Choosing the right recruitment agency is easy, right?

Not quite, getting it wrong can at best be annoying but can be catastrophic for your business if you employ the wrong temps or delay a critical hire because the agency did not deliver.

There are thousands of recruitment agencies out there, all competing for your business, all proclaiming they are the best.

Before you decide who to engage there are some areas you need to consider, you also need to do some prep yourself. A little homework and some groundwork will make life easier for everyone. I am concentrating here on permanent recruitment as there are numerous additional considerations when looking at a temp agency which will be covered in another article.

Firstly, can you afford to use an agency? this is an expense that is often glossed over until it comes to offer, then the reality sets in, issues arise, trust suffers and candidates lose interest if delays over fees get in the way of making an offer. You do not want to be uttering “I didn’t think it would be so expensive, not sure I can get sign off on this” at the point, you have conducted interviews, second interviews and are about to make an offer.

Fees are usually split into 3 types

% of salary –The most common option, typically this will start at 15% of the first years’ salary, sometimes guaranteed bonuses, signing on bonus, car and other taxable benefits are included so make sure you know up front exactly what the fee includes, you may find there is a minimum fee so do not assume part-time roles will simply be charged at a set amount of a full-time role. Also, %’s usually rise with higher salaries, they can be as high as 30%, thus a £40,000 role could easily cost £10,000 plus, add in a £5,000 car allowance and you have to factor an additional £1500 in fees.
Fixed fee – Not as common, an agreed £ sum regardless of salary/benefits.
Retainer – usually reserved for higher-end roles, fee is normally a % of salary and is paid 1/3rd on acceptance of the assignment. 1/3rd on production of shortlist and 1/3rd on start (sometimes the final 1/3rd is paid on offer acceptance), be aware you could pay anything from 33% to 100% of the agreed fee and still not employ anyone.

It is not good practice to try and re-negotiate the fee when the work has been done, it leaves a bad taste in the recruiter’s mouth and will sour future relationships.

Some companies are starting to ask for deposits, generally, these are non-refundable if you do not recruit but will be deducted from the final fee in the event of a successful placement. There is some nervousness around this within contingent recruitment (payment on results model) as you could pay money and still not hire anyone, it is designed to test your commitment to the process.
So, you’ve got the budget and agreed on the fee structure so how do you actually find the right agency?

1 agency or 5?

There is a common fallacy that the more agencies looking for your ideal candidate the better, in fact, this can be harmful to your business and actually turn candidates off. Imagine you are a candidate and you are receiving calls and emails about the same job from multiple sources and you are getting differing information, lack of transparency, confusing messages, you would rightly be hesitant to commit.
Pitting agencies against one another often means it is a race to get a candidate in front of the employer, this is not necessarily the right candidate, simply an available candidate.

Taking your time to get 1 great agency and working with them generally improves your chances of building a great relationship and enhances the chance of you filling the role. Exclusivity means they will be more prepared to put in the time and effort if they are not in a race to just get candidates to you quicker than other agencies.

Finding an agency

Word of mouth – do you know businesses who have used an agency, have any of your current staff been placed in a role by an agency? Ask around for recommendations, talk to people.
The internet will throw up many options from small, local agencies to regional, national and international players.
Look at review sites such as Glassdoor, do they have a Facebook page where people can comment on their services? Do not use these sites in isolation but as part of a wider decision-making strategy as some companies can manipulate their staff to leave great reviews, similarly candidate reviews are not always what they seem

Check out their website

Is the site easy to navigate?
Do they advertise many job opportunities?
Are their job adverts well written and appealing?
Do they have specialist divisions and do they cover your sector?
Do they list any of their current clients?
Do they feature testimonials?

As with reviews, a great looking website does not guarantee a good fit.
Regardless of how you find them there are key questions you must ask –

Where do you get your candidates?

The agency should be able to demonstrate a variety of techniques to find candidates and not be relying just on job boards. They should be skilled sourcing from personal recommendations, social media (not just LinkedIn). This means they should be able to find candidates who are not actively looking but are open to discussion – the passive job seeker.

Do you have recruitment experts for different sectors?

One of the benefits of using a recruitment agency is the time it can save you by taking much of the work off your hands. However, the consultant working with you must have a good understanding of your sector, the industry you’re recruiting in and the local marketplace, you run the risk of someone fishing in the dark if they do not know the nuances of your sector, chances are they will struggle to attract the best.

Do you meet all your candidates in person?

Finding the right person isn’t only about skills and experience – team fit is vital. Any decent agency will take the time to interview a candidate before deciding whether to put them forward to a client. This way, you should only receive high quality, suitable candidates, but in today’s connected world face to face interviews are seen as not strictly necessary with the advent of specialist recruitment video software, skype, face time, etc, regardless it is important they actually speak with them about the role, their skills, aspirations, salary expectations and much more. There are some “agencies” who will simply submit a CV based on your spec and will not have spoken to the individual, not only is this against GDPR but you will be unlikely to get a good fit -avoid these operators at all costs.

What guarantees do you offer?

Some agencies offer a money-back guarantee, in practice, it is generally a sliding scale covering an agreed period, typically this is 8 – 12 weeks, in the case of a candidate leaving you to get all or some of the fee back (be aware there are restrictions and conditions).
Some will offer a free replacement if the initial hire does not work out within an agreed period, again check the small print.
A few will offer a full money-back commitment for up to 12 months, they are rare and tend to be working in very specialist markets.
Regardless, it is vital you understand your options and get them in writing if things do not work out.

Can I talk to clients you have recruited for and candidates you have placed?

I used to encourage prospective clients to speak with people I had done business with, agencies should have nothing to hide in this regard, they will ALWAYS have people who are willing to recommend them, if they are being cagey it should ring alarm bells.

It is worth inviting them to your premises, that way they get to see the environment, perhaps speak to people in the department or team they will be recruiting for and really get a feel for the type of person likely to fit in.

A good agency will be able to offer advice on the market covering areas such as salary expectations, candidate availability, timescale to hire, etc. Do not be afraid to ask as many probing questions as possible, use them for their expertise, let them guide you and listen to their advice.

What you need to do:

  • Set aside the time to meet with the agency
  • Prepare a great job spec complete with benefits and reasons why someone would want to work for you – not just a list of what you expect. Be reasonable with your essential criteria, the more demanding you are, the less choice you will have.
  • Set aside time for interviews, clear some specific time and agree on this with the agency.
  • Show flexibility around interviews, not everyone can get time off at short notice, candidates will lose interest if you are seen to be inflexible.
  • Provide speedy feedback on CV’s submitted, be objective and truthful about why you are not progressing, it helps the agency fine-tune their submissions.
  • In the same vein, honest and consistent feedback following interviews is essential.
  • Do not “low ball” the candidate just to save some money, if you are offering a salary at the lower end of an agreed range be sure you have thought it through, you risk coming across as penny-pinching otherwise.
  • Don’t delay on written offers, get the paperwork out as soon as you can.

So, there you have it, how to choose an agency and how to ensure you get the best outcome.

Many a horror story has been written about poor practice, let’s turn it on its head, drop a comment on your good experiences when using an agency.
I would also be interested in any experiences around paying a deposit as it is certainly a topic that is doing the rounds amongst agencies at the moment. Would you risk paying a deposit that you could lose, how much would you pay?