Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Dealing with Staffing Agencies

For those of you who don't know, I was recently laid off from work. Since then I've been working very hard hunting down jobs, be they temp, contract, or permanent. One creature I've run into quite a bit in my travels is the staffing agency.

Staffing agencies make their money by finding people to fill jobs for other companies. Microsoft seems to use them quite extensively. The staffing agency gathers qualified people, send resumes to the client, and brings people in for interviews. In return, the agency gets a fee.

Now some of these agencies are good, and some are bad, but most have a mix of both. I'm starting to learn that there are a number of tips and tricks that everyone who deals with staffing agencies should know.

I have to stress that I'm a beginner in being an independent agent, and my insights probably reflect my inexperience.

  1. Know the difference between contracting and staffing: Staffers fill a job description. Consultants solve problems. If you're talking to a customer, diagnosing their problems, and designing or implementing the solution, you're really consulting. Consultants typically get paid more and are expected to apply a higher level of expertise, insight, and commitment. Also, consultants need a higher level of control and autonomy to be effective. The people you work for may not always understand these distinctions, but you definitely need to.

  2. Know your Job Title: A job description corresponds to a title, and a title corresponds to a rate. The titles are usually things like "Developer II", "Project Manager", "Senior Technical Writer". One way to figure out the job titles is to look at job ads at large companies in your area and industry. Find the jobs you are qualified for an note their titles. If you're a Developer II, don't be too quick to accept a job that looks like a Developer I position.

  3. Know the Rate: Every job title has a corresponding rate. In my market, the descriptions and rates are largely defined by Microsoft's job titles and rates. Every time you learn that a specific job is offered at a specific rate, that provides a clue as to what the going rate for that job is. Eventually you'll have a good idea what you can charge.

  4. Negotiating a Rate: Don't be afraid to say no. Better yet, say yes to a higher rate. Most companies don't mind paying a little more for something better. If you're prepared to tell the recruiter why it is that you represent a better value for the money, the recruiter may be quite happy to pass that information on to their client, and you may end up being hired for more than was originally offered.

  5. Talking to Recruiters: Some recruiters haven't the faintest clue what the job they're trying to fill actually requires. They job description may say "knowledge of technology X", but the recruiter doesn't necessarily know anything about technoloy X. Some recruiters may even ask you to help them figure it out. I'm divided on this, but I'll usually spend some time talking to the recruiter if I think I understand the job better than they do. I figure if they have the good sense to know the limits of their knowledge, they're a good contact.

  6. Know how Recruiters Work: I don't know anything about this from the recruiter's side. What I have observed from my side is that a job that's underpaid tends to come around again. I've been called about the same job as many as three times from three different agencies at three different rates. If anyone out there knows more about how the recruiting business works, I'd appreciate any insight you can offer.

These are just a few things I've learned over the last couple of months. This is by no means a complete list. I'd be happy to hear from others about their experiences


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been working off and on since I was laid off from EDS back in January of 2002. I have noticed that the temp agencies send you on an assignment and then the company has the nerve to end the contract just because they did not have it in their budget. This makes me ill and when it happens over and over it gets really old after awhile. I have gone out of my way to do whatever it takes going into a job assignment and doing everything from giving up a Saturday to work for them and then they let me go. I feel like the companies out there today just don't appreciate employees like they used to and it all boils down to the old mighty dollar. This comes from someone who has seen President Bush say on TV that our economy is getting better. I would like to know what country is he living in.

3:10 PM  

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