Get the best out of recruitment agencies (and avoid the worst)


One way to take some of the hard slog out of looking for work is to get someone else to do it for you! Many vacancies never find their way on to job sites and into the classifieds because employers prefer to use recruitment agencies to save time, money and bother finding candidates for them. Getting your name on the books of a decent agency could land you just the job you’re looking for, and it won’t cost you a penny. Here's how to get the best out of your agency. 

1. Don’t be pressured into jobs that aren’t right for you.

Recruitment agencies are in the business of filling vacancies, not looking after your long-term career prospects or offering unbiased careers advice. Remember they work for the employer paying their fee, not you. Some agents will have no hesitation in trying to talk you into a job that you feel is unsuitable. If they do, don’t feel under any obligation to take it. You’ve gone to them to help you find the right job, not the wrong one, and if they get stroppy then go elsewhere. There are plenty of other agencies to choose from. That said, it behoves them to fill each post with a willing applicant, so usually the interests of both sides can be naturally met.

2. Choose the right kind of agency for your field and level of work.

Employers will often do the same to narrow their search for the people they need. The Recruitment & Employment Confederation, which represents recruitment agencies across the UK, is a good place to start looking. You can filter results by region, sector and other search criteria. 

3. Register with multiple agencies… or not.

Quality or quantity? How many agencies should you register with? There are two schools of thought on this. One approach is to register with as many good agencies as you can find. Jobs are often placed with several agencies, but many are given to one exclusively and you don’t want to risk missing the right opportunity.

The other strategy is to go with no more than three or four agencies that specialise in your area of work and locality. Being on the books of lots of agencies might increase your chances of getting a great job, but it could just as easily see you inundated with unsuitable vacancies from commission-hungry consultants that are ultimately a waste of your time.  

Try registering with a few to get a feel for what working with a recruitment agency involves. Then, if the offers aren’t coming the way you want, you can always sign up to more. 

4. Know what you’re worth.

As well as the kind of work you want to do, be clear in your own mind at the outset about the minimum salary you’re prepared to accept. Don’t be persuaded to go below your bottom line (if you're not sure how much that is, see our blog on negotiating salary).

If you are thinking of working for a temp agency, be sure you know how much you’ll be getting for a job before you sign on the dotted line. The employer often pays the employee’s wages to the agency, which then passes on an agreed rate to the worker, keeping a percentage for themselves.

5. Don’t pay a penny.

As mentioned, the employer pays the agency (typically a percentage commission on the successful recruited applicant’s starting salary). The process costs you nothing. No above-board agency should ever ask you for payment. Ever. If they do, go elsewhere.

Write the CV you want employers to see.

If your agency suggests amendments to your CV, only make changes that you are completely happy with. It’s your CV and your career. If you think your CV could do with an overhaul, see our earlier blog on getting your CV right

6. Keep the agency updated.

Once you’ve registered with an agency, keep them updated on developments in your skills, experience and achievements that make you more attractive to employers so that they can add them to your file. And stay on their back. It can be easy for an agency to forget about you, so make sure you have a named contact and keep calling them on a weekly basis to see what’s happening. This will keep you at the forefront of their minds and maybe even get them actively looking for a position for you.

7. Keep pursuing other jobhunting avenues.

Recruitment agencies are just one part of the mix when it comes to looking for work, and there are countless other jobs out there, one of which could have your name on it. So while you leave agencies to do some of your jobhunting for you, be sure to pursue other leads, particularly through public job ads and websites and word-of-mouth.  


More advice and information about Recruitment Agencies and jobhunting in general.