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Is it ever ethical to charge the job seeker?

the ladders logoThere has been a spate of articles recently about TheLadders – specifically, how the site is a bad deal for job seekers. To wit:

when I see the new commercials for The Ladders, I want to puke on my shoes…the jobs on The Ladders can be found on sites like LinkUpMonster, and freakin Craigslist.       – Laurie Ruettimann

Or how about this?

What does TheLadders do to enhance anyone’s job hunting prospects — especially C-level executives? Virtually nothing, nada, zippo, zilch. This most flagrant faker among the job boards, which pretends to be exclusive and “$100k+”, is the source of hires less than 0.07% (yes, that’s percent) of the time, among employers polled. (Source: CareerXroads survey, p. 19)        – Nick Corcodilos

What’s the problem? Isn’t TheLadders (or, for that matter, JobFox) just like Monster or CareerBuilder?


Traditional job sites make most of their money by charging employers – for job postings, resume database access, site advertising, custom emails, and other types of services. In essence, they sell access to the job seeker. That’s why these sites spend a lot of time promoting and advertising themselves – they need the job seekers to keep their employers happy.

TheLadders and other ‘candidate-pay’ sites are different – they turn this revenue model on its head. They charge the job seekers to access the jobs and employers. Seems like a hard sell when the majority of sites offer job and employer access at no charge, right? The candidate-pay sites claim that their jobs are not available elsewhere. Sometimes they will offer additional services as part of the ‘membership’ fee. (Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t charge employers – they usually do, just not for job postings).

The ultimate ‘promise’ made by candidate-pay sites, then, is access – you’ll be able to reach jobs and employers that you simply can’t reach elsewhere.

So what is the case made against TheLadders by Nick and Laurie? Simple – false advertising. In fact, you can find most of the jobs elsewhere. Also, TheLadders makes an additional claim – ‘only $100K jobs’. As someone who has subscribed to the site in the past, I can tell you that – at least during that time period – this claim simply isn’t correct. I found numerous jobs under $100K (as has Nick and many others).

Enough about TheLadders. This raises a bigger question: is it ever ethical to charge the job seeker for access to jobs and employers?

Yes. If the site is truly offering something of real value to the job seeker, then I think it is reasonable to charge. Note my qualification: “something of real value”. For example, perhaps the site screens each job posting it allows on the site, verifying the company, offer, and qualifications. Or perhaps it provides a private forum where job seekers and employers can interact. Maybe the candidate gets discounts on insurance, services, and the like. What is offered will depend on the seeker audience.

As a job seeker, I have used sites that really did deliver value for the money I paid them. And, as I mentioned above, I have used sites that didn’t deliver value. I promptly cancelled the latter.

So, kudos to Laurie and Nick for telling job seekers about sites that don’t deliver on their promises. And kudos to the sites that do deliver on their promises.

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. I don’t see the logic to the business model, and I don’t understand how there is so much debate and flaming going on about it.
    To me the deal is very simple:
    Job boards like TheLadders are charging seekers a regular fee for access to their content.
    Should seekers actually succeed in gaining employment, chances are nearly guaranteed they are no longer going to be a revenue source for the board.
    Therefore, the board is NOT motivated to facilitate the seekers’ success.

    I challenge those that own job boards to show me a business model that profits from my success instead of my misfortune.

  2. I understand the frustration that many people feel regarding job boards that charge the job seeker/candidate as opposed to the job poster, however, sometimes this model is the best one to use. My site,, which is new and which only focuses on entry level jobs for recent graduates and requires that job posters adhere to VERY strict standards when posting jobs charges the job seeker. We do this because we spend a lot of time (and money) collecting data, sorting jobs and creating content specifically for our user base. Many of the jobs that are currently being posted to our site can not be found on other sites and even if they can the way we organize our data makes is MUCH easier for an entry level candidate to search for and apply to jobs that meet her unique experience level. In other words our content is valuable. As such we have attached a price to our product that we think equals its value. I am happy to entertain comments or answer questions about our model. Cheers – Sean

  3. @sean

    I run a new job matching website targeting the hospitality industry. Our biz model is primarily dependent on job seeker revenue. All users get a full access free trial to see if the site is right for them, then if they choose to continue $8.95 per month.

    Our service provides percentage matching results (resume compared to job requirements), an online resume they can use on other job boards, convenience of applying at home instead of door to door.

    Still, I get complaints and concerns from hiring managers, users, and potential investors.

    It makes me wonder if we need to take a different approach. Maybe always allow free access and up charge for other features. Or do we make the site highly exclusive taking only the best resumes that we verify, then charge employers more to access.

    What do you think?

  4. Trevor, It always comes down to value. If the job seeker really thinks they’re getting quality job matches, they’ll pay the money. I’ve seen it in a number of fields. But if they think they can do better by searching on their own, they won’t pay. That’s why most job boards rely on employers to pay – they can charge more, and the transaction is more straightforward.

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