How to use a recruitment agency

What is a recruitment consultancy?

Legally known as an employment agency, a recruitment consultancy creates a pool of potential candidates for an employer for a particular vacancy. They may be the only consultancy involved or compete with other suppliers. They are paid on a contingency basis getting paid when the role has been filled with a candidate put forward by them and can be paid up to 20% of your first year salary. They like to see as many potential candidates to create a selection for an employer to choose from. Despite this they may not spend a lot of time with you because volume is key for them to make a profit and time is money. High-street consultancies are often called agencies and tend to focus on high volume, junior or lower paid roles. Recruitment consultancies deal with graduates through to manager level and often advertise vacancies and keep the client name confidential. Use an agency if you know the job market relies on them to fill graduate jobs and where you believe you would be a good candidate.

How can I find and approach a recruitment consultancy?

Start by asking around who else in your network has successfully used one, using trusted sites who may suggest agencies or asking a careers adviser or someone in the role you aspire to be in. If you want to approach a recruitment consultancy ring them to check which consultant deals with the career area that interests you and then develop a CV and covering letter to send to them. They are busy people so give them a few days and then call to check they have received it and to ask for their views. Make the most of that phone call as consultants have a good insight into the job market and you may find you can gather some useful advice.

What are the advantages of using one?

  • Accessing vacancies only filled by recruitment consultancies and tapping into their in depth knowledge.
  • Possibly saving time if this approach is appropriate for the role you seek.
  • Possible extra support with preparation for interviews and selection tests.

Are there problems to look out for?

  • Not getting taken seriously if you are a new graduate with limited experience.
  • Delays and no responses: they are busy people so expect to ring a few times to get an answer.
  • Never pay to secure a job: it is illegal and beware charges for extras such as CV checks.
  • False expectations: they are unlikely to give you free careers advice, they want to place you in a job.

What rules should they follow?

They abide by the following legislation: ‘The Employment Agencies Act 1973’, ‘The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003’ and ‘The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2010’. Head to to view them in detail. Also, recruitment consultancies who are members of REC abide by their agreed professional standards.

Getting started

  1. Talk to people in your peer group and network about whether they have used a recruitment consultancy before and whether they would recommend one.
  2. Look at the types of jobs pages on Prospects and click on the ‘employers and vacancies section to get an indication of whether agencies are typically involved in recruiting for the type of job that interests you. The country profiles have lists of agencies under ‘vacancy sources’.
  3. Try using the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) which has a sophisticated search engine packed with recruitment consultancies which you can search by location and industry.
  4. Also useful is Agency Central which provides links to industry specific recruitment agencies, jobs and free salary information as well as trends across a range of sectors and regions.
  5. For overseas recruitment consultancies try the International Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (CIETT).
  6. If you are still in doubt, have a chat with a Careers Adviser to identify the best ones to target.

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