What is a recruitment agency and should I use one?

If you are looking for a job in the UK then you might be surprised to learn that most of the job roles here in the UK are filled by recruitment agencies. If you've never used one or want to know more about using one, then this article is for you...

If you’re applying for a job in the UK, then chances are you will end up registering with a recruitment agency. If you have little or no experience of recruitment agencies, then the prospect of working with one may be slightly overwhelming.

Understanding a bit more about how these agencies work and what to expect of their service, will help you get the most out of the relationship and ultimately to secure the role you want and deserve.

What exactly is a recruitment agency?

Recruitment agencies are essentially the middle guys (and girls!) who sit between you (the candidate) and their clients (the employers). Their business objective is to find candidates to match the vacancies of their clients and they generate their revenue through successful matches. To be able to do this they employ recruitment consultants (resourcers) who find, interview and assess candidates for a particular position / vacancy. These consultants will then liaise with the employer and forward on the candidates they feel match the vacancy.

How do recruitment agencies work?

When an employer needs to hire a new employee, they will usually provide a recruitment agency (or several) with a job description. This job description is then allocated to a department and team who search their CV database to find available candidates who match the description. If there are none that match, then they will then look further afield and at other sources.Once they have found a selection of candidates (a shortlist) they will then begin conducting interviews to determine the best fit and referring those CV’s on to the employer.

What are the benefits of signing up to an agency?

There are many different agencies out there, some are very good and others, well, not so great! A good agency will absolutely be worth their salt because they can offer you:

  • In-depth knowledge about your industry and free advice.

When you are new to a country and depending on your career sector, it can be very helpful to get an insight into the current market conditions and trends. As experts in their field they will be able to provide you with realistic salary levels for your chosen role. They’ll give you advice as to which roles are suited to your skillset. They’ll also help with your CV and modify terminology to ensure your language is consistent with the UK market.

  • They will have access to jobs that aren’t always advertised.

Recruiters also spend a lot of their time networking with their clients to find out about upcoming jobs. This often means that some roles do not make it to the mainstream job boards as candidates will be sourced directly from the recruiter’s database. Therefore, registering with an agency means that you are one of those potential candidates.

  • They will save you time

Have you ever been to an interview only to realise that the role was not suitable for you? No one wants to waste time applying for roles that aren’t really what they’re after. The advantage of registering with a recruitment agency is that you will meet with a consultant who knows enough about your skills and experience to only put you forward for suitable roles.

  • They ‘should’ be able to get the best salary offer for you

So, you’ve interviewed for a job you really want, you made it through a tough selection process and now they have offered you the role. Amazing! Except the salary offer has fallen short of what you were expecting and believe you are worth. Asking for more money can be a daunting prospect and one that very few of us have the confidence to handle well. Step forward your recruitment consultant who can manage the negotiation process on your behalf and potentially get you the salary you want, without damaging the relationship you have with your future employer.

  • They can give you constructive feedback to help you hone your skills for future interviews.

Hearing that you have been unsuccessful for a position is often disheartening, you think back to the interview and try to pinpoint where it went wrong. Sadly it’s very rare to hear from employers about why you were not successful. How can you improve if you don’t know where you went wrong? Recruitment consultants usually have a close working relationship with their clients. This means that they are in a position to get you the much-needed constructive feedback about why you were not successful. Such feedback is incredibly valuable, because you can be more aware of your weaker areas and work on improving them. This can then help you increase your confidence, ready for that next, and hopefully last, interview.

Do I have to pay a recruitment agency?

No, they make their money from the end employer.If an agency asks you for money, find another one! Recruitment agencies here are paid by the employers, once they have found them a suitable candidate(s).

How do recruitment agencies make their money?

There are a lot of misperceptions about placement agencies charging you for their service. Using a recruitment agency won’t cost you anything as the fees are paid by the employer. Recruitment agencies have different fee structures depending on the type of contract (permanent / temporary) but they will usually charge their client a percentage of your salary. This does not affect your earnings and in theory the more your consultant can negotiate for you, the more they make. So, it’s in their interests to get you the best salary. Now, I did say ‘in theory’, as this is not always the case, so you must still carry out your own research to ‘know your potential worth’.

If you are being paid an hourly rate as opposed to an annual salary then usually the employer pays your agency, who passes on an agreed rate to you, the employee. You will most likely never know what rate the employer is paying and the margin that the agency is making. So again, you must know know your potential worth’before you sign on the dotted line!

Why do companies use recruitment agencies?

Many companies use recruitment agencies because they do not have the resources (time or money), to sit and read through the scores of CVs they receive for roles. Whilst the agency will charge a fee for sourcing a successful candidate, it is often far less compared to the advertising costs and the time taken to review hundreds of applications. Only large firms tend to have their own HR departments because they have on-going candidate requirements. So most firms who don’t have a year round candidate need will tend to use an agency when a role comes up.

How do recruitment agencies find candidates?

There are many techniques that agencies employ to source and engage with candidates. Understanding how they find their candidates will also help you as a job seeker to speed up the process and chance of you finding a role.

If you have a random call from an agency and you wonder how they found you, just think about all the different platforms you might have visited where your data is available!

We also have a lot of relationships in place so we can forward CV's to the recruitment agencies who we know will be able to help you. You can register your CV for forwarding to our partners in your My.BritBound Portal

  • Candidate Databases:When you contact an agency, you will always be asked to supply a CV. Your CV will then be added to the CRM system where you can be found when your details match a new vacancy. This will be the first place a recruiter looks. It’s not always successful because you may already be working when they contact you or another company might have headhunted you and found you a position first.
  • Job Boards: These are still the dominant method for recruitment agencies to find candidates, either by placing a job on a job board or sifting through all the CV’s available to agencies through a log in portal to that jobs board. These job boards are like huge CV databases and they are an easy and effective way of getting your CV out there. Just be sure to create a CV with relevant key words to increase your chances of being matched with a job and agency.
  • Social media is playing an increasing role in how jobs are applied for and filled. No longer just for social networking, Facebook and Twitter now allow targeted ads which gives recruitment agencies an ability to source candidates based on demographics and location.
  • Linked IN:The Linked In platform is an ever-increasing destination for networking with potential employers and recruitment agencies. With millions of users, a recruitment agency can find you using key words. It can also search by employer to find people who have worked for certain companies. You can make your profile visible to searches when you are interested in being contacted about potential jobs. If you do not have a LinkedIN profile, then you better set one up soon!
  • Job Fairs / Networking– there are still many job fairs held and these can be a great way to speak directly with employers, through either their HR team or representatives from key departments. You can find out more about moving into a different field or how to get work in a specific area. Meeting people face-to-face is a brilliant way of increasing your chances of finding a job. Always take a CV and if you have them, business cards. To find job fairs you can search the internet and also look at upcoming events at the main conference centres.

Should I use a recruitment agency?

Recruitment agencies can be beneficial in terms of helping you ‘get a foot in the door’ in your chosen industry in the UK. Their reach is significant and they can match you with roles similar to ones that you have already applied for or have worked in back home. This cuts down the time you need to spend searching for suitable roles, giving you more time to actually apply for roles you are interested in!

As well as helping match you to job opportunities, employment agencies are specialists in their field. Their contacts and proven knowledge of the industry means they are in a great position to help you land an interview for the perfect role.

Lodging your CV with a recruitment company via an online portal or recruitment specialist will enable your skills and experience to be seen by the companies that matter. Tips and advice to improve your CV and cover writing skills are also part of the service, along with interview techniques. If you're put forward for a job but don't get it, the agency will usually provide constructive feedback.

However, it’s worth keeping in mind that these agencies work for the employer -- not for you. The roles that may be recommended to you may not be best suited to your skills and experience. Recruitment agencies are required to recommend a given number of candidates for each role, so beware that you could potentially be mismatched against the job criteria. Niche industries can have a quite unique skill set -- and that's not something that recruiters necessarily understand. Always trust your gut, be persistent and don’t be afraid to keep asking questions.

In the interests of not putting your eggs in one basket, also conduct your own job research via LinkedIn and sign up to receive alerts on job boards and other related websites. Agencies can certainly help, but you do not have to solely rely upon them.

What makes a good recruitment agency – what should I look for?

It’s pretty much a given that you are far more likely to obtain your job through a recruitment agency than applying direct to the employer. So, it’s worth taking some time to understand and seek out a good agency to represent you.

  • Look for one that specialises in your sector – there are large generic agencies that can help, but if you really want to get a role in your field then look for agencies who understand your industry and who employ recruitment consultants who have worked in the industry too.
  • Do they have any awards or accreditations? The ISO accreditation is an internationally recognised measure of a company’s standards and the quality of its service. The Investors in People award, is awarded to companies who go above and beyond to value and develop their people. The Sunday Times’ list of Best Companies to Work for is also a great indicator of a company, and you can look for the logo on an agency’s website to see if it made the list.
  • Be willing to meet you face-to-face – An interview will let the consultant get to know you properly and understand what you are looking for in your next job. It will also mean they can match you better with their client’s

How can I find agencies that will be able to help me in my sector?

To find an agency in your field then you can do two things:

1) Ask us – BritBound has worked with many agency partners over the years. These agencies are trusted partners who have an interest in placing candidates from the BritBound community. You can send your CV to jobs@britbound.co.ukand we can let you know if we have any partners who can help you.

2) Message the BritBound Facebook Community. With BritBound having been around for more than 10 years, you can bet your life someone in the community either has worked or is working in a role like yours. So ask them – just put up a post in the private BritBound Social Events group saying, “I’m heading to the UK to work as a ____ can anyone share any tips for finding work, or recommend some good recruitment agencies?”

3) Go to main job boards and search for your role.If you go to some of the big job boards such as indeed.co.uk, reed.co.uk, and totaljobs.com, and search for your industry, you will see a list of roles, the majority of which will be advertised by recruitment agencies. Now you know which agencies have roles that would be suitable.

4) Use the website of the REC- www.rec.uk.comare the professional trade body for the UK recruitment industry. They list thousands of agencies and have an effective search tool.

Tips to getting the best out of a recruitment agency

If you have limited experience of working with a recruitment agency, then you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of working with one. But used in the right way, a recruitment agency can make all the difference in your job search and help you secure a role that would not have been possible on your own. The following are a few tips to help you get the most out of your relationship with your agency to increase your chances of securing your ideal job role.

1) Meet with them in person – yes, you can send them your CV and hope that something comes of it, but like everything else in life, you cannot beat meeting face-to-face. Dress to impress and show them you are serious about your job hunt. Asides from giving you a little more interview practice, you will also have an opportunity to discuss what you feel most suited to.

2) Build a relationship with your consultant – remember it’s a two way street and a good relationship can give you a competitive advantage over other candidates. Your consultant may have inside information about the role and if you get on well, be willing to share this with you. They will also be more likely to help you at the salary negotiating stage or finding out why you were not successful, should that be the outcome.

3) Be honest and transparent – if there is anything in your work history you think might come across as negative then talk to your consultant about it. If you are looking to go travelling and have something booked, tell them about it. Because it is unlikely your consultant will work with you in the future if you embarrass them by not telling them the things they ought to know. Your dishonesty could damage their reputation as well as the relationship with their client. If you find another job elsewhere then tell them too, the more upfront you are, the more likely they are to help you down the track when you go back for help with another job.

4) Keep in regular contact – make sure that if you miss a call from your consultant, you return their call quickly, many jobs are time critical so don’t take days to call them back! Also don’t assume that they have been given feedback about any interviews you’ve been to, so call them afterwards and tell them how it went. Being pro-active and asking for feedback will be seen as a positive action by your consultant, showing that you are committed to the job search process.

5) Be flexible with your job requirements – if you have the ‘perfect role’ but are unwilling to compromise, you may find that your consultant may not be as pro-active. If you turn down all the roles they suggest or interviews they arrange for you then don’t be surprised to have less and less interaction with them. Show some flexibility and willingness to consider roles that may not be an exact match, companies will be more likely to hire from within their workforce. Getting a foot in the door is often the most important step towards your perfect job.