Understand the four main types of recruitment agencies.

Anyone looking for a job will be familiar with recruitment agencies. They post a large percentage of job ads, contact you on LinkedIn during the job search and might even ring you up out of the blue.

However, despite their ubiquity, few job seekers understand how recruitment agencies actually work, and this can affect their chances of getting a job through an agency. Here, we lift the curtain on this sometimes-shadowy world and explain the four types of recruitment agencies job seekers need to know about.

If you only take away one thing from this article, let it be the difference between contingency and retained recruitment agencies. The other key types of recruitment agencies are temp and niche agencies, both of which can operate on a contingency or retained basis.

Contingency agencies

Most UK recruitment agencies operate on a contingency basis. In this type of agency, recruiters only get paid if they put forward the person that gets the job.

This means that they need to act rapidly, as they're often competing with other recruitment agencies and the hiring company's own HR team, and it's in their interest to suggest as many qualified candidates as possible.

On the plus side, it's also in the agency's interest to help you get the job you've been put forward for, so they will give you detailed advice regarding interview technique and salary negotiation. If you win, they win.

Retained agencies

If an agency has been retained by a client, it means they're paid a fee to find candidates, with further fees paid once the position is filled. This agency model is typically associated with the search for executives and other senior positions, but it may also be found in sectors that require specific technical skills.

Retained agencies will undertake a much more thorough searching process, generally approaching candidates directly rather than using job ads. They may also operate a more stringent selection process, with candidates needing to pass multiple interviews and tests before being put in front of the hiring company.

Retained agencies are also unlikely to be competing with other agencies, so they may offer less support to candidates during the hiring process.

Temp agencies

Sometimes known as staffing agencies, temp agencies specialise in providing temporary workers for a wide range of companies across various sectors. If you're being hired for a temporary role, the agency must make it 100 per cent clear how long your employment will last so you have time to look for another role before your current one ends.

It's also possible that you'll sign a contract with the agency itself rather than the hiring company. This is a common arrangement for temp workers where the agency takes care of your pay and then reclaims these costs from the employer.

Niche agencies

A niche or specialist recruitment agency operates exclusively in particular industry sectors and therefore has expertise and strong relationships in those areas. Needless to say, if you have a desire to work in a specific sector, you should make sure to get on the radar of these agencies. The best option is often to simply contact them directly.

As niche agencies tend to know the areas they recruit in inside and out, they often have very high standards when it comes to putting forward candidates for interviews. The flipside of this is that if you are put forward, you're much more likely to be a good fit for the role, and therefore stand a better chance of getting the job.

How to avoid bad agencies

Now that you know about the different types of recruitment agencies, it's important to steer clear of ones that aren't trying to help you. It's no secret that there are some dodgy agencies out there. One common tactic is posting fake jobs simply to build up a database of CVs.

It can be tricky to spot these unscrupulous agencies, but one good way is to check whether it is a member of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

The REC is the UK's membership body for recruitment companies, and members on its approved register must sign up to a compliance code and pass a compliance test every two years. To check if an agency is signed up, use the REC Member Directory, an online tool that allows you to search by name or location.

Of course, an agency not being a member is not necessarily a reason not to use it, but the lack of member status may indicate that you should inspect that job ad a bit more closely.

One final key point about bad recruitment agencies is that you should not have to pay any fees. This is illegal under UK law, so if an agency asks for payment for their representation, turn away immediately.

Summing up recruitment agencies

When approached by an agency, you can ask about their model directly ‒ the worst they can do is refuse to tell you. Otherwise, just assume that you're being approached by a contingency agency and try not to get too excited about the job in question.

Remember these key points about recruitment agencies, and you should have a much better understanding of how they can help your search.

Recruitment agencies are not the only tools to help your job search. Get a free CV critique from TopCV to find out if your document is strong enough to land you the job.

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