choosing a recruitment agency and what to expect

Few people realise that using recruitment agencies should be done with care to ensure that you are being well represented.

This article will help you choose a recruitment agency to give yourself a competitive advantage and avoid common pitfalls. It comprises a series of hints and tips on using recruitment agencies and helps you work with them to increase your chances.

How to choose a recruitment agency

There is a huge number of recruitment agencies in any local area. They range in size from large organisations with hundreds of employees to small businesses with just a handful of recruiters. The size of the agency does not matter. What is far more important is the quality of the recruitment consultant that you deal with.

Your first contact with an agency will usually be having seen a particular job posted online, on a job board or through a press advertisement. The recruitment consultant, whose name is listed with the role you are interested in, will be your main contact in that recruitment agency. It is very important to meet the person. They cannot represent you properly if they have not spent time talking to you face-to-face to discuss exactly where you want your career to go.

Sell yourself to your recruitment consultant

When you talk to the consultant about a role they will be assessing your suitability for the job you wish to apply for. If you go forward for interview, this recruitment consultant will be representing you to the company you want to work in. They are your ‘face’ until you are sitting in an interview. How they present you and your CV could be the difference between you being called for an interview or not, so be sure to sell yourself to the recruitment consultant. Use your experience, personality and qualifications to show them why they should recommend you for the role.

Assess your recruitment consultant

Assess the recruitment consultant you are talking to – they should be an expert in their specific field.

They may not give you the name of their client company at this stage but they should be able to give you a good understanding of the type, size and approximate location of the company, and what the client is looking for in potential interviewees.

They should also be able to tell you whether or not they see you as a good fit for the role and why. If they cannot give you this information, and you are determined to apply, then please keep reading!

How recruitment agencies work

Most recruitment agencies work on the basis that a particular recruitment consultant ‘owns’ particular clients (and even candidates in some agencies), so dealing with someone else in the same agency is often not an option. However you can ask if their colleagues have roles which would suit you.

If this does not work you are left with two alternatives.

  • You can try and find the same job with a different agency (most jobs handled by agencies are spread over at least five different recruitment agencies).
  • Or you can make a determined effort to sell yourself to the consultant you are dealing with.

A word of caution!

If a recruitment consultant says: “If we see a job that we think you would be suitable for can we go ahead and put your CV forward for it?” – the answer should be a definite NO.

Why is that?

Consider this situation:

You submit your CV for a job, but you don’t get it. A month later you see another job that you would like to apply for. It is being handled by a different recruitment company and after getting the job’s details and discussing it with the recruitment consultant, you agree to send in your CV. Soon after you get a call from the recruiter telling you that your CV has already gone in to that company and that therefore they cannot represent you for the job. You may not even know it has gone in. You have given blanket consent to the other agency to send your CV to absolutely anywhere that they think you would be suitable for. You have lost control of the job-seeking process entirely.

This situation gives a negative impression of you to the company that you applied to. It tells them that you are probably sending your CV anywhere and everywhere. It makes you look a little desperate.

Tailor your CV to each role

Your CV should be tailored to each job that you apply for. It should highlight your relevant skills and point out how they apply to the position in question. If you have given ‘blanket consent’ then it is almost guaranteed that no such tailoring will be in place, since it is you who should alter your CV. Never allow anybody else to alter your CV without letting you see a draft before it is sent.

Make sure you know where your CV is being sent

It is a good idea to keep a record of where your CV is being sent, who has sent it and when it was sent. You could make a list of the recruitment companies you use, where they have sent your CV and when it was sent.

“My recruitment agency has not contacted me since I sent in my CV”

Everybody wants to be contacted promptly by a recruitment agency when they send in a CV, but this does not always happen. It may help to have an understanding of what happens when you apply for a job or send in your CV to a recruitment agency.

Many recruitment agencies will send an automated standard response when you first send them your CV confirming that they have received it. This does not mean that it has been read by a recruitment consultant, just that they have it in their list of emails. A recruitment agency deals with large volumes of emails and prompt responses are often not possible simply due to the workload each recruiter has. After a weekend of applications coming in the list can be quite daunting!

You should however receive some personal response after a maximum of two to three days. If this does not happen then you should phone the agency. It is possible that they never received your email or that it was beset by some other misfortune. You could call shortly after submitting your CV to check that it arrived. This approach means that you can speak to the recruitment consultant and promote yourself to them.

“My recruitment agency was in contact with me a few months ago but I’ve heard nothing since”

Lack of contact from a recruitment agency is perhaps the primary reason for frustration felt by candidates.

You may have been involved in a process about one job that finished up with a recruitment consultant saying that they would be back in contact with you when something suitable comes up again. A month or two later you could be forgiven for thinking that you have been forgotten. There are two distinct possibilities for a lack of contact. The first is that there have been no suitable jobs matching your qualifications and experience. The second is that you have indeed been forgotten.

Most recruitment companies will have you stored on their database and will be using some level of technology to match current jobs with actively seeking candidates on their database. No matter how good the software is, it is possible that you have been skipped in a search. It could be something as simple as your profile being marked as not currently seeking work.

Ring the recruitment consultant you were originally dealing with to remind them of your existence and ask them about the current market.

“My recruitment consultant said that I am not suitable for the position”

If you apply for a job and are told that you are not a suitable candidate, make sure you find out why this is the case. Find out what you need to do to make yourself more suitable for similar positions in the future.

  •  Are there specific training courses that would be an advantage?
  •  Are there a lot of people with more experience competing for the job role?

The recruitment consultant should be able to guide you towards being a more marketable candidate.

Look at how your CV is targeted towards the particular job. Maybe you have not highlighted some of your strengths with regards to the position you are applying for. Make sure your recruitment consultant knows how your experience and education fit in with the job. If you receive a rejection by email then pick up the phone – you will never get as much information by email.

Reference Checking

Your recruitment consultant must get explicit consent from you before checking your references. A recruitment consultant should also never send your CV forward for a position with your references still attached. Common practice is to only check your references once a job offer has been made pending references.

There are a number of recruitment agencies who will pre-check your references before they represent you for a job. Once again this can only be done with your consent.

If you are not happy about having your references checked before you have a job offer then it is perfectly fine for you to refuse permission to have your references checked at that stage. Be clear about why your recruitment consultant wants to start reference checking before a job offer is pending.

Advantages of using a recruitment agency

  • As a candidate, recruitment agencies are free.
  • There are no restrictions on applying directly to companies while using a recruitment agency, but make sure your CV does not go into the same company twice.
  • You can use more than one agency, choosing them by locality, specialty and most importantly by reputation.
  • Recruitment agencies provide professional advice. They know the market and perhaps more importantly, they know the company that you are applying to.