Should I Use an Employment Agency?

You apply for job after job. You read all the job-hunting books, you carefully tailor your resume and cover letter to each position you apply for, you search all the right websites and maintain all the right social media profiles, and…nothing. No job. Is it worth seeking professional help with an employment agency?

What is an employment agency?

A quick Google search will show you that people aren’t all in agreement about what this term means. Is an employment agency the same as a temp agency? A recruiter? Something in the middle? Both?

You can think of temp agencies and recruiters as the opposite ends of the job placement spectrum. On one end are temporary agencies. Most people are familiar with temp agencies (at least from TV). These agencies find short or long-term temporary workers for businesses. A job-seeker might work with a temp agency extensively, even indefinitely. On the other end of the spectrum are recruiters. Recruiters are hired by businesses to find the perfect person for a specific permanent position.

Employment agencies are somewhere in the middle. Employment agencies connect job-seekers to positions, which tend to be permanent but may be temporary (or temp-to-hire) positions.

Do I have to pay a fee to an employment agency?

Sometimes—it depends on how they’re structured. Some employment agencies are paid by the employer. Other agencies are paid by the job-seeker. This could involve an upfront fee or (more likely) a percentage of the salary you land in your new job.

Generally speaking, it’s more common for employers to foot the bill. This is in part because job-seekers are (understandably) hesitant to pay fees. While there are perfectly reputable agencies that charge fees, many people balk at the thought of paying out hundreds or thousands of dollars to get a job. There are also plenty of scams aimed at desperate job-seekers, so it can be hard to know if an agency is legitimate. If you’re considering an employment agency that requires a fee or commission, it’s a good idea to research them thoroughly. A good place to start is the Better Business Bureau.

Why use an employment agency?

Simply put, you’re paying for the assistance of someone in the know. Employment agencies work directly with employers and often have a better idea of exactly what they’re looking for. They may also know of positions that you’d be unlikely to hear about on your own.

Agencies can also help you be a better candidate. They want you to get the job—that’s how they get paid. So, they’ll often (but not always) offer personal assistance, whether that’s giving you resume advice or prepping you for the big interview.

What are disadvantages of an employment agency?

The potential for fees or commissions tops the list. If you pay a fee for a placement and end up unhappy in your new position, quitting may mean losing money overall. Other drawbacks can result from lack of clear communication with your agency. For instance, if they’re submitting applications on your behalf without telling you beforehand, you could accidentally send your own application to the same business, which would look unprofessional. Or, if you let on that you’re desperate for work, it’s possible the agency may just focus on getting you a job fast and not work as hard to find the best position (or negotiate the best salary) for you.

Should I try a temp agency instead?

It depends on your goals, but there may be a few good reasons to try a temporary agency instead. Placement tends to be faster, so if you need a paycheck sooner rather than later, a temp agency could be a good fit. You can also safely continue your job hunt in the open. This can be preferable to taking a permanent position just to pay the bills and trying to quietly continue your job search.

Temporary positions can also be a good way to either test out or get your foot in the door of a company you’re interested in. You may also get a chance to hone or develop new skills in your position that you can add to your resume. And, there’s always the chance that the networking you do could get your foot in the door elsewhere.

There are a few downsides to temp work, however. It can be hard to work a job for a few months and really fall in love with it, only for the position to end. Starting another position somewhere else also means starting all over—rebuilding your reputation, learning a new office culture, and just finding some new pals to eat lunch with.

And, let’s be honest—temporary workers aren’t always treated that well. If people know you’re temporary, sometimes they’ll treat as you temporary. I once started a new full-time job after a series of temps had filled the position. After I’d been there a few weeks, a woman in an adjoining office passed me at the copier and asked, “Are you another temp?” I replied that no, I was a permanent employee. She replied, “Oh good—I wanted to see if it was worth learning your name.”

This sort of attitude—that a temporary employee isn’t worth caring about, getting to know, or investing in—is pretty awful but also fairly common. While the people you work with may not be as blunt as the woman I encountered, many people do tend to behave differently around people they don’t expect to develop lasting working relationships with. This isn’t something you’ll encounter at every business—but it’s also not something you can really determine until you’re on the job.

What about a recruiter?

Recruiters (also called “headhunters”) will often find you first, especially since websites like LinkedIn have made it easier to search for candidates. However, you can reach out to recruiters as well. In particular, if you’re highly qualified and are looking for work in a field with high demand, odds are there are recruiters that would be interested in you.

While you can reach out to a recruiter, you don’t sign up for a recruiting agency like you would an employment or temp agency. Recruiters are hired by employers and are tasked with finding the best candidate possible. While they may be excited to see your resume—and may recruit you—that’s typically the totality of their relationship with you. They’re interested in filling specific jobs, not with helping you grow and develop. It’s unlikely they’re going to give you feedback or assist you with finding a job in general.

Why not consider working for yourself?

Working for others isn’t for everybody. If you have a critical skill or innovative idea, it may pay off to start your own business. At Northwest, we offer loads of free guides and resources to help you learn the ropes. You can also hire us to form your LLC or corporation, provide registered agent service, and more.

Learn More about Starting a Business!