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Who Needs An Agency?

Who Needs An Agency?

You're a skilled technical professional with experience that's in demand. Your résumé reads like a Who's Who of top companies and a What's What of top skills. So how come you're the one working 40 hours a week, but a chunk of the money the client is paying for your services is going or has gone to the agency that placed you?

If you've been placed in a permanent position, why should the client pay your agency a percentage of your annual salary for just sending out your résumé and setting up an interview? Or if you're a contractor, sure, the agency sends you a timesheet and mails you your paycheck, but how much does that cost? And how much is the client company you're working for paying them?

At some point these questions are bound to run through the mind of any intelligent engineer. No one wants to feel like they're being taken advantage of, or share their income with a company that's a necessary evil.

There are good agencies out there. They provide valuable services to engineers, not the least of which is finding you that opportunity in the first place.

But with the past few years' boom in demand for technologists, innumerable agencies have sprung up, eager to cash in on the high-tech bandwagon without much regard for little details, such as industry experience, technical expertise, or solid business ethics.

What should you look for in an agency? What should you expect from them? And what should they expect from you? Our combined experience on both sides of the technologist/agency relationship has given us more than a few insights that we'd like to share.

The Technologist/Agency Relationship
"Traditionally speaking, many agencies represent a broad spectrum of technical professionals. The trend is changing, however," says Kiran Khanna, a senior recruiter at ObjectFocus. "There is a strong demand for the services of specialized, niche agencies that can provide the needed talent in specific technology segments quickly and efficiently."

Many potential candidates balk at providing references to an agency, claiming, "I work with lots of agencies, I can't have all of them bothering my references." This leads us to a very important distinction between reputable and "fly-by-night" agencies.

When you get a phone call from a fast-talking recruiter who can't wait to zap your résumé off to a client for "a great opportunity," how carefully does that recruiter explain the position? Unfortunately, the majority of agency recruiters know little, if anything, about the kind of work you do.

Their primary goal is to spam out as many résumés as possible (often unsolicited) to clients who may be looking for someone with skills that are totally different from your own.

And your résumé arrives on the desk of an annoyed, frustrated hiring manager with that agency's letterhead emblazoned across the top. What many engineers don't realize is the following:

  • You're guilty by assocation.
These agencies that are mostly interested in closing a quick deal won't bother to fully qualify you before submitting you for a position. You can bet that they're also submitting totally unqualified candidates to their clients.

The agency has no credibility with the client and therefore you have no credibility with the client. You have only partnered with that quick-sale agency to waste the hiring manager's valuable time. And burn a potential bridge.

  • A good agency has strong working relationships with its clients.
When approached by an agency, ask the recruiter about the relationship with the client. How long have they been providing candidates to that client? How many of their consultants are currently working with that client? What is the hiring manager like? What is the style and culture of the company?

If the recruiter can't answer at least some of these questions, there's a good chance they have no relationship with that client at all. Because they lack credibility, many quick-sale agencies are merely trying to fill positions they pulled off a company's Web site.

  • Show me the money!
So you've found yourself a good, solid agency to work with that cares about building a long-term relationship with you. You've found your Jerry Maguire. What does that agency do to earn its percentage?

Building and maintaining strong relationships with new and existing clients requires constant effort, from cold-calling to seven-day-a-week networking. The end result is the job you're working on today and in the future.

Each client has its own contract to be negotiated, which means detailed, time-consuming legal work before you begin your new position. If you're on a contract, there's constant monitoring of your project, progress, and on-site relationships enabling the agency to solve problems before they occur.

By constantly searching for and qualifying new engineers, agencies burn up the phone lines and ever-changing Internet resources.

A good agency should provide full disclosure of their fees and margins, regardless of whether it's a contract or permanent placement. Not all agencies do this, but at the very least, they should be willing to tell you the placement fees or the percentage markup they're charging.

As in any business, there's no greater source of credibility than a referral. Once an agency has said they'd like to work with you, ask to speak to one of the engineers who currently works with them. You're likely to get valuable insight.

More Stories By Billy Palmieri

Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal of ObjectFocus. Before that he was at Renaissance Worldwide, a multimillion-dollar global IT consulting firm where he held several senior management positions in the firm’s Silicon Valley operations.

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