Recruitment agencies are a common way for companies to outsource the process of finding short term staff, or the filtering of applicants for full time positions down to a manageable few candidates. From the outside, whether you need a staff member or need a job, it can feel like you talk to only a single person in the company and they handle the whole process of matching vacancy with worker. In reality, recruitment is teamwork, both within the agency, and with the clients with vacant positions and the candidates looking for work. Here we look at how a standard recruitment agency works, and how a vacancy is filled by the recruiters.
Standard practices within recruitment agencies
Usually, recruitment agencies larger than a few people will split their staff in to two roles. The 'Consultants' will talk to the agency's clients and gather requirements. The 'Resourcers' will find the right candidates for the vacancies the Consultant and client have defined.
This division of roles allows each member of staff to concentrate on the different tasks an agency must be good at. The Consultant can build up a relationship with the client and grow to understand their business, the problems they have, and the working environment they need contractors and full time staff to fit within.
A Resourcer needs to be good at communicating with people looking for a job, assessing which teams they would work well with, how reliable they are, what skills they have, and how someone's skills can change over time. As they progress through their working life, a candidate's experience and skills will change, and their needs and wants may change too. A younger person may be relatively inexperienced, but be willing to commute long distances to a role that will accept them, or stay in cheap accommodate near a the workplace for a contract. Conversely, the same person a few years later may have much more experience, but also a family and will not be willing to spend time away from home. However, their expertise may mean a client will accept them working from home if the right balance between that and a presence in the office is negotiated.
Within many agencies career progression involves starting as a Resourcer and moving on to becoming a Consultant after some experience and training, but this is not always the case, some people stay as very successful, sought after Resourcers for their whole career.
How a vacancy is handled by a recruitment agency
When the client of the agency has a vacancy, whether full time or short term, they will discuss their requirements with a Consultant from the agency. The Consultant and Resourcer then discuss this within the agency and will check their internal database of registered candidates to see if it contains anyone suitable for the role.
If suitable candidates are registered with the agency and have recently been in touch either because they contacted the agency or vice versa, the Resourcer will either call or e-mail them to check their availability and interest in the position. If the candidate is available and interested, the Resourcer and Consultant will start the process to confirm their suitability for the position. Depending on the client's requirements, this may include a phone interview or technical test before the details of the candidate are forwarded to the client.
Candidates who have been in touch recently are contacted first because the agency knows their availability, it's a short cut to contact them rather than calling everyone who has the right skills as many who haven't been in touch recently will be happy in their full time jobs, or part way through a contract and not looking for new work. Before CVs were all handled digitally, it used to be a habit of recruiters to pick someone out of the recently arrived pile of CVs sitting on their desk. Now e-mail and digital records are prevalent, this is not so common, but prioritising people who have recently been in touch makes sense for rapidly filling a position as the recruiter can be sure the candidate is currently looking.
If few or none of the candidates who have recently been in touch in the agency's database are suitable, two actions are taken: candidates with the right skills who have not been in touch recently are contacted, and an advert for the position is created, usually on the agency's website and other large job websites such as Jobserve.com. The large job websites charge for adverts being placed on them, so smaller recruitment agencies will avoid advertising far and wide if they have suitable candidates registered with them and will spend longer researching candidates they know about before advertising for new ones.
Applications from candidates new to the agency will be registered in to their database of CVs or disregarded, depending on their suitability. Candidates not right for the position but who fit other criteria the agency like will also be registered, but not put forwards for the position being advertised.
Once the agency has some candidates they are positive are right for the position, they will pass a copy of their details on to the client, often with the contact details for the candidate removed, although that depends on the relationship between the agency and the client . The client then decides, sometimes in collaboration with the Consultant, who to interview, or who to hire – for short term contract work, an interview is not always a requirement.
The agency will send a contract to the successful candidate, which sets up the relationship between the candidate and the agency. This lays out payment terms, what legal rights the candidate and agency have in relation to the work, and other issues related to employment law. If the candidate is being placed in a full time job at the client company, they will also have a contract to sign with the client. When the candidate fills the vacancy at the client, the agency receives their fee, either as a percentage of the hourly rate of the candidate in the case of contract work, or as a flat fee which could be based on a percentage of the annual pay the position for a full time member of staff.
During the contract phase, the Consultant will keep the client appraised of progress, and the agency may keep other candidates ready to step in should contract negotiations fall through for any reason.
Once the candidate is signed up, they will be marked as in work within the agency's database, and if the work is a limited term contract their expected finish date will be registered, as the agency will be looking to place them in another contract when they become available. If another candidate who has good skills has come to light during this process, the agency may try to place them with other existing clients, or use them as a way to gain a new client if they see a company advertising a relevant vacancy. If a candidate has good skills, an agency would much rather place them in a position rather than lose touch with them, even if they missed out on the original vacancy that was advertised.
All recruitment agencies want to have a large database of candidates with good skills whose CVs and details are fresh, so the agency knows who is looking, for what, and when they are available. They also want to be good at understanding what their clients want from staff members, both skills and personalities. The staff at good agencies crack both of these problems, and then sit in a virtuous circle. The clients are happy because they get good staff, the candidates are happy because they get a supply of interesting work which matches both what they do and how they want to work. The clients want more staff from the agency because they are good at picking the right candidates, the candidates want more work as the agency is good at finding the right positions for them. Everyone is happy.
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