Climbing All Over TheLadders

Posted By on Feb 1, 2011

Last week I was invited to New York to participate in an earthbound Gods of Recruiting mega-panel-roundtable-fireside-chat-student-teacher-conference-pundit lovefest. Entitled the “Position Accomplished Summit”, the event was hosted by the controversial firm TheLadders at the trendy Standard Hotel in Manhattan. Attendees represented the Who’s Available of the market, including the three wise men of Sumser, Wheeler and Crispin (who I once called “Thor” during the meeting) as well as star-studded deities such as David Manaster of ERE and nearly a full fist (one finger short) from the FOT crowd.

Although initially reluctant to attend this event based upon the highly vocal and visceral hatred expressed by my respected colleagues (examples here and here), I decided to see things for myself. In the interest of gathering some market intel prior to attendance, 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.

With this information safely tucked into my carryon luggage I managed to land between snowstorms and make my way to the Summit. Full disclosure – TheLadders paid for my flight, my hotel, ground transportation, meals and (at least 20+) drinks during the Summit. However, as anyone who attended can attest, you can rest assured that this didn’t deter me from persistently seeking answers to our collective questions, including:

  • You claim over 4M members – how many of them are paying?” (Can’t comment because they’re privately held)
  • What’s the ratio of individual career support staff to paying members? Are you staffed to truly offer 1×1 support?” (Can’t or won’t comment… I asked this one at least ten times)
  • How many people have found jobs as a result of their membership?” (They honestly don’t know and are trying to determine how to get this number… it may take 12 months to baseline)
  • I had over 800 comments on TheLadders from my network and not one of them was positive. Why do you think that is?” (They didn’t really know how to react to this information)
  • What metrics, if any, can you share with us?” (They’re still figuring out what they can/will share and will get back to us)

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicIn fact, after coming down especially hard on TheLadders during an episode of HR Happy Hour recorded live from their conference room, I joked that I would likely be put in the corner during dinner. I think it was just a funny coincidence, but sure enough, I was. :)

But let me make one thing perfectly clear – these are not nefarious people bathing in greenbacks trying to figure out how to overtly screw the unsuspecting jobseeker. Instead, I sense an organization that’s truly struggling to understand why people are so angry with them and why they are being held to what they perceive to be a higher standard than their competitors. They are clearly passionate about what they’re doing and have a staff of over 400 cranking away on a daily basis. So what’s the big deal?

The answer, of course, is quite simple. They charge jobseekers where others do not. Fellow Summit attendee Jessica Lee recently asked her readers whether jobseekers should ever have to pay. It’s a good question and I tend to say no. Where I could possibly be persuaded to think otherwise is if candidates were securing jobs at a significantly higher rate over unpaid services. That’s the one key metric that counts – if I come and pay, will you give me a competitive advantage that helps me find a job faster – period. Thus, the onus is on providers like TheLadders to provide metrics that shut people like me up once and for all.

And yes, I do hold them to a higher standard because I don’t like the idea of being incented to pay for an annual fee for a transaction that should take the shortest amount of time possible. Plus, I’m not a fan of their recent commercials and don’t think that six figure jobseekers will find TheLadders more appealing by imaging themselves slithering over tables or python wrapped in cabling. This latest behind-the-scenes footage would be so much more compelling if each person could simply say, “I found a job.”

Although I’m sitting on about twenty posts worth of content from the event, I wanted to give you a first look into my time with their team. This is a motivated and well funded organization that has an opportunity to significantly impact the industry if they would just get out of their own way and face their demons. I liked the people I met. I don’t wish them ill-will but instead hope they settle into a model that either eliminates the jobseeker fee or clearly demonstrates a measurable ROI in jobs placed. Until that happens they will continue to be vilified and forced to defend their actions, an unfortunate reality that distracts from an otherwise interesting organization with tremendous potential.


  1. This paragraph is gold:

    “Fellow Summit attendee Jessica Lee recently asked her readers whether jobseekers should ever have to pay. It’s a good question and I tend to say no. Where I could possibly be persuaded to think otherwise is if candidates were securing jobs at a significantly higher rate over unpaid services. That’s the one key metric that counts – if I come and pay, will you give me a competitive advantage that helps me find a job faster – period. Thus, the onus is on providers like TheLadders to provide metrics that shut people like me up once and for all.”

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  2. I recommend to anyone who sees a job they are interested in on TheLadders, to just do a Google Search for it. 95% of the positions listed invariably come up on other job boards… with an “Apply” method.

    Save your money and Happy Searching!!

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    • I know it’s a rarity so thanks for the comment Larry. Many of the reviews I’ve read come to the same conclusion so I appreciate the advice.

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  3. And how about organizations which — except for the three-headed God — pay the expenses for bloggers to attend simply to generate buzz about their events.

    If anyone is still having the argument of bloggers vs. journalists, this practice (hardly confined to The Ladders) ends the argument right there. Journalists only sell their words to their publisher, not to their subjects.

    Though I was delighted to see in your case, Mark, they got a really rotten deal.

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    • Those damn bloggers are ruining everything Bill. Although it was interested to note that approximately 50% of “professional bloggers” (defined as those generating revenue) surveyed by Technorati come from a traditional journalism background. Fox. Guards. Henhouse. It’s all so confounding.

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    • Bah. Bill. Cheapskate.

      I don’t think it ends there. You’ve been to Vegas and have been asked to see a time-share presentation, right? Then they give you a room for free? That’s what this was…

      I advise event planners in a very simple way. I believe bloggers at a conference should be part of your social media marketing campaign.

      I tell them — if you want journalists, do something newsworthy. (Good luck with that at an HR event.)

      - If you want exposure, create a social, digital, and traditional media/ad/marketing campaign.
      - If you want inconsistent coverage just for the buzz, pay or don’t pay a blogger — but you have no control over the message, the brand, or the use of your logo.

      Thank god (for us) they invited Mark. They could’ve invited someone who doesn’t know how to write, has a poor attitude, or someone with an axe to grind. :)

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  4. “How many people have found jobs as a result of their membership?” (They honestly don’t know and are trying to determine how to get this number…

    Doesn’t it strike anyone that none of the job boards offer any metrics whatsoever about their success rates? Monster claims to have “semantic processing algorithms” to find “meaning” in resumes and job listings. But the rocket scientists creating these algorithms can’t come up with a way to estimate success rates for job hunters and employers?

    Er… ah… I think that was a brain fart. Sorry about that.

    “What metrics, if any, can you share with us?” (They’re still figuring out what they can/will share and will get back to us)

    Oops… you had one, too. There are many historical examples of crooked rackets whose talented employees really, really believed the Kool-Aid was an elixir. Enron comes to mind. So many of them went to jail anyway.

    My favorite part of your story: They paid you to get the story. They paid the rest to keep quiet. Ain’t it something, how so much of the career industry is flat-out corrupt?

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    • It’s funny because we did discuss the fact that none of the job boards offer success metrics. I agree that it doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable thing to capture and publish. But then again, I’m known for looking crazy for asking simple questions.

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  5. Metrics in general are hard to come by. Unless a job board takes the proactive step of surveying their user base after X period of time. Not sure will it be in the business’ interest, what do you think?

    TheLadders does publish a decent collection of success stories: though it’ll be interesting to find out the date those testimonials were published. Boom vs bust behavior.

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    • I agree that this may be challenged Charles, but I do think that success metrics are absolutely in the business’ interest. Imagine you could read fully transparent data on jobs placed while you’re assessing which service you’d like to leverage – if, in fact, you had strong placement metrics it would absolutely be a competitive differentiator.

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  6. @Charles: With all due respect, please pardon me for LMAO. Are you serious? “Unless a job board takes the proactive step?” THAT is the problem. Job boards don’t take that step, because the metrics suck, and they know it.

    “Not sure will it be in the business’ interest?”

    Now you’ve got it. Metrics would certainly not be in TheLadders’ interest. As for that “decent collection of success stories,” I’ll put my collection of Ladders’ customer complaints up, along with Mark’s, and we’ll see how the metrics come out.

    The number of apologists for the big job boards just makes me… LMAO.

    Wishful thinking vs. fraudulent behavior.

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  7. I think you’re spot on when you say that they have to provide the metrics/ROI where others do not because they are claiming (by way of charging job seekers) a faster/better success rate. Otherwise, it is just a filtered search that, as Larry says, could be easily circumvented.

    Also, remind me always to attend HR Happy Hour if I’m being talked about :)

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  8. Give a half-wit a gun and he’ll shoot himself in the marketplace foot…

    For a company that’s so creative with their marketing communications, I continue to be surprised that they just refuse to substantiate their business claims or refute their critics, and that they think by bringing industry demi-gods to their table, that will change perception.

    Whether your paying for industry pundits or being interviewed by HRE, if you’re not making the valid business cases, then you’re a half-wit shooting yourself in the marketplace foot.


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    • Thanks Kevin. My sense is that they consider their critics to be outliers and (like any consumer business) aren’t necessarily worth acknowledging or refuting. And if their actual paid subscription numbers continue to grow despite the saber rattling, I can sort of understand their position.

      Re: “paying for industry pundits”, I do want to clarity a possible misconception relative to this event. Yes, they paid for T&E for all of us to attend, but not one “pundit” received an additional honorarium or consulting fee for their time. I understand that some may find this abhorrent or even unethical, but as you know this is really the minimum standard for securing analysts and influencers to your venue.

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  9. I need to look no further than the absolute TRASH I see on my TV. Their commercials of half-dressed men crawling over each other are beyond “edgy”. They are just plain sickening. I’m surprised Ron Jeremy isn’t in them.

    Perhaps it’s just that I live in Indiana. The soft porn/ gay porn ads don’t appeal to me…..or my kids who have now been subject to them several times while watching college basketball on a Saturday afternoon.

    Is it just me? Am I not quite hip enough to understand the sheer genius of their strategy? I certainly hope there are a few more recruiting professionals like me out here who view ourselves in a better light than they do.

    And I don’t care if their service works or not. I am making this judgment based purely on their (lack of) values and professional standards. The fact that they do indeed suck is a bonus.

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    • Thanks for your comment Jerry. Kris Dunn discussed this same issue re: his children’s exposure on the episode of HR Happy Hour we recorded from TheLadders’ conference room. I agree that this isn’t helping to ingratiate TheLadders with recruiters and HR professionals who may have to defend their organization’s possible brand association with this questionable ad strategy.

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  10. Mark, terrific post and insight into this event. As I was watching the tweets from the summit, I couldn’t help but wonder what the tone and tenor of the room was, and even more importantly, what the goal of the event was. Thanks for sharing this.

    This was a particularly interesting read as i picked it up after seeing the negative commentary on the Ladders new commercial spots in recent days. Reading your comments, it seems even more odd that this organization, so focused on understanding the mood of the market, would launch this type of campaign. It really seems that they don’t really understand that their most valuable market is the employers- regardless of how much money the make from the job seekers. If employers don’t utilize their services, and ultimately hire their members, there is no value to anyone.

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    • Thanks for the comments Jason. I’m glad you mentioned “tone and tenor” because the room was actually quite polite and orderly. TheLadders had organized the day as a series of facilitated discussions with each section kicking off with a few prepared slides by our hosts. My fellow attendees did a decent job focusing on the content but there were often questions we had surrounding the context of our discussion.

      Re: the market, I agree that there is a much higher revenue generation opportunity to be made on the employer side. I suspect that if we were given access to TheLadders P&L right now, we’d see that their distribution is largely employer-centric today anyhow.

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  11. Great work Mark,

    This is the conversation we ought to be having as we sort out technology, commercial models, and transparency in the talent markets.

    Thank You.

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  12. Some observations: There must be a lot of bloggers and HR people who don’t get invited to travel at company expense to have made this trek to NY in rotten weather. Mark indicates curiosity and did more research prior to but did not get questions answered. Congrats on not drinking the cool aid,however, reviewing multiple reports from multiple bloggers, it seems everybody came away being sold by the “puppy dog”close. “we know we are peeing on the floor, really, really we are trying and want you to love us”

    Perhaps it was some interesting damage control by some pretty slick PR types. If you can’t justify the product or answer the questions..simply sell ,em sincerity over a steak.

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned what I think is the subliminal message being conveyed by their disgusting commercial. It seems to me to be directed toward a demographic that includes those who have a more difficult time finding top positions. All the sexual rubbing aside(gag) take a hard look at the models they used, unattractive, overweight, gay, minority, cross dresser. Seems to me that the message is, “The Ladders can make you irresistible when it’s a challenge. Insulting or certainly should be. To everyone.

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    • My love of Kool Aid aside, I’m not sure if participants were really taken by the “puppy dog” close. That would have required a Sarah McLachlan voiced ASPCA-like pitch (which I can’t imagine TheLadders pulling off). That being said, the questions remain open and the lack of a candid and clear response to seemingly straightforward metrics is an ongoing concern of mine (and others).

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  13. Sandra, I think the commercial is the convergence of Ladders’ problems about image and reality. The image is low-class. And the reality, demonstrated by the complaints of legit $100k+ job hunters, is that Ladders’ jobs are sub-$100k. The commercial is no joke. It’s not a play on image. I believe the commercial is INTENDED to play to lower-salary job hunters who really think they’re paying for access to what they believe are $100k+ jobs — but who will be quite happy with the $50k-$75k jobs that Ladders actually has in its database. But you’re right: Everyone gets insulted. It’s an act of desperation by a company that has no credibility in the salary range it pretends to serve — so it’s going after the wannabes.

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  14. Nick i think you are very correct. 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. Apparently they never take down job postings either and may be board scraping for resumes as well as jobs.

    I tell candidates to stay away from that them the commercial is a comment on their business practices in my opinion and my experience.

    I mystery shopped them once and the result was pretty funny. Took the resume of a well known CFO for a fortune one company, changed the name and company names and did the trial. “Sabrina” got a call from some kid who went on at length about how her resume would never get her a 100K job. “Sabrina informed junior that she already made over 500K so she was probably in the wrong place and cancelled her Ladders trial.

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  15. I paid for the ladders in the past. Heck, I was unemployed and it did not cost that much.. Of course once I was gainfully employed again, why would I need it? With LinkedIn, it may not be worth it anymore…. It seems as if everyone I know professionally is on linkedin and that is where the recruiters are…

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  16. 800 messages in less than two weeks is certainly going some. It seems there is not a lot of love out there.

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  17. Thanks for the update Nick. I certainly don’t harbor ill will toward these folks but can’t say I’m surprised that this has occurred given the outcry we’ve collectively been privy to over the past few years.

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