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Why Recruiting the Right Employment Agency is Important for Job Seekers

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All employment agencies are not created equal.

Search firms, headhunters, employment agencies, and independent recruiters can be wonderful vehicles for entries into hiring companies. However, like our discussion about networking, you have to know who, how, and when to call on the services of an independent employment firm.

Remember, the employer is king and you have to follow his wishes regarding the use of outside agencies. Some companies are very dependent on agencies while others use agencies only as a last resort when a direct approach fails to produce viable candidates

MISCONCEPTION: All employment agencies are alike.

REALITY: There are significant differences in the ways agencies operate.

Whatever the case, before you proceed, you need to determine the type or types of agencies that will provide the best opportunity to get you in the door.

Executive Search Firms-Fees Paid Up Front

This type of agency is most often contracted if there's a shortage of specific skills, if confidentiality is critical, or if a current employee is headed for termination.

Search firms get paid even if positions remain unfilled. Their fees are based on a percentage of the estimated starting salary. Traditionally, a 30 percent fee is awarded for high-level positions. At a glance, these fees may seem hefty. However, when you consider it may take 100 phone calls, 30 preliminary phone interviews, and 40 reference checks before two good candidates can be identified, the cost is justifiable.

The major pressure on search firms is to produce viable candidates, not necessarily to make placements. It is not uncommon for search firms to present several candidates and have all of them rejected by the contracting company. Search firms that have an exclusive, fee-paid contract may be your best avenue into new companies when your background has gray areas or if you have a history of frequent job changes.

Commission-Paid Recruiters

These agencies work on a sliding commission basis only if a placement is made. This fee can reach upward of 35 percent of the starting salary for high-paying positions.

To get the attention of a first-class executive search firm, you must be currently employed in a high-paying job. Search firms are probably your best avenue when you are unemployed and looking to secure a top position. are These agencies will also provide certain guarantees on placements and will often replace candidates at no cost if they quit within six months.

Commissioned agencies are most frequently called recruiters and consultants. Sometimes they have exclusive assignments, but it is more common for vacancies to be spread among several recruiters in an effort to blanket the market in search for the best candidates.

Search firms and commissioned recruiters have different levels of motivation. Search firms that are more exclusive have a different agenda than recruiting agencies that often compete with several other agencies for the same opening. Therefore, recruiters may only get a limited number of chances to produce good candidates. So, unless they lack viable candidates, commissioned recruiters will not present individuals who are hard to sell.

Three factors can make you a hard sell, limiting a recruiter's ability to place you with a client successfully:
  1. Being unemployed

  2. Lacking the specified education

  3. Changing jobs frequently
Being Unemployed

Everyone wants what they can't have. The fact that your present employer still keeps you around provides justification for your credentials. No personnel manager will ever be called on the carpet for a sloppy search if the new hire was working for another company at the time of employment.

MISCONCEPTION: If you are unemployed, recruiters will have empathy and present your credentials before those of someone who is working.

REALITY: Being unemployed makes you a harder sell and a more risky placement than a person who is gainfully employed.

On the other hand, hiring an individual who is out of work carries a certain risk-the first question a CEO will ask when a new employee doesn't make the grade is "Why the hell did we hire someone that another company got rid of?" Given the choice, companies will hire a candidate who is working over another who is unemployed.

Lacking the Specified Education

Like being unemployed, not possessing the level of education required in the job description also creates a liability that may be difficult to overcome.

Foreign ownership in this country is placing greater emphasis on education. You can have terrific experience and a great background, but if you don't meet the educational requirements, you won't have much of a chance. So, when recruiters tell you they'll push for a position even though you don't have the education, watch their noses real closely to see if they're growing. The sell may be too tough.

Changing Jobs Frequently

Job hoppers only land positions when openings abound or they possess specific skills that employers desperately need. Once job hoppers get laid off in a competitive market, their stock drops off the board, and recruiters won't waste time presenting them. If you have a record of frequent job changes, don't rely solely on agencies to provide your introductions.

Now, whether you decide to go with an executive search firm or a recruiter, you must ask yourself two more questions. First, should I use a specialized or general agency? Second, should I work with one or many agencies?

MISCONCEPTION: It is best to work with many different agencies so that a spirit of competition will develop to place you in a job.

Working with too many agencies can result in crossed wires and conflicts.

Specialized vs. General Agencies

Many agencies specialize in placements by job function instead of industries. For example, several national franchises focus on only recruiting sales candidates. Their assignments cross industry boundaries, and they are most often called upon by employers when the market is tight for talent. These firms best suit individuals who have skills that can be translated from one industry to another.

Conversely, general agencies can still function within one industry or market but differ from specialists in that they help to locate candidates for positions ranging from a plant manager to a VP of sales. These firms usually have better, in-depth relationships with their customers because of repeat business and intimate knowledge of the customers' operations. Many general agencies also offer reduced commission structures for good clients and often have an inside track on up-and-coming positions. If your skills are highly technical or slanted to one industry, a general agency with good customer contacts may be your best ally.

Single Vs. Multiple Agencies

The advantage of using one agency solely is that working with one firm helps in developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Agencies tend to work harder when they have your loyalty. The disadvantage of using one agency is possibly missing an opportunity outside that agency's listings. However, like real estate brokers, most agencies often share both candidates and openings in the hope of being the agency of record and the agency that collects the fee.

A word of caution if you choose to work with multiple agencies: Be up front with the representatives and tell them about your game plan. You should also keep them appraised of the companies you have contacted through classified ads, networking with associates, or dealing with other recruiters. Nothing is more frustrating and embarrassing to an agency than having your credentials show up on the client's desk from a competing recruiter. In addition to alienating the agency, when your resume arrives from several recruiters, the client's perception of you as a prized candidate will be weakened.

Selecting an agency requires time and research to determine which one will best fit your needs. Talk to personnel managers, associates, and friends to get their recommendations on good performers in your field.

In a tough market, the employer is king. Having the right agency could get you a special invitation to the castle.
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