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Our applicant was unable to access TCM International's database, but if it's anything like the database the office used under the Bernard Haldane name, she was wise not to cut them a check.
That database, Career Services 2000, was, in part, a list of job openings posted by recruiting firms. Several firms told the Pressthat those jobs were not exclusively posted on that database, and were available on free sites like Monster.com.
Along with providing access to jobs clients could find for free, Career Services 2000 offered a section on "The Birth of the Internet" and a tutorial called "The World Wide What?" The latter was a black-and-white drawing of a computer, external modem, telephone and telephone jack, with helpful captions like "You need a modem. The modem allows the personal computer to make a connection to the Internet through common phone lines." But perhaps the most helpful tool was Career Services 2000's link to "Internet Smileys," a list of emoticons categorized as "Basic Smileys," "Mega Smileys," "Midget Smileys" and so forth. With this link, the client could now determine the difference between "bucktoothed vampire" (:-E) and "bucktoothed vampire with one tooth missing" (:-F).
One former employee, who worked under McClure in Bernard Haldane's San Diego office, says he left over concerns about salespeople guaranteeing jobs. (He asked not to be named, so we'll call him Sam.) As a counselor, Sam tended to the clients after the sales staffers got their money. He was supposed to help clients market themselves, improve their résumés, sharpen interview techniques and so forth. But, he says, his clients complained that he wasn't getting them the jobs they were guaranteed.
Sam says he told McClure about the problem. He says McClure promised to fix it but never did.
"I left without having another job, because I wasn't going to work for such people," Sam says from San Diego. "To me, that's how bad it was. You give up a full-time job because you just can't take another day of these clients coming in, talking about 'What are you doing for me?' That was a lot of pressure on me, when that wasn't part of my job. It was pressure on the other counselors, too. Like we're supposed to pick up a phone and call the CEO of a major corporation and line up a personal interview for these people."
Meanwhile, back in Dallas, Dirk Spencer wasn't taking similar bait.
Two years ago, Spencer followed an online posting for an analyst position that led him directly to Bernard Haldane Associates. There, he says, he met the über-salesman.
"He looks like the thin, tennis-tanned guy with the perfect teeth," Spencer says from Dallas. "Not bad caps. I mean perfect teeth. Angled features, flawless skin you could tell why he was in sales."
The salesman proceeded to butter Spencer up, praising his résumé and saying that he'd be a perfect fit for Haldane. Then came the pitch.
Spencer says the salesman pulled out a sheet of paper and told him, " 'For about six K, I think we could work something out for you.' And I'm thinking, 'No shit. For six K, I could work something out, too. I could buy a billboard.' "
He continues: "So I'm sitting there with my jaw hanging open, and I realize the reason he's been powdering my ass the whole conversation is he had to ask me for six grand. And the last time anybody's powdered me that much, I was wearing diapers."
Unwilling to fork over $6,000 without more assurance, Spencer says, he asked the salesman to prove that he really had the contacts he said he had: " 'For 6,000, who are you going to talk to on my behalf?' The answer was 'We have various industry contacts around the metroplex' or something like that."
He adds: "When it happened, I was so pissed, I could've bent steel you feel like a stupid-ass for showing up to what you thought was a job posting."
Therein lies the key ingredient to Haldane's success: the Stupid-Ass Factor.
Out of ten or so Haldane complainants we contacted, only two agreed to talk to us on the record. In their written complaints to Haldane filed with the BBB, the clients displayed agony and anger, and in several cases threatened to contact the media if they didn't get a refund. But when all was said and done, Haldane bought them off on the cheap, and the combo of the confidentiality agreement and the Stupid-Ass Factor kept them from sharing their experiences. As long as they got one or two grand back, they were perfectly content to let other people get screwed.
One thing that might have helped in Houston is if local and state authorities had taken an interest in Haldane's mounting complaints.
The closest they came was in 2001, when Harris County ADA Russel Turbeville wrote McClure a letter in response to a complaint his office had received.
"Please provide me with a written explanation of what services your company has actually provided [for the complainant] and why he is not entitled to a full or substantial refund," the letter stated. "Also, please provide me with full contact information on at least ten similar clients you have assisted in the last ten months who have had satisfactory experiences with your company, and information on any bond you hold as a licensed career counselor under the laws of the State of Texas."