When faced with a rough market, stiff competition, or a search that’s been going on for months, many job seekers are looking for creative ways to get leads on potential gigs.

And one of those approaches is using paid job sites like the Ladders, LinkedIn Premium, and FlexJobs. These companies claim to give an edge in a competitive market, either by weeding out the majority of positions from their listings so you can focus only on the ones that are right for you, getting your resume in front of recruiters, or offering personalized job search guidance and tips.

But are they worth it?

The job seekers I’ve talked to give mixed reviews. Thomas Power, a telecommunications networking professional, put his resume on the Ladders “just to see what was out there.” Within a week, he was approached by six different companies asking him for an interview. In addition, he received customized emails with job openings specifically focused in the industry and geographic areas that he preferred. And the jobs were with companies like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Board Head, and other Fortune 500s—companies that aren’t listing their jobs on Craigslist.

On the other hand, Mariya, who has a Master’s Degree in Life Sciences and is currently an MBA student, hasn’t seen a benefit to paying the membership fee. “I guess it all depends on how specialized you are,” she says. “They’re often more concerned with executive and high tech searches.”

But are they right for you? Here are a few things to keep in mind. First, many jobs that are found on pay-for-listing sites are also available at no cost on company websites or freely accessible job search engine sites. Yes, a paid site might help you see the jobs you want more quickly, but if a company is earnestly recruiting for an open position, it’s unlikely that it will limit its postings to one listing service.

Next, make sure you know what you’re getting before giving your credit card number away. Talk to someone you know who’s a member (ideally someone in your industry and at your level), and ask them about their experience. How many leads, interviews, and job offers have they received? What has been helpful, and what hasn’t?

Then, when looking through the company’s website, keep the following questions in mind:

  • What specifically does the company offer you? Is it access to job listings only, or will it provide you with connections or introductions to hiring managers?
  • What are the charges, and what do they cover? Will you have unlimited access to listings and information, or will you be limited to a certain number of matches a month?
  • When do you pay? If you pay up front, is there an easy money-back guarantee? Or do you pay once you’ve found a position? How do you cancel the service if you no longer need it? Is it possible to sign up for a trial period?
  • If your resume will be posted for recruiters to see, how do you ensure that it will be viewed by the companies that are the best fit for you? Also consider what kind of control you have over what information they see. If you’re not public with your job search, you may not want your name or personal information readily available online.
  • What supplementary services are available? Some sites also offer resume critiquing or career coaching, which might make it a more valuable investment. (It also might be annoying—Mariya said that she was hit up for the Ladders’ resume writing service “pretty aggressively.”)
  • Personally, I don’t think paid job listings are worth it, but I can see why they’re a valuable investment for some. And if it’s worth the cost for you, go for it. But don’t rely solely on paid listings. If there are specific companies you’re interested in, take a look at their websites to see what they have listed, or connect with them on LinkedIn (or The Muse!). Services like Indeed and Simply Hired browse company websites for unadvertised positions and publish them for free, so it’s good to include them in your search as well.

    And (of course I have to say it), if you’re really serious about your job search, step away from the job boards. Attend industry events, ask people for informational interviews, and put yourself out there. It’s definitely not as easy as browsing open positions from the comfort of your couch, but connecting with and expanding your personal contacts will make you open to opportunities that aren’t listed on any site.

    Tell us! Have you tried a paid job search site? Was it worth it? Share your experience in the comments section!

    Photo of woman at desk courtesy of Shutterstock.

    Updated 6/19/2020