Using Employment Agencies Successfully

While employment agencies tend to be fairly well connected, they are often difficult to work with at the entry level. Before you even consider working with an employment agency, you need to understand the different types and how to approach each one.

  • Executive/Retained Search and/or Executive Recruiters
    These firms are paid by their company clients either by retainer or on a per assignment basis, typically working on exclusive search assignments. They work primarily at the line management level and above, which is usually $100,000 plus. They tend to be a rather elitist group that proudly turns away all candidate inquiries with the "Don't call us…" line. The reality is that they make careful note of everyone they come in contact with since they are networkers extraordinaire.
  • How to approach — realizing there is little they can do for you professionally, many firms are nonetheless willing to give out free advice in the form of potential employer referrals. Just ask who their "Top Five" would be for you to contact, and then ask if they can give you the names of contacts at each of these companies. It's a short phone call, but can be very productive, as this group is usually the best connected in the field.
  • Employment Agencies — Contingency Employer-Paid
    These firms work in fields all the way from clerical to technical to line management and sometimes above. Fees are paid by the employer, but only when a referred candidate is hired. There can often be as many as five to ten different contingency firms working on the same search assignment, and only one will get paid so there is a tendency toward rather aggressive tactics. Although they are well connected, most are not willing to work with you professionally until you have at least one year of experience. Why? Simply put, employers do not typically have to pay a fee to find an entry level candidate—they are free, immediately available, in abundance, and easily located. It sounds like a meat market, but you really do not have any value for most employment agencies until you have at least one year (or more) of experience beyond college.
  • How to approach — contact those companies that work in your field, especially those which specialize in your field. Attempt to set up an office meeting, even if you are told they will not be able to help you. Often they will either give you employer referrals or refer you directly to their clients as a free service. Emphasize to them that in just one year you will have real work experience and if they can help you get in the door, you will be eternally grateful. Again, ask for their "Top Five" and who to contact at each company.
  • Employment Agencies — Contingency Applicant-Paid
    These firms are often restricted or outlawed altogether, depending on the state. They work primarily at lower levels, including the entry level. They are paid a fee by you if they successfully place you in a job. The fee is usually a percentage of the first year's salary, anywhere from 10 to 25 percent. The fee can often be as much as $5,000 or more. Yes, that is a lot of money, so it is common for them to offer time payment plans and other methods of "creative financing."
  • How to approach — don't. Unless you are willing to pay thousands of dollars to someone else for what you can do yourself, you are best advised to steer clear.
  • Employment Consultants — Fee-Based Applicant-Paid
    These firms offer services ranging from assessments to career counseling to resume writing to job search assistance to anything else for which they think they can get paid. The cost usually ranges from $250 to more than $5,000. There is no guarantee of the end result. They are just playing on your lack of security in trying to find a job.
  • How to approach — don't. It's a waste of your time and money. Most of the services they offer in career planning are available for free or very little cost on your own campus. As for the job search skills they claim they can teach you, keep in mind that you are currently reading information that goes far beyond their cookie cutter strategies. Just studying the strategies here will take you further than anything they can dangle in front of you. Besides, I am not trying to get my fingers into your wallet—they are. I must admit, though, that there is one thing that these "counselors" are quite good at—finding new reasons for you to give them more money. Save your bucks.
  • Temporary Staffing Agencies
    These firms are vastly different than the "clerical only" firms of the past. Today they work in many technical and professional fields. And they are often very willing to work with someone with little or no experience. They usually charge their client a markup of anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of what they pay the employee. Some of the technical contracting firms mark up as much as 150 percent. The assignments can vary from one day to one year or more. Quite often a temporary assignment can blossom into longer-term assignments or possibly even offers for permanent employment by the client.
  • How to approach — unless you want to put in some part-time hours while you are still attending school or working full-time during summers and/or breaks (which is an excellent way to gather valuable experience), wait until two weeks before graduation to contact these agencies. Most of their assignments turn over in less than forty-eight hours, so early contact would do little good. They are not very interested in giving out client information since they would like to work with you after graduation. If you reach graduation without a job, this is an excellent alternative to unemployment. Most will allow you to continue your search for permanent employment, including some measure of flexibility in scheduling any interviews you might have. And the company you temp for could be a potential future employer, with the temp staffing agency assisting in the "conversion" (and often earning an additional fee from the employer).

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All job search information at our site is written by Brian Krueger, best-selling career author and former VP Global Talent Acquisition at All of our content is unique and only available here at

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