one girl’s guide to surviving unemployment

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the job search category.

the (former) insider’s guide to staffing agencies

Disclosure: I used to work at a staffing agency.  

Temping, freelancing, consulting: call it what you want, but agencies rock!  They’re a great supplement to your search and can keep money coming in while you look for full-time work.  In addition, most (if not nearly all) agencies also provide temp-to-perm or full-time opportunities.

Picture this: Sicily, 1940. OK, it’s Washington D.C., circa 1998.  My friend Renee* had graduated from college.  She registered with a staffing agency and was placed in a temporary job at a company.  She went in, kicked some serious ass and they hired her permanently.  Renee has been with the company ever since.  Moral of the story is that what may seem like a temporary solution (pun intended) can turn into one of the best career moves you ever make.

So go in, meet with the staffing agent and get prepared to work.  

Things you need to know to make the most of working with a staffing agency.

1. Nearly 100% of agencies get paid when they put you to work. They want to put you in a job — a good one so that you will stay, and they can continue to make money or better yet, transition you into a full time role.  (It’s generally a larger fee when they do a permanent hire.)  They’re working for you.

2. By the same token, you have to hold up the end of your bargain.  If they set you up on interviews, it’s the real deal.  It’s not a foregone conclusion that you have the job. Dress professionally, act professionally, be on time, bring extra copies of your resume, all the usual ins and outs of a “regular” interview.  Nothing is more frustrating, from the staffing agent’s perspective, to work so hard to sell a candidate only to have the candidate show up late, not show at all, or act like a jerk.

3. Ask all the questions that you have about the staffing agency relationship up-front.  How many jobs do they get in your field?  How frequently do they place people? What should you expect for an hourly rate?  Will you be working on a W-2 or a 1099 agreement (this is uber important from a tax perspective)?  Will you be paid weekly, biweekly or monthly? Does the staffing agency offer benefits?  

4. If a staffing agency wants YOU to pay them, walk out.  The exception to this is with very niche market, high-profile headhunters.  Unless you’re looking for CEO-type roles, this shouldn’t be the case.

5. Be 100% honest about your skills.  Many agencies will test you for proficiency, require a portfolio, ask to see work samples.  This is not an insult to you or your experience, I promise.  It’s to ascertain what role and level works best for you and helps the staffing agency to sell you to a client.

6. You will need to sign paperwork, so be prepared.  Often this is a confidentiality agreement.  Again, I am not a lawyer, but generally speaking, this is a document that says that you won’t apply on your own for jobs they submit you for.  While most people are ethical, it does protect the staffing agency from the 1% of job seekers who may take advantage of that relationship.  Read it carefully and understand what you’re signing.

7. If you do get a job via a staffing company, it’s like any other job.  You need to show up on time, all the time, do the work and be professional.  You can get fired from temp roles, and if you’ve been a jerk, it doesn’t make the temp agency to want to work with you again.

8. Just like any other job, you’re going to need to provide references.  

9. If you ever see a bill from a staffing agency (for instance, if you’ve been placed in an administrative role), be aware that it’s going to be MUCH more than what they’re paying you.  This is not to screw you over.  Staffing companies — like any other business — have to cover salaries, rent, benefits, unemployment insurance, pay taxes, administrative costs, marketing, advertising, internet, phone . . . you get the picture.

10. Check in weekly, even if you don’t hear from your staffing agent.  Let them know that you’re still available and eager to work.

11. Along those lines, if you land a job on your own, let the agency know.  Don’t waste their time marketing you when you’re no longer available.  That’s time that they could spend working with one of your fellow unemployed.

12.  It is your responsibility to get a job, not the agency’s.  A staffing agency is a supplement to your own search.  Again, while the staffing agent is economically incentivised to find you work, they’re not working solely for you.  They likely have 10, 20, 30 other folks on their roster.  Keep searching for jobs on your own. Your livelihood is your responsibility.

* not her real name. but a real and true story.


resume 201, from the former recruiter

I’m skipping the 101, as you likely already know how to do a basic resume.  

In a previous life, I used to work as a recruiter.  I’ve seen hundreds of resumes, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly.  Here’s are ten things that stood out that made the difference between good and kick-ass.

  1. You don’t need an objective any more, but you do need a resume summary statement.  The summary statement is the immediate introduction to you and your experience.  Think of it as a thesis statement, a business card, or your “elevator speech.”  (I hate the term “elevator speech” but it gets my point across.)  The summary should be quick, easy to digest and offer a quick synopsis of what you’re about to hash out in detail.  Example: Clark Kent is an accomplished journalist, with over 100 years experience, at a bustling major print news outlet.  He believes in solid research, sourcing, red tights and a cape in his approach to stories. 

    Why no objective statement?  They serve little purpose.  Most people tailor them for the job for which they are applying, so they’re no longer even close to relevant any more.

  2. Unless you’re fresh out of school, or your education has some strong bearing on the job that you’re applying for, it looks a bit silly to have it up at the top.  Hiring managers want to see your experience. 
  3. There are two major types of resumes out there that tell a good story — functional resumes and chronological resumes.  Functional is great if you’ve had some disjointed experience in the jobs that you would like to have.  It lists your major (and related!) career accomplishments up front, and gives a short listing of the actual jobs after that.  The second, chronological, is more traditional, and lists your jobs from most recent to oldest.  I personally think that chronological is the way to go if you can, but the accomplishment-focused has yielded me some good results in the past. (NB: there are many other types out there, so consider Googling resumes types for your career if you’re in a specialized field, need a CV, or are applying for federal jobs.)
  4. Pay attention to verb tense.  If it happened in the past (which, assumably it did if you’re reading this blog), you should refer to your experience in the past.  Pay ultra-special attention to this if you’re simply updating an old resume.
  5. Look for consistency issues in your resume: verb tense, fonts, capitalization, italics, bolds, bullet styles, headers, punctuation.  There is no hard and fast rule for these per se, but just make sure it’s consistent across the entire resume.  This goes for how you describe your experience — if you start your bullet points with a verb, make sure they all start with a verb.  And preferably, vary your verbs. 
  6. To that end, don’t bother getting creative with fonts, colors, logos, fancy bullets and the like.  It looks sloppy, and unless you’re in a highly creative field (design, architecture, fashion, etc.) it looks strange.  Along those lines, factor that you’re going to be doing a lot of cut-and-paste into online forms, so consider making a text version of your resume for that purpose.
  7. Don’t try to cram it onto one page, especially if you have a few jobs under your belt.   Nothing is harder for a hiring manager to read than 6 pt font with .25″ margins all around.
  8. To the extent possible, discuss results and metrics for your successes.  This shows that you can drive results, and there are few things that employers love most.  Also consider a skills listing for each role or accomplishment — or how you got to that result.  (This is one of those cases where you’ll need to make some strategic decisions.  If you were using MS Word and MS Excel for everything that you did, perhaps a separate skill section will suffice.)
  9. Don’t include references or the statement “references available upon request.”  If they want your references, they will ask you for them and (should) let you know before they contact them.  It’s also a given that you have them.  (Now wouldn’t be a bad time to contact those folks . . . )
  10. Have two other people read it.  Don’t rely on your own proofing skills, as the eye reads what the mind intends, not what is written.  People have caught some amazingly silly errors in mine, as well as given me feedback on the elements that are unclear.  You don’t need to pay one of those resume “services” to do this either — friends, family and/or former coworkers will suffice.

Now get to it, and make sure that you save a copy to a few places other than your hard drive.  E-mail it to yourself, put it on a jump drive, burn it to CD.  Don’t let all the work go to waste if your computer up and dies.

Ready for Resume 301? More tips to come.