    President, Professional Resume Services

  8. Oh boy, Dave, I hope you don’t mean to slam all online (or virtual) careers industry professionals. So many of us don’t see clients face to face anymore, but are certainly reputable and still offer highly personalized service. As with sourcing any quality service, do some research, and find the best service for you, whether it’s a virtual or bricks and mortar operation.


  9. Jason, I have seen so many of these critiques and been on the receiving end as well. Thank you so much for bringing this to light. I always point out to those that come to me with questions about The Ladders is that they are trying to sell something. They are not going to say, “gee your resume is perfect, good on you!” Truthfully, most of the non-professional resumes I see all have the same problems too but I prefer a personal, one on one approach with advice that is unique to the individual. There is such confusion in the market about what resume writing is and is not that it leaves job seekers with a bad taste in their mouth.

    Also, I have to agree with Meg that not all virtual services are the same. I have been in business for 5 years and have never met a single marketing or Career Marketing client. I do meet with all clients by phone and sometimes video call. I don’t need a bricks and mortar office with unnecessary overhead to serve my clients well. The truth is that there are good and bad businesses online and off in EVERY industry, period. It is unfair to judge a business simply because they have chosen to leverage technology in serving their clients.

  10. Sorry Meg, I didn’t mean to paint with such a broad brush! I was really focusing on the “free” resume critique side of things, although I am sure there are excellent resources out there. I have been following Jason and a number of other job search gurus on Twitter and there is some excellent advice to be gleaned – everyone just needs to remember to do as you point out, research -caveat emptor

  11. Jason,
    Wow – was impressed with your bravery in posting. The flurry of supportive responses from your many advocates is testament to your reputation!

    So much to say on this topic, and many of my talented, passionate and caring careers colleagues already covered it so well. I’ll just add a snippet about my take on professional resume writers performing resume reviews. This snippet primarily is gleaned from personal experience as a strategic alliance ‘partner’ with ExecuNet. As well, I perform complimentary professional and executive resume reviews for my own (Career Trend) prospects as well as for other careers writers’ prospects I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with over the years.

    Dave Opton, CEO of ExecuNet (@Oppy via Twitter) and his quality-centered team have been so diligent and customer-focused ensuring his Resume Writing alliance partners represent the best interests of the executive members, many of whom are engaged in job search. In that I tailor reviews for 1 to 3 executives per day as an ExecuNet rep who is neither employed nor paid by ExecuNet, I must provide value and a member benefit (general resume review, including what works well and what may be enhanced) in order to fulfill my promise to Dave and his team.

    Value add to me is the shaping of many, MANY fruitful relationships with talented, resourceful and nice executives across the globe. Yes, some do convert to paying clients; some refer clients to me; some, I provide value to via the review, and that’s the end of the road; others, provide value to me in ways well beyond a resume business transaction.

    The keys, I believe to remaining ethical and value-focused in performing resume reviews, include:

    a) Maintain an eye on the job seeker’s ego – don’t tear him/her down! Often, whether they wrote the resume themselves or invested $$ in professional resume writing services, they’ve invested a lot of intellectual energy and time into the processes and feel a sense of kinship to the document. It is personal.

    b) Provide value in the comments. Even when the resume is fairly well or very well done, the member requesting the review may specifically solicit a ‘new or different’ perspective. I try to phrase my suggestions in a way that says: There is more than one way to peel an apple; my opinions and suggestions are not necessarily better than other person’s ideas, but they may be different and you can filter them through your own research funnel to determine if they fit your needs.

    c) Provide enough value in the comments that the job seeker may implement some of them into his/her own resume and feel a certain glee or modest satisfaction in at least having improved, sharpened or reinvigorated the resume message without feeling he/she must $$ pay me for my professional writing services.

    d) Provide enough value in the comments that if the job seeker has the inclination and resources to invest in my services, he or she will be compelled to call me. Heck, I am a solopreneur who invests great amounts of time and resources to communicate my value, and if I can net a return on my investment on my time via an occasional sale that will sustain my careers resource capabilities, then I admit to garnering a sale here and there.

    In conclusion, as Susan Britton Whitcomb meaningfully articulated, “most professional resume writers put blood, sweat, and tears into their writing and have a huge heart to see jobseekers succeed.” I aspire to be among that group of writers who balances a caring approach to helping shepherd clients to job-search success with a measured and ethical approach to ferreting a financial return on the value I provide to create my own career sustainability so that I may continue to be a meaningful resource in the careers community.

    Jacqui Poindexter
    Master Resume Writer

  12. It’s so nice to know that I wasn’t alone….that untold numbers of others received the very same form letter from The Ladders that I did.

    I also subscribe to ExecNet, another job source service offering free resume reviews. Their assessment of my “crummy” resume was quite different. A real person, with a real web site, offered several spot-on suggestions for improvement…in a phone call! She also emailed me six different booklets and checklists to be used in preparing an executive resume. She engaged me in online discussions as I reworked my document. Quite impressive!

  13. Jason,

    Thank you for linking to the debate around The Ladders critique on the Manager Tools site. Whilst Manager Tools has nothing bad to say about the Ladders, obviously some of our members have had less than positive experiences – although, equally, some felt their review was effective. Manager Tools would never advise anyone to pay for their resume to be written, as only the owner of a resume can really understand their experience and what they are hoping to get out of their next role. That said, we do offer a review service, as we know from our members that there is value in having a professional recruiter give advice as to what works and what doesn’t on a resume. Unfortunately, there is a multitude of bad advice available, and in a time of need, we all cling to the nearest lifeboat. As with all services, from us, the Ladders or any of the services you recommend, caveat emptor.

    Manager Tools Team

  14. Like others, I received the same form letter from The Ladders. Interestingly, before sending mine in I had suggested the free service to a good friend who was laid off the same day I was. Our resumes could not have been more different, but we received essentially the same form letter (order was a bit different, but the “blunt” response stuck in both our heads. I was paying for the access to their job postings, but found few were in my range or geographic area (too many $100k jobs in the heart of California). They got two months of my money, but that’s all. I’ve moved to Netshare and probably Execunet. Terrific post, Jason! Thanks.

  15. I haven’t had any clients come to me after getting my work critiqued by The Ladders, so I have no personal experience to speak of. And I have no interest in defending a service that uses scare tactics and generic form letters disguised as personal critiques to drum up business. But I would judge a critique by The Ladders the same way that I’d judge any critique: whether or not what it said was true (even if it was said more bluntly than the client would have wanted).

    The kindest thing I can say about The Ladders, and it’s 100% true? Some of my clients saw their ads, got their critiques, and hired me (I charge less than $700-$1,000 per resume and offer personalized service). I have the very same certified resume writing credentials as the professionals The Ladders claims to have working for them. My clients are happy, and they realized they had a need for my services because they got a harsh review of their old resume from The Ladders. Works for me.

  16. Jason; I applaud you for stepping up! Thanks for getting the word out there. The Ladders scam is one of many out there today that are preying on job seekers who are scared to death about their prospects. Another expose that needs to be done is that of so-called ‘Search’ firms that charge exorbitant up-front fees (often thousands of dollars) for their services, in exchange for a guaranteed ‘dream job’. Like the Ladders, these operations traditionally prey upon high-end execs that they figure have plenty of extra cash. Now we at IMPACT Group are beginning to hear stories of similar operations that are target low-income workers and charge a few hundred dollars for ‘guaranteed’ results. This is even more despicable for someone who may be only a few paychecks from the street.

  17. A friend of mine was on the receiving end of one of the ‘form critique letters’ and needless to say, I was mortified and unimpressed. I am also sorry to see that scare tactics is their (The Ladders) way of attempting to generate revenue. I agree with a lot of points posted – we all know someone in HR, see if they have a few moments to critique your resume. Identify a recruiter or resume writer (service) and interview them – you’ll find out soon enough using some very simple questions, whether or not they are qualified and have your best interest at heart. And thanks Jason – for posting this. I know a lot of people will be grateful they didn’t spend, or get scammed into spending, money with The Ladders.

  18. Jason – You are right to be standing up for the job seekers that don’t know one company from the next when they come into our industry and rely on these companies to be reputable. Not only are they taking advantage of job seekers during such a vulnerable time anyway, but they are hurting reputable resume writers everywhere.

    The copy of the critique you posted is almost verbatim to critiques sent to me by two of my clients that received the critiques with “fixing” prices of $695 and $795. Luckily, they both chose to not take advice from the Ladders and looked elsewhere.

    I think you are doing a great service to job seekers who come into the career industry not by their own choice and are bombarded by unfamiliar language, services, and products that they are hoping will help them find a new job. Helping these unsuspecting job seekers steer clear of the less trustworthy companies is something we all are doing.

    Nice job Jason!

    Kris Plantrich

  19. Jason, bravo for tackling such a controversial issue. You (and Nick Corcodilos) are leading the charge. And it needs to be led!

    Disclaimer: I have never worked for TheLadders (although early in their existence I wrote articles for them and was a speaker at “SeekWeek.”) However, many of my friends/colleagues have worked with TheLadders and I know much of the back-story (from their perspective) that the public does not see. Having said that, there are always two sides to a story and I am speaking only from the side I know — that of a careers professional who sees the difficulties that working with TheLadders resume program presents for both jobseekers and career pros.

    OK, now that’s said, here’s what I see/think/wish for…

    The job-seeking public has had issues with TheLadders (a Google search on the topic is eye-opening). What the public may not know is that there has also been controversy within the careers industry regarding TheLadders. Most of that controversy surrounds TheLadders “business solicitation” (resume review/sales) process and the handling of TheLadders’ resume staff’s “rules of engagement.”

    Many of my esteemed colleagues have written for TheLadders, and many still do. Over the years TheLadders changed resume business models many times and in doing so changed their resume writers’ “partner agreements;” each change made it more difficult for good-to-great writers to do business in ways that allowed for compensation and project specifications commensurate with their expertise.

    Most of these resume professionals had independent practices as well, and had no reason to stay with TheLadders once conditions became unfavorable. And many of them left TheLadders, taking with them an astounding level of experience –- many were industry icons, who’d been practicing for years, had trained other professionals, presented at conferences, written extensively, and authored books. That body of knowledge was lost to Ladders’ clients when these professionals left.

    TheLadders still has good writers — some are experienced industry pros and some are new to the industry and have been trained to become Ladders writers. One of the industry’s most successful resume firms, employing a cadre of very competent writers, is a Ladders’ partner. A few of the industry’s leading experts are Ladders advisors. The public will likely get a decent resume from a Ladders writer more often than not.

    What we in the careers industry take issue with is not as much about resume writing as it is with the WAY the Ladders solicits resume business — through resume reviews (and sales process) that often seem to be “one-size-fits-all” and make it difficult for an often vulnerable and frightened jobseeker to know that there are options and other opinions.

    Now, some reading the comments on your post may say, “Sour grapes–all you career pros just want that business and are bad-mouthing TheLadders” to get it.”

    Well, no, not at all. Here’s a secret about most independent careers-industry professionals (resume pros, personal branding strategists, and coaches): we care.

    We care about our clients, about ethical business practices, about increasing our knowledge and effectiveness, and about raising the bar in our industry by sharing thought leadership and best practices.

    In fact, because we are focused on excellence and believe that a “rising tide lifts all boats,” we share a LOT. It has always been so. People new to the industry (or to our conferences) are blown away by how much “competitive intelligence” we “give away” to each other.

    Sure, building a profitable practice is a priority, but most practitioners won’t do so without a clear focus on providing true value to our clients — value in expertise and value in a deep desire to see our clients succeed. And we often go the extra mile to make that happen, even if it means a project runs long and we erode our profit margins and cut into our always-limited free time.

    That’s the way most of us work; and we sleep well at night, (unless we are worrying about a client who is struggling in a job search — because, yes, we do that a lot!).

    When a company like TheLadders comes along and disturbs that balance, it becomes difficult for the industry to tolerate. Yet, TheLadders does provide a service to the job-seeking public, does employ resume professionals who may not want to work independently, and does connect job seekers to resume writers.

    So where’s the disconnect? I think it is that even though The Ladders writers want to provide the best product and support they can, they are undermined to some degree by TheLadders operation. I imagine that it is hard to be good at your job and a credible resource when the “parent” is constantly under fire for the way they solicit the business they send your way.

    When a large organization — with a resume service profit model seemingly based on metrics that do not include the intangibles of trusted solicitation and value delivery — enters an industry of established boutique businesses dedicated to quality, there will be turmoil. All are serving a public uneducated in the way resumes need to be written and in the way job search really works, but the larger firm — in this case the Ladders — has more visibility/credibility and is often seen as the expert by a public with little knowledge of the careers industry.

    As such, TheLadders has an obligation to live up to that “credible corporate persona” and do so across all service/products. TheLadders’ customers are jobseekers and careerists, whose very choice of job search support and next position will affect years of their life, livelihood, compensation, and happiness (and even those of their employees, as most Ladders’ clients’ $100K+ jobs will likely involve leadership of some sort). Therefore TheLadders’ obligation to do right by their clients is a deep one.

    I am a capitalist; I believe in profits; I believe vibrant, expanding, innovative businesses are the backbone of our country. I also believe that business can be more — business can (and should) show by example that creating profit, delivering value, holding to the highest business standards, and “doing capitalism right” can deliver “profit to be proud of.”

    We are a nation of dreamers — why not dream that all companies can do this? Why not dream that TheLadders can yet again change their resume service / sales model and become a leader in best practices, with ever-increasing profits streaming from a sterling reputation for quality dealings that create satisfied, successfully-employed client evangelists?

    Ladders leadership, what do you say? You in?

    Deb Dib, the CEO Coach

    Helping visionary, gutsy, fun executives with a conscience land faster, earn more, have fun, and change the world. (Since 1989)

  20. Thank you very much for this much needed post. As a long time professional resume writer, owner of, and member of the National Resume Writers Association (NRWA), I have encountered many of these scary form letter resume critiques from The Ladders. All of the resume critiques that I have seen from The Ladders are very similar, very scary, and also very poorly written. The persons who write these critiques, or, more correctly, fill in a few blanks in the critique forms, are usually terrible writers who make numerous spelling grammatical errors and generally can’t even keep the fonts and formatting consistent when filling in what is obviously a form template.

    A recent customer of mine sent me links to several job listings from The Ladders website and I was able to find all of them on free websites, many were not actually $100k+ jobs and one was a complete scam listing. These job listings were obviously the result of data mining free internet job listings. This customer is a highly qualified senior executive with a stellar work history that is accustomed to earning over $200k. Even such a sophisticated person was taken in by The Ladders. This customer is very typical of the people I have encountered who have deceived by Marc Cenedella and The Ladders.

    Why would anyone take The Ladders seriously or consider hiring them to write their resume? Well, as has been written before, people are in a vulnerable position when looking for work and vulnerability can foster gullibility. There also seems to be an element of greed in response to the false $100k+ advertising on The Ladders website and in their television adds. Appealing to greed and fear has been the hallmark of scam artists throughout history. There is nothing new here. I pray that Marc Cenedella and all of those associated with The Ladders, for the benefit of their own souls and of their victims, turn away from evil and stop victimizing people based upon their fears and their greed.

    Like many reputable professional resume writers, I offer free resume critiques as a marketing tool but my critiques are delivered individually and personally during an in-depth telephone consultation. Yes, I get customers by offering free resume critiques but I offer a good faith professional critique whether the person hires me to update their resume or not. I also offer nationwide service by using the Internet, email and telephone communications. I have not offered face-to-face service in an office for several years. I had office locations for many years but, after realizing that I can give excellent personal one-on-one service in this information age without an office, it seemed like a poor business decision to continue pay office rent and I have avoided price increases that would have otherwise inevitable. Many of my professional colleagues, who are all excellent resume writers, have adopted this same business model so please don’t use the existence of an office location or the offering of a free resume critique as a decisive factor regarding the value of a professional resume writer’s services.

  21. Deb –

    I am standing at my desk applauding. Thank-you for boiling down this topic down so succinctly and so professionally. I have no words. BRAVO!

  22. Angie, your post is SO enlightening — I’d have to laugh at the irony if it wasn’t so telling as to TheLadders tactics. You are the kind of writer I was talking about in my initial comment above, when I said that TheLadders still has good writers. Here you are, certified, award winning, and trained by Wendy Enelow who is one of the very best resume trainers in the industry. And yet your work is found wanting by the SALES arm of the very organization that has found you worthy of employment with them. That’s priceless. On the other hand, if TheLadders asked for CLIENT feedback, I’ll bet your Ladders clients would say you, and your work, are terrific.

    Deb Dib

  23. I was one of those critiquers about 2 years ago, but would not write resumes for the Ladders. Why? They did not want us to “talk” to the clients. All communication was through worksheets and email only. And on the odd occasion when I did close a sale (I was way too honest–when it looked good, I said so) I was dismayed at the quality of writing for a $750 resume. The $175 cover letter wasn’t much better. It’s not like taxes where they all look alike. They vary from writer to writer.

    If you’re paying that kind of money, don’t have a salesperson “assign” a writer. Ask to speak to the writer and interview them about what they know about your occupation, how long they’ve been a resume writer, what type of previous jobs they’ve held, awards, certifications and …. when was the last time they looked for their own job. Those online applications can be very convoluted.

    And also understand that not everyone with an HR background can be a great writer. As my husband once bluntly told an aspiring author,”just because you can read a book, doesn’t mean you can write one.” The same applies to these marketing documents. They take a lot of practice.

    I blogged about the Ladders on 12/10/08 at

  24. I’m running into Ladders critiques almost weekly with my professionals and scientists and it is a shame Ladders reputation is tarnished as there are some good people there. We are planning on using PARW standards to train our staff thoughout the State on how to write solid résumés. I’m putting togetehr an intense two day workshop with a case study.

    Corporate policy is the culprit. Not allowing the writer to talk with the person they are writing for is criminal. Eventually this is going to hit the mainstream press and we’ll all get a black eye. But the swing should be taken… look at the folks who are taken by résumé writers with poor to no business policies or ethics as well as Ladders. I know a few résumé writers who don’t know what those thingamajigs are over the “e”s in the word résumé and are still using Yana Parker (God rest her soul) style résumés format and all. Are we rolling the rock of Sisyphus in this exercise?

  25. Jason,

    I am standing with you on your side of the line in the sand.

    What is sad to me as a career professional, I recognize there is enough business for everyone, and scare tactics and unethical measures aren’t necessary to grow your business (and still shouldn’t be used even if there isn’t enough business). Certainly, there are varying qualities of expertise, but judging another writer’s work without all the background on the project is inherently problematic.

    Companies, as do individuals have choices about how to brand and promote their services, and it never ceases to amaze me how often the low road is taken. Sometimes the consequences for that type of behavior and reputation don’t come soon enough, but I feel that over the long-term it will negatively affect the perpetrator. In the meantime, those of us on the other side stand together, and are grateful for leaders in the industry like you who put yourself out there and take risks for what you believe.

    Thanks for using your blog to bring attention to this issue.

    August Cohen

  26. I have made quite a few sales with executive clients who were “shopping” and also had received Ladders’ critiques. Quite simply, the job seekers appreciated my personalized, no-pitch feedback. If they went no further with me, they had gained honest feedback on what was working and what might be enhanced–with concrete suggestions. I believe it all goes back to the “earn trust” concept. That said, I was asked to write for them myself, and know many fine writers and colleagues who have. It’s a flaw in the system rather than everyone associated with the company. It’s sad; however, it’s a great thing to have this dialogue. In the end, it will be the job seekers / clients who will be best served. And that’s what counts!

  27. Just a thought…if The Ladders is advertising “personalized career services” but providing canned resume reviews instead, might that constitute fraud?

  28. As a Canadian advocate for ethics and integrity in the career industry, I too have had concerns about aggressive sales tactics that “kick people when they are down.” Recently, I have been challenging these and other scams that take advantage of job seekers.

    Across north america and globally, there are many ethical resume writers and career practitioners who use morals and compassion to guide them in their everyday work. A few bad apples can certainly taint the complete industry.

    As the executive director of the Canadian association for Resume Writers and Career Practitioners, I have noticed that our members are not immune to assessments from The Ladders. TheLadders’ critiques have been an issue for our members even though many have multiple certifications including the Certified Resume Strategist and other US certifications noted in other posts. I’ve been monitoring their tactics for a few years and it is clear that they need to make some changes to improve their image and integrity.

    I blogged about the Ladders a while back you can see my thoughts here:

  29. I definitely do NOT defend TheLadders’ overly aggressive sales & marketing tactics or their largely form-letter critiques, although I did see one critique that told the client his resume was in good shape and did not need to be rewritten; all he needed was a good cover letter. From experience, however, I can say that TheLadders DOES allow its writers to talk with the client once a project has been assigned. In fact, I have been encouraged to do so.

    There has been at least one personnel change within TheLadders recently, and I don’t know whether that will make matters worse or better. Anyway, it’s good to have this dialogue going on the whole subject.

  30. As others have eluded to, this issue is just one example of business ethics within the careers industry – something I feel very strongly about. As long as our industry is not regulated, we’ll – unfortunately – have to deal with those preying on job seekers, giving our industry a bad name in the process.

    On another thought…didn’t Marc Cendella (TheLadders founder and CEO) semi-recently reach out to us (“us” meaning professional resume writers within the careers industry) to deal with this issue by apologizing to clients of ours who had been on the receiving end of his staff’s bogus critiques? I never took him up on it, but am curious what happened with that initiative.

  31. I sent my resume to the and received a nice letter back stating that the reviewer had “minor tweaks” and that her advice was that I should run with it as is. I did – and I didn’t pay a fee.

  32. I’ve never posted any comment online but I am so disgusted by the Ladders that felt the need. I got the same treatment after posting my resume on the ladders after having several professional friends review and critique the document. I had recruiters specifically compliment the end product. But according to the ladders there was NO WAY I was going to find a job with the resume I wrote. Had I not gotten the good feedback the ladders’ comments would have been very hard to take in a tough time. To have a snivelling sales rep making $30k per year call me and try to sell me an $800 service (but, OH, they’re throw in a cover letter for the low, low price of $130!) was one of the most despicable things. Additionally, the routine notes that come out from the CEO are often crass and unprofessional.

    Funny thing, I’ve already found a great job with that horrible resume. Just can’t say anything but that what they do is disgusting.

  33. I have to say that as a professional writer who has worked with that these posts are not accurate. I have seen many critiques that have told the members that their resumes are good with a few small suggestions put in place complimentary. Perhaps a suggestion for a covering letter will be offered if the member does not have one. When you are trained as a certified writer and have the opportunity to work through the continuing education that TheLadders sponsors for its writers through the prestigious resume writing academy you are well aware of the pitfalls of a poorly presented resume. The critiques are simply put in place to assist the members to let them know they will not be branding themselves as they could be. There is no mention of not finding a job. I also have seen hundreds of different critiques that do not reflect the suggested cookie cutter template critique. It is so unfortunate that these days individuals see career assistance as a scam. TheLadders works with highly trained and skilled writers and the general public has no idea what type of time goes into the formatting, interviewing and career document preparation paired with professional editing and revisions.

  34. Liz, I’m disappointed with your commment. Are you calling everyone who has been in receipt of one of these form letters a liar? These form letters do indeed exist and The Ladders is indeed behaving unprofessionally. I don’t think anyone is casting any doubt on how much time and energy goes into rewriting/editing resumes or writing cover letters.

    In the current market we need to set each other up for success – not instill fear to hopefully generate revenue. If The Ladders was behaving above-board and professionally, they wouldn’t send out those letters and chastise people and tell them they won’t get employed with their current resume. They should talk about the professionals they have on their team, their skill sets, and how utilizing their services can help set you (candidate) apart from other candidates. This approach would be more professional and humane.

  35. I have had many people I know as friends in the industry critque my resume and said it looked great. Ladders pulled the same thing on me and said my resume needed a lot of “tweeking”. I had many responses from executive recruiters and received a great job without changing my resume as they said I should have within a couple of weeks.

  36. Of course your friends are going to say your resume looks great. But who cares what your friends say, they don’t hire you and they don’t know the tricks recruiters need. have your friends review for errors, but them telling you it looks good is like saying no when your wife asks if she looks fat, of course you are going to say no to make her feel good.

  37. Harold

    Friends in the industry help each other out versus you example of what you say to your wife. Friends you hang out at the bar is different then what I quoted her-“Many people I know as friends in the industry”.

  38. I believe, TheLadders is single-handedly tarnishing the resume-writing industry.

    What *irrevocable* damage is being done to the industry as a whole, and to the reputations of my resume-writing colleagues? Keep in mind, it’s rumored TheLadders is securing multi-millions in sales from resume services. Of those clients they burn, how many will trust another resume writer any time soon?

    What also concerns me is the added fear dished out by services such as TheLadders. Jobseekers are already insecure with the limited job opportunities, they don’t need unscrupulous services adding more doubt and insecurity to their already burdensome heap.

    If the individual’s resume is less than stellar, then fine. The individual needs resume-writing help from whomever. Hey, we’re all in business to make money. But, TheLadders solicits individuals who have recently had their resumes professionally written by some of the top resume writers in the world — which adds validity to …

    “TheLadders is only after the sale, and not interested in the best interest of the prospect/client.”

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – ~**~ – – – – – – – – – – – – –


    Insist our professional organizations refuse advertising/membership dollars from businesses with unethical business practices — and certainly don’t let them present or speak at our yearly conferences.

    Usually people don’t attend where they aren’t welcome. =-]

  39. Jason – Thank you so much for this post.

    For some time now, I’ve been very concerned about the damage TheLadders is doing to our industry.

    Sadly, it appears there is now another company that has adopted the canned-review, high-pressure sales techniques of TheLadders.

    Yesterday, one of my clients was the victim of a bogus and completely unfounded review from Jobfox. Interestingly, parts of the review were almost word-for-word identical to the canned reviews I’ve seen from TheLadders. Are Jobfox and TheLadders associated? Or, did Jobfox just happen to see an opportunity to capitalize on TheLadders scam? Of course, the review ended with a pitch to rewrite (for a fee) the resume that my company had just written for her.

    I’ve been conducting business on the web since 1996 and have worked with thousands of job seekers all over the world during that time. I have earned multiple resume writing and coaching credentials, including the NCRW, CPRW, CPBS, CCM, JCTC, and CEIP. I like to think I know a thing or two about writing resumes.

    My client gave me the name of the Jobfox reviewer. I looked her up on LinkedIn. She is a young woman with no experience or credentials in resume writing, career coaching, HR, recruiting, or any other related field. She earned her college degree just a few years ago, and before going to work as an “account manager/trainer” at Jobfox, she worked for a couple of years in the pharmaceutical industry as a trainer. Does this sound like a person qualified to rip apart a resume written by a professional?

    As Teena mentioned above, these companies are dishing out fear and playing on the insecurities of job seekers looking for work in a very competitive market. It’s unethical!

  40. Jason, I so agree.

    I’ve had several of my clients come back to me with so-called critiques. As others have said, I don’t think I’m perfect and am always willing to look at my work with fresh eyes, but the critiques were pathetic. What’s worse is that they shook the clients’ confidence at exactly the time when they should have been feeling good about their careers and the way they were represented on paper. My feelings don’t matter – but to catch people at such a vulnerable time and pray on their fears is just wrong.

    I have had 2 clients approach Blue Steps for a critique in the past and they were both told that their resumes were exceptional and didn’t need help. This has never happened with Ladders to my knowledge.

    It should be noted, however, that most resume writers (and indeed any service professional) will use some kind of template to respond to proposal requests. It doesn’t make sense to type the same introduction and the same ending every time you respond to a client. The difference is that most of us do review the resume carefully and provide valid criticism or suggestions. And even more importantly, the ethical among us turn away clients if we feel they do not need our help.

    Thanks for this post. It’s an important subject.

  41. Here’s an interesting sequel to my previous post. I followed up with a favorite client today. A very skilled, very personable Director of Operations employed with the same company and job role for about 15 years. Lots and lots of job responsibilities, and although we thoroughly examined his career, we faced limited achievements that we could not comfortably quantify. So, we pressed ahead.

    He submitted his resume for a free resume evaluation, and he was kind to forward it to me for review.

    I’m like Louise Fletcher. I almost always read the reviews because, heck, I have more to learn. I was pleasantly surprised, this critique actually had specific suggestions about the resume … (oh but don’t worry), it also had the same stock, basic information I’ve seen with countless others.

    I’m convinced however that the resume reviewer would have made different suggestions had she *actually* examined and factored the person’s background at length. But overall, I was slightly impressed the critique actually “said something.”

    What I did this time however, which I’ve never done before, was track down the gal who conducted the critique. A quick search in Google, and voila, I was taken to her LinkedIn page.

    I jokingly wrote in my blog a few weeks back how there are about 300 million so-called resume experts online today. Ahh, maybe I’m off by 100 or so. =]

    “This is how my resume looks, so everyone else’s should look the same.”

    Every jobseeker is different, and individual career issues change how we as professional writers plan and develop resumes … game-plan changes that an inexperienced resume reviewer cannot understand because of the limited (or lack of) resume-writing experience.

    Anyway, back to the reviewer. Three key notables about her background I’ll share:

    1. She has held 5 positions over the last 2.5 years; internships, none lasting longer than ~3 months, and the most recent may be an internship or a job-job … can’t tell =]

    2. She appears to have never professionally written resumes; no indication online or within her LinkedIn page

    3. She has been employed as a resume evaluator for about 8 months

    Listen, I’m not bashing that she’s new. I was new once too.

    But when I was green-behind-the-ears, I was smart enough to identify a professionally written resume. I was ethical, turning away business because prospects approached me with already great resumes. I was courteous and respectful of my colleagues, never stealing away business that wasn’t rightly mine. I was mindful when referring prospects to more experienced colleagues, knowing I didn’t have the experience to produce the high-end product the client deserved. I was sharp enough to charge prices that aligned with my skill level.

    My concern is and always will be the health of our industry; the value we as skilled, professional, ethical, and customer-driven resume professionals provide our clients, and how the influx of “resume mills/machines” are jeopardizing it. Maybe I’m too passionate about this subject. :/

  42. Teena,

    I second that. I am equally passionate about the health – and ethics – of our industry. And thank you for posting this information. Just like Michelle Dumas did the other day. It’s good to have specific examples of who these “reviewers” really are.

    Ilona Vanderwoude, MRW

  43. I have nothing to contribute to this discussion only to make a general comment that I’m surprised anyone would pay someone else hundreds of dollars to rewrite or help rewrite their resume. It’s clear that it really must be something that benefits those in higher salaried professions, because the average person seeking a job in today’s market is unemployed and struggling to pay things like their utility bills or car insurance. Asking one of them if they’d pay the equivalent of what they pay for rent each month on a resume would result in laughter.

    I can’t imagine that someone who can afford to do that would really be that “desperate”. The only desperation I’ve seen from people who can afford to shell out hundreds to even thousands of dollars on resources to invest in the future of their careers are people who already have great jobs but simply want an even better one. That to me isn’t desperate.

    Adults who have been unable to find work paying more than $8/hr since college graduation finding themselves being buried in loans and forced to move back in with their parents is desperate. Adults who have been unable to find work period are desperate. Adults who have been laid off out of the blue and don’t qualify for unemployment benefits are desperate. People who have no problem with paying almost a grand for a resume are not desperate.

    Odds are, if you were looking into The Ladders in the first place, you’re probably not hurting for money, which means you can afford the extra time it will take to look for better alternatives to improving your resume that don’t include shelling out cash to a website offering blanket critiques.

  44. Great discussion here everyone, thanks for the varying perspectives, experience, thoughts, etc.

    One thing I want to clarify – I’m not bashing The Ladders for their resume writing … not at all. I know people who write for them, and they are certified, with many years of experience, etc. These are people I’d send my family to for a resume. No worries there.

    My concern is the marketing and sales strategy of putting someone through training on how to make a resume sale, not on how to write a resume…. people who aren’t necessarily qualified to do a resume critique (from what I gather here in the comments), and replying with a canned, stock form-letter. That seems like a company is taking advantage of people who are scared and desperate, and ready to throw a few hundred bucks to make a problem go away.

    I’d love to see this resolved… it will take some process changes in this sales process, but it can easily be done.

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