How recruitment agencies work - and how to make them work for you

Home How recruitment agencies work - and how to make them work for you
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3 Jul 2019
For job-seekers

Our job is often a major part of our identity; reflecting and amplifying our personality, values, goals and lifestyle. It’s why ‘So what do you do?’ is one of the first questions we ask when meeting new people. Many people will spend more waking time in the office than at home and see their colleagues more than their friends and families! So choosing where, when and how we work (and how much we want to earn from doing it) are some of the most important life decisions we can make.

In the modern digital world, there are an overwhelming number of ways and places to look for a new job, but one of the most common and effective (if done right) is to work with a recruitment agency.

Here’s our quick guide to what an agency is and how you can get the best from them in your job search.

What is a recruitment agency?

Typically, a recruitment agency is chosen by a company to help their HR team (if they have one) recruit to a job vacancy. Companies might work with just one agency, or they might ask for help with their recruitment from several.

Some agencies are specialist (for example, they might only deal with engineering, teaching or marketing jobs), but many will be generalist – meaning they help companies from all different sectors. Some will be part of a large nation-wide chain, others will be small, independent agencies working in their local area.

The agency will work with the hiring company (often referred to as their client) to understand the requirements of the role and the type of person they are looking for, as well as the hours, salary and other important information. It is then their task to find the right person for the job.

How do they work?

Recruitment agencies will have a team of consultants (the number will depend on the size of their company) who specialise in matching people to roles – a bit like a dating agency for jobs! Jobs can be offered on a temporary, permanent or contract basis (we explain the differences below) and agencies will usually have consultants assigned to each type.

Advertising the job

Once a new vacancy is given to the agency by a hiring company, the consultants will start to look for the right person (this process is called ‘sourcing’ or ‘searching’). They will check the agency’s database of registered people looking for work to see if there is a match, and they will post an advert for the job online to attract applications from suitable candidates. Each agency will post their job adverts in different places online, but some of the most popular job boards include Indeed, CV-Library and Reed. Direct employers (companies who are recruiting without using an agency) will also post jobs on these boards.

Many job-seekers will register directly with one or more of these job boards and upload their CV there so that direct employers and recruitment agencies can look through the database of CVs and contact anyone they think might be a good fit for the role. You will probably also see job adverts on a recruitment agency’s website and social media channels.

Helping the candidate apply for the role

Once they have found a suitable candidate (whether through their website, job boards, agency database, social media or word of mouth), the recruitment agency will get in touch to discuss the vacancy and see if the person is interested in applying for the role. Good recruitment agencies will then want to meet with you in person or over a video call to get to know you and to understand more about your job search. These meetings are also important for candidates to meet the consultant representing them at the agency and to ask any questions they might have about the process.

Your consultant will work with you to ensure your CV is accurate, well laid out and contains all the information a company will want to see. They will make the application to the company on your behalf, highlighting your skills and suitability for the role. The next step would usually be an invitation to attend an interview (even for most temporary roles). The recruitment agency will help you prepare, make sure you know where you’re going and what to wear, and can give you insider information on the company that will really help. They will support you through the process, calling you before and after the interview, and giving you a pep talk to calm any nerves! If you are still interested in the role after the interview, they will be your spokesperson for negotiating a job offer from the company and managing all the paperwork and formalities on your behalf.

When you’re in your new job

Your relationship with the recruitment agency doesn’t have to end once you’ve accepted a new job. If you’re temping, you’ll be in touch regularly to submit your timesheets (the record of the hours you’ve worked so that they can pay you!), but agencies also love to hear from the people they’ve placed in permanent roles too. It’s a huge privilege to help someone find a new job and your consultant will have been on the job-seeking journey with you, so lots of people like to stay in touch. You could follow the agency on social media, sign up for their newsletter, email or call your consultant to say ‘hello’, pop in to see them if you’re passing the office – anything you like!

What are the different types of employment contract?

Temporary (often referred to as temp): Temporary assignments can last anything from a few hours to a couple of years (although most are for a number of weeks). They typically help a company to cover things like staff illness or maternity leave, or they might just need an extra pair of hands for a busy period. They’re great for people who want to keep their skills honed, but who don’t have the time or need to work on a permanent basis and like to work flexibly around their other commitments. They also suit students on holiday from university, or people moving to a new area who need short-term work while they get settled. As a temporary worker, you get paid an hourly rate directly by the recruitment agency (who gets paid by the company you’re working for). Temporary jobs can be terminated with immediate effect if the company no longer needs you so they offer very little job security, but most good agencies would encourage both the company and the temporary worker to give a little more notice out of courtesy, particularly for the longer-term assignments or where a handover might be needed.

Permanent (sometimes called perm): In a permanent job, you are directly employed by the hiring company, who will set you up as an employee and you will be entitled to the full package of company benefits. The company will pay you directly and you won’t have any further involvement with the recruitment agency (unless you choose to keep in touch!). The company will pay the recruitment agency a one-off fee for finding you (usually a percentage based on your annual salary amount).

Contract: This one often gets confused with temporary work, but there are several important differences. Contracting jobs are more defined in their terms and length – these would be agreed at the start of the contract (creating a Fixed Term Contract) or the company and contractor can agree to review the length of time as the work progresses (called a rolling contract). You will usually see contract work being advertised for more specialist areas of work, or for roles that require significant levels of experience and knowledge. As a contractor, you will earn an annual salary (not an hourly rate), which will be adjusted to reflect the agreed length and hours of your contract (called pro rata).

What are the benefits of using a recruitment agency?

You should see a recruitment agency as your personal branding experts! They can help you with CVs and cover letters, preparing for interviews, accepting and reflecting on feedback from the interviews, offering specialist advice in your chosen field and working hard on your behalf to find the right job for you. We also have great relationships with local companies and will often know about roles before anyone else. Job hunting can be lonely, so working with a recruitment agency means you’ll have a coach and a cheerleader all the way through.

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