Job-Seekers’ Guidebook: What’s What About Staffing Agencies

I had the day to myself today, so I went for a stroll out of my apartment complex and around the neighborhood to the near-silent hiking trail right about a mile away. Soaking in the sun and silence, I let my thoughts come to a point of zen. What sound bubbled up to the surface? Of course only all of the career advice I’ve ever received in my professional life; everything from “don’t change jobs without having everything mapped out” to “everyone has to do the ‘grunt’ work before they can be the boss”. As I knelt down to take a satisfying picture of the lazily flowing creek, my thoughts turned to the advice I wasn’t given over the years…

Said creek that sparked this train of thought. Thoughts flow like water, if only jobs did!! XD

Everyone and their mother has the “perfect recipe” for getting the next job. Networking events; soft-colored ties for guys, “modest” power suits for ladies; resume hot words… When at the end of the day you don’t know the what, wherefore, and how helps you get hired, do any of these matter? Ultimately, no. However, some solid, measurable advice that I’ve had to learn (and now wish to impart) comes from working with several different staffing agencies.

For the hopeful professional, staffing agencies can be indispensable additions to your job search. Send them your resume, fill out their questionnaire, possibly stop by for an in-person meeting, and they’ll get their little feet to churning out opportunities. I’ve found the good, bad, and the ugly as it pertains to these organizations and offer them to anyone who’ll listen as they consider contracting one of them out…

They can be excellent networking opportunities.

Staffing agencies, regardless of vertical, possess an immense network of professionals, organizations, non-profits, and opportunities. They have the possibility to connect you with people and companies that you may never have ventured toward on your own!

While working in telemarketing sales after I first reached Austin, I was contacted by a very well-known, national staffing agency for an opportunity that aligned perfectly with my resume. Intrigued by the spontaneity of the call, I agreed to the meeting and later learned that this was the job I had been crafting for myself in my head, but never knew how to quantify in terms of title, responsibility, or company.

I was so enthralled by the sheer chance encounter, that I took the job once offered it. It made me wonder just how many people got their dream jobs just by engaging with a staffing agency. I’d imagine more than a few. I have friends whose current career paths were determined just by taking a staffing agency’s call, and accepting the job they were connected with.

These organizations can cut through the red tape of HR and internal hiring practices.

Staffing agencies help smaller companies who don’t have the manpower or resources to headhunt for the perfect fit. In many cases even, the cacophony of unqualified resumes can force some companies to close their doors altogether to hiring, thus allowing their operation to suffer. Agencies, using their extensive networks once again, can lean in and help.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been the candidate that my future company would never have been able to find otherwise! I’ve seen the backlog that trying to hire can produce, simply because running a business and expanding your employee base are full time jobs on their own. Sometimes you can’t do both!

The flip side to that argument, too, is that these firms who lean on staffing agencies to hire out for them have to pay a high fee, plus a portion of your offer salary in many cases, to find you. I’ve run into situations where owners are hesitant to hire at all because an agency’s fees are high; but I’ve also seen owners so thankful for the help that they cut the check before the ink your offer letter is even dry.

The last job I had in New Jersey before moving to Austin was one such case. I had applied to this company many times, I was more than qualified to fill each role, and I had experience in the exact market they were looking. Being a large builder/developer and property management firm, they were focused on bottom-line issues (despite the fact that filling the available positions would have helped them faster). One day, months after applying, I received a call from a staffing agency, looking to get me an interview with this company. I explained the coincidence of me having applied directly several times and hearing nothing. Two days later, I was in an interview not with their in-house HR manager, but with the COO, Regional Director, and VP of Sales. Consider that red tape officially cut!

Staffing agencies can offer another set of eyes looking for you.

Job searches are terrible. Weeding through the old listings on Indeed, dusting up your resume, updating your LinkedIn profile, all can seem overwhelming. Working a full-time job on top of that makes it seem almost impossible!

With the help of one, or more, such agencies, gives you the added benefit of more eyes looking. The best part though, is that these people are trained to match professionals with jobs. They won’t search Indeed for you, or hit up a company on Monster, but they’ll perouse their usually full job board and tell you about jobs. Usually calling at the oddest times, they tell you about one “exciting opportunity” after another.

In many cases, my job searches were so expansive that I was hearing about three or four more jobs opportunities each week in addition to what I was looking for on my own. With the way looking for a job is in 2017, having anyone else in your extended network looking for you is a huge plus.

Many agencies operate with sales-like pipelines, having to meet quotas.

Have you worked in sales? No? Well, from someone who has, let me endeavor to enlighten you. Each month, you’re given a goal that you’re required to hit. You dig into your repetitive bag of tricks, and one-liners, and hit the phones. You connect with a few potential prospects, then you close them out (if you can) at the end of the month. Collecting your pennies at the door on the last day of the month.

Some staffing agencies I’ve encountered operate with a similar process. Job boards and CRMs are filled with companies with gaping staffing issues, leads databases are filled to the brim with hopeful professionals seeking opportunity, phones are dialed without concern for anything but meeting the goal. Goal here? Fill those jobs!

Like anyone getting a cold call, some agencies have such a rehearsed script of keywords like “exciting opportunity”, “perfect candidate”, “relevant experience”, that they hook even the savviest of job seekers. This, of course, isn’t to cut into the credibility of such calls, but let’s face it, if you didn’t apply for the job, how can it be perfect? Sure, I just mentioned one such occasion, but that’s a tiny needle in an enormous haystack.

When you get a call like that, the first — and most important — question you have to ask yourself is: Am I being tended after? The person on the other end of the phone doesn’t know you from Adam, and their goal is to fill a vacant job listing. I had an experience like that where it was very clear that this guy’s intention in calling me was to shove me into his “exciting opportunity”. No matter the squareness of my peg, or the roundness of that job’s hole — I was it!

In an environment like that, you have to be aware of sales tactics and ulterior motives. Don’t let the pressure to confirm for an interview squeeze a yes out of you. Stand your ground and ask to be walked through the full listing. Go beyond pay, perks, and preferences. Ask about expectations, workplace environment, and turnover. It may even be beneficial to ask how long the job has been vacant.

If any of those harder hitting questions (if you can call self-preserving questions like that “hard”) are met with mild to fierce resistance, label that agency with a red flag and politely decline. You may have saved yourself some agony!

Some staffing agencies have deeper relations with the employer rather than the prospective employee.

As I mentioned before, companies don’t get these services for free. They pay handsomely to meet with you. Oftentimes, though, staffing agencies offer their services to you for free. When a company is paying to meet with prospective employees in the hopes of fulfilling their staffing needs, they expect some special treatment. And many times, they get it.

Remember that job I was offered seemingly out-of-the-blue? Well after about a year into things, I realized my square peg had been dented and banged too many times trying to fit into that company’s previously undisclosed round hole. Not wanting to be left jobless, I first reached out to the staffing agency I contracted with, and told them the situation. I hoped that they would help me out, I was wrong.

I later discovered that the “job specialist” I had been in touch with reached out to my employer to let them know what I was discussing with them. I was shocked and infuriated that my confidence was breached. After defusing the situation with my boss, I called the agency back up, ready to ream them out. I was met with utter contempt — “Your boss has paid a sizeable fee to contract our services, the only fair thing to do would be to inform them,” was how they put it.

It was there in black-and-white, their loyalty was to my boss’s dollar, not my career. But it made sense. I signed no agreements or non-disclosure pacts with that agency, so what did they owe me in the way of privacy? The didn’t. So the next time you contract an agency remember, while they do help you, follow the money and understand who’s got their attention.

As in all things, when looking to work with a staffing agency, reviews matter!

How many restaurants have you avoided because they only had two or three stars out of five? I’d bet you weigh your past experience against your hunger level before you roll the dice and ask for a table. The same should be done with staffing agencies.

Some reviews are good, some are bad. An overall positive review score is helpful. Most times, job seekers, not employers, are reviewing these agencies. So especially when you get a cold call from an agency asking if “you’re still in the market for an exciting opportunity”, check them out online. Get their exact address, and website. Check Yelp, Google, Glassdoor, the Better Business Bureau, and even You’ll appreciate it when you do.

There’s one particular agency here in Austin that I’ve worked with and referred out to friends looking for a job. Their reviews are stellar and their practices are very clean. They live off of the positive reviews, and they deserve all five of their stars. I’ll offer one guess what the agency who gave me the “sizeable fee” clap back averages on Yelp and Glassdoor…

If you’ll stop and think before ordering chicken from a restaurant that has a review titled “Food Poisoning!!” on its Google listing, why would you offer more deference to a staffing agency that has one titled “Worst Experience Ever!”?

In the end, these agencies offer job seekers an excellent educational resource.

New to a city, or relocating later in the year? Check out the best-rated staffing agencies in your new zip code. Chances are when you send in your resume or dial them up, they’ll be able to tell you what companies are hiring and where the most exciting places to work are. They’ll even offer some insight into your new city’s job market.

If you’re staying local and just trying to find the next stop on your career path, these agencies, and their power networks, can educate you about industries you may have never been able to enter on your own through their placements. Never worked in accounting? Try this temp position. Oh, you have a knack for it? Thanks, Nondescript Staffing of America!

It’s easy to throw in the towel and take the job you know you can get but, often, there’s great reward with risk. Communicating and interviewing with a staffing agency is an exciting risk, and one not many people know how to navigate well. Learning from them — and from people who’ve worked with a ton of them (such as yours truly) — will help you put a leg up on the other 75 million applicants with your skills and qualifications. To that I say, happy hunting!