In the modern world almost every job search is likely to involve interaction with agencies and consultants. In the retail sector alone there are over 100 firms and almost as many in hospitality. Surprisingly though, many people do not understand the role of such firms and very often mistake them for career counsellors or, worse still, Job Centres.
The first thing to understand is that they are not there to find you a job. That sounds counterintuitive but, their job is to find people for the client companies to fill their jobs.
If it sounds like the same thing, it isn’t.
You may be the most brilliant store manager in Brighton. But, unless the agency you are working with has a job in Brighton they may not be able to help you. They will be prioritising seeing the people who are relevant to the vacancies that they have. So, you should not be offended if you send your CV to an agency speculatively and they don’t ask to see you.
The second thing to understand is that they are likely to be screening applications for their client. Make no mistake, if you’re good it’s in their interest to get you in front of the client. It can happen, however, that there are many people applying for the job and they have to ‘shortlist’.
You should treat an interview with a consultant in the same way as you treat an interview directly with the client. You need to impress them. Even if there is not competition, it is the consultant’s job to sell you to their client and, unless you give them the tools to do that job, you may not get to the next stage. All too often people miss out on opportunities because they did not make enough effort at the first stage.
Recruitment firms, as in every other walk of life, come in all shapes and sizes and they vary in quality; from the professional and honest, through to the other extreme.
So how do you know whether you are dealing with a decent firm?
It is, in fact, quite straight forward. A recruitment firm that sends your CV to clients and tries to sell you jobs, when they have done no formal assessment of you, is likely to be at the wrong end of the quality spectrum. Bear in mind that you may not be invited to interview with a consultant or agency if they do not have a relevant role for you. That does not mean they’re a bad firm. However, if you do send your CV to them and they are pushing roles on you without so much as even a telephone interview, they’re a bad agency.
Ideally, they should meet you in person; but that may not be possible if, say for example, you are in Scotland and the consultant is in Bristol. You can also get a feel for the nature of your recruitment firm by the way they deal with you on the phone. Were you treated in the same way as doctors’ receptionists treat you, or were they friendly and professional? Do they readily accept your calls or do you feel that you are being avoided?
By far the most common complaint against agencies and consultants is the lack of feedback and follow up. It happens that an applicant sees an agency, various roles are discussed and then the applicant never hears from that agency again. It’s poor, but it does happen. Usually, because at the time the consultant sees you they do genuinely think that their client will see you but when they approach the client your CV is rejected. The consultant cannot be blamed for that, but they should tell you.
Do not allow any agencies to send your CV anywhere without them having discussed this with you first. You must keep control of your CV.
Finally, should you go to agencies at all? Why not go directly to the client?
Well, many jobs are not advertised and many client companies want to use agencies as they do not have the time to do the first level screening. It absolutely makes sense to be registered with one or two agencies, but that should not preclude you from also applying directly to companies yourself.
Your ideal situation is where you have one or two firms that know you, know your strengths and requirements and stay with you through your career. You want a relationship of mutual trust and respect.