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How do recruitment agencies work?

Anyone looking for a job will be familiar with recruitment agencies. They post a large percentage of job ads, contact you on LinkedIn and might even ring you up out of the blue.

However, despite their ubiquity, few job seekers understand how recruitment agencies actually work, and this can affect their chances of getting a job through an agency. Here, we lift the curtain on this sometimes-shadowy world and explain the four types of recruitment agencies job seekers need to know about.

Contingency agencies

Most recruitment agencies operate on a contingency basis. In this type of agency, recruiters only get paid if they put forward the person that gets the job.

This means that they need to act rapidly, as they’re often competing with other recruitment agencies and the hiring company’s own HR team, and it’s in their interest to suggest as many qualified candidates as possible. At the same time not compromising on quality

On the plus side, it’s also in the agency’s interest to help you get the job you’ve been put forward for, so they will give you detailed advice regarding interview technique and salary negotiation. If you win, they win.

Retained agencies

If an agency has been retained by a client, it means they’re paid a fee to find candidates, with further fees paid once the position is filled. This agency model is typically associated with the search for executives and other senior positions, but it may also be found in sectors that require specific technical skills.

Retained agencies will undertake a much more thorough searching process, generally approaching candidates directly rather than using job ads. They may also operate a more stringent selection process, with candidates needing to pass multiple interviews and tests before being put in front of the hiring company.

Retained agencies are also unlikely to be competing with other agencies, so they may offer less support to candidates during the hiring process.

Temp agencies

Sometimes known as staffing agencies, temp agencies specialize in providing temporary workers for a wide range of companies across various sectors. If you’re being hired for a temporary role, the agency must make it 100 per cent clear how long your employment will last so you have time to look for another role before your current one ends.

It’s also possible that you’ll sign a contract with the agency itself rather than the hiring company. This is a common arrangement for temp workers where the agency takes care of your pay and then reclaims these costs from the employer.

Niche agencies

A niche or specialist recruitment agency operates exclusively in particular industry sectors and therefore has expertise and strong relationships in those areas. Needless to say, if you have a desire to work in a specific sector, you should make sure to get on the radar of these agencies. The best option is often to simply contact them directly.

As niche agencies tend to know the areas they recruit in inside and out, they often have very high standards when it comes to putting forward candidates for interviews. The flipside of this is that if you are put forward, you’re much more likely to be a good fit for the role, and therefore stand a better chance of getting the job.

How to avoid bad agencies

Now that you know about the different types of recruitment agencies, it’s important to steer clear of ones that aren’t trying to help you. It’s no secret that there are some dodgy agencies out there. One common tactic is posting fake jobs simply to build up a database of CVs.

This by large is followed by many agencies. It’s a challenge to figure out which jobs posts are fake and how many of those are genuine. It so happens that many job postings either go on hold or mute for a considerable time frame. This depends on the hiring companies since they either want to tweak the job role which takes time or just abruptly ask agencies to stop sourcing. So, all in all it’s tricky to figure to a real job from a ghost job posting.

One final key point about bad recruitment agencies is that you (Job seeker/Candidate) should not have to pay any fees. If an agency asks for payment for their representation, turn away immediately.

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