staffing agency told me to pay for resume help before applying

A reader writes:

I just had a question regarding an email response I received after submitting my resume for a job posting I found through a job posting website. It turns out that the posting was from a job agency. The only requirement was to email him a copy of my resume. I did so, and received the following as a response:

“You have a lot of strong, relevant experience and are an excellent candidate although it would be best to improve your resume before doing anything with it. I can refer you to a resume writing expert that can improve your resume to the standard we are looking for and I believe he charges around $150 or so. Please let me know if I can forward your resume to the expert so you can get in contact with them. Once your resume has been improved please resubmit it ASAP.”

I’m not quite sure how to take this. Is this some sort of scam or is he being legitimate? Or could this “scam” actually have good merits?

I did research the agency, and they do seem legit, but they are definitely not one of the top ones here in Canada. Do you have any thoughts?


Unless your resume is really, truly terrible, in which case I suppose it’s possible that he’s trying to do you a favor. But I’d lean toward scam.

I then asked the reader if I could look at his resume, which leads to part 2 of the answer:

Okay, your resume isn’t great — but it’s “not great” in the way that most people’s resumes aren’t great; it’s certainly not horrific. Get rid of the objective, focus on achievements rather than job duties, and get rid of the “personal attributes” section where you list subjective traits — instead, show that you have those traits by listing accomplishments that demonstrate them.  (And read this recent post on improving your resume.)

But again, this looks like the majority of resumes out there. It’s not doing you any favors, but there’s nothing here that should cause a staffing agency to refuse to accept your resume until it’s professionally redone — because if that’s their standard, they’d need to be telling most applicants that. And while it would actually be fantastic if they were explaining to most applicants why their resumes were weak and giving them pointers on redoing them (because most people do need it), simply directing you to a paid resume consultant is too scammy to seem legit to me.

{ 36 comments… read them below }

  1. DA*

    I’m willing to bet that this ‘resume writing expert’ is actually someone at the same firm.

    Unfortunately, this firm probably gets a lot of people to pay this fee, so they just say this to everyone, regardless of how the resume actually looks.

  2. Construction HR*

    Reminds me of the project where the engineer assigned to do the drawings had them subcontracted out, to his own sideline firm.

    They spent $33M on a $27M project and it still wasn’t complete.

  3. Anonymous*

    In a similar vein – how common/unusual is it to be asked in for an informational interview after submitting a resume, because you have a great background but not necessarily for the job you applied for?

    1. TL*

      Extremely common, if a job agency is placing the ad. I’ve worked with a few staffing agencies already, and I don’t bother applying if the listing is placed by an agency. In my experience, they never have that specific position still open by the time you interview, and they seem to be more interested in getting people to register with their agency than in getting your resume in for that particular job. Unless it’s an ad for a very specialized or high-ranking position, they probably have a huge pool of applicants to pull from already.

      On the other hand, if it’s an agency you don’t mind working with anyway, it doesn’t always hurt to go ahead with the interview. I did get a few temporary jobs from some of those meetings (though not the jobs I thought I was interviewing for!), so it wasn’t always a waste. I don’t do it now, though, since I’m already in touch with several agencies and I’m looking for a regular job, not temp work.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        And if it’s not an agency but an actual employer — definitely worth going and talking to them. It’s not unheard of for employers to do that when someone seems promising but they don’t have exactly the right opening at this particular point in time.

  4. mel*

    I’m already sick of fake job postings and don’t really understand the point of them. Every time I apply to something on craigslist, I get the same email response back asking for my name and address and phone number. All that info isn’t personal and it’s readily available on the first email I sent out, so I don’t understand what these scammers are trying to accomplish.

    1. Construction HR*

      The think the internet was founded on fake jobs. I was involved in an active search 12 years ago & I swore then that most of the ‘jobs on Monster & Career Builder were placed there by recruiters gathering resumes for the day their client would want something similar.

      There was one job which looked like they developed the description from my resume, it was uncanny. I never heard a thing.

      1. SCW*

        It isn’t just fake jobs, but all kinds of fake postings–fake cars for sale, fake houses for sale, all kinds of stuff that makes looking for anything on the internet a challenge–heck it should say the internet was built on fake promises.

    2. Maria*

      To piggy back on this, as a result of all the scams, I hate that some presumably legit jobs on Craigslist don’t give a company name. I’m sure that, although high, they can’t ALL be scams, but given the number that are, do applicants a favor and identify yourself so we can be sure you’re not a scammer.

      1. Jane Doe*

        This is just dumb on their part, because it means the applicant is going to have a harder time tailoring their cover letter and resume to the position, and they’re going to get lots of applicants who maybe aren’t a good fit who could have self-selected out of the process entirely if they’d been able to research the company on its website.

        1. De Minimis*

          In fairness to some of these places, it’s been my experience that many of them are smaller companies that don’t have a dedicated HR person or many times even a website. They don’t give their identity in the ad because they don’t want to be inundated with calls, e-mails, to the point where it interferes with their business. During my recent stint as a job seeker I responded to several of these anonymous ads and found that many were legit opportunities.

          1. CH*

            My company often posts jobs (including the one I now have) without the name, and part of it is as you say–lack of dedicated HR staff. But I also think it is because they don’t want a good candidate to look at the name (think Center for X, Y, & Z where X, Y, & Z are a bit technical) and think ” I don’t know anything about that” while they might not need to. Specifically, I am an editor and when I started here more than 2 years ago, I knew nothing about the topic. (Now I have a little understanding of X and Y but I’m still hopelessly confused about Z!) But most would say I’m a valued member of the team.

      2. K.*

        A staffing agency I used to work with placed some of its ads on Craigslist – and they WERE legit, because I was hired for a few of those contract jobs. They were clear that they were a staffing agency (the ads would read “Our client, a major Chocolate Teapot factory, is looking for …”). They didn’t ONLY post their listings on Craigslist, though – in fact, nine times out of ten, I’d spot them there after I’d already applied for them through the agency’s website or had a recruiter reach out to me about them. I always felt like their posting on CL kind of cheapened the brand, because so much of what’s on CL is bull.

      3. Jamie*

        I understand the logic, but I also dislike not using a company’s name.

        Full disclosure – I found my current job (which is all too real) on Craigslist and there was no name listed – and it wasn’t through an agency.

        When I had to take over for HR for several months that was the first thing I changed – I listed the company name.

  5. TL*

    Sounds like a scam to me. I’ve worked with multiple staffing agencies, and have never, ever come across something like this. If I did, I’d run.

  6. Elizabeth West*

    Run like the wind.

    Once I went to an “employment agency,” back in the days when I was a stupid college student. I filled out an entire application, with all kinds of personal info on it (including my SS#–that was when you still wrote it on everything). The bleached blond old biddy who took my app then asked me for $1,000 for their “consultation” to get me a job.

    I was like “What!?” She insisted they had this fee for placement, which no one mentioned until she had my app in hand. Even at that tender age, I smelled a rat. I said no, I was not going to proceed, and loudly insisted she return my application. She said the form was their property. I yelled at her and she gave it back, and I tore it to bits right in front of her and took the pieces with me.

  7. Gmac*

    Sounds like a scam. I once had a similar experience with a reputable recruitment agency, they told me I was a strong candiate and I needed to pay £60 for my own criminal background check before they could put me forward for any roles! I turned it around on them and said that as such a strong candidate I’m sure they could pay the fee and I will reimburse them once they found me a position!

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Although, I have heard of non-scam instances where people are expected to pay for their own background checks. My mom had to pay money for fingerprinting (twice! because the first time *they* messed it up and didn’t get good enough prints) to work for the local school district.

      1. Jessica*

        This. I currently work at a school and have worked at others prior to this (public and private), and I’ve always had to pay for both my background check and my own fingerprinting (now they do that digitally at the courthouse, which is awesome!) I did work at one place (not a school) that paid for all employee background checks, but I’m not sure of the reason behind it.

        1. De Minimis*

          I had to pay for my fingerprinting for my initial background check after receiving a tentative offer from a federal agency.
          It was no fun, they used the old inkcards and I had to go to the county jail to get it done!

          I’ve also worked for a non-profit that did pay for all the background checks. My current employer does pay for subsequent background checks, but the initial one is on the applicant’s dime [although it was not that expensive, I think it was $20.] Depending on their job, federal employees usually have to undergo at least one other background check that takes place not long after they begin employment.

          1. Jessica*

            Oh, yeah! My first five or six times to get fingerprinted done when I first started teaching (and then subbing), I had to go to the county jail or sheriff’s office and get the ink card thing done. This last time that I had it done, I went to the county court house (attached to the jail and sheriff’s office in this county) expecting to come out with stained fingers again, but they had a digital scanner thing that they place your finger across and press it from side to side (like they do with the ink) as it scans across your print. If they messed up, it was simple to just delete the scan and re-scan that particular finger. No extra ink and no smudgy hands! I think people at my new job thought I was a little too excited about that, but I’d had it done so many times before that a different process that didn’t end with me trying to get the ink off with alcohol that night was a welcome change that made me happy about technological advances.

            The one job I had that paid for the background check was a home health care office. They paid for the check for everyone, including us office workers, but I think they paid for it because most of our workers were only making minimum wage, and at that rate, almost anything extra is a burden on an employee. We had a lot of applicants, because we also did not require them to buy a uniform.

    2. Natalie*

      As a volunteer, I’ve twice been required to pay for my own background check. It’s not much, but considering how many hours the average volunteer put in (at both places) it seemed like an especially penny-pinching move.

  8. Rana*

    Sounds like a scam to me, too.

    All the temp agencies I worked for handled placement by looking at my resume and assessing my skills themselves; their clients trusted them to choose temps appropriate for the task at hand, which was why they were using the staffing company instead of posting job listings themselves. If the agency needs a particular sort of resume in order to do their job, that’s an expense that should come out of their pocket, not yours.

    I’ve never seen a legit staffing agency that required any kind of financial investment on the part of their staff pool before placement; their money comes from their business clients, not from their pool. (Basically, the temps provided by the staffing service are the product, not the customer.)

  9. KarenT*

    Definite scam. (Or legit company with scamming employee.) If he was really a recruiter trying to fill a job he’d give you the critique himself or recommend a book or a website.

    I’d email the job site to tell them what happened. Some wont care, but the reputable sites don’t want to host those kinds of postings as it’s bad for their reputation.

  10. Erika Herzog*

    there is a great resource that METRO (Metropolitan New York Library Council) offers to its members. i used this paid service and it has been a great help for me. it’s 100% legit.

    and from:

    Career Services: To help myMETRO members make the best professional impression possible, METRO offers Career Services including a Resume Makeover service and a Mock Interview service. Each service is conducted by an experienced and qualified librarian. Both services are offered to members at the discounted price of $35 or as a package for $70. The Resume Makeover is conducted via email but the Mock Interview is in-person.

    *not affiliated with this at all. just happy with the service… :-)

  11. jesicka309*

    I am so sick of scam agencies. There are always ‘marketing jobs’ listed by this one agency, and I always get excited seeing the pay range and the category… then open the page to find it’s actually cold calling customers and the pay range was based on “all the commission you can earn at this job!”
    Ugh. That is not marketing. That is harrassing people.
    The fact that they repost this ad every week makes me think it’s not even a real job, just a lure to get people to sign on with them. :(

  12. Ry*

    Ugh, this is so mean. People don’t generally apply for jobs because they have money to burn. While scamming is generally awful, I think it’s a little bit worse to try to scam people out of money with the promise of getting them a job.

    I’m glad you questioned it and didn’t take them up on it.

  13. Victoria HR*

    Definitely a scam.

    I used to work at a staffing agency and we never posted a job unless we had a signed contract by a client. We didn’t usually post the client’s name because we didn’t want candidates making an end run around us and applying directly to the company.

    I never would have charged someone money for helping to revise their resume; I did it for free. Because a better resume presented better to the client, which made it more likely that they would interview/hire my candidate. If a candidate didn’t have the required experience or skills, I’d be straight and tell them so. I wouldn’t send them away to spend $$ to fix a resume that I had no intention of presenting.

    Dollars to doughnuts that agency gets a kickback from the resume expert.

  14. Helen*

    Anyone that read that content, BEWARE! I received the same words and CAD 145.00 on May 2014. It was addressed to the name I used as resume name, not to my actual name, which means he did not read my resume at all. I proposed him my career coach for CAD125.00, LOL. Reporting to the employment scam

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