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How a Job Placement Agency Should Work

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?

{ 2 trackbacks }

Monroe on a Budget » Mrs. Micah: 7 tips for using a placement agency
June 21, 2008 at 1:26 pm
What Your Neighbors Are Searching For
September 17, 2008 at 11:03 am


Lisa June 19, 2008 at 12:21 pm

I have been temping at various workplaces (through an agency) since March of this year. I’ve been blogging about my experiences pretty extensively. Since I live in Michigan, the state in the US with the highest unemployment rate, I consider myself lucky to be working at all.

The agency has done a good job of keeping me busy, but I am still actively interviewing for jobs in my chosen profession. No matter how good the blog fodder is, I don’t want to be a temp forever!!

Ron@TheWisdomJournal June 19, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Thanks for the tips Mrs. Micah and thanks for the mention. Those agencies can either be the best thing that ever happened to you or the worst! Be Prepared and check references!

Kandace June 19, 2008 at 6:28 pm

I managed a temp agency during another career lifetime. While the temp employee only makes about 2/3 of what the company pays, it’s still a nice way to see if the chemistry is there between you and the company. No one gets locked into a relationship that won’t work. Yes, the fee seems high, but it includes the employers part of taxes and FICA, insurance, benefits (if you stay long enough to recoup them), and the temp service’s overhead. It can be a great way to find a job, but it can also be frustrating not knowing if the work will be steady. And yes, the employee should NEVER pay a fee!

website design June 19, 2008 at 7:02 pm

Agencies are pimps. Period. You have no rights at all, and can be fired for no cause….because you’re not really fired, you’re still employed by the agency. Employers are wise to Agencies, because they bypass many worker rights. There’s one place I know, a Union shop, where temps make $15/hr doing the same job that employees get $28/hr. The Agency is OWNED by the employer. By the Union contract, if you work 2 years as a temp they have to add you to the payroll. Guess what happens one day before the 2 years are up? Yep. The temp gets fired. Agencies suck donkey balls.

Funny about Money June 20, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Excellent post!

When I was young and hapless, I temped for Kelly Girls. The main problem I had with them is that they ignored what I said I wanted to do and kept sending me inappropriate assignments. Maybe they didn’t have any jobs that fit what I said I could and would do. If that was the case, I would rather have not heard from them than to have been put on the spot, having to turn down offers repeatedly.

A former student–now a good friend–took temp jobs during the summers while she was going to graduate school. After she finished the master’s and was beginning to realize that she really didn’t want or need the Ph.D., one of the temp employers offered her a truly wonderful job. She quit the graduate program with the master’s in hand and went to work permanently. She now has a very responsible, well paid job there that she still loves.

So I guess it’s possible, with a combination of luck and talent, to make out pretty well. That’s probably an exception, but at least there’s hope.

devil June 21, 2008 at 2:59 pm

I temped in my 20’s and early 30’s and LOVED it. My only regret is that twice I got conned into accepting permanent positions…where I wound up miserable.

Let’s face it…office work of any kind becomes mind-numbingly boring after a while. Moving from a law office to a manufacturing firm to a medical school, etc. made the drudgery of admin work bearable.

That feeling of knowing that you get to leave (when everyone else has to stay) is priceless.

I recommend temping when you’re young. You can gain a lot of experience in a short amount of time. And you’ll learn a whole bunch about the working world, believe me.

Foxie June 21, 2008 at 6:20 pm

I temped for a few months, left on a three week vacation, came back and was hired by the company I had temped at. It was my first and only temp position, and I think they actually fired one of their employees so I could take her place. It wasn’t the best job in the world, but it was great since they loved me there. 🙂 I pretty much plugged my iPod in and did my job, nobody constantly over my shoulder, bugging me, nothing… It was great, just incredibly boring work.

Of course, I only took on the job since I knew I was moving in a few months, and the company hired me knowing I was going to be leaving soon afterwards. I thought it was nice when they told me to let them know if I was ever back in the area and needed a job. 🙂 So my only temp experience was very positive.

Jacob from JobMob August 19, 2008 at 5:32 am

These are all good tips.

Ultimately the most important thing to remember is that placement agencies have their clients’ interests in mind first. They’ll help you as long as you match those interests or you’re one of the rare candidates that they feel they can place even if they no specific request for your profile right now.

Mr Debt January 7, 2009 at 10:08 pm

It helps it you prepare for the tough interview questions like- “what it the area you are weekest in”.

Having a good answer ready for a question like that can make a difference.

recruitment agency January 17, 2011 at 8:35 am

“You should be prepared to interview.” Absolutely right. A surprising number of candidates are shocked when agencies invite them in for an intial chat/interview. It is not only for their client’s benefit, but also for the candidate because they will be assessing if the organisation is right for them.

shekar naik March 15, 2011 at 8:28 am

ofter completd my BBM I am very norvesed, becoz i not getting job, thn some one told to me consuled any job placment service, so i conselled job consaltency, getting job also thir only as a placement exicutive, i working on4mounts, ofter i existing new job consaltency, but still i am not happy becoz i want one good guider.

Cedric August 11, 2011 at 10:02 am

I used a job search placement service a few months back in Florida, the company does not classify it self as neither a staffing nor a temp agency, they simply help placing you in a position and charge a moderate fee of $250 upon successful placement. they let you paid in three terms and they didn’t ask me for upfront (which I don’t think I would have giving it). Though the job was not in my preferred field I was grateful being that I was employed for nine months. So I happily paid their service invoice after my second pay check. What do you guys think of this. they seems to have position buzz among job seekers in Florida.

Reuben April 23, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I would like to say that if you are using an agency you are limiting your target market, most companies do not use agencies do to the financial markup they have to pay. This limits who will see your skills, also using a career coach / job placement coach changes the dynamics. The process becomes one on one and you get training during the whole process plus you get tied into the persons person and professional network. However to use one of these special agents you must be professional, most use and have held various corporate recruiter positions and will assist you in learning the lay of the land when it comes to employment. Temp agencies only serve there companies not really the individual, this is where the dynamics are skewed not in the job seekers favor. I would recommend using a job coach or career coach, they are worth the money not only short term but long term due to the long term relationship they form with their clients. This is invaluable as you transition in your career and you will do so many times before you retire.

Kyler Brown March 25, 2016 at 12:28 pm

I’ve actually been referred to a placement agency to help me find a job. I really liked this post because I’m kind of clueless about how that whole thing would work. I can see how you shouldn’t expect the agency to simply find you a job, but that you should play an active role in the process too. Thanks for sharing this!

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