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Using recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies, when used effectively and as part of a wider search, can help you to find work. Unfortunately, just giving your CV to a number of agencies does not guarantee you interviews and job offers.

How do recruitment agencies operate?

  • Most agencies require applicants to register with them, either in person or online. With some, often the ‘good ones’, an interview in person or by telephone with a consultant at the agency may also be compulsory. Agencies should not charge you to use their services, as there is no obligation on their part to secure you a job.
  • Recruitment agencies primarily exist by earning commission for successfully filling vacancies they receive from employers.
  • An up-to-date CV is required and can be sent by email in most cases. Most agencies then place your CV on a database for review by recruitment consultants at the agency. When vacancies arise the recruitment consultant will search the database for suitable candidates, or place an advert in the recruitment media. The CVs are then filtered and the employer is sent a selection of the best CVs.
  • The usual recruitment procedures follow, and the recruitment consultant receives an agreed fee (often related to starting salary) from the employer when the role has been successfully filled.
  • Agencies should guide individuals and negotiate on their behalf throughout the selection process, as it is in their interests for the candidate to get the job (often at the highest salary), but they do not have to offer you careers advice - for this you should see your Careers Consultant.
  • The majority of agency websites also have a database of job opportunities for you to look through and you can proactively contact consultants about roles you feel are suitable.

Why do firms recruit through agencies?

  • To help with 'difficult to fill' vacancies. Many of these will be jobs for which very specific skills are required.
  • To take the hassle out of recruitment. An advertisement may result in many hundreds of applications. By using an agency to whittle down the number of applicants in the early stages of selection, a firm will save a lot of time, money and resources on the part of their administrators and managers. However the firm will still retain the decision as to who gets the job.
  • To take responsibility for casual staff. Many companies prefer the flexibility of using staff that are not contracted to their organisation. Some agencies will take full responsibility for every aspect of a temporary or contract worker's employment.
  • Access to a database of relevant candidates that can be presented to the employer quickly and cost- effectively.

How should I approach agencies?

  • Remember you need to create a positive impression from your very first telephone call, letter or visit. It is therefore very important to prepare yourself.
  • Make sure you are clear about the types of vacancies in which you are interested.
  • Get a clear picture of what types of vacancies the agency handles: if there is a mismatch between these and your own job ideas, you are wasting everyone's time.
  • Analyse why you would be suitable, and sell your skills and/or experience appropriately.
  • Supply the agency with a clear and concise targeted CV, matching their needs.
  • Follow your CV up with a telephone call and try to speak to the consultant who is dealing with your application.
  • Check that the agency will not send your CV to companies without letting you know first. It is very important to know to whom your CV is going, particularly if you are registered with a number of agencies that may be sending your CV to the same companies.
  • Be positive and enthusiastic.

Maximise your chances

Some agencies are very popular so you need to make yourself a priority for them. Here are some tips:

  • Establish a relationship with the agency by giving them as much relevant information about yourself as possible. Be honest about your skills and experience.
  • Contact them at regular intervals to remind them you are there and to find out if anything is available, but do not be pushy.
  • Try to be easy to contact. Make sure they can leave messages for you and that you return their calls.
  • Take up interviews unless you have a strong reason not to. This shows you are serious about wanting work.
  • If using an agency for temporary work, accept reasonable job offers. Even if they are not ideal, it gives you a chance to show the agency that you can meet employers’ needs. You can then move on to better jobs.

Different types of recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies vary enormously in the services that they provide and the way in which they function.

General agencies offering temporary jobs

  • These ‘high street’ agencies probably offer most to the new graduate who possesses some basic work skills but little work experience.
  • They can tend to specialise in clerical, secretarial and unskilled practical work. Although the jobs offered are often short term and routine, these can be useful for gaining experience, which might help you secure a more permanent, professional job in the future.
  • As you can only do one job at a time, industry advice is to register with two or three agencies only so that you are not constantly refusing assignments.

Graduate recruitment agencies

  • A number of agencies now specialise solely in the recruitment of graduates, often across all business sectors and industries.
  • They can offer either temporary or permanent work and work experience placements.

Agencies recruiting staff in specific fields

  • A very large proportion of agencies recruit for jobs within specific fields of employment such as computing, media, marketing, engineering, scientific, sales, accountancy, law and finance.
  • These agencies are often limited in the vacancies that they can offer to new graduates - they tend to be looking for people with several years' relevant work experience.
  • Some agencies can however find jobs for new graduates, particularly those from technical degrees with substantial work experience.
  • A large proportion of the graduates entering certain types of sales work - e.g. pharmaceutical, medical or media sales - are also recruited by agencies.

Agencies for contract staff

  • Certain specialist agencies in fields such as computing, construction, teaching, social work and nursing will manage all the employment arrangements of contract staff, including payment of salary.
  • These salaried services will often be organised for the contractors, who are usually experienced staff, and are self-employed.

Agencies combining recruitment with training

  • Some specialist agencies not only recruit new graduates for a number of clients but also manage the training of these recruits. This is an increasing phenomenon, particularly in the fields of IT, sales and accountancy. 

Search and selection/Headhunters

  • These work on behalf of companies to find individuals with the special qualities they require. They are often used to fill senior and highly skilled jobs at executive and senior managerial levels.

Recruitment agencies and the Internet

  • New sites are coming online all the time and some are aimed specifically at new graduates.
  • Internet agencies are generally cheap for employers, offer them a wide range of national and international candidates, and can be very quick to find suitable, usually computer-literate, candidates.
  • The online recruitment market is growing as more people job-hunt from home and are connected to the web. So it is crucial to differentiate yourself from the competition with targeted CVs.

How to decide which agencies to use?

  • There are a lot of them out there so be selective! Get a clear picture of what types of vacancies the agency handles if there is a mismatch between these and your own job ideas, then you are wasting everyone's time.
  • Another good way of identifying useful agencies is to look in newspapers, trade journals and careers service vacancy lists for advertisements placed by specialist agencies. Even if the particular vacancy you saw is not available, you could approach the agency to see if they can help you to find something suitable.
  • You can find links to agencies relating to your specific industry by visiting the Industry A-Z.