The interview with the CEO of a downtown Minneapolis headhunting firm began in rather typical fashion. Questions about my resume. My skills. My hopes. My dreams.But it ended rather atypically: with a sales pitch that included him asking me for money to proceed. Lots of it.
He was a smooth talker, a real salesman in fact. After a perfunctory perusal of my resume and a query into what I was doing at the time (in hindsight this was an obvious effort to determine my ability to pay), he said what he really wanted to do was put me through a mock interview. After all, the positions he might have for me were very senior, and he needed to assess my suitability, particularly with respect to the interviewing process itself. So he said we were going to do a little role playing, that I was to act as if he was the head of HR at one of these companies and I was a candidate.
So he said we were going to do a little role playing, that I was to act as if he was the head of HR at one of these companies and I was a candidate.
I thought it kind of strange, and a little unsettling, that as we started the interview he then proceeded to type every word I said, hammering away on the keyboard like a mad court reporter.
Thinking on my feet and telling stories is a skill I have developed after spearheading thousands of TV news stories, many of them live, and conducting about 6,000 interviews. I also know how to speak in soundbites. But Trimble looked at his computer monitor disapprovingly.
“How well do you think you did?” he said in a tone that gave me a strong indication of how he thought I did.
“Pretty good,” came my response. “Do you know how many words you spoke?” he said next.
I didn’t know the answer. Have you ever talked out loud for 20 minutes, captured every word in a document and then looked at the word count? I hadn’t, and so didn’t have any basis for comparison when he gave me the number.
“I think you have potential. I would like to send you out to interview for some of these positions, but you’re just not ready. It won’t do either of us any good until you are,” Trimble said. “And oh by the way, we have never failed to place a candidate who is using our assistance.”
“So what is that going to take?” I asked anxiously.
“Videotaped interview training, a resume makeover and proprietary access to these high paying jobs might run into the thousands of dollars,” he said. That wouldn’t be a problem, he continued, as I could soon get the money back through a signing bonus or the high salary of the job.
Trimble also said if I had my credit card with me he could get me on the schedule right away and we could get the process started.
When I told him I would at the very least have to involve my wife before making such a financial commitment, Trimble said, perfect, on my way out I could make an appointment for both my wife and me to come back in.
But I began to have second thoughts. So I called and canceled the appointment. All told, I had only given them an hour or so of my time.
Others were not so lucky, as I found out when the Minneapolis StarTribune later ran a story on the company after it had shut down.
“I think they were preying on middle- to high-level executives who were at their weakest moment,” Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota told the newspaper at the time of the story. She added that many people were embarrassed to even file a report, and that the company flew under the BBB’s radar for a long time by resolving complaints right away, often by paying out a settlement.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office later sued now-defunct Arthur Group Inc. and its owner and CEO Barry Trimble, claiming it misled clients who paid thousands of dollars for its services.
Prosecutors allege they deceived customers who paid up to $4,500 for assistance in finding a job. Those who signed up had little to show for it when The Arthur Group shut down its Web site and closed its doors.
“It is unconscionable for a company to take advantage of people’s understandable trepidation about being out of work by charging them hefty fees but giving them little help,” Attorney General Swanson said in a news release at the time of the filing.
It has been a long time since I thought of this close encounter. This was a Staffing Scam with two capital S’s, and it even comes up when you google it. I guess not everyone in the industry has scruples.