For many people, their first real jobs, or breakthrough jobs, came through a job agency. Temp work, talent recruitment, staffing – there are many names for agencies that hook you up with jobs and take a percentage of the proceeds as a fee. But rather than the recruitment agencies paid by companies to find them new employees, these agencies have files of people without work and when they find jobs, they operate as the middle-person between you and your job. The agency hires you, and the end customer “rents” you from the agency.
For many companies this is a fine arrangement, especially if they only need temporary staffing. There’s also the benefit that you can be signed up with many of these agencies, and have them all look for suitable staffing opportunities for you. The downside attached to that is that you have to be careful what your official relationship is with the agency. If they’ve listed you as an “entrepreneur” or “self employed” person working through them, then they are not paying your taxes, social dues, unemployment or health insurance. You’re likely not building up a pension. So keep that in mind!
I found several of my starter jobs through temp agencies, and at the time it was fine for me. I was young, needed a few jobs under my belt so I could cite experience, and frankly I didn’t know any better either. Working for a temp company seemed better than trudging the newspapers and streets for job opportunities. It also taught me how to sell my profile and to make life easier on the agency people – because if you were a tough sell, you were likely to stay at the bottom of their file organizer.
Traditional Recruitment versus Temp Agency
The company is hired either by an organization (who needs a vacancy filled) or by a reasonably successful career professional needing a new gig. In both cases they earn a fee for their work, likely including a fixed starter’s fee. The recruitment agency will seek to find people who can fill the job vacancy with success, because their full payment is dependent on their ability to find someone who can do the job and passes the minimum required time in their role (often a year). If their pick is let go or leaves, they make a lot less money.
The temp agency will try to find someone who can fill the role as quick and close-on-requirement as possible. The sooner the vacancy is filled, the sooner they get paid. Their payment is a percentage that effectively goes on top of your earned wage, so they get continuous pay as long as you keep working there. It is in their best interest to find someone who can do the job well enough so they won’t get complaints, but not so good that their customers want to hire their worker directly. After all, while the company doesn’t pay social dues or retirement plans, they do pay a goodly fee to the agency.
A lot of companies start off temporarily recruiting people from staffing agencies, especially in starter functions. This allows them to essentially “try before they buy”. If someone is of sufficient quality, they can decide to try and recruit them at any time afterwards, after they have learned to perform the essentials of their work. If, however, they are not sufficiently impressed then they can decide not to have the temp return to the company after their period of heavy workload has passed.
Because of this, temp agencies are hesitant to put people in their database who are too well educated or should be capable of finding a job on their own. They will add you to the record, and will tell you that they will look for you, but in reality they would much prefer to supply a “minimally compliant product” because there’s less chance of those people being recruited away from them.
Make Yourself Easy To Hire
The key to being an easy hire is to fit the job. Before trying to sign up with an agency, look at the kinds of jobs that they advertise. This will give you a real good idea on the sort of companies they are temping for. “Production work” is often machine or factory labor, while “office or administration” focuses on data entry, mail and print. Maybe they supply people-power to set up events, go door to door for charities or specialize in temporary sales staff for all sorts of stores. And then there’s warehouse management (moving stuff), order picking (fulfilling package orders) and IT staff.
You will find that a lot of temp agencies (and certainly the successful ones) will have a specialized niche in which they operate. Find that niche, and rewrite your resume to match that niche. They don’t need your full resume, they just need to have what proves that you can do the jobs they fulfill for. So if this temp agencies focuses on events, rewrite everything you can on your resume from that point of view. Lift weights? You can carry loads. Spatial insight? Allows you to find your way in event halls. People skills? Always an asset.
Being a “hired hand” in this case is a step up into the world of employment, giving you access to a company and getting money in your pocket at the same time. Don’t tip your hand too much that you may be overqualified, have bigger plans or are seeking a career. What the agency wants to know is that you have limited ambition, are loyal to sticking to your job, not a quitter, and are looking primarily for a paycheck. Because that will keep getting them paid – not wanting to get away from the customer company, not seeking a bond with the customer, not hoping to work for the customer.
Whether that’s your inevitable plan or not.
Focus On Your Impact, Not Your Status As “Hired Hand”
Doing your job is unironically the first and best step in allowing your “customer” to see you as a potential employee. Beyond doing the job in a somewhat competent and non-casual manner, it pays to ask questions where you can. What are the processes that you are involved in? What’s the company about, in terms of business and culture? What do your other colleagues do – maybe they can show you a bit about their work now and then.
This serves two purposes: it allows you to understand what kind of company you’ve been rented out to, and whether you like that company. They may have you on loan, but the reverse is also true. If they mistreat their workers, ignore safety precautions or treat people like replaceable assets, that’s a big sign you’re probably not looking into working for them permanently even if you’d get the opportunity. Rather, a successful first placement might get you a new job through the temping agency all the quicker.
Always ask what happened to the guy who did the job before you. In my case, I was working for a circuit board factory in the lead-tin department, where the contacts were coated with a lead-tin mix. Dangerous, chemical and thankless work. The person who did my job before me had been cleaning the edges of the lead-tin bath (containing molten metals) and had slipped their hand into it. That gave me a clear warning that security and safety were not high on the list. When I was offered to work there full time, I declined the offer and went back to university.
Once you’re sure that this company might be good for you, try and find out if they have an HR department or the like. If they do, ask them for some time, and explain them that while you’re working through the temp agency, the resume they have on file might be somewhat updated. Helpfully offer them an updated version for their records. Then give them the one with full bells and whistles, showing that you’ve got more potential than what they previously believed.
Allow Yourself To Be Recruited
At some point, working for a customer is going to lead to one of two situations: your contract will end, or they will seek to hire you on permanently.
But at this point, the only awareness of your value comes from the pay you received through the agency. Typically it’s a bit higher than the norm, but that is because it does not include any benefits or pension. So you need to be prepared for this. Research your company’s average wages, look online for commentary about the company and find out what you can expect in terms of taxes on your new salary.
When they come with an offer, you should already know if you’d want to continue the job, and whether you think the company fits with you. Even so, you would do well to negotiate a bit. You do have a little bit of wiggle room – after all the agency paid you a bit more, and they may not be aware how much the agency offered, or that this does not include benefits. Maybe there will be an education for you, even if it’s just on-the-job training. If you’d be tempted to go back to school, they may be willing to contribute. After all, if you made a good impression they will want to retain you for future growth. Every company, even warehouses and production companies, need good people to grow up into the company and be team leads eventually.
Once you have a fixed employment and a solid company, you can start finding ways to grow. As a full employee you will be able to learn a lot more about the company, and even if you won’t stay forever it will be a stable base to hunt a new job from. Within a year you should have your performance dialog, and if you’ve played your cards right it might reveal some of the key traits that they saw in you that lead them to hire you.
Those traits are going to be the one from which you can grow your career, later.