As a career coach, I often get asked “Should I be using a recruitment agency?”. And as an ex-recruiter, it’s always a funny one for me to answer.
To know when to use recruitment agencies, you need to have a basic understanding of how they operate. A recruitment agency is a sales-based business. It’s about understanding the need of the customer and matching it with the best possible product. The hiring company is the customer and you, as the applicant, are the product. This means, realistically, the customer care will be mainly focused towards the hiring company (i.e. the customer). The level of care the product will receive from the recruiter depends on the perceived value of the product. If you’re considered a good product – one that their customers will like – they will make an effort to sell you. If not, then you might find yourself on the shelf.
This isn’t because recruiters are heartless human beings. It’s because they are in a sales job. And as with all sales jobs, they are under serious pressure to hit targets and make money. Their salaries and jobs depend on it. A recruiter’s role is to find the candidates that best meet the needs of the client. It is a race against time to submit these candidates before other recruitment agencies. So recruiters have to focus on the easily place-able applicants and closing deals, rather than spending time on applicant customer care. Because placing a candidate is what is going to save their backside for another month. Calling an applicant to give them a quick update on the job market is not.
So with all this in mind, when should job seekers use a recruitment agency?
1) When you have a great CV
So what makes a great CV? Generally speaking, a recruiter will get most excited when they see a well-written CV with a solid career in multinational companies (or a company with advanced business practices), no job-hopping (at least 3-4 years in each role), the right qualifications, and good educational background. An applicant with this CV will be considered easily place-able and valuable (companies will pay more for an applicant with MNC experience), and recruiters will work hard on selling you. It does, of course, depend on the client base of the recruiter. If the recruiter actively works with local or regional companies, then a CV with local or company experience, no job-hopping, good qualifications etc. could be considered a great CV. This leads onto point 2.
2) When you’ve done your research
Before you sign on with a recruiter, you need to research the following:
a) Which companies do they work with?
There is no point in constantly chasing a recruiter when they can’t help you. Call the recruitment agency and ask them which companies they work with and in which industries. Ask them if, with your background and experience, they will realistically be able to help you get a job. Most recruiters will give you honest feedback. If they say no, ask them if it’s OK to send them your CV anyway in case anything comes up in the future. Send it and then forget about it. Your time is better spent focusing on more effective ways to find a job than chasing a recruiter who told you from the start they probably couldn’t help you. Look for another recruiter or think of ways you can make contact with the company directly.
b) How good are they?
I’m not going to lie. There are a large number of “cowboy” recruiters out there. They really don’t care about you or good customer service at all. What does a cowboy recruiter look like? First, when they call you with a job, they have zero information about it. Meaning they probably don’t actually have a job, but they want to use your CV to try and pick one up. Secondly, they never call you back. They speak to you once saying they have a role for you, and then you never hear from them again. Thirdly, they will send your CV to every employer they can – without telling you. Lastly, they’re pushy. They are only focused on the money and therefore will try to push you into any job – even though it’s clearly not right for you.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Some recruiters do focus more on applicant customer care than others. When I worked at The Gulf Recruitment Group in Dubai, applicants were treated like human beings, not products. There were rules in place to ensure this. For example, all applicants who did not match the criteria of the role – regardless of who they were or where they were from – received a notification that their application was unsuccessful and why. Recruiters had to meet applicants matching the job criteria and obtain their approval before any CV submission. All emails and calls had to be responded to. Recruiters also had to stay late one night a week, to give candidates a courtesy call or an update. From my experience, particularly in Dubai, these companies are unfortunately the minority. But they are out there – you just need to find them. Sometimes you can ask a friend or colleague for a recommendation. Or you simply have to try them out and find one or two that you trust.
3) When your CV exactly matches the criteria of a job they have advertised
Recruiters are usually given a strict set of criteria for the job by the hiring company. And good customer service (to the client) is to ensure that these requirements are met. If your CV does not perfectly match the criteria, then don’t send your CV to the recruiter. They receive hundreds of CVs per role – of which some will meet the criteria exactly. Those are the applications they will focus on. Save yourself and the recruiter time and find another strategy to get in front of the company – apply to the company directly or ask a contact to connect you to someone in the company.
4) When you’re really short on time
With the demands of work and family commitments, some people simply do not have the time to commit to looking for a job. It has been said if you want to find a job, then you have to treat your search like a full-time job. For some, this is simply not feasible. If you’re struggling to find the time to look for a new job, recruiters can certainly help. Make sure you stick to all of the points above and do your research as to which agencies will be most effective in finding you the right role.
5) When you don’t have a big network
The most effective way to find a job is through your own network. If, however, you believe your current network to be small and the idea of networking makes a shiver run down your spine, then using a recruitment agency could be a good solution. Note though that many of the best jobs aren’t advertised, so if you really want to increase your chances of job search success, expanding your network is key.
6) When you have realistic expectations of the service you might receive
First, you have to recognise that the number of jobs out there is limited. So if you’re expecting to be inundated with job opportunities every day, you’re going to be disappointed. You also have to be realistic in terms of your perceived value to a recruiter. If you don’t have what might be considered a “great CV”, you might not get too many calls. If you’re OK with that, and can live life normally, then sending your CV to a few recruiters isn’t going to cause any harm. But if you’re going to get stressed when recruiters don’t call you, relying on agencies might not be the best strategy for you. This leads to the final point.
7) When you’re willing to put your career in someone else’s hands
If you’re not in a massive hurry or under any pressure to find a new job, leaving your job search in the hands of a recruiter is an option. But if you want to change your job situation as quickly as possible, then relying on a recruiter could add to your stress. Waiting to hear about new opportunities, feedback on applications, interviews etc. can leave jobseekers feeling powerless, nervous or frustrated. If you don’t have time to wait around, take control of your job search and look for other ways to connect with potential employers.
If you need some ideas and inspiration on other effective ways to find a job, read this article on building an effective job search strategy.
For further information or advice on other effective ways to find a job please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.