By Gill Sharp
Are you looking for a new job? Where do you start? Many people fondly imagine that the answer is to place their CV with a recruitment agency and wait for the interview offers to start rolling in. The reality is actually quite different, so before starting your job search consult these top ten tips for success...
1. Given the sheer number of agencies, both on and off-line, how do you decide which one to use? Many employers refuse to reveal which consultancies they use for fear of being swamped by unsuitable applicants, so a little detective work is in order. Word of mouth is often reliable but you should remember that your experience may not mirror that of the friend or colleague who passes on the information. Checking sector specific journals and magazines to identify agencies specialising in your field is another method. Also consider visiting the well-known high street agencies - the days when they offered only temporary office positions are long gone. Of course, for the biggest range of both academic and non-academic jobs in universities worldwide browse the www.jobs.ac.uk jobs pages.
2. What will they charge? It's reassuring to know that the cost up front to you is 0. Reputable consultancies make their money by invoicing potential employers not intending employees. There are honourable exceptions - it's perfectly reasonable for them to expect payment for revamping your CV, for instance. There may well be a hidden price tag, however. Typically, the employer that you are placed with may seek to recoup their outlay by offering you a lower salary. Bear this in mind when negotiating remuneration!
What about professional institutions with their own vacancy boards/bulletins accessible only by registration fee? These rules do not apply to them as they are offering additional benefits in return for your subscription.
3. Some recruitment agencies will want to give your CV a makeover to fit their house style: a good consultant will always do this in tandem with the applicant. Ascertain their policy regarding CVs BEFORE spending hours polishing your present resume to a high shine. Also, ask to be informed where exactly they are sending the finished article: you don't want it to land on the desk of your current boss or former employer.
4. Agencies rarely deal with career changers. They want experienced professionals who can, at the very least, hit the ground running and will ideally play in the league above the one that they have just left. The only possible exception is if you have some sort of toehold in the new sector - for example, an academic with substantial experience of promoting a college or department may be able to make a successful transition to a dedicated marketing post.
5. In job hunting circles, the term "headhunters" is often bandied about indiscriminately. These are not synonymous with recruitment consultancies, although they could be a division of them. Nowadays they are equally likely to be a discrete entity, often operating as an executive search company. The vital difference is that instead of you contacting them, they do the pursuing. Employers will ask them to research and approach possible incumbents for a senior or specialised post. This is, naturally, incredibly flattering and often a lucrative salary and benefits package will be dangled in front of you, but don't take the bait until you have made some enquiries of your own. Sian, who works in FE, was pleased and surprised to be head hunted, but, on investigating the job in question, found it to have unexpected disadvantages. "If I had been interested I would have asked for a job description and used that as a bartering tool," she reports.
6. How many agencies should you register with? We're really talking quality not quantity here. Placing your CV with a plethora of consultancies does not necessarily increase your chances of getting the job of your dreams. It's more likely that you will be inundated with unsuitable vacancies from consultants eager to earn commission. This is especially true if you haven't done your research and have sent out your details on a fairly random basis.
7. Following on from the above, if you are really serious about finding a new job, be proactive. Like any organisation of this type, be it estate agency or dating agency, some input from you is needed. Merely launching your CV into the world or into cyberspace is not, in itself, sufficient to find you work, especially when you consider the amount of similarly well qualified applicants out there. Reply to emails and phone calls from all the consultancies that contact you, even if it's only to respond in the negative and give them further clues about what you are seeking. When your circumstances or plans change, let them know. If you are faceless, silent or uncommunicative, they may well write you off.
8. Of course, where recruitment consultancies score is that they can put you in with posts that are never advertised openly or only made available to a select few. Employers find hiring new staff expensive and time consuming, hence they will pay agencies to do the sifting, selecting and matching for them. Nonetheless, there are other ways to access this hidden job market - well honed speculative letters and focused use of networking being other possibilities. Recruitment agencies should be just one of the job search methods that you use.
9. Be realistic and assertive when talking to agencies, i.e. sure of your strengths and marketability and, equally, with a clear idea of what you don't want. If you are sent jobs or selected for interview, give them an honest appraisal and likewise, be prepared to listen to feedback from them. They know their market and can also report on how you are coming over in applications and interviews.
10. Finally, remember that you are not the client in this context. You are the candidate. The client is the employer who is paying for the agency's services. The consultancy's loyalty may not lie with you. Use them well, but use with care.