How to choose, manage and work with recruitment agencies

Depending on your experience, you may view recruitment businesses as either a necessary evil or a vital part in helping you secure your next job - or you may be about to engage with them for the first time.

Whatever your view or situation, it’s important you choose wisely and manage any agency effectively.

After all, its consultants will be representing you in the market. You will effectively be putting your career in their hands.

Choosing a recruitment agency for you

The type and number of agencies you choose to register with will depend on a number of factors:

  • what profession or discipline you work in
  • the sector in which you work or wish to work
  • what stage you are at in your career
  • whether you are looking for permanent, temporary or contract opportunities

National versus specialist recruitment agencies

The recruitment market tends to be polarised between two main types of agencies:

  • National, ‘high street’ recruiters who have huge volumes of jobs across a large swathe of companies and industries
  • Niche recruiters who focus on a handful of specific disciplines - IT, marketing, etc - across several sectors

There are, however, a small number of agencies - Core-Asset Consulting being one - who provide a full range of opportunities throughout companies operating in specific sectors.

In our case, asset management, accounting & finance, investment operations and the wider financial services sector.

So do bear in mind you have a wide selection of options available to you. It’s important you do a bit of research into the market and choose according to your own needs.

For example, if you are a marketing professional with several years’ experience and looking for your next role to be within asset management, it may be appropriate to register with an agency specialising in marketing AND a recruitment business which focuses on the asset management industry.

Look for recruitment agency recommendations

One of the best ways to choose the right agency is through a personal recommendation from a friend or colleague.

They will already have dealt with the agency and will be able to share their experience with you.

This is more important and more powerful than the shiniest of brochures and the flashiest of websites.

Typical issues with recruitment agencies

But even after following this measured approach and choosing your agency or agencies carefully, things can quickly spiral out of control. If you are new to dealing with recruitment agencies it is not unusual for the following situation to transpire:

1. With the best of intentions, you register with one or perhaps two agencies

2. You also sign up to a handful of well-known job sites so you can find out about the latest opportunities

3. Soon a role is highlighted to you by one of the agencies

4. A number of other vacancies also come into your inbox from job sites

5. Invariably, these other vacancies are associated with different recruitment agencies

6. This prompts you to get in touch with them, register your details

7. Quite quickly you lose track of the number of roles you have noted an interest in (you have given your details to seven or eight agencies now)

8. You are unsure which agency is representing for which role

9. You also have a vague awareness that a number of consultants are sending your CV to employers on a speculative basis (see appendix)

10. You can’t remember if you agreed to this or not

What should you do?

First of all, if you are registering with any recruitment agency make sure that this involves a face-to-face interview with a consultant. If the agency isn’t keen or doesn’t think this is necessary take this as a strong signal that they are not right for you.

A face-to-face interview is the best forum for you to build up a level of trust with the consultant and gauge the extent of their knowledge and experience.

Do they know their market? And are you confident they will represent you in the best light?

It is also an opportunity for you to put your career in context and outline your ambitions and the types of roles and companies you are keen on.

Questions to ask a recruitment agency

Also, it is your chance to get clear answers to important questions:

Q. What clients do you represent?

There is no point in registering with an agency which doesn’t have a relationship with the companies you want to work with.

Q. Do you have formal agreements to work with them, PSL?

Commonly, recruitment agencies will be on what is called as an employer’s preferred supplier list. In essence, this means they have a formal, regular working arrangement with the employer.

Q. What’s the process if a vacancy comes up that is relevant to me? Will you call me before submitting my CV or will you just send it?

Always ask to check the CV they are sending to the client. A good agency will tailor your CV to better fit the role, adding their own comments and asking for yours. This puts your skills and experience in proper context.

Q. What support do you provide if I get to an interview stage?

Any recruitment business worth its salt should be providing you with a service that is more than simply telling you about a vacancy, submitting your CV and arranging a suitable date and time for an interview. They should provide support at every stage of the process.

Q. What level of feedback will I receive at each stage of the process?

Recruiters can sometimes struggle with getting client feedback following your interview. But you still have the right to ask.

Q. Will the employer be in contact directly or will it all go through you?

If you are using an agency, it is normal for most of the communication to go through the consultant – although this is often a flexible arrangement depending on the circumstances.

Q. Will you be sending my CV out on a speculative basis?

See above. If you are comfortable with this approach at least ensure they inform you who they have/are sending it to and what the response has been.

Beware of some recruitment agency tactics

And if you find yourself in a situation where you feel a recruiter is pushing you into a particular role, stop dealing with them.

A good agency will give you advice, support and guidance. They will not pressure you into a single course of action.

Research, choose and manage your recruitment agencies

The decision as to which and how many agencies you choose to register with ultimately lies with you. Whatever your choice, make sure you meet them face-to-face and ensure you get just as much information from them as they do from you.

A recruiter is representing you in the marketplace and you are placing your professional reputation in their hands. But ultimately it’s your career and your responsibility.

Arrange and keep track of all your applications and where you are in the process.

Research the market. Choose carefully. Manage effectively.

Follow these three steps and your recruitment agency will play an important part in helping you secure your next job.

Appendix: The "speccing" of CVs

This is a controversial area of the recruitment industry. It refers to the act of a recruiter, on behalf of you the candidate, approaching a company when a vacancy doesn’t actually exist. The theory is that the strength of your CV is such that an opportunity may be created to suit or influence the resource planning of the company.

In short, the recruiter is putting you forward for a job that doesn’t exist.

There is nothing illegal about this practice, but it is a technique which often goes against the best interests of the candidate. First, it is normally a real bugbear of HR professionals and hiring managers, relying as it does on a sales rather than consultative approach on the part of the recruiter. Second, done badly it can sully your reputation, making you look a touch desperate and ill-informed.

There are rare occasions when this approach is appropriate – for example, a recruiter has a deep, long-standing relationship with a company which has been struggling for some time to recruit in a certain area or position. But as a general tactic, sending speculative CVs on a regular basis is a poor practice.

Think of the consequences of several agencies simultaneously ‘touting’ your CV around several employers. Often your skills and experience will be set in the wrong context. Perhaps more damagingly, when a suitable vacancy does arise your CV has lost its impact.

Alarmingly, there have been incidents when this indiscriminate ‘speccing’ of a CV among several agencies has resulted in it coming across the desk of the candidate’s manager.

Sadly many candidates aren’t aware that this practice takes place or what is involved. And if they are, they have the mistaken belief that it is a wise and effective tactic.

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