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Tips For Choosing & Using Recruitment Agencies

How to choose a recruitment agency, or agencies to give yourself a competitive advantage and avoid common pitfalls

Guide to using Recruitment Agencies

Most people will use a recruitment agency at some point in their life. Some will use several. Not many people realise that using recruitment agencies should be done with care in order to ensure that you are being well represented.

This article comprises of a series of hints and tips on using recruitment agencies designed to educate you in the art of working with them to increase your competitive advantage.

How to choose a recruitment agency

Ireland has a huge number of recruitment agencies. They range in size from large organisations with hundreds of employees to small businesses with just a handful of recruiters. Does the size of the agency matter?

A larger agency may have more clients and therefore more potential jobs to put you forward for. What is far more important is the quality of the recruitment consultant that you deal with in any particular agency.

You will probably first contact an agency having seen a particular job posted on one of the many job boards (Irish Jobs, Loadzajobs, Recruit Ireland etc.), or through an advertisement in the press. The recruitment consultant dealing with that particular job will be your main contact in that recruitment agency.
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Sell yourself to your recruitment consultant

When you are talking to the consultant about the job you are interested in they will be assessing your suitability for the job you wish to apply for. This should not be a one way street. If you go forward for interview this recruitment consultant will be representing you to the company you want to work in. They are your 'face' until you are sitting in an interview. How they present you and your CV could be the difference between you being called for interview or not. Sell yourself to the recruitment consultant. Show them why they should recommend you for the role using your experience, personality and qualifications.
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Assess your recruitment consultant

Assess the recruitment consultant you are talking to. They should be an expert in the field they are recruiting in. Therefore they should show a thorough understanding of the position you are applying for, your previous relevant history, technical terms used in your career and the company that they are representing for the role. They will probably not give you the name of their client company at this initial stage. They should, however be able to give you a good understanding of the type, size and approximate location of the company and what the client is looking for in potential interviewees. They should also be able to tell you why they see you as a good 'fit' for the role or not. If they cannot give you this information then you need to read on to see what your options are.
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How recruitment agencies work

Most recruitment agencies work on the basis that a particular recruitment consultant 'owns' particular clients (and even candidates in some agencies), so dealing with someone else in the same agency is probably not an option. This leaves you with two alternatives. You can try and find the same job with a different agency (most jobs handled by agencies are spread over at least five different recruitment agencies). Alternatively you can educate and sell yourself to the consultant you are dealing with. This is not ideal but if you really want that job it may be the only viable option.
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A word of caution!

Here we should issue a word of caution. Some recruitment consultants may ask you, "If we see a job that we think you would be suitable for can we go ahead and put your CV forward for it?"

The answer should be a definitive "No!"

Why is that? Consider this situation. A month later you see another job that you would like to apply for. It is being handled by a different recruitment company and after getting all the details of the job and discussing it with the recruitment consultant you agree to send in your CV. Shortly thereafter you get a call from the recruiter telling you that your CV has already gone in to that company and that therefore they cannot represent you for that particular role. You may not even know it has gone in or which agency sent it. You have given blanket consent to the other agency to send your CV absolutely anywhere that they 'think you would be suitable for'. You have lost control of the job seeking process entirely.

What this situation does is give a negative impression of you to the company that you applied to. It tells them that you may not be very committed to the specific job and are probably sending your CV anywhere and everywhere. It makes you look a little desperate. If you have not been informed that your CV was sent forward to that particular company it is also quite likely that you have been sent as one of a batch of 20 or more CV's.
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Tailor your CV to each individual job

Ideally your CV should be tailored to each individual job that you apply for. It should highlight your relevant skills and point out how they apply to the position in question. If you have given 'blanket consent' then it is almost guaranteed that no such tailoring will be in place, since it is you who should alter your CV. You should never allow anybody else to alter your CV without letting you see the finished result before sending it.

By giving 'blanket consent' to send your CV you are greatly reducing your chances of good representation.
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Make sure you know where your CV is being sent.

It is a good idea to keep a record of where your CV is being sent, who has sent it and when it was sent. You could make a list of the recruitment companies you use, where they have sent your CV and when it was sent but it would be easier to download this
XL spreadsheet for recording job applications with everything you need already marked out.
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My recruitment agency has not contacted me since I sent in my CV

Everybody wants to be contacted promptly by a recruitment agency when they send in a CV. This does not always happen. It may help to have an understanding of what happens when you apply for a job or send in your CV to a recruitment agency.

Many recruitment agencies will send an automated standard response when you first send them your CV confirming that they have received it. This does not mean that it has been read by a recruitment consultant, just that they have it in their list of emails. A recruitment agency deals with large volumes of emails and prompt responses are often not possible simply due to the workload each recruiter has. After a weekend of applications coming in the list can be quite daunting!

You should however receive some personal response after a maximum of two to three days. If this does not happen then you should phone the agency. It is possible that they never received your email or that it was beset by some other misfortune. You could call shortly after submitting your CV to check that it arrived. This approach means that you can speak to the recruitment consultant and promote yourself to them.
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My recruitment agency was in contact with me a few months ago but I've heard nothing since

Lack of contact from a recruitment agency is perhaps the primary reason for frustration felt by candidates.

You may have been involved in a process about one job that finished up with a recruitment consultant saying that they would be back in contact with you "when something suitable comes up again." A month or two later you could be forgiven for thinking that you have been forgotten.

There are two distinct possibilities with regards to reasons for lack of contact in this instance. The first is that there have been no suitable jobs matching your qualifications and experience. The second is that you have indeed been forgotten.

Most (though not all) recruitment companies will have you stored on their database and will be using some level of technology to match current jobs with actively seeking candidates on their database. No matter how good the software is, it is possible that you have been skipped in a search. It could be something as simple as your profile being marked as not currently seeking work.

Ring the recruitment consultant you were originally dealing with. Remind them of your existence and ask them about the current market.

Recruitment consultants deal with a vast number of jobseekers annually. It is not possible for any person to remember that volume of information. If you make regular contact by calling or emailing you are bringing yourself to the front of the recruiters mind when a new suitable job comes in.

If you keep yourself fresh in a recruitment consultants mind then when they are talking to Clients you will be one of the people they will be promoting.
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My recruitment consultant said that I am not suitable for the position

If you apply for a job and are told that you are not a suitable candidate make sure you find out why this is the case. Find out what you need to do to make yourself more suitable for similar positions in the future. Are there specific training courses that would be an advantage? Are there a lot of people with more experience competing for the job role? The recruitment consultant should be able to guide you towards being a more 'marketable' candidate.

Recruitment consultants work off the 'wish list' of their client companies. It is rare that a candidate ticks all the boxes but a client will generally have some required criteria to be met by applicants. Perhaps you could look at how your CV is targeted towards the particular job. Maybe you have not highlighted some of your strengths with regards to the position you are applying for. Make sure your recruitment consultant knows how your experience and education fit in with the job.

If you receive a rejection by email then pick up the phone. You will never get as much information by email.
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Reference Checking

Your recruitment consultant must get explicit consent from you before checking your references. A recruitment consultant should also never send your CV forward for a position with your references still attached. Common practice is to only check your references once a job offer has been made pending references.

There are a number of recruitment agencies who will pre-check your references before they represent you for a job. Once again this can only be done with your consent. If you are not happy about having your references checked before you have a job offer then it is perfectly fine for you to refuse permission to have your references checked at that stage. Be clear about why your recruitment consultant wants to start reference checking before a job offer is pending.
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Other things to Check For

Recruitment companies should be licensed by the Department of Trade and Enterprise. Further to that they should preferably be a member of the National Recruitment Federation (applies to Irish agencies). This ensures that the agency adheres to a common code of practice/conduct.

If an agency misrepresents you there are some things you can do. Firstly ask the agency to remove you from their database. If you feel that the situation or incident was particularly unprofessional then you can report the agency to the licensing authority (Department of Trade and Enterprise) who renew licenses annually and also to the National Recruitment Federation.
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Advantages of using a recruitment agency

Recruitment agencies in Ireland placed over 100,000 people in permanent jobs in 2007 (source: NRF). They are free to use as a candidate. There are no restrictions on applying directly to companies while using a recruitment agency (but make sure your CV does not go in to the same company twice). You can use one or more agencies, choosing them by locality, specialty and most importantly by reputation.

Recruitment agencies provide professional advice. They know the market and perhaps more importantly they know the company that you are applying to. Thus they can help you better your chance of getting an interview and prepare you for that interview.
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