Haldane not up to the job, say critics

"It is very carefully crafted," she says. "They are very good. They know you're in a vulnerable spot. They can pick on your Achilles heel. They home right in on your vulnerability and maximize it. They say: 'We only agree to work with one out of 10 clients.' "

JohnPerib.jpg

The Financial Post
January 21, 2002

Haldane not up to the job, say critics
Career-management firm: 'Hook, line and sinker, I fell for the beautiful picture'
Peter Kuitenbrouwer

In June, 2000, when John F. Preib walked into the London, Ont., offices of Bernard Haldane Associates, he was, literally, fresh off the boat: Retired after 20 years in the submarine force of the U.S. Navy, Mr. Preib, 42, had married, moved to Canada and needed help finding a new career.

Bernard Haldane, which calls itself the oldest and largest career-management company in North America, said it could help him. Mr. Preib paid them up front: $6,596.55.

"Hook, line and sinker, I fell for the beautiful picture that was painted to us during the sales pitch at BHA," Mr. Preib writes in a complaint about the company, filed this month with the Competition Bureau in Hull, Que. "I was told, 'Where do you think our bread and butter came from John, from the military … if we didn't think that we could help you we would not take you on as a BHA client.' "

Now, more than 18 months later, Mr. Preib (rhymes with "tribe") says he has yet to land a single job interview through Haldane. He has retained a lawyer, written to Haldane demanding a refund, filed a complaint with the federal Competition Bureau charging fraudulent misrepresentation of services, and added his tale to more than 100 complaints against Haldane that are posted on the Rip-Off Report, a Web site dedicated to tales of consumer woe.

Haldane, whose 95 offices worldwide include eight in Canada, has upset a number of its customers. Last
June, an investigator with the Alberta government's Consumer Affairs Branch began a probe of Haldane, based on six complaints. That investigation is ongoing. In the United States, several state attorneys-general have received complaints about Haldane; the attorney-general's office in Kansas told the Financial Post it is investigating close to 100 complaints against the firm, its second investigation of
Haldane.

Six Haldane customers in Canada told similar stories in interviews. Each says that after an initial meeting,
Haldane asked them to come back with their spouse. Each says Haldane promised access to key decision-makers. Each paid thousands of dollars up front. And each said the promised job leads did not materialize.

Haldane points to its longevity and its success, and insists that the vast majority of its customers are happy with the service.

"We see just under 20,000 clients a year and 99% are satisfied," Liz Vogel, Haldane's spokeswoman, said in an interview from New York. "We work very hard to please everyone. We've seen time and time again people meeting their goals using our job-hunting system." She said that system involves, "résumé preparation, interview skills, mock interviews and teaching people how to uncover leads for jobs."

To underline clients' satisfaction with Haldane's work, Ms. Vogel provided the Post with names of two clients in western Ontario to provide testimonials. One of them, Pam Stewart, did just the opposite. She said if she had to do it again, she would not hire Haldane.

"It's buyer beware," says Ms. Stewart, who landed a job recently — one she had applied for before she signed up with Haldane. "The canned sales pitch was very, very American. It was almost offensive. I was getting embarrassed. It's very clever. You know you're being taken but they almost seduce you."

John Preib, the son of two doctors, grew up in Paw Paw, Mich., and joined the U.S. Navy at age 18, straight out of high school. He rose to the rank of chief senior petty officer, in charge of everything from torpedoes to pistols on five nuclear submarines based in St. Marys, Ga. When he retired in 1999, he felt he would be a prime candidate for civilian employment. "I have a lot of supervisory experience," he says. "I was looking for a production supervisor position."

Mr. Preib had met his wife, Wendy, on the Internet. After a military wedding in Georgia, the pair moved to London, Ont., her hometown, in June, 1999. A year later, with his employment authorization in hand, Mr. Preib went to Haldane.

"Not only was I in a new country, but I knew nothing about working in the civilian sector," Mr. Preib writes in his complaint. He says the Haldane recruiter told him the firm had contacts with the best companies in the region, and asked him to come back with his wife for a second meeting. At the end of that meeting the recruiter left the room, and suggested Mr. Preib talk it over with his wife. The couple agreed to the service and Mr. Preib went to a Scotiabank in the lobby of the building and drew a cashier's cheque for
$6,596.55.

He says that so far the money has bought him a new résumé, a few books borrowed from the Haldane library and a list of names that he says have turned out to be useless.

"BHA preys on people who they know are in need, and in some cases, feeling pretty bad about themselves and their unemployment situation," he writes in the four-page complaint. "BHA meets prospective clients in a beautiful office space, presents a sales pitch that is purposefully fraudulent, paints a beautiful picture and makes unacceptable (and in my opinion, illegal) broken promises, leading to false hopes in many, many people's minds, including mine."

Last October, Mr. Preib posted a complaint against the company on the Rip-Off Report Web site.

Within hours, he says, his advisor called him — for the first time in seven months. The company offered him a 10% refund. He then hired an attorney; the refund offer, he says, immediately jumped to 25%. He says he wants $5,000.

Financial Post phoned the London office of Haldane to ask about Mr. Preib's complaint. The next day, a call came from Liz Vogel, a Haldane spokeswoman at the head office in New York. She said Haldane's chief executive, Jerold Weinger, had just opened a new Haldane office in Dubai, had then travelled to visit the firm's U.K. offices and was unavailable.

Commenting on Mr. Preib's case, Ms. Vogel says, "He did not call Haldane directly with his complaint. We found a posting on the Internet. As far as we knew, we had a satisfied client. We worked hard on his behalf. We feel we did a good job in helping with his job search."

Through a newspaper ad, Mr. Preib did land a job as a production supervisor at Beta Brands Ltd., which makes McCormick's crackers and Life Savers; he says he found the place disorganized, and quit.

- - -

Haldane has a long association with the military: In 1947, Dr. Bernard Haldane, a pioneer in career management, founded the company to help First World War veterans find work. Dr. Haldane retired in
1974. Jerold Weinger, a New York businessman, bought the company in 1989, when it counted 20 offices.

He began an aggressive expansion, selling Haldane franchises in the United States, Canada and the
United Kingdom. There are now 95 locations belonging to 25 business owners. Dr. Haldane, now 91, remains chairman emeritus.

Haldane opened its first Canadian office in Toronto in 1978; Burlington, Ont., London, Ottawa and
Montreal followed. In 1997, business partners Sherrin Sarsfield and Terry Bliss opened a Vancouver office. The pair opened an office in Calgary in 1999 and in Edmonton last year. Mr. Weinger is the main owner of the eastern Canadian offices, Ms. Vogel says.

Haldane promotes its services through newspaper ads as well as ads on the Internet.

Ms. Vogel says Haldane's typical clients are professionals and executives who have jobs and are looking to change careers. Those people receive help with résumé preparation, interview skills, mock interviews and referral interviews with other Haldane clients.

"Networking is fundamental to getting a job," Ms. Vogel says. "Referral meetings are key. You never know when a referral meeting will turn into a job interview."

As for the high price of the service, which can go up to US$20,000, she says: "We have 54 years of expertise. We have a strong track record. There's a depth and thoroughness. It's a three-year commitment: We're there for people when there's a performance review. And if they get laid off and have to resume their search, we're there."

- - -

Tony Santiago, 48, immigrated to the London, Ont., area from the Philippines this year. A mechanical engineer with an MBA, he says he met a Haldane representative at a job fair last May, and gave him a résumé. The representative called him and asked him to come in, first alone, then with his wife.

"The last thing they talked about was the fee," Mr. Santiago says. "When he mentioned it I was shocked.
'Wow,' I said, 'That's big money.' " When Mr. Santiago said he couldn't afford it, Haldane agreed to let him pay $3,000 down and write 10 post-dated cheques for $435 each.

But Mr. Santiago says he has received little for his money. "They polish up your résumé and you're pretty heated up, raring to go, and then you're supposed to strike out on your own. I said, 'Where's the interviews you were supposed to get me with the people who make the decisions?' And apparently it's just their clients." Mr. Santiago says in August he asked Haldane to stop cashing his cheques after he'd paid a total of $4,000.

"So I paid $4,000 for a souped-up résumé and how to do an interview?" he says now. "I know how to do an interview!"

He recently answered a newspaper ad and found a part-time job doing inventory work. He says he regrets paying any money to Haldane.

"After being in Canada a few months, I found out the skill centre for Human Resources Development Canada offers the same thing for free."

When asked about Mr. Santiago, Haldane faxed a series of recent chatty e-mail exchanges between its
London office and Mr. Santiago as proof he is happy with the firm's services. "We are opening doors for him with recruiters," Ms. Vogel says, "We have not had a single complaint from him."

When asked for someone who could tell a happy story about Haldane, the company provided two names.
One was out of town on business. The other, Pam Stewart, did return calls, but had less than a ringing endorsement for the company.

She grew up in Toronto and now lives in Grand Bend on Lake Huron. After 15 years with a chain of nursing homes in Ontario, she left for another job, which didn't work out; she then saw Haldane's ad in the newspaper.

In September she went in for an interview. "It is very carefully crafted," she says. "They are very good. They know you're in a vulnerable spot. They can pick on your Achilles heel. They home right in on your vulnerability and maximize it. They say: 'We only agree to work with one out of 10 clients.' " She said she wrote a test during the first interview, and the Haldane staffer then invited her back for a second interview. "You feel you're not a total dud," she says.

Ms. Stewart went back with her husband, a stock broker, and they agreed to pay $7,329.50 in
installments until August.

"I was assigned a career advisor, Linda Jack. She is a very nice lady. She is probably the redeeming factor. She's a really caring, genuine person."

A few weeks before going to see Haldane, Ms. Stewart says she'd applied for a management job in the health-care sector. Haldane helped her redo her résumé; she sent the new résumé to the employer she'd applied to earlier. They called her for an interview.

"It made me laugh when I walked in and there was my old résumé there. I thought, 'Oh, for God's sakes,
I just paid $7,000 for a résumé and they're not even using it.' "

She got the job, and starts in late January. But she insists, "Haldane are not responsible for me getting a job. In retrospect, I would go to a university career centre for half the money."

As for the company's famed list of contacts, she says, "I've been given three names of people to contact and I haven't heard a word back from any of them."

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