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Advice on Using Recruitment Agencies for Job Seekers

Treat Your CV Like Your Bank Details

Maybe that is a little over cautious, but not by much. If you remember nothing else from this advice section remember that.

Control is the key to successful job seeking. You must know at all times where your CV is and to where it is being sent.

A common misconception among job seekers is that your CV cannot be sent anywhere without you knowing about it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Recruitment Agencies must have your consent before they send your CV forward to a company. They do not have to ask you every time they send it. This means that you could submit your CV to a recruitment agency for a specific job, but six months later your CV could potentially be doing the rounds of companies you may be suitable for. Sometimes the first you will hear of it is when you are offered an interview.

This is of course bad practice, but there is no legislation to stop it and there are incentives for recruitment consultants to act in such a way. I will go into that later but for now I just want to highlight the importance of choosing your Recruitment Agencies well.
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The Data Protection Act

The Data Protection Act does not afford you nearly as much protection as you may like to think.

A Recruitment Agency must get 'expressed consent' from you before they can send your CV to a prospective employer. This sounds safe but the reality is that a recruitment consultant asking you 'Can I put you forward for any suitable roles we get in?' will cover expressed consent.

The recruitment consultant is then free to send your CV anywhere that they deem suitable based on your skills and experience.
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How Long Can A Recruitment Agency Keep My Details On File?

How long is a piece of string?

All Data handlers must have a data retention policy. This states how long they will keep the data. It must not be kept for longer than is necessary.

This means that if the policy states 5 years then keeping your details on file for 5 years is allowed.
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How Can I Get My Details Removed

If you don't want your details to be held on file all you have to do is ask for them to be removed. To cover yourself you should put your request in writing.
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How Do I Control Where My CV Goes?

A good Recruitment Agency will call you before they do anything with your CV. This is good practice rather than the law though. To protect yourself against your CV being abused, put it in writing as well as stating verbally that you do not want your CV to go anywhere without your consent on each and every individual job.

By doing that you are limiting the permissions on your data.
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I Applied For A Job But The Agency Rang Me and Said That My CV Already Went In With Another Agency

If a Recruitment Agency has sent in your CV without your knowledge you should ring them straight away and request that they withdraw your CV. This is your right. Having to withdraw a CV shows an agency in a bad light (not you), so you are likely to meet with some resistance, particularly since you are dealing with an agency with less than glowing standards. This is your right. It is not too late to withdraw a CV once it has been sent in to a company.
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Why Would A Recruitment Agency Put My CV Into A Company Without Telling Me?

Many companies work to a policy of 'first CV in is accepted.'

This means that in recruitment agencies with poor standards it makes sense to throw CV's at a job as soon as it comes in. By following a 'submit CV ask questions later' approach they ensure that they will be the ones to get the commission if you should be successful.

The reality though, is that it leads to a situation where your CV can land on HR department desk more than once. This makes you look desperate and careless. If you take such little care of your personal information then how much care are you likely to take with sensitive company information?

It also means that you have not had a chance to optimise your CV and cover letter for that particular job. The Agency is not representing you properly.

If you have not been informed properly about the job by the agency first then you should get them to withdraw your CV and remove you from their database entirely.
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Am I Better Off Just Applying Directly To Companies?

This is sometimes the case, but if you are dealing with a good recruitment agency then it should be an advantage to you. With an Agency:

  • You will get advice when it comes to your CV layout and CV content.
  • You will get full details about the company you are applying for along with a description of what they are looking for and what qualities are important to them.
  • You will get better feedback after an interview.
  • You will have somebody to help you negotiate.
  • You will have advice on the industry norms

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How Do I Choose A Good Recruitment Agency?

  • Reputation: Have you heard of the Recruitment Agency and more to the point has what you heard been good.
  • Specialists: Does the agency specialise in your particular area?
  • The Consultant: See 'Assess Your Recruitment Consultant' below.

It is the individual recruitment consultant rather than the agency as a whole that you should concentrate on. They are the Recruitment Agency as far as you are concerned. You may never deal with anybody else in the agency.
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Assessing Your Recruitment Consultant

The Recruitment Consultant you deal with should be an expert in the field they are recruiting in. Therefore they should show a thorough understanding of the position you are applying for, your previous relevant history, technical terms used in your career and the company that they are representing for the role. They will probably not give you the name of their client company initially. They should, however be able to give you a good understanding of the type, size and approximate location of the company and what the client is looking for in potential interviewees. They should also be able to tell you why they see you as a good 'fit' for the role or not.

If these criteria are not met then you may be better off going with another agency. It is the recruitment consultants job to prepare you for an interview and they can't do that without a good knowledge of the company they are sending you to.
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Selling Yourself

Selling yourself does not just happen when you go to a job interview. Sell yourself to your recruitment consultant too. If you can make them enthusiastic about you then that will shine through when they are talking to prospective employers for you.

There is a balance here. It is a good idea to ask for advice from a recruitment consultant, the key is that you can instill confidence in them that you are going to be great for the job. It is not a bad thing to say to your recruitment consultant, "I am nervous about x or y". They can help you work around any problems. Tell them why you are perfect for the job. Don't just rely on your CV.

Ah yes, the CV. Enough has been written on CV's to take a lifetime to read. Very briefly, it should be:

  • Short - not longer than two pages (This does not apply to some areas eg. Medicine)
  • Concise - Relevant information to the specific job you are applying for
  • Contain no unexplained gaps - ask your recruitment consultant if you are not sure about this
  • NO SPELLING MISTAKES - inexcusable. It never was but spellcheck makes it even less tolerable
  • Be neatly laid out - with legible font size (10-12px)
  • Not be over-decorated
  • Contain all your contact details - yes people sometimes forget to add in a telephone number or an email address

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I Sent In My CV to A Recruitment Agency. I Got a Generic Response But Nothing After That

An automated response is just to let you know that your CV has been received. It does not mean that it has been read by a human being or processed in any way.

Allow 24 hours for a response and then call the agency. If you applied for a specific job then you should have the name of the recruitment consultant from the job description. It could be the case that they have been snowed under with applicants and it is taking several days to get through everybody.

Now that you have them on the phone use the time to sell yourself. Confirm that they have your CV and arrange a time to discuss it. What you are doing is ensuring that they think of you when they are dealing with this job. Use your name often throughout the conversation. Use the recruitment consultants name too.
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My Recruitment Agency Was Great To Start With But I Haven't Heard From Them In Ages

Lack of contact from a recruitment agency is perhaps the primary reason for frustration felt by job seekers.

A recruitment consultant may say that they will be in contact "when something suitable comes up again." A month or two later you could be forgiven for thinking that you have been forgotten.

There are two distinct possibilities with regards to reasons for lack of contact in this instance. The first is that there have been no suitable jobs matching your qualifications and experience. The second is that you have indeed been forgotten.

Most (though not all) recruitment companies will have you stored on their database and will be using some level of technology to match current jobs with actively seeking candidates on their database. No matter how good the software is, it is possible that you have been skipped in a search. It could be something as simple as your profile being marked as not currently seeking work.

Ring the recruitment consultant you were originally dealing with. Remind them of your existence and ask them about the current market.

Recruitment consultants deal with a vast number of jobseekers annually. It is not possible for any person to remember that volume of information. If you make regular contact by calling or emailing you are bringing yourself to the front of the recruiters mind when a new suitable job comes in.

If you keep yourself fresh in a recruitment consultants mind then when they are talking to Clients you will be one of the people they will be promoting.
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How Many Recruitment Agencies Should I use?

You need to know where your CV is going. You need to keep control of the job seeking process.

One agency may not give you access to all the jobs that are available in your area of expertise. Too many agencies and it can start to get difficult keeping track of what is happening.

Two or three agencies is probably ideal. That should be enough to cover any jobs that come up.
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A Recruitment Agency Keeps Ringing Me With Unsuitable Jobs

Ask them to stop. If it is a case of them not understanding your skills properly you can educate them if you feel so inclined. Remember this is the person you are relying on to sell you into your dream job.

If you still get offered positions that do not match your skills and experience then it is time to ask them to remove you from their database. Problem solved.
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Interview Feedback

"You were not successful", should never be the full extent of your interview feedback.

Sometimes a company does not give good feedback to a recruitment consultant. They should chase it up with the company, pressing them for good feedback. This is both for your benefit but also for the recruitment consultant. If they know where it went wrong they can get a better 'fit' for the company and advise you better on how to surmount any issues that were raised.

Never settle for not having a good response to why you were not successful at an interview.
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Reference Checking

Your Recruitment Consultant must get explicit consent from you before checking your references. A recruitment consultant should also never send your CV forward for a position with your references still attached. Common practice is to only check your references once a job offer has been made pending references. This is when 'mutual interest' has been established.

There are a number of recruitment agencies who will pre-check your references before they represent you for a job. Once again this can only be done with your consent. If you are not happy about having your references checked before you have a job offer then it is perfectly fine for you to refuse permission to have your references checked at that stage. Be clear about why your recruitment consultant wants to start reference checking before a job offer is pending.
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Recruitment Agencies are required to be licensed by the Department of Trade and Enterprise. The licences are renewed annually.

The Data Protection Commissioner deals with any breaches of the data protection act.

If the agency is also a voluntary member of the National Recruitment Federation then complaints can also be made to them. (www.nrf.ie)

If an agency misrepresents you it is important that you do make a complaint. Something as simple as your CV going into a company twice can cost you the job.

As well as making a complaint you should also ask to be removed from the offending agencies database. This ensures that you cannot be the victim of further bad practice.

The legislation around recruitment is reasonably lax. Membership of the NRF provides an extra layer of security because all the members have signed up to a code of conduct that goes beyond what is legally required.
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