Re:Best and Worst Agency Stories (more) (long)

Subject: Re:Best and Worst Agency Stories (more) (long)
From: Jobs <jobs -at- prospring -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 12:33:53 -0800

Sometimes you get a feeling about the agency, but rather than get burned, I though I would solicit your experiences on this subject.

What are the best agencies to work with? What are the worst? Is there any point in contacting the "career builder" agencies, the ones which ostensibly work for you rather than the employer (and on your dime).


I am surprised to see so few reply postings to your question over the past two weeks, so I thought I'd add my own $0.02.

As a recruiter and the owner of an agency that places technical writers, I hear lots of "horror stories" from candidates about working with agencies, so I make a point to cover how to find a reputable agency in the "Jump Starting Your Tech Writing Career" workshop I do for STC chapters.

Here are a few points to keep in mind when working with agencies:

1. Get to know the agent/agency before you give them your resume.

Where is the agent located? How long have they been in business? Check out their website, then pick up the phone and CALL them. Better yet, if they are local ask if you can meet them in person.

If they don't want to talk with you or say something like "we don't meet our candidates", then that is a pretty good indication they don't care about you, the candidate -- just about making a sale.

And if that's true, I'll bet you dimes to dollars that they will just shotgun your resume to every job they see that says "technical writer." Which brings me to the next point:

2. When sending your resume, specifically state "DO NOT SEND MY RESUME OUT WITHOUT MY EXPRESS PERMISSION", or some such wording.

There are many "agencies" that apply what I call the Pasta Approach to recruiting -- just as you can tell if pasta is done by throwing some on a wall and seeing if it sticks (try it some time! <g>), they "throw" as many resumes at a job opening as they can and see what "sticks".

It's really better to have only one agency submit your resume for a job. While most companies put a clause in their placement agreement with agencies stating that the first agency to submit you becomes the "agency of record", some companies will just throw out multiple submissions rather than risk a lawsuit from some greedy agency who claims "I sent them in first!"

While it is OK to work with multiple agencies, just make sure they ask before sending your resume, and then keep a log of where your resume has been sent (by both you and your agents).

Note: Someone did post a reply saying she found a great job from an agent who saw her resume on While that is certainly a valid route for finding a job, keep in mind that you do give up control of who sends your resume where when you post your resume on job boards....

2. Does the agency (or agent) understand technical writing openings?

While I am not suggesting that only agencies who specialize in technical writers can represent you effectively, keep in mind that most of the non-writers in your own company don't understand what makes a good technical writer, so don't assume that any random agent will either!

It may take some educating on your part to teach them why you are (or are not) a good match for a position. Far too many "agents" just do a key word search and then apply the Pasta Approach, so be sure your agent understands your strengths (and weaknesses!) before sending your resume to a company.

But since you established a relationship with the agent per point 1, you have already done this, right? <g>

3. Does the agency have a personal relationship with someone at the target company?

While I wish I had personal relationships with all the companies I work with, sometimes that's just not possible. However, most of the time I can call or email someone at the company (either the HR contact or hiring manager) and "pitch" why a candidate is good for a position -- even if he or she may not look like a perfect match on paper.

Establishing a personal relationship with a recruiter who, in turn, has personal relationships with their clients will increase your chances of getting the job dramatically.

4. Does the agency know what IN PARTICULAR the hiring manager is or is not looking for?

While this is really an extension to point number 3 (since the agent is not going to have that kind of information if he/she does not have a personal relationship with his/her clients), it's important enough to list as a separate point.

Many agencies will accept a job with requirements such as "technical writer needed, must have RoboHELP" without finding what the manager is really looking for. Then you go on the interview and learn the manager wanted someone with experience in molecular biology, FrameMaker, autoCAD, and oh, yeah, RoboHELP is "a plus".

Any agent worth his or her salt (or fee) will find out what the client really wants, so feel free to ask the agent about the particulars about the job. If he or she doesn't know, have them find out. That's their job!

5. If you DON'T get the interview or job, ask the recruiter to find out WHY.

I must confess I have clients from whom I cannot get feedback, but at least I TRY to get feedback. If you are not getting a job I submitted you for, then either I didn't do a good enough job of finding out what the client wanted, I didn't do a good enough job of making sure you match the job requirements, they found someone who was a better fit than you were, or you (the candidate) are doing something to sabotage the interview process.

It could be that you simply were not a good match for the "corporate culture", such as sending a long-haired dot-commer into a conservative banking environment (neither is bad, just not a good match!). But if the agent has a personal relationship with their client, the agent would have known that in advance, right?

The point is, have your agent get feedback so you can correct what you are doing wrong (if anything), or at least find a better match for you and your goals.

6. Finally, how hungry are you?

If you have been out of work for months and the repo man is trying to take the car and you have an eviction notice stapled to the door, then heck, get busy and do ANYthing you can do to get a job -- even working with agencies of ill repute (even they must be doing SOMEthing right if they are still in business).

But if you have the luxury to take your time in finding your next job, then get to know your agent(s) and pick and choose who you want to work with....

Again, let me disclaim that the above is just my personal opinion and that I am not saying the above is 100% true 100% of the time.

But if you at least use the above as a guideline on how to choose an agency, I think you will find it will pay off in the long run.

Good luck with your search!

Best regards,

Jack Molisani
Owner, ProSpring Technical Staffing
(formerly Clarity Technical Staffing)

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