How dodgy agents exploit contractors: the covid-19 tricks edition

If you hadn’t noticed, there’s quite a lot of frustration in the agency contractor space at present, and unfortunately whether you’re a contractor or an agent, the feeling seems increasingly mutual!

Let me break the mould by empathising with candidates and saying, from the point of view of a contractor, I can quite understand the frustration, writes Natalie Bowers, founder of niche contractor staffing firm Bowers Partnership.

What contractors have been contending with

Contractors have spent the last year or so dodging an invisible virus, wearing their spouse’s flowery face-covering because they forgot their own, avoiding human contact when the government says to avoid human contact, and adhering to ever-changing guidelines on the few covid-19 income support measures which do actually apply to them. Enough to boil anyone’s blood! And that’s before you even start to consider the impact of ghastly IR35 reform!

To add insult to injury, you may have even found yourself pounding the keys on your trusty laptop looking for a decent-paying gig while all around you “work from homers” scoff about how much they are enjoying their newfound freedom and wonderful work-life balance.

Unfortunately, agents of the underhand variety are keen to make your existence worse. Some recruiters are deploying dodgy practices, underhand techniques and plain nasty tricks to kick a good contractor while they’re (feeling) down. The pandemic restrictions might be lifting but rogue agents are keeping at it, with these five in particular:

1. References in advance?

“We need to take two references from you to present to the client alongside your CV please. I just need the names and contact details for x and y jobs on your CV.”

Let me translate. What the agent is really saying here is:

“I’d like to canvass these people for new business as they obviously use contractors!”

2. Just curious…

“Where else are you interviewing; have you had any other offers?"

Yes, you’ve guessed it! What the agent is really saying is:

“Please can you give me some nice hot leads to follow up on who is hiring contractors ATM.”

3. It’s top secret, hush-hush because of... covid

“Ah, sorry, no I can’t give you the client name -- not unless they want to interview you.”

Not disclosing the end-client’s identity is in total breach of the Agency Conduct Regulations 2003. Covid or any other reason, it’s still a breach and so don’t accept it.

On this basis contractors, simply DO NOT HAND OVER YOUR CV if the customer’s name isn’t forthcoming. Put another way, only hand over your CV when you know the end-client name -- up front.

4. Your Zoom or mine?

“Let’s meet up for a virtual coffee?”

This is recruiter code for: It’s getting close to the end of the month and I need to hit my meeting targets. Possibly even my ‘coffee’ targets.” Yes contractors, some agencies do have coffee targets! “And hopefully on our Zoom, I’ll be able to get a few leads out of you at the same time to keep the boss happy”

5. Dodging the bucks

“Salary/Rate Competitive/Negotiable/DOE”

Beware the above words contractors, and any other vagueness in the advert title!

Such words really mean --This job/role/assignment is paying WAY BELOW market, and we don’t want to tell you what the amount is in case it puts you off applying.”

Oh and not disclosing the pay is also against The Conduct Regulations and most of the recruitment industry bodies’ codes of conduct. Our advice? Run a mile when this rate-related opaqueness emerges!

Final thought

So as if snaring that next contract wasn’t always a challenge – landing one in the ongoing covid era has become a real artform, and a real headache if you’re agent tries any of these five!

To be clear, we don’t engage in (or condone) any of the sharp practises listed above, but be careful contractors -- there are plenty of agents out there who do. The last thing you need right now to add to the IR35-related hiring difficulties is to fall for these dodgy agent tricks and for the sake of the many, many good agents, please vote with your feet with any agent who tries them!

Profile picture for user Natalie Bowers

Written by Natalie Bowers

Natalie is a co-founder of Bowers Partnership, an award-winning recruitment company that finds people for Investment Management, Wealth Management and Lloyd’s London Markets clients.
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