Finding a job without an agency

Last week I was asked to join a discussion about finding jobs in Cambridge and using agencies for this purpose.

Some of the people I spoke with had previously used agencies and, in one or two cases, were convinced that they would not have found their current job without doing so. I disagreed and, after some discussion, agreed to write on our blog about how easy it is to find a new job without needing to use an agency.

Firstly, about agencies…

Most of the people I spoke with seemed to believe that agents, on the whole, are really not very nice people. This seemed a bit harsh and was clearly a broad generalisation. There are always exceptions to the rule, and I happen to know 1 or 2 very professional recruiters that work in the local area. However, most of the attendee’s felt the vast majority are not interested in matching job seekers and employers effectively, but solely on how much money they can make from the process.

The most common complaints about agencies poor behavior seemed to be around:

  • Sending CVs to employers without permission;
  • Altering CVs to make the job seeker look more favorable for the job;
  • Spamming candidates with emails regarding jobs in Cambridge that just simply don’t match their requirements and;
  • Pestering job seekers at work, at home, when they are at social events, etc.

In fact, the list went on and on, such was the ill-feeling towards agencies in the room!

So why would you consider using an agency?

The main reason that people gave for using (or at least considering using) an agency was the perception that agents would know about more jobs in Cambridge than the job seeker would them self. Given that it is a recruitment agent’s purpose to know about local jobs, this seems like a fair assumption.

In the past, using search engines like Google to search for jobs in Cambridge was a plausible option. However, with there now being so many recruitment agency websites (or job boards providing agency adverts), the chances of finding direct employers online is less and less likely. So, while using search engines is not a complete waste of time, it is not what it once was.

Another common reason for using an agency is to make the entire process ‘easier’ for the job seeker. The more honest people I spoke with told me they were simply just “too lazy” to search for jobs in Cambridge on their own. Admittedly, not an excellent reason for using an agent, but this again reflects the difficulty that many job seekers have with finding employers directly.

Why job seekers don’t want to use agencies

Firstly: Everyone generally accepted that the vast majority of agents did an awful job when it came to matching job seekers with jobs. “Agencies hardly ever make any effort to understand the requirements of either job seekers or employers,” one disgruntled Engineer told me. “They just seem to have this incessant need to ‘send your details over’ as soon as they possibly can.” Not great!

Secondly: There was a firm belief amongst a lot of those present that ‘most’ agents lie, hide or twist the truth and generally misrepresent both job seekers and employers on a regular basis. This creates a negative environment, bereft of trust. While it is clearly unfair to say that all agencies are party to this sort of behavior, the industry does appear to be overrun with ‘pop-up’ recruiters who will say and do anything to be successful. Due to the dependency of so many job seekers on agents, this vicious circle continues on and on, with no real end in sight.

Finally: The number of stories about misrepresentation was staggering. Stories ranged from agents being very liberal with the truth about an employer and what their job involved, through to one or two examples where agents have deceived job seekers and/or employers on a quite staggering scale.

My favorite was the Software Engineer who had been called about a contract job in mainland Europe. The agent told him he was an excellent match and, after a telephone interview with the employer, the agent said he had been asked to go over for an interview the very next day. Believing this to be true, he booked a last minute flight, flew over to France and turned up at the employers head office ready for an interview, only to be told that they hadn’t asked for him to come in and, indeed, hadn’t yet debriefed on his telephone interview! Unbelievable but true.

As it happens, the employer felt really bad for the job seeker and offered to interview him, given he had flown all that way. As you have probably already guessed, the interview went well, and he got the contract! So, while the end result was positive for the job seeker, it also reinforced to the agent that this behavior, while not acceptable, is a recipe for success, at least some of the time!

In summary, the chance of you being misrepresented by an agent is extremely high. For the lucky ones, this just results in wasted time and effort. However, for some, this can end up having a real impact on their job search, and/or longer-term career, with really profound consequences.

How to find your next job ‘without’ using an agent

So let’s say you decide ‘enough is enough,’ and you won’t use an agent to find your next job in Cambridge, how are you going to do it? Well, this is what I would do.

Job boards

Generic job boards (like Total Jobs or Jobsite) are dominated by agency adverts, so finding a job there is not easy if you want to avoid agencies. This is why the Cambridge Jobs Board is different, and there are no agency adverts allowed on our site. This will enable job seekers to search through ‘real’ jobs, knowing precisely who the employer is from the very start.

There are other job boards out there also worth considering. Indeed is more popular with direct employers and, while there is still a much higher percentage of agency adverts present on the site, they still boast a large number of non-agency adverts.

There are also many ‘niche’ industry websites available, which often treat recruitment as a secondary income avenue. Because of this, agencies don’t get the same discounts they would with the big job boards, and they are much less interested in using them. For example, the SW Engineers I spoke with told me of Stack Overflow. This site is open to both employers and agencies but it much more employer-friendly.

So, in conclusion, there are websites out there that will add value to your job search and, with a little time and effort, you will be able to find more jobs with direct employers than you might think.

Networking – Face to face!

One of the best ways to find a new job is to network as much as you can. There is often no substitute for talking to people and finding out about new jobs first hand. You could go to local meet-ups, industry conferences or local recruitment events, which are often dominated by direct employers.

There is also the online option (OK, not face to face, but still networking!) to consider. There are a number of online forums, chatrooms and general networking sites that will both allow and promote conversation on direct employment. Indeed, these sites are usually really effective as they will not tolerate agencies joining the conversation and touting for candidates!

Meeting people (face to face) and talking to them allows you to get a much better insight into the company, their culture and the current open jobs they have. This is a great way to speak to the people who are ‘on the shop floor’ and really know what the company is like to work for. If they are positive, then it’s a good bet the company is well worth considering.

Social Media

It still amazes me how many people aren’t using social media for job searching purposes. Indeed, at this very event, I asked many of the attendees if they had used social media to find a new job and the number was low. Ironically, of those who had used it, the percentage that had been successful (or at least got some good leads from the process) was pretty high.

The obvious downside of you telling people on social media that you are looking for jobs in Cambridge is that it is out there for all to see, including your current employer! However, many of the social media platforms allow you to be made ‘visible’ to people looking for new employee’s, without the need for you to broadcast this on your page.

Where social media does come into its own is as a free resource for most companies to publicise their current recruitment needs. So, it should be reasonably easy for you to search for local companies on a social media page and find those who are actively recruiting. Now you have some leads which you can follow up on and see what they have to offer. Again, a little time and effort can bring big returns.

Search Engines

I have left search engines on the list as they still have a place in an effective job search. The key is to get beyond the first 3-4 pages, dominated by generic job boards and agency adverts, and get to the latter pages where the direct employers can be found.

I just ran a search for ‘Jobs in Cambridge.’ A very generic search with no particular target role or industry. As expected, the first 3-4 pages were dominated by agency job boards, recruitment agencies, and more recruitment agencies! However, by page five I started to see links to direct employers who are currently looking for people in Cambridge. By page ten, 90% of all links where to direct employers.

So, don’t ignore search engines entirely and be prepared to look further down the list to get some returns on your time.

In summary

Finding a job can sometimes be a long and challenging process, and I can sympathise with job seekers who just want to make it as quick and easy as possible. However, before you head of the ‘agency land’ and join the merry go round, just give yourself one afternoon, or a weekend, to use some of the simple techniques I have described here and see where it gets you. I almost guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.