Using Recruitment Agencies

If you want a recruitment agency to help you secure a graduate job, then there are some important things you need to know…

The approach…

There are generalist recruitment agencies who manage ‘vacancies’ (i.e. job opportunities) for people at all levels and there are specialist graduate agencies. My advice would be to select one generalist and two graduate agencies.

Typically you will need to ‘register’ with them; some do this over the phone and some will meet you face-to-face.

It’s best to find two or three agencies that you like and feel can get you the type of jobs you want, rather than registering with masses of them, as you will end up wasting a lot of time with ones who will never end up helping you.

In order to find the right recruitment agencies for you, ask them: “How many graduates do you place a week/month and into what type of roles?”

You may need to shop around to find the right agencies, but having three goods ones working for you is probably about right.

How to get noticed and make them work hard for you…

Before you contact them…be prepared.

Know what type of job you want, e.g. HR, sales, I.T. or management consulting. Recruitment consultants get switched off very fast by candidates who say “I don’t mind’” or “I was hoping you would tell me what I was suited for.”

Recruitment consultants are NOT careers advisers; they are paid based on the people they place into jobs, not how many people they suggest potential careers to.

They may help a bit and they will certainly give you help making your CV stronger and preparing for an interview when they have a role for you, but general careers advice is not their job. As an undergraduate or graduate, you have your university careers service for that.

They are likely to ask about your salary expectations. Here, it’s important to be flexible and open-minded, especially in the current economic climate. My advice would be to tell them a range of salaries (rather than a single figure) which you would honestly like to be offered for the jobs you are applying for.

They will also want to know where in the country you want to work or are happy to move to; the more flexible you genuinely are on this, the more opportunities they will have for you. However, if you’re limited, then be upfront with them about it.

Have a strong CV ready to send them. Also, be prepared to answer questions about any part of your CV. Your CV should also have keywords on it, specifically around your skills, academic achievement (i.e. UCAS points, degree classification) and career choice (e.g. sales, finance or I.T.), so when it’s put onto a database, yours will be found quickly when the recruitment consultant does a search.

Find out if they will discuss an opportunity with you before sending your CV out to their client. If I were you I would insist on this, so you know where your CV is going.

After that first contact…

Your speed of response is very important. Email your CV or any additional information they want. And get back to them fast when they call or email you; it makes their life easier (and that makes them like you more!), plus it demonstrates to them that you are professional and committed to job hunting.

Be open-minded. If they contact you about a role, it’s because they feel you are potentially right for it. Do not dismiss it because it’s not exactly what you want; it may well be a route to that perfect job. And in today’s climate, a good job is still not easy to find.

What happens next?

If the recruitment agency doesn’t immediately have an opportunity for you

Keep in touch with your recruitment consultant; contact them say every 10-14 days. They register a lot of people every day, so you need to stay ‘on their radar’.

Rather than just emailing to ask if they have anything, call them too and discuss things like:

– Other career choices you might be considering, which will help them widen the job search for you.

– What you need to do to make yourself more employable.

– What roles they are placing graduates into (to give you some ideas).

– Can they send out your CV speculatively to companies that you would like to work for? If so, who?

– If they haven’t discussed a single opportunity with you after four or five weeks, then replace them with another agency.

In short…

Recruitment agencies should be one of your methods of job seeking, not your only one. Don’t be afraid of driving them hard; after all, they are paid based on the amount of people they place. Find a recruitment consultant that you like and that you feel will work hard for you.

The ideal graduate candidate for a recruiter is not just one who is bright and has good work experience, but one that knows what they want, has energy, drive, ambition and will do what needs to be done to get a job.

Written by Simon Reichwald

Director @ Bright Futures

Simon Reichwald has over 17 years’ experience recruiting graduates for organisations across the UK and Europe; he speaks to employers and students at conferences all year round on the issues of employability and graduate jobs.

He also runs The Bright Futures Society, which is the UK’s largest careers and skills society, operating in 40 UK universities. To get involved go to

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