Agency tricks on IT contractors 'still common'

It may sound time-consuming and a tad servile, but a plea from your IT recruiter for you to pen a testimonial of their service is too transparent to be an agency 'trick.'

Nor is the agency acting in an underhanded way if they invite you, or your fellow IT contractors, to attend job fairs to meet, greet and speak to their prospective clients.

Alongside using social and online networks, the recommendations and referrals that result are the main sticks that contract IT agents are using to drum up new business.

As long as there is full disclosure in all these activities, and the contractor is not penalised for declining to take part, the agency is unlikely to cause too much offence.

But "there are certainly tricks", or spurious practices, that 'cowboy' agents in the IT sector continue to use, says James Parsons, managing director of Arrows Group.

Lead Pulling

For this trick, the agent requests, or even insists, that the IT contractor provides full reference details when the contractor hasn't even been selected for an interview.

Its tell-tale sign is the agent using 'warm words' to relay what the client or client staff think, or will apparently think, of the IT contractor's CV.

Once the flattery is deployed, the rogue agent will, in a matter of fact way, ask the contractor to hand over the contact details of the line or project manager at their previous gig.

Too often, there is no chance of an interview because there is no actual opening for the contractor to fill. The warm words are also made up.

All agents performing this trick simply want to find the people who take on contractors, and hope you'll oblige by handing out the names and phone numbers of your old bosses.

"IT contractors should never feel under pressure to provide references, with actual contact details, whilst they are in the application stages," said Philip Fanthom, managing director of Jenrick IT.

He insisted: "These are only necessary at the interview stages of the recruitment process."

However, many clients now seek references to qualify experience at an early stage, explains Alan Rommel, managing director of Parity Resources, and not providing them can "raise doubts" in the client's mind.

There are ways, though, for both agent and contractor to each get what they want without feeling cheated by the other, says Parsons.

One way is for the contractor to provide the names of past projects or programmes as a reference, rather than the names and contact details of the personnel who ran them.

Yet, "'phishing' for leads…sadly is still commonplace within the contract marketplace," said Matthew Iveson, managing director of IT jobs agency CV Screen.

Spoof Jobs

The most popular trick from the devious recruiter is to post contract IT vacancies which are not actually live, or simply don't exist, said Jenrick IT

Its aim is to gather as many CVs as possible. To this end, the agent in question will make the role attractive – perhaps by offering a premium rate or by inserting skill requirements that many IT candidates will have.

The key to identifying this deception is to analyse the job and ensure all the details are there and appear creditable, advises Fanthom, particularly the advertised rate and start / finish dates.

An agency that refuses to provide details on a contract role, such as client name/location or a reference number, could indeed signal that the vacancy is spoof, adds Rommel, with the sole aim of gathering CVs.

Undercover Agents

But, pointing to another agency trick, he said the decision not to provide details could also indicate that the agency has been prey to other agencies pretending to be candidates.

For this ruse, an agent telephones a rival agency posing as a candidate and asks questions, perhaps relating to rates or margins, to reveal the 'inside track' on how the business operates.

Winning CVs

A pile of contractor CVs, hooked in by spoof jobs, can used by a rogue agent as a sales tool to win new business, warns Arrows Group. The CVs are then floated to prospective clients who the agency wants to secure, and are presented as a just a sample of the skills which the agent can readily provide.

Bragging rights

A similar flexing of muscles by the rogue agent affects contractors, Parity explained. Too often, the agent will falsely claim to be the sole supplier of IT staff to 'desired company x.' This is the agent effectively strong-arming the contractor into the role, once the contractor appears too into the client to turn it down.

Creating CVs

When the role advertised is real, and not fictitious, the CV put forward by the contractor might not make the grade, at least in the eyes of some cowboy agents. As a result, such an agent might ask the contractor to alter their CV so it looks like, or even states, that the contractor is familiar with the skills required. In extreme cases, agents themselves have been known to make the necessary alterations to the contractor's CV, subsequently telling the contractor they did so just to bring out aspects of the CV which the client wants to see.

Basics Instinct

To avoid being duped by these tricks, practiced by only a small number of recruiters in the IT market, contractors should watch to see if their agency gets the basics right from the outset, advised Parsons. Is it professional? Does it communicate with you well? Does it keep its promises? "If they don't get the basics right," he said, "then [why] should you trust them with your career?"

Rommel agreed. Adressing IT contractors, he said: "Trust your instincts. If things don't stack up, the bad experiences should be used positively to focus your efforts on those agencies that do stand by their word."
 

Thursday 25th February 2010