Re: Finding agencies

Subject: Re: Finding agencies
From: John Allred <jack -at- allrednet -dot- com>
To: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2011 17:47:29 -0600

In a word, "Wow!"
And a second... Thanks!
~john
On 11/27/2011 5:05 PM, Lauren wrote:

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 resume, 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?

[1]http://www.dice.com/
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 resume 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 Craigslist.org 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.
Lauren
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References

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2. http://www.doctohelp.com/
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Re: Finding agencies: From: Lauren

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