Employment agencies charge you if they place you in a job, right? Yes, but not always. In this post, the writer, who recently started working at an employment agency, explains how they work and why she thinks they can help you.

Picture this. You get called in for a job interview after applying for a position through one of those huge job boards like CareerBuilder. You show up to your interview dressed to impress with your resume in your hand and your go-to interview answers memorized. Then you find out that you’ve actually had an interview at an employment agency, which means that you’d have to pay them a percentage of your salary if you land a job as a result of working with them. But the very thought makes you cringe!

This happened to me a couple of times right after I graduated from college, and I too had the same reaction. Then, by some sort of strange twist of fate, I ended up working at one of those employment agencies, and I was able to see how they work from the inside. Now that I know what is involved in agency work and given the current economic climate, I think a lot of people might actually be better off using one.

The first thing on everyone’s mind

Before I list the benefits of using an employment agency, I’m going to address the issue that makes everyone uncomfortable: the commission fee. Look, in placing you in a job, coaching you and essentially acting like your agent, employment agencies have offered you a very valuable service. Agency employees have to make a living too, so  you can’t expect them not to charge some sort of fee.

Acceptable fees and practices vary by state. For instance, employment agencies in New York have fee restrictions based on percentages of the first year’s salary. The regulations in Arizona are different. If you have any doubts or questions, make sure to check what kind of provisions have been set forth by your state’s Department of Labor for both public and private employment agencies.

Here’s something else you need to know: there are instances when the company with the open position will cover the agency cost. You see, employment agencies aren’t just for individuals, they have whole companies as clients who will pay for their services. So there is a chance you won’t have to pay anything at all. If that doesn’t work out, there is also the chance that the employer will at least pay part of the fee.

The bottom line is that you are entitled to explore your options. If you want the employer to pay the fee, tell the recruiter. Agencies will often partake in negotiations to make all parties involved happy.

Now that the controversial stuff is out of the way, here are some of the benefits of using an employment agency:

Companies actually use them

Ever wonder why you can’t find those great jobs you hear about on huge job boards? It’s probably because they are using the services of an employment agency. Nowadays, more and more companies are turning to employment agencies to do initial screenings and interviews, that way they don’t have to sift through countless resumes and interview hundreds of people before they find the right fit.

In fact, an April 2011 Staffing Industry Report finds that industry revenue went up 12 percent in 2010. It forecasts that professional staffing revenue will hit $50.6 billion by 2012. What does this mean for you? It means that these agencies actually have clients that could be your next employer.

They have a stake in your success

It’s in an employment agency’s best interest to coach you well for a potential job. Basically if you look bad, then they look bad. As a result, employment agencies prep you for interviews so that you impress your potential employer. In other words, you’ll never go into an interview blind.

These agencies also rework your resumes to fit the jobs you are applying for, a much appreciated service since many people still don’t know how to write a good resume.

Negotiation assistance

Employment agencies essentially take on the role of your agent. If you have a problem with your placement, need to negotiate benefits, salary or commissions or just have general questions, employment agencies will work with you and for you. Again, it’s in their best interest to make sure that both the employee and the employer are satisfied.

While employment agencies may not be for everyone, they are a viable option for finding anything from temporary work to permanent employment. With unemployment hovering at 9.2% and the economy slowing down, I say you consider giving them a shot.

Amanda Abella is a member of the Brazen Life Contributor Network.


  1. Kate-Madonna Hindes

    One of my favorite clients is a very successful staffing firm in Minneapolis and Wisconsin. The reason they are so successful? They treat their candidates unlike other staffing companies and truly get to know what they are looking for and what they offer. Plus, they are true lovers of Social Media. Jennifer Brigham has owned the company for over 30 years. Feel free to check them out, send your resume or simply call to pick their brain. (www.brighamgroup.com) Don’t forget that on Monday evenings at 9pm central, 3 of us moderate #jobhuntchat. Not only do recruiters use it to source and engage with jobseekers, you can get great answers to your toughest questions and shout out a little love for Brazen! 🙂

  2. Lindsey Sparks

    I’m surprised that you were charged a fee as a job candidate. The majority of employment agencies today don’t charge fees. None of the major firms do. They place that cost on the employer, not the candidate. I used to work for one of the top 5 employment agencies and I know none of the top 10 charged candidates, and the majority of the mom and pop agencies we competed with didn’t either.

    • Amanda Abella

      I guess small firms work differently. These days some of the companies we work with in South Florida explicitly request from the get go that the candidate cover the cost. There are still many companies out there that will pay the fee though.

    • John Wang

      Whoever pays the fee is irrelevant. It usually comes as a % of the salary. Just like tax incidence, whoever collects the fee and remit it does not matter. It’s the elasticity that determines the share of the burden. With today’s job market, the burden falls disproportionally on the job seeker.

  3. Anonymous

    Amanda–thanks for sharing your insider’s point of view! Good to know how it works from the inside out; you brought up some things I never would have considered.

  4. Jennifer Brigham

    May I clarify? The minority of agencies are employee-fee-paid agencies, as this article describes. The vast majority are staffing firms that are entirely, 100% company paid with NO fee EVER charged the applicant/employee. We have never charged an applicant a fee in the 30 years our staffing firm has been in business, and most firms share our philosophy. And while I believe that in your job search, it is never wise to leave any stone unturned . . . in most markets, there is a good selection of staffing firms to choose from (or apply with many) that do not charge a fee. It is usually not necessary to pay a fee to get a job. Instead, utilize the multitide of free resources online to create a great resume, and take your job search into your own hands.

    • Amanda Abella

      Well that may depend on what state you operate in. Most of the agencies in our area do have both employee paid and employer paid. Also, there is a difference between a staffing firm and an employment agency. Staffing (at least in South Florida) tends to imply temporary work so it would be rather preposterous if they were to charge a fee.

    • Jason H. Parker

      Agree with you, Jennifer. See my above comment.

      Want to also point out that it is not the responsibility of the agency or search firm to customize job-seekers resume. In no way is this a requirement. If you find a recruiter who will, they’re probably a great recruiter, and you’ll want to continue to work with them. If you truly think you need help with your resume (and you probably do), use the free resources you have here on Brazen, the network that you possess to get expertise on your resume.

    • Anonymous

      What firm do you work for, and where is it located?

  5. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

    While I’ve never actually encountered an employment agency that charged the job seeker a fee, I think that might actually be better. If I have to pay the employment agency (and only after I get the job), then that recruiter is working for ME. They are trying to find a job for ME. Most employment agencies charge the employer the fee, because, in reality, they are working for the EMPLOYER. They are trying to find a candidate for the EMPLOYER. It is an important distinction. Unfortunately, as others have pointed out, employee-fee paid agencies are in the minority. I know I’ve never come across one.

    • Kathryn Smith

      I agree with your general assessment and have often thought the same thing. However, employers will always hire the best candidate for the job no matter who pays the fee, and employment/staffing agencies will always want to send the best candidate they have. If it is candidate paid, still only the best candidate will be hired. So the question becomes: do candidate paid employment agencies have better access to jobs than employer paid staffing agencies? The access to jobs should be the only thing setting them apart and I just don’t see it.

      • Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

        I’ve heard plenty of stories that employer-paid staffing agencies will not refer a good candidate to a position if they feel they may find a better one. This makes sense because they have a fiduciary responsibility to the employer. If they are paid my the candidate, then the fiduciary responsibility is to the candidate and they will refer the candidate if they fit the responsibilities.

  6. Dell Parts

    well, its all depending on your past experience that how you can bring yourself to employers.
    my opinion is if you are sure that I M ABLE TO DO then you can apply to employers by freelancer basis.

  7. Dell Parts

    well, its all depending on your past experience that how you can bring yourself to employers.
    my opinion is if you are sure that I M ABLE TO DO then you can apply to employers by freelancer basis.

  8. Aidan

    In the UK all recruitment agencies I have come across charge the employer the fee. This is good and bad. Good because the candidate doesn’t have to pay but bad because it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the recruitment agent works for you, the candidate. In the UK the recruitment agent is paid by the employer and is therefore working for the employer. This means they are unlikely to drive as hard a bargain as you might like over salary and benefits. Although their fee is dependent on the salary you get it makes more sense for them to take settle for a fee of 10%+ of a good salary than risk holding out for a great salary and the deal falling through.

    • Kathryn Smith

      Doesn’t it also make more sense for the candidate to accept a good salary than to hold out and risk the deal falling through? Also, the candidate is the one who ultimately accepts the job or declines it – the candidate can always hold out if he/she wants to. Since, in my experience, salary is negotiated upfront before the resume is submitted, it’s generally not a problem though. Good firms will also try to negotiate a better salary for the candidate and a lesser % fee from the client if that’s what it takes to place the candidate and make everyone happy.

  9. Jason H. Parker

    Amanda, I’m going to agree with what Jennifer has said. Very few companies or single-person firms are charging candidates contingent fees. I really wish you’d laid out this article as a “how to use a search firm”. Even the term “employment agency” is outdated. We’re now hearing “recruitment placement organization”, “search firm”, “executive search firm”, and “staffing firm”.

    I’d also like to point out that it is my personal opinion that recommending that job seekers let someone else negotiate their salary for them is irresponsible and damaging to that individual’s long-term career earning potential. In fact, candidates are still VERY responsible for negotiating their own salary, as few search firms operate on strict direct-hire positions, because they can earn more recognized, consistent revenue on contract or contract-hire positions.

    • Kathryn Smith

      I agree, candidates should always be in front of negotiating their salary. This can be an advantage when negotiating with firms, because most of the time the firm knows what the company has budgeted for a position, and can help determine a good market rate. If you’re not comfortable with that rate, you’ll know right away and won’t waste time with the position.

  10. Demetrio Tafoya

    Thank you, Laura, for sharing this article. Thus far, I am having no luck with Recruiters. In November 2010 to June 2011, first I did not know about target resumes, networking, etc… So part was learning the Job Search ropes, still no luck.

  11. Pmesritz

    One thing to remember here is some of them require UP FRONT fees to help you. These, in my opinion (as someone who fell for it in the early days of his career), are a scam and really bring no benefit. Paying part of your first year’s salary AFTER the job could be a different case.

    • Anonymous

      How much were the up front fees, and what were they contingent upon? Securing the job, or getting the interview?

  12. Anonymous

    Amanda, I also second Jennifer (and Jason’s) comment. I’ve personally gone through recruiter and employment agency boot camp, having visited well over a dozen agencies and gotten 2 small gigs out of them, and not once was there ever a fee or a mention of any type of fee.

    You’re missing the REAL downers of these places, which will list below:

    – A majority of them (in NYC) only have positions in the legal or financial industries, or in general administration positions (healthcare, insurance). Have any interest in non-profits or industries which require some creativity or salesmanship? If so, such places are not a good route to take

    – After your often skimpy 5 minute interview, many staffing firms/employment agencies/recruitment offices/”boutique” search firms, many require you to take a computer aptitude test. These soul-sucking ordeals can take 1-2 hours, depending on how many programs they are testing on you. Think your resume and relative youth would indicate to them that you’re well aware of how to make header & footers in Microsoft Word or pie graphs in Microsoft Excel? Guess again, and prepare to enter their cruel test of seeing how much you want that brass ring of a job which brought you into their offices in the first place

    -Because the specific company is almost never mentioned by name in either their ad or in the agency’s interview, you have maybe a day or two to skill yourself in the background of the company. This lack of a chance to prep an answer for why their particular company attracted you, given that you didn’t technically “choose” their company above similar ones (e.g. Your seeking to apply for a job at Goldman Sachs over similar firms in the financial industry), it alters your interview strategy. This is an upfront caveat at any employment agencies, so you just need to roll with it. After all, the agency never tells you what the company is until they’ve secured an interview in order to prevent your applying on your own and ditching the agency all together.

    • Kathryn Smith

      1) Yes, the company-paid staffing agencies can only work for the companies who can pay them. They are not the place to find non-profit positions.

      2) This depends on the company and role you are applying for, so I can’t really comment. Some companies require the tests and some don’t. It depends on the company who is hiring as much as the staffing firm.

      3) The staffing agencies I’ve worked for are always upfront with the company name. These days we obtain “Authorization to Submit” forms in which the candidate authorizes our firm, and only our firm, to submit them for consideration to the position. If the candidate tries to go around us, or through more than one firm, they are generally eliminated for consideration by the company, not by us. Only in very rare instances in which the company requests not to be revealed so word won’t get back to the employee they’re replacing do we keep it a secret.

    • Unemployed #732

      As a fellow jobseearcher who have been through multiple staffing agencies in New York as well as in other cities, I completely agree with you on these points. I also want to add the following negatives:

      1. Head hunters can be extremely pushy because at the end of the day, they are sales people and they don’t get paid until you get and retain a job.

      2. Charging the employer a staffing fee can be detrimental to your salary negotiations. I got my last job through a head hunter, but because the company had to pay her 3 months worth of my salary as a fee, I was unable to negotiate a higher salary for myself.

      One more anecdote. Last year, I enrolled with a temp/temp-to-perm staffing agency. After working a temp gig for 3 weeks at a marketing firm, a permanent position opened up that I qualified for and even got an interview. However, at the end of the interview the hiring manager told me I was perfect for the position, but they had to consider other candidates first. It turns out that per their agreement with the staffing agency, if I get a permenant position with the company (the agency’s client), then the company had to pay them a staffing fee. The manager told me point blank that the fee, on top of the salary for the position, was just outside of their budget.

      • Kathryn Smith

        I (unfortunately) have to agree with those statements. Some recruiters are pushy. I have never seen being pushy to the candidate to be effective or worthwhile though, since the candidate can’t close the deal, so I’m not sure why that would be happening.

        The fee does exist and while we would all hope it doesn’t affect salary, clearly sometimes it does. The questions to ask yourself in this instance (and I don’t know the answer in this case, since it is anecdote) are: Would you have had access to this job or another job in your salary range without the staffing agency? If so, take those jobs instead. If not, is it better to accept the lower salary now (as opposed to no salary) in order to gain contacts and experience to better negotiate for your next job? In this instance, it seems that the company fee had the same effect as a candidate fee in that it takes money out of your salary, just in a more indirect way.

        I’m not saying recruiting is ideal in all situations, and the fee is a definite drawback, no matter who pays it. Unfortunately, it is a necessity because no one can work for free. But if accepting the lower salary did in fact get you a job as opposed to no job, it can still be considered better than the alternative. If it’s too low for you to accept, that’s unfortunate, but it’s likely that you and the company would not have found each other at all without the agency.

  13. Anonymous

    Oh, I forgot to better explain a downside of employment agencies from my comment below: You have no guarantee of an interview. 99% of the time, the recruiter will give you the ol’ “Well, everything about you looks great, we’ll be in touch soon!” right after they show you the door.

    After a long stream of these kind of responses, I finally caught on to the fact that they don’t ask you to come in because they think you’d be great for an interview with the company…they ask you to come in because they’re trying to build up an arsenal of potential candidates for the job BEFORE they even think about scheduling an interview with the company in question. But they’re always far from transparent in admitting this simple fact. It’s understandable that they want to make sure their agency’s reputation is maintained by ensuring that they give their corporate client a knock-out candidate, but it’s still a kick in the gut to be told how great you are for the position one day and then never be contacted again.

    After going through the wringer of too many New York City employment agencies, I do believe that at the very least they serve the unintentional purpose of getting you psychologically prepared to go on interviews and forcing yourself to better prepare your “elevator speech” to someone whose job it is to listen to it.

    There are only two agencies I came across during my search who didn’t lie to me, got me multiple results, and who had agents who showed that they cared about me rather than just deluding me, and those two firms are Russell, Tobin & Associates and The Tuttle Agency. I encourage you to look them up if you are in the greater New York area to see what they can do for you.

    • Kathryn Smith

      It is true, you’re not guaranteed an interview for any job you apply to, whether it’s through an agency or not.

      Some agencies require their recruiters to interview each candidate in person before they can be submitted to the company with the job opening – this is especially true for entry-level roles.

      Good recruiters will communicate with you every step of the way. The hiring process is outside our control most of the time, but we can let you know if the company is still considering you, if they’ve looked at resumes yet, if they’ve postponed interviews, etc.

      Some recruiters do “pipeline” candidates for certain roles or skillsets that show up all the time, so they can be ready when they get the job. This can also be in the best interest of the candidate (if it is a role they’re very interested in, or if their search is a long-term one), because it can ensure that your resume is being submitted first, since the recruiter has already found you and interviewed you. This translates into being the first resume the hiring manager looks at. However, if a recruiter is interviewing you for a future role, they should be transparent about that as well.

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    […] I know that many of you are treading the waters of this crappy economy. I also know exactly what you are going through because I was there not too long ago. In my latest post for the Brazen Life blog I explore the notion of using an employment agency on your job hunt. Now that I work at a successful Miami based agency I figured I could share some of the inside workings and show that they don’t have to be so scary. Check out my latest post, Should You Use an Employment Agency to Find a Job? […]

  15. Tgchauvet

    I live in the Sacramento, CA area. Which employment agencies do you recommend in my area?

  16. John Wang

    Re: “They have a stake in your success”

    No they don’t. They have a stake in getting as much commission as possible. They will not line up the best job for your career or abilities. They will try to set you up with a job as fast as possible, with as little work on their part as possible. Because after you’re hired, they have already made their money.

  17. CT

    I’m having a rather bad experience with these third party recruiters. For all of the organizations that hire through agencies, I’m denied an opportunity to compete for their positions.

    Its funny because my background is in a field that has only a 4.5% unemployment rate, I have about 9 year’s experience because all my jobs have been progressions in the field, and I got a BS in 2009. I have not been able to find a real full-time job since graduating.

    Before getting my degree and working for my last employer, I never had problems finding a job. I found work in matters of weeks/

    Recruiters just ignore me and deprive me of the opportunity to compete for work.

  18. Tonyjg

    Hi Amanda agencies have their place in job search activity but I work with too many people who just rely on an agency to get them a job. They seem to forget that the agency is there to earn a living. As such a good candidate is good only for as long as they fit a job the agency has on its books. Job searchers need to understand the need to build a personal relationship in one or two of the agencies so ‘they will be ‘on the agencies’ mind’.

  19. guest

    37 years ago I needed to use an agency to find a job right out of College.
    It cost me my 1st month’s salary, but it got me working. I will always be
    thankful for the way things turned out. I have had a “GREAT” working experience and it all started with that job.

  20. Jack

    If I work thru an employment agency, after working for say 3 months, I decide to seek opportunities withing the company directly. Can the agency contractually obligate me to leave for 6 months then apply?

  21. Donna Thomas

    god bless you all.

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  24. Bhupesh Thakur

    I was recently placed by a agency to a big company for a contract role, now that company wants to hire me as a full-time cut is unable to do that because agency is demanding for percentage of my salary and now I am on the line of loosing my job because of money they are asking.

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