one girl’s guide to surviving unemployment


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.