For most people, recruitment agencies are an essential part of the job search.
A good recruitment consultant might help you find your next job, and they will definitely add value to your job search and career longer term.
Unfortunately, in New Zealand the recruitment industry is unregulated; and as with any profession, you’ll find plenty examples of good, bad and ugly operators. A vital step when embarking on a job search is assessing which is which.
What makes a good agency?
Many people will leave their selection of agencies entirely up to luck, by applying for roles they see advertised and then registering with the agencies advertising them. While the type and quality of job ads an agency is running can be an indication of how worthwhile it is registering with them, be aware that some of the better agencies will rely heavily on referrals to source candidates so might not advertise much, while many bad agencies place fake job ads.
A better approach is to supplement your job applications with recommendations from people you trust. Then, once you’re in contact with an agency, use this checklist to figure out who you’re dealing with:
- Work hard to understand your motivations and your career aspirations, as well as your work history
- Treat your relationship as a long term one, not one that ends with a job placement. A good consultant will turn into someone you trust to help you with your career over the years.
- Know what they're talking about - they have strong understanding of your profession and the jobs they're working on
- Treat your application and personal details with respect and privacy
- Conduct thorough reference checks with prior employers before representing you, to ensure they have a complete understanding of you as a person as well as your abilities
- Are focused only on candidates they can place immediately and make a quick buck from
- Don’t take the time to get to know their candidates (some don’t even interview in person!)
- End contact with a candidate once they are placed in a job
- Send out your personal details to potential employers without your knowledge
- Don’t have an understanding of the roles they’re recruiting for and don’t have a relationship with the clients they claim to be working with.
The agency interview
When you meet with a recruitment consultant, remember it's a two-way street: They need to get to know you as a candidate and a person, and you need to get an understanding of how they work and what to expect from them.
Here are some questions to ask in an agency interview:
- How established is the business? How long has the consultant been there? What is their experience? Why do they work there? (These questions are important because if consultant turnover is high, the agency probably doesn’t have strong client relationships)
- How many consultants are here and who will I deal with?
- Do you specialize or are you generalists?
- Can you give me an idea of the types of clients you have?
- What sets you apart from other agencies?
- What will you do with my details? (This is important, as you need assurance from them that your personal details will not be sent anywhere without your permission).
You should walk away feeling you’ve met someone trustworthy, knowledgeable and professional. Always ask yourself this question: Would I be happy having this person representing me to a potential employer?
You can avoid wasting your time by asking some questions during your first phone call before you decide whether or not to meet with a consultant. However if you do find that the first meeting, or any subsequent dealings you have with an agency aren't great, remember there's nothing that says you can't walk away from them. Simply ask to be taken off their books.
A job opportunity
If an agency calls you with a job opportunity after you’ve met, it’s up to you to make sure you’ve been given enough information about the role to ensure it’s right for you before you agree to being presented for it.
Questions to ask:
- What company is the role with? What can you tell me about the company culture, operations, market position, future plans?
- Why has the role come up? (This will give you a steer on staff turnover, company culture, progression opportunities and so on).
- What are they looking for in a candidate? Why do you think I’m a good fit for the role?
- For temp or contract roles: What is the hourly rate range and dates?
- For permanent roles: Salary range and career potential?
- How long has the agency been working on the role for? What stage is the recruitment process at?
A good consultant will welcome these questions. If they can’t answer any one of them, they’ve either not actually been engaged by the client (but have just heard about the role through the grapevine and are hoping to try their luck by spamming your CV to a hiring manager), or - perhaps even worse - they have been engaged by the client but haven’t taken the time to understand the company and the role. What are the chances of someone like that representing you successfully?
Working with multiple agencies
Chances are you’ll register with more than one agency over time. While there’s nothing wrong with this (no one agency is going to have all the jobs, all the time), it is important that you manage your relationships with agencies in a professional manner, because it reflects on you as a candidate.
We generally recommend working with a maximum of three good agencies (remember, just because you’ve met with an agency, it doesn’t mean you have to remain on their books if you’re not happy with them).
What to do if you end up in the middle of an "agency fight"? The usual reason for this happening is because an agency has either sent your details out without your knowledge, or they have not given you all the information you need about the role. Prevention is better than cure, but if you do find yourself in this situation, I've written a post on the topic that will help.
I'm not suggesting you’re going to run into unscrupulous recruiters at every turn. But by going into the process with your eyes open, you have a much greater chance of developing a mutually beneficial relationship that will be an asset to your career long after your job search is over. It’s worth taking some time to get it right.