How Employment Agencies Work

Looking for a job? An employment agency might be able to help you out.
Looking for a job? An employment agency might be able to help you out.
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When it comes to employment, there are two sides of the story. Employers say, "Good help is hard to find," while job-seekers think, "I can't find a decent job out there." No matter which side of the coin you're on, finding good work and workers is a difficult process. If you're hiring, one job opening could attract hundreds of applicants. Sifting through them to find a good fit is time consuming. On the other hand, a job hunter may feel like he or she is sending resumes into the black hole of the Internet, never to hear a response.

How can businesses and job hunters cut through the red tape of the hiring process? Many use an employment agency to alleviate the process. An employment agency is a firm hired by a company to help with its staffing needs. Employment agencies find people to fill all kinds of jobs, from temporary to full-time, in a number of career fields. Whether a company needs a nurse, an administrative assistant, a manager or a carpenter, an employment agency can find the right employee.


Both public and private employment agencies help place workers. In the United States, one of the major public employment agencies is the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. This agency provides job-seeking services and tools for workers through online resources and a network of offices around the country. It promotes public and private sector jobs by linking to national and state job banks.

Private employment agencies also help place workers, particularly in the private sector. These employment agencies tend to specialize in one of three fields:

  • personnel placement services
  • staffing services, also known as temporary help services
  • executive search firms

All told, these companies put millions of people to work every day. In fact, in the temporary and contract industry, over two million people are employed by staffing companies every business day, and staffing companies hire 8.6 million temporary and contract employees every year [American Staffing Association].

So, what do these employment agencies actually do? Read on to find out why they're an invaluable resource for both employers and employees.


Function of an Employment Agency

For employers, an employment agency can take the grunt work out of human resources. Filling an open position takes time and money. The American Staffing Association estimates that hiring a worker can cost 7 to 20 percent of that position's salary and take 30 to 45 days to fill [source: American Staffing Association]. That can be pretty taxing to some companies, so it's worth their while to farm out the hiring process to a recruiter at an employment agency.

When a business needs a specific person for a job, it'll contract with a personnel placement services firm, also called a recruiter. The recruiter handles the search process and matches up an employee with the job in question, lining up potential candidates who interview with the company.


For senior-level management positions, a company may choose to hire an executive search firm, also known as a headhunter. An executive search firm works under a retainer agreement from the hiring company and uses a set code of standards to identify and place workers in these highly visible positions.

When a company just needs a vacation fill-in or someone to work for a few months, it uses a staffing agency. Staffing agencies provide skilled employees to work on a temporary or contract basis. Some employers also use staffing agencies as recruiters in positions known as "temp to perm," meaning the position is temporary, but it could lead to a permanent position if the worker and company are a good fit.

For job seekers, an employment agency can be the ticket to getting that full-time job. The public employment service is free and offers a lot of tools. Recruiters can open doors to positions that may not be easy to find on your own. Staffing companies allow you to try out different companies and industries, and they're also great for those looking for short-term or part-time work.

Another bonus of using an employment agency is access to training. Many employment agencies offer free training in a variety of skill-building tools, such as software programs and computer skills. Those who take advantage of these skills can build up their resumes, making them more marketable for the employment agency.


Using an Employment Agency

You'll most likely have an interview with the employment agency so it can place you.
You'll most likely have an interview with the employment agency so it can place you.

Many job hunters consider employment agencies an invaluable resource. While an agency can't always guarantee employment, it can provide you with opportunities to land a job that's right for you.

When using an employment agency, you'll have to do one or more the following steps:


  • find and register with one or more agencies
  • fill out an application
  • provide a resume
  • take qualifying tests
  • interview
  • go through training, if necessary

Look for a staffing agency that will suit your needs and skills. If you don't have a legal background, it's no good going to an agency that specializes in the legal field. Ask around for recommendations, and do a little digging online to see if the agency is reliable and has a good reputation. You may want to sign up with more than one agency to increase your chances of being placed. Although agencies have access to a wide variety of assignments, it may take a while to find a placement that matches your qualifications.

A staffing agency, particularly one specializing in temporary placement services, will have you fill out an application. The agency will be the ones hiring you, so the company will want your resume on file, and it'll want to test your abilities in certain job skills, such as software programs.

When a temporary position is a match for you, the agency will call you to tell you about the position and arrange the assignment. If you don't hear from an agency right away, there may not be any opportunities at the moment, but check in weekly to show your continued interest in a placement. Once you're placed, you'll need to keep a record of your time on the job, and the agency will pay you directly. Once your assignment is over, you'll go back into the agency's pool to be considered for future assignments.

Private employment agencies do charge fees for their services. Usually, the hiring company pays the agency, but sometimes job seekers pay recruiters to find opportunities for them. If you're a job seeker who's paying for employment services, use a certified recruiter who will keep your best interests in mind. A reliable agency can't guarantee that you get a job, but it'll work to help you find the position that's best for you.

Read on for lots more information about employment agencies.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • American Staffing Association. "Staffing Facts." (Aug. 19, 2010)
  • Association of Executive Search Consultants. "The Value of Retained Executive Search and the AESC." Jan. 19, 2010. (Aug. 20, 2010)
  • Earle, David. "Measuring What Matters -- The High Cost of Turnover." Jan. 21, 2010. (Aug. 20, 2010)
  • Federal Trade Commission. "Help Wanted … Finding a Job." September 2002. (Aug. 20, 2010)