A few years ago, I was looking for a new job and so, after years as a Recruitment Consultant, I was a candidate again, experiencing all the frustrations involved with looking for a new role as an In-house Recruiter. One of the biggest of these was dealing with recruitment agencies, a situation made all the more uncomfortable by the fact I worked for one!
The experience of being on the receiving end of varying levels of service from agencies made me empathise with candidates and hopefully made me a more considerate recruiter as a result. Don’t get me wrong recruitment agencies are an invaluable source of support, advice (and fundamentally, jobs!). However, there are ways to get the best from them as we have written about previously here. Equally, in a highly competitive market with a myriad of agencies competing for a limited pool of (strong) candidates and jobs, issues can arise, particularly when you are dealing with multiple agency contacts.
One of the main issues faced by candidates is when you are briefed on the same vacancy by two different agencies.
This problem arises when companies brief the same role to multiple agencies in the belief that this will be the most effective way to fill their vacancy. Whilst it has its advantages from a market coverage point of view, it also has some downsides. Sometimes there my be a lack of focus on the part of the agencies who have less incentive to work on the role and the potential brand damage that can occur when the impression is inadvertently given that the client is a. always recruiting (and therefore has a high staff turnover) or b. is desperate, disorganised or both. In reality it happens frequently and inevitably leads to agencies competing for the same candidates. Unfortunately for the client, this often means that the process comes down to speed (how quickly the agency can submit CVs) rather than quality (these are the right candidates for the role/business).
So what impact does this have on you, the candidate? As long as you get an interview, that’s all that matters, right?
Of course, your aim is to get a new job however when this happens you can find yourself the ‘piggy in the middle’ with both agencies claiming ‘ownership’ of your CV. This can put you in a difficult position with the agencies and sometimes the company themselves who have the unenviable task of sorting the mess out. It also makes you look desperate, disorganised or both!
So what can you do when faced with this situation?
Prevention is better than cure
There is a fine balance when job hunting, between casting your net wide enough to cover the market and taking care not to dilute your own personal brand in the marketplace. There are a limited number of vacancies in the market and it is impossible that one agency has (legitimate) access to all of them. Beware those that claim they do! It makes sense therefore to work with several agencies who you believe will represent you correctly and who have a strong network in your chosen field.
Choosing to register with more agencies than this could make life more complicated for you and will certainly require you to be more organised. More conversations to have (repeating the same information), more calls to take and more chance that an agency will misrepresent you and potentially damage your reputation in the market. If you do decide to go down that route I would highly recommend you set up a spread sheet where you can track who has spoken to you about which opportunity. Less is most definitely more in this situation, and by keeping close control over who you work with and who you allow to represent you, will minimise complications along the way.
Quality of the brief
Agencies tend to work in one of two ways. They will either be briefed by their existing client on a specific vacancy (they are likely to be on the company’s Preferred Supplier List – PSL) or they will approach companies speculatively with candidates they feel will be of interest. When approaching companies speculatively, the agency will either send your CV to a senior line manager in the hope they are tempted by your strong experience or alternatively will send your CV in response to hearing about a specific vacancy or seeing it advertised.
Either way, you need to be sure of which approach the agency is taking whenever they brief you on a role. If the approach is speculative, they should be open about this – it can be a highly effective way of placing candidates before a job vacancy reaches the open market especially when the consultant has a strong relationship with their contact.
However there is always a risk that the approach will come to nothing and, even if they know a vacancy is there, if they have not been legitimately briefed, they may be blocked from working on the assignment.
If an agency has been briefed legitimately, they will be able to give you specific information about the scope of the role, the salary, the reporting structure and interview process. If the client has provided one, they will be able to send you the Job Description. The agency’s job is to give you as much information about the role and company so you can decide if you would like to go forward. They should be selling you the opportunity but equally should be able to say why this could be a good move for you. By asking the consultant specific questions about the role, structure and business you will get a sense about how close they are to the business. I would also suggest asking them whether they have the role exclusively.
How will you be represented?
You can tell a lot about an agency and the individual recruitment consultant by the quality of questions that they ask you to understand your experience, track record and overall aspirations. Bear in mind that if an agency hasn’t taken the time to talk to you in detail about your CV and job search in general, they will be unlikely to be able to ‘sell’ your skills effectively to their client!
Give your permission and keep control
You should always know where your CV has been sent, whether in response to specific vacancies or speculatively. This enables you to keep track of your job search and know which agency is representing you for each role. It also ensures that you do not apply directly to a company that has already received your CV from an agency.
If you receive calls from different agencies about the same vacancy, try and clarify who has legitimate access. Once you have given your permission to be submitted, ensure you get confirmation from the agency that they are sending your CV for the vacancy and ideally confirm this on email. Ensure you are transparent with other agencies about who is representing you. That way, everyone knows where they stand.
Referring to my earlier comment about speed, be warned, there are plenty of agencies who will send your CV first and speak to you about the role later. This approach is fraught with issues for you as a candidate and is just poor practice. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to know an agency has done this until you receive a call from the company or the other agency telling you that you have been submitted twice.
What do you do when it happens?
Despite all the above, this situation happens time and again and can be for a number of reasons. Perhaps one of the agencies has sent your CV without speaking to you about the role and the other agency has taken the time to brief you properly and seek your permission. Understandably if unfortunate, companies often apply a ‘first past the post’ rule with applications and so all too often it is the agency that send you first that get to claim the fee, even if they have added no value to you or the client.
Many companies however will leave this to candidate preference and so will ask you to confirm who you spoke to first and who you would like to represent you. They may need you to confirm this in writing.
When making this decision, consider the following points:
- Who has the best understanding of you, the role and the company?
- Who has handled the situation in the most sympathetic way? Be wary of an agency who is aggressive or who puts you under pressure.
- Who do you confidently feel will represent your interests in the best way.
- Do you have doubts about the integrity of the individual involved?
If one agency comes out on top then you have your answer and are quite within your rights, like any customer, to decide which service provider you choose.
If you have a good relationship with both agencies and cannot decide between them, then you simply need to confirm which agency first spoke to you about the role in detail and let the company know.
Knowing how to handle this situation will mean that you can maintain positive relationships with the agencies involved and protect your reputation with the potential employer. Most importantly, if you do feel you have been poorly represented or have been submitted for a role without your permission, you can take the necessary steps with the culprit!
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