Top 10 Recruitment Agency Tips

Ever since IT contracting has been in existence, recruitment agencies have acted as the middlemen between contractors and clients. Until the surge in direct contract sites and organisations, almost all contracts were signed via agencies. Statistics have shown, that generally, 80% of contractors use agencies, with 19% working direct with clients.

As we all know, many recruitment agencies come in for a lot of stick from contractors – for a wide variety of reasons. The key one being that they take an average 20% margin on placements, for the seemingly easy task of 'matching' a CV to a role. Many contractors complain of being approached for completely inappropriate roles, receiving spam in their in-boxes, and so on. So, here are some key tips for dealing successfully with agencies…

1. Which agencies? - Ask around. Most contractors will know which agencies are known as 'cowboy outfits' and which are good to deal with. Over time, you'll find out which agencies suit you, and you'll probably end up with maybe a dozen good agencies you deal with in the long term.

2. Preferred Suppliers - If you want to work for a particular company, particularly blue chip, you'll often find that a small number of agencies act as preferred suppliers, so its worth finding out from the client or other contractors who to contact.

3. Distributing your CV - One of the most effective ways of getting your details across to hundreds of agencies is via the CV distribution tools on Jobserve, Technojobs and so-on. Summaries are sent to hundreds of agencies who can then request your full details at a later stage. One point to bear in mind is that you have given permission for these Companies to phone you up, and chances are you'll be added to a large number of CV databases. So you can't complain if agencies contact you each week as a result.

4. Have you read my CV? - A familiar complaint from contractors being offered unsuitable jobs. Some agencies are more profit–driven than others – getting a body to fill a role is more important to some companies than finding the right contractor for the job. So, make sure you know what the job involves before you sign the contract – ask lots of questions. Also make sure your CV is concise and gives an clear representation of your skills and qualifications - check out our CV Writing section.

5. Ask Questions - before you go for an interview, make sure you know enough about the role. In some cases, the agency may just have a summary of what the job entails, but you'll probably need to know more (unless you're supremely confident). The last thing you want to do is turn up for an unsuitable role having travelled 100 miles and lost half a day's pay!

6. Be firm on your rate - You should always be confident regarding rates. You are a specialist, good at what you do, and in demand. Chances are, you'll know the going rate for a particular job, so make sure you get what you want. If the client won't increase his offer, the agency can always take a cut in their margins. This won't always work – the agency may find a cheaper contractor for the role, but if the client likes you, chances are – you'll get the rate you want. See The IT Coach's guide to negotiation.

7. Sales People - Just as many contractors get wound up with some of the sales talk agents come out with, agents often think contractors are awkward or not so hot on the communication front. These are generalisations built up over the years, but based on some elements of truth - how many contractors have been promised 'lunch' or 'drinks' that never materialised? At the same time, contractors tend to be straight-talking people, who just want to get the job done, and the perceptions grow from there…

8. The Direct Route - With a growing number of direct contract websites now up and running, you now have the choice of finding work without paying high agency margins. These sites are worth investigating, although some contractors may prefer to keep the personal contact a traditional agency provides. Contractor UK launched Contractor Alliance to enable contractors to team up with one another and find work direct: www.contractoralliance.co.uk section.

9. Communication - If you've found a role, make sure you tell the agencies you're already committed and that you're not currently looking for work and to contact you again in 6 months, etc. This should cut the number of calls you receive from agencies. You could even go one step further and leave the following message on your mobile: 'Hello, this is John Smith. If you are an agency, I am not looking for work… Any one else – please leave a message and I will get back to you shortly' - Overkill maybe, but effective!

10. Summary - In the end of the day, most contractors need agencies – just as they need us. There are many decent agencies out there who you may use again and again throughout the course of your career. As long as you know the pitfalls, you'll be fine!

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