Re: Finding agencies

Subject: Re: Finding agencies
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2011 15:05:38 -0800

On 11/27/2011 5:06 AM, John Allred wrote:

I can't find any recent discussion in the archive about finding tech
writing agencies.

I have worked with recruiters at technology support firms (temporary agencies with an ego) for over 20 years, but I have only interviewed with one technical writing company, although I have known of three in my area. Most of the companies that I have worked with were information technology recruiters. Early in my career, the companies were the traditional temporary employment agencies and they provided secretarial support, but they also had someone who also provided technology support. Later, as technology support became more profitable, the numbers of technology support recruiting firms grew.

Years ago in California a person could be an independent contractor (IC) without any sort of business organization, like by being a corporation or limited liability company. Many large companies got sued over the years by many ICs who claimed they were treated as employees, so they should have employee benefits. It is true that employing corporations treated ICs as employees because those corporations often required ICs to be onsite and to use the employers tools.

This trend gave rise to the need of ICs to become independent business organizations so they could hire themselves and protect their clients from labor lawsuits by the ICs. Many ICs are not ready for that degree of business organization, so many middleman companies arose to secure the contracts with hiring corporations and then hire ICs. Technical recruiting companies like to distinguish themselves from common temporary employment agencies, but they are nothing more than temporary employment agencies, although they give themselves fancy names that include various buzz words, like "technologies," "strategic," and "talent."

Technical recruiting is a highly competitive field staffed with people who typically do not understand the business of technology. They are also often ill-equipped to handle the business of human resources. These companies often get sued by their hiring clients and their employee clients, so the companies tend to fold frequently, while the recruiters who work for those companies continue to work for other companies or form their own.

A major problem with technology recruiting firms is the amount of money they take from the contracts. A typical cut for most recruiting firms is 40%, but one recruiter told me that he once worked under a contract where the recruiter took 75%. Employment agencies often require that their employees do not discuss their pay with the employers. I have reached the point where I will not work under a contract without knowing how much the recruiting firm is getting.

I had one contract where I was hired to provide documentation. I have project management on my résumé, but for this contract, I was hired and compensated as a technical writer. The manager I was working for started asking me questions about why I had no control over the team lead. I was a bit confused by this, since the lead was in charge of the project and I documented what he asked. The manager place the contract on his desk and showed it to me. I saw the rate and asked, "Is that for both of us?" He said, "It's just you." I got a bit angry. All this time, the manager was paying for a project manager and getting a technical writer, but I was not getting compensated for that. I was getting ripped off by the same recruiter who mentioned that 75% deal. He was not taking 75%, but he was taking a large cut.

Just as a comparison of being paid for somebody else's work, talent agencies take about 10-15% for various acting and modelling jobs. Lawyers often work from a contingency fee of 33% for settlements and 40% if they have to go to court. The value of work provided by talent agents and lawyers is certainly higher than that of technology recruiters. Talent agents must know something about market value of a person and lawyers must know the law. Technology recruiters, unless they are long-established firms, frequently demonstrate that they do not know much about their clients or the skills and abilities of the employees they provide to their clients.

I've been in another field for some time, so, with
your response, assume little knowledge on my part. Are the better
agencies typically nationwide?

The agencies form and dissolve so frequently, that "better" is more of an issue of longevity and reputation than location. Agencies with well-earned name recognition, like Kelly Services and Robert Half International, are large, publicly traded, reliable, and more demanding of both their employees and clients. If you have limited skills and experience, then you may have a difficult time getting work through these agencies and you will likely need to work with smaller firms until you can demonstrate your skills and abilities.

If you do consider work with a small or even fly-by-night sort of company, then you should take the time to carefully interview the company before working for the company. Also, understand that these smaller companies do not have the reputation that warrants a 40% cut, like the large, well-known companies do, but this is an employer's market right now, so most employees will not have much say in the cut a recruiter takes.

Issues of location arise when something goes wrong, like the employer (the agency) does not pay the employee (you). If you sign a contract with an out-of-state firm and that contract includes a clause that laws of a particular state govern the contract, then you could lose some rights in certain states. In states with strong labor laws, like California, these clauses can only be enforced if the employee is a business entity and is definitely not an employee.

Years ago, I signed an employment contract with a Texas company for work performed by me in California on the Texas company's client business site. The contract included a clause that the contract was governed under the state of Texas and a clause that if the contract ended for *any* reason before the contract term was completed, then the Texas company would not have to pay me. I signed the contract because I knew these clauses were unenforceable in California and that the contract, under California law, only served to provide an offer of employment, but not bind me and the Texas company in any way because California is an at-will employment state.

The contract ended early during a mass lay-off at the client company. Texas company did not pay me. I filed a complaint with the Labor Commissioner's office. As an employee, I really could not afford to live without my pay. The matter was resolved under California labor law and the employment contract had no bearing on the matter.

Do the offshore agencies add any value
or simply complicate the hiring process?

What value could they add? How would you get paid in the event of a dispute? If you are your own company and you sign a contract to provide services, the laws of what country would govern that contract? If you are an employee of the offshore company, can you get them to appear at your local labor board for hearing in the event of a pay dispute?

How do you find local or
nearby agencies, if you're not a member of STC?

A quick search shows no results for "technical writer," but if you search in the area and leave the keyword search blank, then you can find what job titles are available. There were 133 jobs listed in the state of Arkansas when I searched. It looks like your area has various jobs for analysts, architects, and engineers. Look at the job descriptions and tailor your résumé to fit what companies are looking for.

I don't expect to be quickly placed in a position here in my area,

Neither do I, after that search on Dice.

though that would be terrific.

Get creative and look to your past for various skills that can transfer well to what employers are looking for.

But I don't know how the other
opportunities work.

There are some freelance writing jobs online and has some opportunities. I am too trusting, so I wind up working with people who do not pay me. If you do take a freelance job, then get paid a third of the estimated contract price upfront and schedule regular payments based on the work you do that you can afford to lose if your client does not pay you. Also, do not give away any free work without getting paid those installments that your client agreed to pay.

Travel to a location and rent some place there?

California, in the Bay Area or L.A., or Texas are probably good places to consider for that.

Or work remotely?

We could all use that, but employers like to see their employees working and documentation-related interviews are usually necessary to complete the job and are best handled onsite.

Could a seasoned vet or two stretch out on this topic?

A "seasoned vet." I do not want that title to apply to me, but 20 years is a long time and I am quite jaded these days and I guess that is a seasoning of sorts.



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