Last summer, I was having a hard time finding a job, so a friend referred me to a placement agency. They’d found her and her partner good positions quickly and had been generally helpful overall.
So I checked them out and sure enough they found me a job in less than a week. It wasn’t perfect, but what I was looking for while I figured out what I want to do with the rest of my life.
After reading Ron’s essay on major life mistakes, I thought I’d write a follow-up on what you should and shouldn’t do with an employment agency.
1. You shouldn’t expect the agency to simply find you a job.
Yes, they will find you a job, that’s their business. But you’ll have to be involved too. Most of the things you should expect and prepare for below are derived from this principle.
Agencies open a door to opportunities. They may help sell you a little before the interview. But if you’re unqualified, if you don’t put out effort, etc, they may not be able to help you. They’ll try to find something that fits, but it’s not magic (feels like it if you get a job after months of looking, but it’s not really magic).
2. You should be prepared to interview.
A placement agency needs to know about you in order to place you. A resume helps, but they’ll want to discuss the specifics of what you can do for their clients and what they can do for you. And they need to know that you’re not crazy and really are who you say you are (as best they can tell).
You see, both you and the company hiring you are the agency’s clients. Without hires, they’d make no money. Without companies, they’d make no money (or they shouldn’t). It’s in their best interest to make good matches for good recommendations by previous placements and repeat business from companies.
3. You should be prepared to take tests.
I had to take skill assessment tests right in the agency’s office to prove how fast I could type and my overall proficiency with basic programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, Photoshop, etc. Don’t be too scared by these, just do your best. I never needed Photoshop or more than basic Word at my admin job. I did need to be good with Excel, however.
Placement agencies can’t afford to take your word. They can’t risk letting you hurt their relationship with a company. So if they test you, don’t sweat it. The results may even help them recommend you for jobs you’ll suit better.
4. You should have very specific ideas for what you want.
Be flexible, but let them know where to send you. This isn’t a complete cop-out, you need to express what you’re looking for. Have a field or two, explain why you’d be good in these fields (they don’t want to send someone unqualified). Specify a desired salary range.
I gave them a resume which was good for either office/admin assistance work or editing / copy editing/business writing. In retrospect, I probably should have given them two resumes, one more focused towards each.
5. You should be prepared to interview again.
If they’re just sending you in for a couple days of temp work, you probably won’t have to interview. But if they’re placing you as a hire or even as a temp-to-hire, it’s quite possible you’ll go through an interview with the company that’s actually bringing you on board.
Even if she trusts the temp agency about your qualifications, your hiring manager needs to know you’re a good fit for the office. The placement agency is the reason you got the interview, but they won’t do everything for you.
6. You should be prepared for a temp-to-hire to drag on a bit. If you can’t handle that, tell them you’re looking strictly for placement (but it may cut out a lot of options).
The hiring company probably wants to make sure it only pays what it has to. For example, when I was hired last summer it was on a temp-to-hire basis. After about 2 weeks, my boss told me she was planning to hire me but the company had a policy.
They were paying the agency, which was paying me. The agency took a commission on my pay, so I made $X/hour and they were paid $Y an hour. $12/hour more than I was making (!!!). I know this because I was the person who processed their invoice every week.
Company policy was that they’d only hire me once I’d worked through the entire agency finder’s fee. It was cheaper, in case I quit early.
If I quite early, they’d be out the $8k (!!! again) they were spending on me, plus whatever it took for the next person. While I understood this, it didn’t quite engender feelings of loyalty. That combined with the depressingness of my job and the general cynical attitude of my boss (it’s ok to complain a couple times a day, not half of the day) meant that I didn’t feel bad about leaving before the period was over.
The next girl got hired after a month, full benefits, whatnot. I’m still in touch with my old boss from time to time and I hear she seems quite happy. Benefits and the slightly higher salary might have been more of an incentive. Feeling like I was really part of the company.
But I digress. Still, the amount the company was paying for my services is relevant for this last point.
7. You shouldn’t EVER EVER pay them to find you a job.
Here’s the way it plays out. You are an employee and a mildly valuable resource. Companies need employees. Companies (especially smaller ones) may not want to have entire HR departments or go to the trouble of advertising for jobs. They may not want to spend a lot of money on hiring.
A person whose only job is hiring and who makes $40,000/year is only earning their money (according to what I cost, anyway), if they bring in 5 new people every year. If you add in benefits, it’s more like 6 or 7 new people.
That may or may not seem like a good deal for the company.
Hence placement agencies exist. They give 1 employee for 1 payment. No hiring and firing the hiring person, no extra headcount or payroll. Strict business. Outsourcing.
It makes sense for the company to pay the agency. More importantly, there are plenty of legitimate placement agencies out there which will be paid by the hiring company.
You shouldn’t pay them to place you.
Ever ever ever.
I only say this because there are a lot of people out there who get tricked into paying for it. I think it’s a disgusting and shameful practice, ripping off people who are looking for jobs (and possibly feeling desperate, which is why they’re looking for placement to begin with).
So apparently people are being convinced that they are the ones who have to pay. And it makes some sense…the placement people have to be paid somehow. But the reputable ones are paid by the companies. (Worse, an agency making you pay might be working both ends and making the company pay too!)
In Ron’s story, the placement place also turned into a fly-by-night deal. They’d guaranteed a year’s worth of placements, but didn’t follow through. Just disappeared.
I was fortunate enough to have been told in college (or perhaps high school) how it all works. So even on the days when I was feeling desperate, I would have known that I should steer clear of shady agencies.
Have you ever used a temp or placement agency? What kind of experience was it?