Getting the most out of your IT contractor agent

In the current climate, with more people looking for IT contracts and – in many sectors – with fewer to be had, it’s worth making the most of any relationship you have with a recruitment agency. The truth is that having a good working relationship with your agent greatly increases your chances of being put forward for contracts,writes Andrea Williams, a director of specialist IT recruitment firm Outsource UK.

If you’re looking for a temporary IT role, there are at least six definitely positive steps you can take to encourage your recruitment firm, or specifically your ‘agent’, to go the extra mile for you.

1.     Know the contract hiring clock has fewer Tick Tocks

For a contractor, the hiring time is much shorter so recruiters need a really quick decision from temporary candidates. The standard advice? Only commit if you’re really interested – and don’t pull out of the process. Be available and flexible for interviews and get all your paperwork together in good time.

This latter point is genuinely important to your chances because recruiters need to move quickly with temporary jobs as there is almost always competition to fill these time-sensitive roles, so be prepared to work with them. Write a clear and concise CV yet be ready and willing to re-word it to suit a particular role or contract. Recruiters want to help you get the job, but it’s at this stage where they might expect you to put in some extra work to get it! Other than that, keep your CV up to date and share any developments or new ‘selling points’ with your recruiter.

Bear in mind, when we say the turnaround time for temporary IT roles is fast, it can be as quick as 48 hours for a 3-month contract. For senior or interim roles, there may be more time but generally the quicker your up-to-date and targeted CV is in front of the client, the better. For contractors considering a permanent role, expect the time frame to be longer though again, the more senior the role, the more time there is usually available to present the required number of candidates.

In general, clients expect contractors to be able to start a new role with no notice or very short notice periods, whereas clients will wait the usual one month’s notice period for a permanent role. Needless to say, contract candidates who are flexible, quick to make up their minds and good at not changing them are the easiest to place.

2.     Tell the right (and wrong) time to be heard

It can help foster good relations with a recruiter if you can understand how and when that individual agent likes you to contact them. For example, it’s not normally ideal to call first thing on Monday morning – the agent’s probably “in a meeting” and even if they’re not, this is probably too early for anything to have happened since Friday afternoon. However generally, you should feel comfortable about calling your recruiter as often as you like (within reason).

That said, if the agent doesn’t call you back within an agreed time period then you must chase them. A good consultant will always be happy to let you know if there is no further news. If you want an agreed timescale for feedback calls on certain roles or types of interview, then talk to your consultant and agree this up front. That way you can get onto them if they have not adhered to the schedule without hesitation. Often they’ll be glad for you to take the initiative as they’re likely to have a large volume of calls to make and will appreciate your foresight.

At the other end of the relationship scale, and however tempting, it is generally not a good idea for contractors to contact a prospective client directly – this undermines the relationship you have with your agent/consultant and the one they have with their client. The client engages the consultant, implying he/she does not want to have to deal with all applicants for roles.

If you do get frustrated from a recruiter not calling you back, then you should be unafraid to call or send a message to their manager or company director. This feedback is important to the good agency, as it allows them to work on improving their ‘candidate services’ safe in the knowledge they are fixing something that is definitely at fault. If you don’t tell them (nicely!) about the problem; then they won’t know. However almost always, don’t escalate it if it’s the first time it’s happened to you, only if it is a continuous issue.

3.     Would you help ‘you’ first?

Asking yourself the above question – and in response considering whether you’re the right mix of pleasant, professional, hard-working, honest and flexible is a worthy exercise, because it’s these contractors who always get helped first, and the most!

Consider that you will be seen as a representative of the recruiter and their company at the client site. It follows that the better your relationship with your recruitment firm, the more likely they are to want to help you on an ongoing basis. In the current climate, this can be a real asset.

By contrast, if you are difficult, obstructive and unresponsive then agents will be less inclined to work hard for you and less likely to provide a steady stream of contracts. Unfortunately, sometimes it happens that minor issues arise that the recruiter has no influence over - this happens to contractors too - but that is perceived to be within their control, placing a strain on contractor-agent relations. From the agency side, the classic example is the agent needs to change your contract because their client is changing theirs. In general, avoid being openly suspicious and favour an accommodating approach to working through cosmetic changes, but always check things thoroughly and seek professional advice if you’re unsure where you stand, or what you’re being told.

4.     Styling the mould, not breaking it

Of course, once you’ve put in the effort to build a pleasant working relationship with a recruiter, don’t stop at the ground work – get something more out of it by mixing it up a little. Why not call them, instead of waiting for them to call you, to ask about something new, or something you’d like to know about your incoming contract? 

However the most important ‘cold’ call for IT contractors to make to the agent is 24 hours (or so) after the contractor submits their CV or application. On that phone call, ask if you’re suitable. Nicely convey a pro-active approach that subtly says ‘I’m keen to work so don’t forget me.’

With agents who you don’t know, and even those that you do, sit back and wait for a call if you want to become just another name on a CV. Remember, mid-sized recruitment firms get in excess of 400 CVs a day so, when the time’s right, stand out from any complacent rivals by making the effort tospeak to the agent directly.

Your conversation can cover the pay and what’s a realistic rate. Don’t think the agency telling you ‘You’re pricing yourself out of the market’ is automatically a rip-off attempt; it’s actually something a good recruiter will advise. When dealing with a recruiter don’t forget that, for better or worse, the more money you make; the more money they make.

5.     Set your own standard (as a business) 

Unlike full-time IT job candidates, contractors often have their own business model to consider in their agency dealings. So when talking on the phone with a new recruiter, check how they respond to you, in order to begin building a profile of the calibre of business your company is considering ‘doing business’ with.

How do they treat you when you call in? Are they polite and professional? Do they return your call? Do they acknowledge receipt of your CV and more important company documents, such as your supplier agreement? Contractors can normally tell a lot from the manner in which their initial, introductory call is handled.

Contractors should employ the same analytical, business-focused mindset when they arrive on a recruitment agency’s website. To get an idea of the recruiter’s worth, ask yourself (based on the information they display online):

·       Do they have membership of a professional body (such as APSCo or the REC, which each have a recruitment code of conduct for their members )?

·       Are they accredited, certified or supported by recognised and professional recruitment, staffing or IT bodies?

·       Is there any evidence they have won any awards or contracts?

·       Can you determine if they have any major clients, or are preferred suppliers to any reputable companies, or are they established in certain sectors?

If you want to engage the agency, but answered ‘no’ to all of the above questions, still take a closer look first, perhaps by asking the agency to speak to a contractor already on its books.

This informal feedback, coupled with the answers you receive from the two sets of questions above, can give you clues as to the recruitment firm’s abilities.

6.     Set your own standard (as a professional)

If you don’t have a head for names, jot down the correct and full spelling of the client organisation’s name and the name of the client staff/line manager that the recruiter is forwarding your CV to. And even if you can commit these two crucial details to memory, you should still write down the desired contract/role, the date and time of when you spoke to the recruiter, as well as the rate and duration of the contract.

Some contractors keep this information in a pocket-sized book. It can come in handy if, say, Agency ‘B’ telephones you about a contract that you have applied for already, with ‘Agency A.’ The easiest way to resolve this potential mess is to advise Agency B that you are already represented for that role, and that they should not send your CV.

Whatever you do, don’t be fooled by Agency B if they claim they have the desired role exclusively, particularly when you’re conversation with Agency A is still ringing in your ears! In the event you cannot decide which of the agents to believe, call back Agency A to double-check.

In this situation, and generally, if a recruiter refuses to tell you who the client is, alarm bells should ring. Contractors should note that it is very rare that an agent is prohibited from telling you who the potential employer is, although there are exceptions (when the role is sensitive or/and it is a very senior position overseen by a headhunter). In general though, if you are unsure about why a recruiter is being tight-lipped over a client’s identity and you’re not given a reason why, respectfully refuse to be put forward. If a subsequent recruiter calls about the same job and freely tells you the client’s name, then consider working with that agent instead. Honesty is always the best policy and helps forge the best of partnerships with the best results; this is true for both agents and contractors alike.

Tuesday 22nd February 2011