Working at a staffing agency is definitely unlike working in most other companies. The pace in a staffing agency is both frenetic and frantic, from early in the morning until often very late at night. It has been a while since I worked in a staffing agency and even though I look back fondly on my time at an agency, there are some aspects of these working conditions that I will never miss. As with anything, there are positives and negatives, for working in an agency set up and as I always like to focus on the positives, let’s start with the pros.
- You have Someone to Bounce Ideas off and Partner with: This is the one positive that will always stand out in my mind about agency recruitment. You are surrounded by a team of other people, who are in the same situation as you, therefore, they completely understand the strange nuances of working in this crazy industry of recruitment. There was nothing like reaching a dead end when sourcing, or with trying to get hold of an elusive client and having people around to ask for suggestions and what you could be doing better! This was invaluable to keep focused and always to have alternatives when you came unstuck.
I also found that if I picked up a new order, my colleague would often have the perfect candidate, so we could start referring CVs within hours. I also wasn’t starting sourcing for a new role from scratch as frequently as I do now, where I work independently. I used to partner with other recruitment consultants on a lot of my orders as I always had the attitude that half of the placement was better than none at all. This attitude played in my favor and added to my success as an agency Recruiter.
- The Team Work and Comradery Are Fantastic: There are few things in life that are more satisfying than making a massive, ‘impossible,’ placement; walking across the office and ringing the office bell with all your might. I miss these days where our placements and successes were shared and more importantly celebrated with a few drinks after work with your colleagues. These days I still find myself rejoicing every hire, but they are a lot of tamer celebrations than if you are working in a large staffing agency. It was also excellent to all work towards a branch or team target to be crowned the Branch of the Year at the annual awards evening.
- You Have More Support in an Agency Set Up: In an agency, you usually have more support for the more menial admin tasks that are unfortunately required in the recruitment process. I am not too sure if we were spoilt but we had typists who prepared our CVs for us, and we even had people who would do references for us. This was a real treat! When you are not in an agency, I find that you are required to do more of these tasks yourself, which can be very time-consuming. These tasks also take time away from your strength of interacting with people.
- Agency Recruiters Can Be Cut Throat: I have never seen such hectic arguments between colleagues as I saw working in a recruitment agency. We had a three-month rule that if you had not made contact with the client or candidate within this time frame, and recorded the discussion on our ATS, you would lose the person. This was a brutal rule and caused many arguments between recruitment consultants who often had to be refereed and a final decision made by the branch manager.
- There Are a Lot of Targets in a Recruitment Agency: When I worked in an agency, we had daily targets like the number of sales calls that we made, for example. I was always amazed by this as even if we were ‘order rich’ and were battling to fill the orders that we currently had, we still were forced to make cold calls to bring in new orders. There were also weekly targets of reaching a set number of client visits and candidates interviews that had to take place. I understand why these targets were in place for people who were starting out in recruitment but as a senior recruiter, they were more frustrating than anything else! If the recruiter understands the recruitment lifecycle and manages to keep on top of all parts of this cycle, they might miss a few of the agency’s targets along the way, but the result should be worth the wait.
- Agencies Are Stricter on Dress Code and Working Hours: We had a stringent rule about always wearing a suit jacket when you met with clients. When you live in Africa, and most days are incredibly hot, the thought of putting on a suit jacket to go to a meeting is far from appealing. Consequently, most people in South Africa do not wear suits to work. In my opinion, this rule was ridiculous as we were always the most overdressed people in a meeting.
Working in an agency was also challenging as we had to adhere to rigorous working hours. As there were a large number of people working at the agency, they had to use a ‘one size fits all’ approach for the people employed there. This didn’t allow for any flexible working hours or the ability to work remotely. This was very difficult as the office was based in the middle of town and the traffic was a nightmare. I didn’t want special treatment; I just wanted to be treated like an adult, not a school child.
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As you can see, there are definite pros and cons of working in a staffing agency. I think a staffing agency is a great place to start out as you can really ‘cut your teeth’ in the recruitment industry. As you learn more about the recruitment industry, you might favor a certain aspect of the recruitment life cycle and choose to focus on that area. This could be sourcing for example. Whatever you choose to do, working in a staffing agency is a ‘rite of passage’ that I would encourage anyone to try at least once.