How to find a job using recruitment agencies
Struggling to get your dream job? Using a recruitment agency could help you get past the application process and secure the perfect role.
Even with a great CV and cover letter, it can be hard to find the ideal role and get invited to an interview. But, recruitment agencies can seriously fast-track the process.
Many think that recruitment agencies are only for those in senior positions. But in reality, recruiters can 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, this guide breaks down the advantages and disadvantages of using recruitment agencies. We've also listed the best recruitment agencies for students and graduates.
What's in this guide?
What recruitment agencies do
Recruitment agencies help companies fill their vacancies, and help you find a job.
Large companies, in particular, often don't have time to sort through hundreds of CVs and select the best candidates for interviews.
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 an 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 cut of your salary?
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.
Employers use recruitment agencies to find employees for them. What they get paid varies depending on the kind of role:
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.
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.
Advantages of using recruitment agencies
Here are three reasons why we'd recommend using student or graduate recruitment agencies:
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.
They'll be able to give you loads of information. This includes 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 developing your CV.
Most recruiters only get paid when you get the job
This means they'll do their very best to make sure you at least get an interview.
They're just as keen for you to get the job as you are. Having that extra support is a great bonus in a competitive job market.
Disadvantages of using recruitment agencies
Here are the negative aspects of using a recruitment agency to find work:
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, 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.
Some might also see recruiters as only being in it for themselves. As a result, they wouldn't trust their judgement when it comes to finding the right candidate for the job.
So, it may not be best to use agencies as your only job source. Doing so could lead you to miss 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. However, it does mean 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 work experience?
Recruiters might not always be honest with you
This is by no means the case for every recruitment agency, but it's worth being aware that some might bend the truth a little to get 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
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 have its drawbacks.
Some might try and throw you into any job possible, without taking the time to see if you're actually the right fit. Be wary of this!
How to find a good recruitment agency
High streets are full of agencies and, as with any competitive environment, some agencies are better than others.
It's worth contacting all of the main agencies to get the ball rolling. Then, to find the ones most suited to you, ask the following questions:
How do recruiters place candidates?
Recruiters should get to know you to help you find the right position. At the very least, you should expect an informal telephone interview or a chat with your recruiter. It's even better to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss your skills and goals.
If all you get is a suspiciously generic email (or 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.
Is the recruiter familiar with your industry?
Some agencies specialise in certain areas, while 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. But, 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 the work you're interested in.
Is the agency open to students and graduates?
There are some recruitment agencies that cater solely for students and graduates. Others might be open to them, without exclusively catering to younger people.
Best recruitment agencies for students and graduates
These are the top student and graduate 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.
On top of this, they help students find internships and placement years.
You'll be assigned a sector-specific expert, who will provide you with career advice and match you to relevant roles.
Best for: Casual temp work.
Blue Arrow is 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. But, they particularly focus on 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. They are also one of Amazon's official partners, providing staff for their warehouse operations.
With over 32,000 businesses on their books, 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. 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. If you apply for a job through them you'll often automatically be put in touch with a recruitment agency.
How to use a recruitment agency to get a job
This is how to use a recruitment agency:
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 with it, we've got some great tips on how to write a CV 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. We'd recommend applying to at least two or three agencies to increase your chances of success.
Interview with the agency
As we've mentioned, any recruitment agency worth their salt will want to meet you before they start recommending you to potential employers. So, treat this like you would any other job interview.
They may not be the employer, but they have a big say in who gets the job. 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. This means 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. They may even prioritise you for other interviews down 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 few interviews lined up within a short time, so take care not to get companies or roles confused. Doing so could reflect badly on both you and the recruiter.
Make sure you prepare your answers to some 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 usually be the ones to contact you to let you know either way. They'll also arrange all the details like 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.
Chase things up and ask for feedback
Don't be afraid to chase the recruiter.
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.
The same goes for interviews. If you don't hear anything from the recruiter or the employer after an interview, chase the recruiter up during the following few days to gauge the situation.
And whether you're successful or not, always ask for feedback from interviews. You're entitled to know your strengths and weaknesses, so you can learn from them.
We know 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. You could even ask the recruiter for tips before a job interview with the employer. You've got this!
Find out what to expect in your first graduate job.