Careers advice: Handling recruitment agencies

31 October 2016

WBS Alumni Career Manager Lisa Carr takes a look at how to effectively deal with recruitment agencies in order to reap the benefits while avoiding the pitfalls of working with such consultants when looking for work.

Recruitment agencies and consultants are now an established and integral part of the job market in most sectors and countries.  It’s likely that you’ll need to harness their potential at some point in your business career.

Agencies include:

  • Executive Search firms (or ‘Headhunters’) who focus on £100k+ jobs and who proactively approach candidates.
  • Mid-range recruitment consultancies for junior to mid-management jobs, who often focus on specific sectors.
  • Mass market high street or online agencies focusing on the £15- 40k market (Reed, indeed etc).
  • Contractor and temporary staff agencies.

Using the right agency can really speed up your job search and can allow you access to hidden jobs not advertised directly by employers, especially at the top end.

Their market knowledge can be a real boost, whether it’s giving you a realistic appraisal of your salary expectations, helping you tailor your CV to a specific employer or coaching you for an interview.

It’s important to remember, though, that agencies work for the employer, not the job seeker. Their role is to fit the person to the job, not to help you find the perfect role, gain promotion or develop your career.

They are not career counsellors (don’t forget that you can access free, professional careers advice at WBS). In fact, an agency’s ideal candidate is one who is already doing an identical job elsewhere. They are unlikely to welcome anyone wanting to switch sectors or career paths, those returning to work after a break or anyone aiming for a non-standard working pattern.

The success of an agency depends on persuading job seekers to apply for and accept the jobs they have on their books, as well as sourcing CVs for their database.

Job search: Feeling lucky should not be a part of working with recruitment agencies

This can lead to some dubious practices: fishing for CVs (for example, advertising a job which doesn’t exist), sending out CVs speculatively to employers with whom they don’t yet have a relationship or dispatching candidates for interviews which are not in line with their experience or aspirations.

So how do you tell the good from the bad agencies? And how should you select and handle agencies to improve your career prospects?

Firstly, make sure that the agency is the right one for the level of job you are seeking in your particular sector.

Ask for personal recommendations from trusted colleagues and contacts of named consultants as well as firms (use your professional networks). Seek out those agencies with a large number of relevant jobs by seeing who is advertising on industry websites and specialist job sites.

You can search for relevant UK agencies by sector and geography at agency central, by country and sector at Going Global (free alumni access here) and for executive search firms at Business Grapevine.

Once you find relevant agencies, arrange a face-to-face or telephone meeting to discuss your career plans, the current job market and to assess the kind of clients they work with. Beware of any agency that is reluctant to spend time doing this (it means you’re probably not the kind of candidate they can place easily). Be really clear with them about the kind of roles you are seeking.

a template of a CV
Exclusive: Find an agency that does not send your CV to all and sundry

Never send out your CV without knowing which employers it is being circulated to. The agency should seek your permission to forward your CV for a specific vacancy and allow you the opportunity to tailor it.

You don’t want your CV landing on the desk of every firm in your sector as it can make your look desperate and may jeopardise your chances when applying for directly advertised jobs at that company. Always check with the HR department of the employer that they do indeed have a relationship with that recruitment agency.

After your CV has been sent, don’t rely on the agency to get you the job. Network with contacts in the firm to ensure your application is given a high profile and to improve your company knowledge ready for interview.

If you don’t already have contacts in the firm, use the WBS alumni network – most people are happy to have a quick chat with fellow alumni applying for a role at their company.

Related article: LinkedIn - an extension of your professional persona

Finally, don’t forget that the agency is the gatekeeper to many exciting jobs. You need to impress them if they are to put you forward as a top candidate.

Stress your USPs, use your 'elevator pitch' when speaking to them, be clear about the kind of role you want, keep in regular contact and ensure you respond quickly to requests for CVs and interviews.

If you are hoping to be headhunted for your next role ensure you build your profile – for example by being active in professional bodies and networks, using LinkedIn strategically and building relationships with senior people in your industry.

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