Monday, March 26, 2007

Recruitment agencies and finding a job

My friend Simon, who runs the CareerBalance careers consultancy, said something interesting the other day. In his experience, only about 20% of the available jobs at any one time are in the hands of recruitment agencies, like Robert Walters and Martin Ward Anderson. Far more jobs are found through networking, direct application to companies, graduate recruitment, and headhunting.

This means that those job-hunters who simply sign up with the agencies and do nothing more, are focusing their efforts into a relatively small bit of the market, and the most competitive bit as well. Plus, many are under the misapprehension that the agents work for them. Of course, the agents work for the companies, and so put their interests before those of the candidates.

The reasons are not hard to see though. In the first place, the agencies, being businesses, put a lot of effort into promoting themselves, whereas the other methods are not the subject of such promotion. Headhunters, for example, are not interested in being approached by candidates; they do the approaching.

Secondly, the most effective method by far, networking, is poorly understood by most people. It's either seen as something that only works for some well-connected elite, who have gone to the right schools etc, or as pretty desperate job-begging of hapless friends and relatives.

In fact networking is simply about relationships, and the fact that people trust people they know, or who are known by people they know, more than complete strangers. It's usually best to take a slightly more systematic approach to your networking if you want to use it to find a job, but the principle remains the same, and it is most definitely not about phoning up everyone you know and asking for a job.

But it is about staying in touch, and making sure your network of friends, family, ex-colleagues, business associates, suppliers, customers, etc, are aware of your situation, so that if they should hear of an opportunity, they will have you in mind. That's it.

One way to think about it is this: if you knew a friend of yours was looking for a job, you would want to help. If another friend mentioned he was looking for someone, or a vacancy was posted at work, you would be sure to pass it on. All that's required is that you know your friend is looking. If he just went to an agency and didn't tell you or any of his friends what he was doing, you wouldn't be able to help him.

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