Careers

The Lowdown on Employment Agencies

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The proliferation of online job search sites has made posting and applying for open positions much easier -- but for employers, it's made identifying appropriate candidates much harder. As many employers become frustrated with the hustle of sifting through hundreds of resumes and job seekers become frustrated with the lack of responses, employment agencies have become integral to a smoother hiring process. In fact, as the American Staffing Association (ASA) points out, "the staffing, recruiting, and workforce solutions industry makes a vital contribution to the US economy, and provides outstanding job and career opportunities for nearly 17 million employees per year."


If you are fed up with not finding anything, an employment agency could help. The option works well for people interested in temporary, contract or seasonal work and can represent a good opportunity to explore industries, companies or positions before committing to what fits best. According to ASA, while permanent placement is the ultimate goal of many who use staffing agencies, with 49 percent reporting that as a goal, one in five job seekers values the option for temporary or contract work.

To decide if employment agencies could work for you, check out the following vital information.

Types of Employment Agencies

Employment agencies help with the hiring of temporary, contract or permanent employees and do the hard work of figuring out what value a candidate could bring and which employers might benefit from that specific set of skills. Depending on the focus of an agency, you would usually come across three main types:

  • Traditional recruiting firms: These agencies, and the recruiters who work for them, are the ones employers contact when they need a person for a specific role. It's what probably comes to mind when you think of employment agencies.
  • Temporary (temp) agencies: When employers need to fill positions for a set amount of time, a temp agency can help. "Approximately 55 percent of companies and 74 percent of offices are in the temporary and contract staffing sector of the industry," ASA reports. Temp work keeps companies functioning when a full-time employee is out on an extended leave, when employers experience unusually busy times, or when they are looking for permanent candidates but have immediate needs. Temp agencies may also find talent for seasonal employment or contract projects and are perfect for job seekers looking to explore industries.
  • Executive search firms: When employers want to fill executive or senior-level positions, they hire executive search firms to identify the best possible candidate during a set amount of time. Referred to as headhunters, employees at such firms rely on an established set of qualifications and may reach out to potential candidates even if they are not actively searching for their next step.

Benefits of Using Employment Agencies

While employers reap multiple benefits for using staffing agencies, there are also clear benefits for job seekers:

1. Referrals

A major benefit of working with a good employment agency is that it can help you transition from an applicant into a candidate. Instead of wondering if anyone's even viewing your resume, you'll know that hiring managers at companies the recruiter has identified will review your documents. You'll also gain access to and interview for positions you won't find on your own.

2. Industry Insights

Most agencies work with a specific employer or in a certain industry, and as such, they have insights into the trends and requirements for success in the field. Working with a recruiter who knows the market can help you develop a better idea of what the employer expectations are so you can determine fit, identify gaps, and prepare relevant stories to showcase your value.

3. Training

Should you identify that you lack certain skills or knowledge for success in your chosen field, employment agencies may offer access to relevant training and retraining opportunities. Depending on the agency, you can either receive the training through them or learn about external resources to help you gain the missing knowledge or skill.

How to Go About Using an Employment Agency

1. Find Those that Match Your Needs

Not all employment agencies are alike, so you may want to research different ones to identify which can best address your needs and come with good reputations. Some agencies are regional and others are national; most focus on a specific industry, specific opportunities (temporary, full-time or executive), or a specific population (veterans, women, diverse groups). What are you interested in exploring and what agency can help you get started? At what stage in your career are you (entry-level or experienced)? Are you interested in staying local or relocating? Are you looking for seasonal work, a permanent opportunity, or the option to gain a different skill?

2. Prepare Your Documents

Before engaging with an agency, make sure your online profile and your resume are up to date and reflect what you are looking for. Recruiters can offer tips, but they will not revise your materials for you. You'll need to do most of the work yourself but depending on your situation, additional resources can help. For example your career center at your alma mater or a free resume writing course.

3. Know Your Brand and Your Value Prop

A recruiter won't be able to find you an opportunity that aligns with your interests, abilities and values unless you are able to clearly communicate what those are. What brand are you projecting into the world? What fields are you thinking of exploring and how can you bring value? Before you work with an employment agency, spend time clarifying your value proposition.

4. Do Your Part

You've found an employment agency that matches your needs and you have a polished resume, a professional online profile and a strong value proposition, so all that's left is to sit back, put your feet up and wait for the offers to roll in. Right? Not quite. Working with an employment agency doesn't let you off the hook. It's still your future and your life so you want to be proactive, check with your recruiter, practice your interviewing skills, cultivate relationships, and explore opportunities. Working with an employment agency is just one of the strategies you use -- not the only strategy -- and you want to be more committed than the recruiter is. Remember that the recruiter is not your personal job search agent. Each agency employee probably has multiple job seekers to work with so it's on you to keep in touch and share updates as needed.

Things to Keep in Mind

Most employment agencies are retained by employers, and as the job candidate, you can use them for free, but private ones may still charge you a fee for their services. Make sure you research your options before committing to one. Considering the many ways in which you can use such agencies for free, I would not recommend paying for the services. Ultimately, as with any other experience, you will get from it what you put into it.

Examples of National Employment Agencies