Top tips for getting the best from a recruitment agent

Find a recruiter who’s interested in you

The tip which will bring you the most success is to find a good recruiter who is interested in you. Given the commercial model for recruiters, this can be easier said than done, but here are some suggestions:

  1. Recommendation – who’s done a good job for someone else you know in your field?

  2. Experience – who’s placed you before? Where is that person now? Google their name; it may well turn up on job advertisements with their new agency’s details. Or look for them on Linked In (for executive search) or Facebook (non-exec) (remind them who you are – they can direct you to their preferred contact details, or, if they don’t want to talk to you, they can always ignore the friend request, so don’t worry about intruding – you are potential business for them).

How to find a recruitment agency from scratch

If you have no prior connection with an agent, you’ll need to find one from scratch.

Start by typing your type of work, the word ‘vacancies’ and your locality into a search engine. You will be presented with a range of job hunting web sites. As you browse them, you will begin to see the same agency names pop up over and over. Now put the agency name into the search engine, and bring up their web site.

The web site is a source of several key pieces of information. It will tell you what kinds of openings the agency specialises in, but also look at their staff recruitment page, probably called the Work for Us page. Look for one whose recruitment pages say they train their people. Also look at how are the consultants are paid. Are there incentives? Holidays? Is it obvious that this agency invests in their own people?

If you’re convinced by the site, and they’re handling vacancies that appeal to you, it’s probably worth giving them a ring. Ask to speak to one of the consultants who is dealing with a vacancy you are interested in. The objective here is more than just the job. You are looking for an agent who seems genuinely interested in you and what you want to achieve.

Present yourself well

A good agent will want to see who they are putting forward before they begin to talk about jobs. Agents tell us that the range of organisations they feel comfortable putting candidates forward for expands or contracts depending on how the client presents themselves to the agent when they meet. A recruiter’s bread-and-butter depends on the trust relationship he or she builds with client organisations, and they will not put forward people who could potentially jeopardise the agent’s own reputation.

For this reason, although it may go against your personal grain, you should consider removing piercings and covering tattoos; making sure make-up, hair and nail varnish are fresh, and avoiding casual clothing when visiting your recruiter.

If you see a vacancy in a shop window but are not suitably dressed, use your mobile phone to call first, before dropping in. Tell the recruiter you are not wearing business clothes and are they still happy to see you? Chances are, they will be, but they will also appreciate that call, because it tells them something about your usual standards. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Be certain about what you want

Before you go anywhere near a recruiter, write down the top six or seven things you want in a job. It can be anything that really matters to you, from pay to geography to wanting a female boss or to be accepted if your look is a bit unconventional. Also think about anything you specifically don’t want, and add that to the list. Here’s a starter-for-ten:

  • Type of work
  • Managerial level
  • Geography
  • Salary
  • Company car
  • Amount of travel
  • Permanence
  • Size of company

Work out which of these are non-negotiable, and which you would be willing to compromise on, and by how much. Write it all down, brief your recruiter and be prepared to stick to your list.

If a recruiter is offering you an opportunity which ticks all of the boxes on your list, and you still feel instinctively that you should turn the job down, you need to look at why. Is your list a real reflection of what’s going on for you?

You’ll probably get away with turning down one opportunity, maybe two, but if you turn down a third job, you can expect your recruiter to move on, and possibly even warn other agencies that you’re a time-waster.

Be loyal to your recruiter

Once you’ve found a recruiter you like, who you feel is in tune with you and has your interests at heart, offer them two weeks of exclusivity to put you forward for opportunities. Good recruiters repay loyalty with loyalty, and will put you forward for their best opportunities. Look on your agent as a career partner, not just an agent. When this works, it can be win-win for you both.

No matter what your level of panic, try not to register with multiple agencies at once. As we have already noted, most big employers are currently putting jobs with more than one agency, and it’s embarrassing for the recruiter to find that they are not the only person putting a candidate forward. Because agencies compare notes on candidates, you may get a reputation as an ‘agency tart’.

In addition, if you are put forward for the same jobs by several recruiters, employers begin to wonder what’s wrong with you. Think about the last time you bought or rented a house. Remember the one that was on with every agency? Remember thinking, ‘I wonder what’s wrong with that one’? The same applies here.

Be honest

Remember that a recruiter needs to place the right people in the right roles to get paid, so it’s in their interests to overcome any objections the employer may have. For this reason, don’t try to blag or cover up your situation if there are skeletons in the closet. A recruiter will sniff out bull at twenty paces. They’ve seen it all, and heard it all, before. Your best hope is to be scrupulously honest, no matter how difficult, and let the agent handle things with the employer.

If you were sacked, say so, and say why. Work out in advance an honest, straightforward version of what happened, and discuss it through with the recruiter. Take his or her advice on how to pitch it with employers. Once you’ve got your story, stick to it, no matter who you have to tell it to. If you come out with something different in interview it’s embarrassing for all concerned.

If you were made redundant, be prepared for questions from the recruiter about why this happened. You will be asked how many others were made redundant at the same time, and if it was just you, why it was only you. Have an answer for the question. Again, be consistent if the employer asks you.

Most importantly, if there is anything else that you obviously should be telling the recruiter, don’t wait to be asked. Never leave the recruiter in the position of having to say: ‘I don’t know’ to their client.

Maintaining the relationship

It does takes time to build up trust with a recruiter, but also pay attention to your instincts. If you feel that a recruiter is not putting you forward for enough vacancies, or is putting you forward for jobs that don’t seem to match your criteria, question them. In fact, question them all the time. Let them see that you are fully engaged, and that you expect the same from them.

If a recruiter does a good job for you, ask for their personal mobile or email address, because, by the time you’re looking again, they may well have moved on. Whether the agent is willing to provide these will tell you a lot about what kind of candidate you’ve been.