Five ways to tell a good recruitment agency from a bad one.

Five ways to tell a good recruitment agency from a bad one.

Anyone who ever found themselves looking for a new job will have experience of both good and bad agencies. The difficulty is knowing what sets a good agency apart from a mediocre one. But from the first moment they approach you, there will be telltale signs; below is our guide to what you ought to look out for in order to help you decide to what degree you ought to trust them, and whether you should engage with them.

1. Have they asked you if it is convenient to speak?

If someone calls you on your mobile during working hours, the likelihood is that it will either not be convenient, or that you might have to ring them back at another time, or slip away to a private place where you can take the call – but in the first instance, they ought to check that you can speak freely.

Tip: make your availability for telephone calls, interviews, and your notice period clear from the outset – in your covering email / letter for example. 

2. Has the agent phoned you about a specific opportunity?

If so, are they able to explain it to you properly? That doesn’t mean they need to be technical, but they might need a basic understanding in order to ensure that the role is right for your skills and abilities at this stage of your career. This isn’t an exact science but quite often if you look good on paper, a good agency will call you to find out exactly what sort of thing you are looking for, with a view to contacting you again in the future regarding a specific role. An agent that drones on yet offers no real information about the opportunity is unlikely to provide much assistance to you, as they probably don’t even know what they are looking for.

Tip: it’s illegal in the UK to advertise a job that doesn’t exist, but it’s OK to discuss general opportunities by phone or email.  

3. What is their process?

The old ‘come in and register with us’ is rather outdated and better suited to a temporary or commercial agency, and it offers you no guarantee of securing even a CV submission, let alone an interview. But a good agency who submits your CV to their client will want to meet you, if possible, or at the very least conduct a thorough telephone interview with you in order to discuss the role properly and get to know a bit about you. After all, you are not just representing yourself at interview, you are also representing them, and they will want to make sure that you are well prepared, that you have researched the company thoroughly and answer any last minute questions you might have.

This is an important part of the process and making a good impression with the agency is vital – as the client will trust their judgment. Be wary of agencies that ask you minimal questions before submitting your CV – if it is as easy as just flinging your details out without knowing anything about you other than what’s on the screen in front of them, chances are they will care very little whether you are a good match or not and will merely be playing a numbers game.

The best agencies will handle other parts of the recruitment process on behalf of their clients.  We do technical testing, personality profiling, and other assessments, for example.

Tip: insist on being told where your CV might be going!  The agency owes you this information, and you lose control if you don’t know.  Or you might find yourself being represented more than once for the same opportunity without being aware of it, which is a whole other can of worms.  

4. How do they handle your expectations?

Being honest is really important in recruitment – we all have to deliver bad news as well as good news, and for every one successful candidate that gets the job there will be three or four interviewees who did not. An agency that does not contact you to let you know if you have been successful after interview is a truly poor one, and you should not use them again. Whether you have been successful or not, as soon as they know, they ought to inform you too.

Tip: insist on honest feedback if you’re unsuccessful. The truth might hurt but it can also help, if you take any constructive criticism on board. 

5. What can you learn from their website?

A company dealing in IT recruitment really ought to have a decent website offering testimonials from clients indicating they have done a good job. A bland website filled with industry jargon and that offers very little insight into why the company is actually better than their competitors indicates that they are probably not. A good agency is one that will put you through your paces on their client’s behalf – this might mean that they ask you to take a technical assessment, attend an interview with them, or ask you to provide references. Their intention isn’t to make the process more complicated, it is to eliminate the possibility of sending you to an interview for a role you are not right for, and that isn’t right for you, and thereby wasting your time and the client’s.

A thorough, professional, informed approach is what sets the good agencies apart – and with this in mind, you will probably gain a good idea of what kind of an agency they are the very first time they make contact with you.

Tip: once you’ve found a good recruiter, keep in touch with them, even if they change companies.  The more relationships you have the easier you will find the process when it comes to changing jobs. 


And if you are interested in finding out what else might be preventing you from getting your next IT role, you can download this report for free.