Recruitment agencies: who can you trust?

There are few times where you find the press of a button to be a potentially life-changing moment.

But when you’re applying for jobs, that’s exactly what it can be: clicking ‘send’, selecting ‘apply’ or swiping ‘answer’ are all actions that could lead to a huge change.

That’s why it is so important to make sure you search for work in the right places and you turn to the right people for help.

It really is important to ask for that help, finding employment is a tiring job and we aren’t always equipped with the best information to allow us to do it.

That’s why recruitment agencies are a useful tool for your job search and, once you have considered the work you want to do and perfected your CV, I’d recommend getting registered with as many as you can.

But, it is only fair to warn you, very few of them are up to scratch.

I’m not sure how many I have worked with over the years, it is certainly well into the twenties, but I have found work through just four of them.

So I felt compelled to offer my experiences of working with recruitment agencies and explain what I think you should be looking for if you decide to turn to one to find a job.


What makes a good recruitment agency?

‘They will be interested in what you have to offer. After all, they will surely benefit from having an excellent candidate like you.’

– Focuses on you

– Friendly

– Good clients

– Lots of choice

As you begin to work with agencies, you will quickly begin to feel like a pawn in their game of recruiting chess. At the end of the day, satisfying the needs of their client comes first and you are a means to that end.

In my opinion, this is a back-to-front approach to recruiting and it rarely works for anyone.

Using this tactic means candidates are chosen for their barely relevant experience for roles and their CV’s are bent to fit the clients wishes.

A good recruitment agency will focus on you. They will first consider your key skills and ambitions and then match them to the right client – meaning the client gets the person best suited for the role.

When I attended a careers advice appointment last year I was directed to EMR, who specialise in marketing recruitment. They came across as having exactly this approach.

The manager I worked with, Simon, spoke with me at great length about what I had done in my previous job, what I wanted to do with my career and how I could improve my CV.

After our meeting, he spent time contacting companies he knew would match the skills I had to offer.

The advice he gave me was invaluable and I will be using it daily as I look to enter the world of work again later this year.

Best of all though, considering I met him at a time where being made redundant had left me terrified about applying for jobs, he made me feel confident I would be able to find work. I really needed that.

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Another way these companies fail is by rushing through their candidate registrations because, to them, you are just another number on the books.

All too often, registering with an agency is a time consuming affair, spent filling out endless pieces of paperwork and followed up with a short interview where the advisor isn’t really listening.

A good recruitment agency will be welcoming and interested in what you have to offer. After all, they will surely benefit from having an excellent candidate like you on their books?

After losing my job last year, a local recruitment agency was recommended to me, and I confess it was the fact they were a short drive away that encouraged me to contact Baker Harding.

But, I underestimated them and was pleasantly surprised to find meeting consultant Tanya a nice experience. She was friendly and I felt comfortable telling her why I was out of work and the fact that I was three months pregnant.

It wasn’t just that she was so nice, she also seemed competent. She told me about the companies she was working with and some roles she thought I’d be suited to, I felt like she had my best interests in mind.

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Tanya being able to talk to me about opportunities I found interesting was also a sign of a good recruitment agency and I would advise focusing on this when choosing who to register with.

I refer here to a valuable lesson I learnt five years ago about choosing an agency with good clients.

When I first moved to Yorkshire in 2009 I signed up to First Choice in Wakefield.

The advisor talked through their main list of clients and one of them was of particular interest as they had a reputation for supporting career development.

A well known national company, I fell in love with their offices the day I walked in for a two week placement doing data entry for their website team.

It was huge yet inviting, with a really good atmosphere, I was sad to leave but the company had made a lasting impression on me.

Years later when I found myself out of work again, First Choice were the first agency I thought of.

A quick meeting to re-register lead swiftly to a placement back at that company and I remained there for a further four years, until last year.

I couldn’t have had that without First Choice and I’ll always be grateful for that.

I’ve mentioned it is important to sign up for lots of agencies to increase your chances of finding work, well you can improve the odds even further by choosing agencies that will offer you lots of opportunities.

In a world where so few of the people you contact will ever call you back, you’ve got to have your fingers in as many pies as possible to improve the odds of getting a job.

Sometimes, a good recruitment agency is one that provides lots of choice and the best for this is Reed online.

It is simple to use:

– Join the website.

– Upload your CV.

– Enter your search criteria.

– Receive vacancies to your inbox and pick out ones you like.

– Write a covering letter and click ‘apply’.

To put it bluntly, when you find yourself hearing back from just one in five recruiters, having a simple application process like this can really ease the frustration.

I was able to apply for several roles a day using this site and it was actually here that I eventually found work.

N.B. though, I would not advice using Reed’s face-to-face service, see below for more details.


What makes a bad recruitment agency?

‘What was actually the point in registering?’

– Never getting back to you

– Messing you around

– Being dishonest

In my ‘Honest CV’ blog, I wrote about my wish that recruiters would respond to all applications.

As job seekers, we put a lot of time and energy into the documents we send off for review and it is incredibly frustrating that so many recruiters never get back to you.

This is particularly annoying when you have taken the time to go into their offices for a face-to-face appointment and registration.

You rearrange your plans so you can attend theirs meeting, maybe go shopping for smart clothes to make a good impression and spend money you don’t have on travelling to the appointment.

Over the years, I have done this several times with Reed who also required typing and Microsoft tests to be completed. Very thorough you would think?

Well, sadly not. Not once did I ever hear back from them about work.

It is incredibly demoralising, especially when you can see jobs you know you would be suitable for on their website.

What was actually the point in me going to see them and registering?

As a website they work well, because they are paid to advertise other agency’s vacancies. But I would avoid taking the time to visit them, there are better options out there.

But what if registration does work? What if it leads to a phone call saying you’re exactly what they’re looking for?

“Woo hoo”, you think, “I could finally be onto something”. Well, sadly this all too often leads to the agency messing you around.

While looking for work this time last year, I was called about a job which was part time and close to where I live.

It was perfect for what I needed: hours that wouldn’t become too tiring as my pregnancy developed and a commute that wouldn’t cause any stress.

I let them know straight away that I was keen and told them about the experience I had that would perfectly match this role as an admin assistant for a security firm.

A few days passed and I hadn’t heard back, so I chased but had no answer.

Eventually two weeks went by and I finally managed to get hold of them: the job had been changed to a permanent role and the company were no longer interested in offering it to me.

Frustrating, yes, but I could understand the position their client was in. So why not just tell me? I’m glad I hadn’t held off applying for other jobs.

Not hearing back and broken promises are frustrating, but people are busy in their jobs and it’s not always their fault.

However, there’s one thing that really cannot be excused and that’s being dishonest from the outset.

My appointment with the recruitment advisor had directed me to a second agency that specialise in marketing so I arranged to see them on the same day I met Simon from EMR.

The lady I spoke to told me she was so committed to her candidates she limited the number of people she worked with so she could find us the jobs that suited us best.

She had the same philosophy as me, that if she focused on my key skills and career goals she would be able to provide her clients with exactly the right candidates.

As I made my way home from our appointment I was filled with hope. “That will surely lead to some work”, I told my partner. “She sounded like she knew what she was talking about.”

Poor, sweet Amy, will you never learn what these people are like?

Having told me she would keep in touch on a weekly basis, I found myself included in a fortnightly newsletter listing the vacancies she had and telling us to contact her if we were interested.

Hardly the personal approach she’d advocated.

I received one phone call a few weeks after I’d seen her when I explained that, no, I hadn’t been offered any work yet and, yes, I was still keen to work with one of her clients.

That was the last I heard from her directly and even the vague email list fizzled out eventually.

That was until a few weeks ago… when I received this email:


Now, I know you are only just getting to know me, but you will note that I have not yet mentioned any experience working for a law firm.

That would be because I don’t have any, nor can I type at 65 words per minute.

So why on earth would I receive an email requesting a candidate who can demonstrate both those things?

For me, this method of recruitment signifies everything that so many agencies are doing wrong.

She is taking a punt on what she might gain from sending a message out to all of her contacts, thus alienating her candidates and surely failing her client?

I can’t help but wonder if recruiters would find more success if they placed more focus on the best assets they have – us.

Five things that worked for me… when signing up for recruitment agencies:

  1. Make sure you are happy with your CV, you can use my post about writing one to help!
  2. Google recruitment agencies in your area and ask friends and family for recommendations.
  3. Take the time to research each one, look at their website and find reviews online (I sometimes find a simple search on Twitter is enough).
  4. Make a list of the ones you want to contact, but prioritise those that work in areas that are relevant to your career plans. I have a post to help you figure those out too!
  5. Be prepared that you may not hear back from all the agencies you contact and don’t let it affect your confidence. Don’t forget though, you can always call them to chase.

Have you used recruitment agencies in the past? Do you think I’m being hard on the work that they do? Have you any recommendations for fellow job seekers? Please let me know in the comments below.

If you’d like to hear more about my journey into work, including how I think being pregnant affected the opportunities I was given, please click the ‘follow’ button to join me for my next post.

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  1. P

    Thought I’d say my dealings with Reed haven’t been great…their website however is superb as loads of other recruitment agencies use it.

    I got my job from one called Time Appointments in Ipswich. They were really good to be fair as in keeping in touch. Mind you the main girl I was dealing with…her mum does a reflexology class which my mum attends. I suppose it proves its who you know at the end of the day! 😀


  2. My OH has just gone through the process of getting a new job and some of the recruitment agencies make you want to scream it’s actually nice to know that some decent ones are out there! Like you and your legal secretary offer he would get completely irrelevant offers or my favourite, invitations to interviews with no idea of the company or even job role, needless to say he didn’t attend those, talk about being set up to fail. #TwinklyTuesday


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