How to find a job using recruitment agencies
Struggling to land that dream job you've been after? Teaming up with a recruitment agency could be the perfect solution! We'll show you how...
You might have a kick-ass CV and engaging covering letter, but finding those roles and bagging an interview is still a serious task. Recruitment agencies might sound big and scary, but they can seriously fast-track the process!
Many think that recruitment agencies are only for those in senior positions, but recruiters can actually help you find full-time, part-time or temping opportunities, no matter what stage of your career you're at.
If you're keen to know how it all works, or nervous about taking that first step, this guide has the lowdown on everything you need to know, as well as a list of the best recruitment agencies for students.
What’s on this page?
How do recruitment agencies work?
Recruitment agencies essentially exist to help companies fill their vacancies – and to help you find a job.
Large companies, in particular, don't have time to sort through hundreds of CVs and select the best candidates for interviews, especially when they're hiring for lots of roles.
This is where recruitment agencies come in – when a company gets in contact with them about a new job role, they'll choose the best candidates on their books to put forward for interview.
Recruiters save companies lots of time and effort by only putting forward top quality, suitable candidates.
At the same time, recruiters help candidates get these interviews by optimising their CVs or coaching them for interviews.
In a nutshell, recruitment agencies are the middle man between job candidates and companies.
Do recruitment agencies take a commission from your salary?
So you might be wondering how recruitment agencies actually make any money out of this – what's in it for them?
First things first, you should never pay to use a recruitment agency – they're completely free for job seekers.
It's the employers who pay the recruitment agency to find them staff. And how exactly they get paid varies depending on the kind of role.
- Temporary roles – If you use a recruitment agency to find temp work, it's likely your salary will come directly from the recruitment agency itself, rather than your employer. The recruiters get this money from the company (their payment for filling the roles) and then they pass it on to you as pay – but of course, they'll keep a cut for themselves. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll get paid less, it just means the amount they get paid from the employer is enough to cover staff salary, and profit for themselves.
- Permanent roles – For most full-time permanent roles, the recruitment agency will be paid when a candidate is hired. They'll typically get paid 15–20% of your starting salary. Importantly though, this money doesn't come out of your salary, it's extra money that your employer pays to the recruitment agency on top of your wage.
The advantages and disadvantages of recruitment agencies
So what's so great about recruitment agencies? Why should you bother spending time reaching out to them, rather than just searching for yourself?
Agencies have jobs you won't find elsewhere
Many companies choose recruitment agencies as their only method of sourcing new employees. This is because they would rather pay recruitment agencies to do the hard part of sifting through hundreds of CVs to put together a shortlist of candidates for them, as opposed to doing it themselves.
Therefore, you're likely to hear about vacancies from recruiters that you haven't seen advertised elsewhere – despite watching every job site like a hawk!
You'll get expert guidance from a professional
When contacting an agency, you'll be allocated a recruiter who should know everything there is to know about the job market you're interested in (try testing them if you want to be sure!).
They'll be able to give you loads of information, including where the best jobs are that fit your profile, what particular employers are looking for, and even whether your experience and qualifications are up to scratch. If not, get working on pimping up that CV!
Most recruiters only get paid when you get the job
This means that you can rest assured that they'll do their very best to make sure that you at least get an interview, because that's the only way they'll end up getting paid!
In order to increase your chances of success, they'll often offer to improve your CV and coach you for interviews. They're just as keen to for you to bag the job as you are, and having that extra support is a great bonus in a competitive job market.
Don't get us wrong, agencies also have their downsides – and over the years the industry has gotten a bit of a bad rep.
You should be taking advantage of what agencies offer, but we wouldn't recommend relying on them as your only form of job search. Here's why...
Recruitment agencies don't cover every job and industry
Some businesses prefer not to use agencies – if you've been doing a lot of job searching yourself, you'll be used to seeing the 'no agencies please' message at the end of job postings.
This is because some companies prefer to do their own thing and don't want to pay agencies for work they're happy to do themselves. It's true that some also see recruiters as only being in it for themselves, and as a result don't trust their judgement when it comes to finding them the right candidate for the job.
So, if you're using agencies as your only job source, you could be missing out on a job that would be perfect for you.
Agents have a lot of top talent on their books
The UK job market is more competitive than ever, so it's fair to say that you'll be up against candidates with some serious skills and experience.
This doesn't mean you won't be successful; it just means that you should spread your wings a little bit and look into all options that are available. If you're feeling less confident, why not spend a bit of time gaining more experience to improve your prospects?
They might not always be honest with you
So we're not saying that recruiters lie... well, we are, kinda. This is by no means the case for every recruitment agency, but it's worth being aware that some will bend the truth a little in order to gain your interest in a position (as this makes them look like they're doing a good job).
For example, a recruiter might draw you in by mentioning a high salary for a particular position, only to tell you after you've been offered the job that the salary is much lower due to your "lack of experience as a graduate".
They do this in the hope that, as you've already come this far, you'll accept the lower salary offer anyway (which is obviously incredibly annoying for you).
Most recruiters only get paid when you get the job
Now you might be thinking – didn't you just say this was an advantage? You're correct on that one, but that's because this point is both good and bad for job hunters.
The fact that the recruiter only gets paid when they place you in a company can also have its drawbacks. It can mean they focus too much on making that 'sale' – they see you as a product that they're trying to sell to companies.
Some might try and throw you into any job possible without taking the time to see if you're the right fit. Be wary of this!
How to find a good recruitment agency
The high streets are chock full of agencies, and as with any competitive environment, some agencies are better than others.
It's definitely worth contacting all of the main agencies to get the ball rolling, then in order to pick the ones most suitable to you, ask the following important questions:
How do their processes work?
At the very least, you should expect an informal telephone interview or a chat with your recruiter – if not a face-to-face meeting to discuss your skills and goals.
If all you get is a suspiciously generic email (aka auto-reply), there's a chance they'll just shove your CV onto a pile and never get to know you.
These kinds of agencies see candidates as numbers rather than real talent, and aren't worth your time.
Do they know about your industry?
Some agencies specialise in certain areas, whilst others might cover a bit of everything. For example, one agency might be the best shout if you're looking for a job in the advertising industry, while another might be good for helping you source temporary admin work.
Your best bet is to do a little bit of research before deciding who to reach out to!
If you want to work in a niche role, make sure your recruiter understands that area. If they don't, they'll have a hard time matching you to work that you're interested in.
Are they open to students and graduates?
There are some agencies out there who cater solely for students and graduates, whilst others are open to them but don't exclusively cater to younger people.
The best recruitment agencies for students
Some recruiters will be better for students than others, although the most important thing is finding a recruitment agency that fits in with your line of work.
We've pulled together some of the most well-known recruitment agencies that students typically work with – but this is by no means an exhaustive list! Do your own research, but start off with this list of recruitment agencies:
Graduate Recruitment Bureau
Best for: Full-time graduate roles or internships
The Graduate Recruitment Bureau does exactly what it says on the tin – it's your go-to agency for finding a graduate job.
They specialise in graduate roles across all sectors and in a wide range of businesses, from big recruiters to SMEs and startups.
They also help students find internships and placement years, so they're a good shout no matter what stage you're at in your degree.
You'll be assigned a sector-specific expert, who'll be able to provide you with career advice and match you to relevant roles.
Best for: Casual temp work
Blue Arrow are one of the most widely used recruitment agencies among students looking for casual work while studying.
They can connect you to a huge range of roles, particularly in areas like admin, call centres, hospitality, manufacturing and transport.
They're also really committed to making sure all staff are paid at least the living wage, and work hard to make sure you're not ripped off by any employers.
Best for: Everything
Adecco is one of the biggest recruitment agencies in the world, so they cover pretty much everything.
They have loads of full-time jobs and temp work, and are one of Amazon's official partners providing staff for their warehouse operations.
They've got 32,000 businesses on their books, so they're definitely a good one to go for to increase your chances of success!
Best for: Admin, customer service and telephone work
As the name suggests, Office Angels specialise in office work – so we're talking admin work, secretaries, customer service assistants and telephone roles.
They've got work right across the UK, and a good mix of both permanent and temp roles.
CV-Library is also a good online jobs board that collects multiple positions from agencies and companies directly, so often if you apply for a job through them you'll automatically be put in touch with a recruitment agency.
Registering with a recruitment agency
Most agencies will differ in how they do things, but the general process will usually follow the same (or a similar) path.
Submit your CV
Whether there's a particular role that the agency is advertising for that you're interested in, or you're just applying to see what your options are – you'll need to submit your CV.
If you need a bit of help on getting it ready to impress, we've got a great guide that will point you in the right direction.
If you're still not totally sure if you're on track with your CV, try submitting it to an agency that offers a free CV review.
Interview with the agency
As we've mentioned, any recruitment agency worth their salt will want to meet you before they start punting you to potential employers. Therefore, treat this like you would any other job interview: dress smart, prepare your answers to key questions and be professional at all times.
They may not be the employer, but they have a big say in who gets the job, so you need them on your side! If you give off bad vibes to the recruiter, they'll see this as the same vibe you'll give off to employers, meaning they're not likely to put much effort into helping you as it'll be hard to fight your case.
Use this interview as an opportunity to build a relationship with the recruiter and ask questions about the role! Even if you don't end up getting the position, you'll give the impression that you're invested in your career and may be prioritised for other interviews done the line.
Interview with the employer
If the agency thinks you're a good candidate for a particular role, they'll put you forward for an interview with the potential employer.
Again, treat this as you would any interview, and make sure you're well prepared! There's a chance you might get a fair few gigs lined up within a short time, so take care not to get companies or roles confused, or this could reflect badly on both you and the recruiter.
Make sure you take time to prepare your answers to come of the most common interview questions, and thoroughly research the company beforehand.
Wait for the job offer
With any luck, the next step will be a job offer! The agency will normally be the ones to contact you to let you know either way, and they'll also arrange all the details such as your start date. If any salary negotiations need to happen, they'll also act as the middle man there.
If you're not successful, try not to let it knock you back too much. Ask the recruiter if they have any feedback for you (as there's a middle man involved here, it's easier to get some genuine answers), and get straight back on the horse!
Some final top tips for working with recruiters
Here are a few final tips from us before you get started...
- Apply to two or three agencies to increase your chances of success
- Don't be afraid to chase things up! If you submit your CV and get no response, drop them an email or ring them up to see if they need anything else from you. Sure, recruiters are busy people, but this is their job so don't let them keep you waiting!
- Whether you're successful or not, always ask for feedback from interviews – you're entitled to know your strengths and weakness either way, so you can learn from them
- Relax! It's easier said than done, but you'll perform a lot better if you try to take the whole process in your stride. Use the recruiter interview as a practice run, and maybe even ask the recruiter if they have any tips before heading to your interview with the employer.
Finding a job with a recruitment agency can be fairly simple when you know what you're doing. It's just a case of familiarising yourself with the process and being ready to really sell your skills.
And here's what you should expect once you nab that first role!