Guide: how do recruitment agencies work? (Plus benefits)

Updated 15 August 2023

If you're looking for a new job, you may end up working with a recruitment agency to find your next role. Recruitment agencies work with companies and individual clients to find the right applicants for various roles. Working with a recruitment agency can make your job search easier and increase your chances of getting an interview. In this article, we explain what a recruitment agency is and how they work, discuss how to work with one, and explore the benefits of doing so.

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How do recruitment agencies work?

Review this step-by-step guide to see how recruitment agencies work:

  • Initial contact and screening: Applicants contact and then sign up with recruitment agencies to work with them. Your recruiter might ask you to come into the agency to meet in person, during which they usually ask for your details, including your work history and your skills, and discuss your job interests.

  • Entry onto the database: Your recruiter may keep your CV on file so it's ready when other opportunities arise. They may also recommend roles for you to apply to that they are hoping to fill.

  • Finding out about new roles: When companies contact the recruitment agency with a new role, recruiters typically post this job advert online to attract new candidates and search through their own applicant database to find suitable candidates to put forward for the role. If your recruiter selects you as a potential candidate for a role, they call you with information about the role to ask if it is something that interests you.

  • Applying for a role: If you want to apply for the role, your recruiter then forwards your details to the hiring company. The company looks through the applications and the recruiter invites the best candidates to attend an interview.

  • Advice and guidance: At each stage of the recruitment process, a recruitment agency may offer additional help and support to candidates to increase their chances of securing the role. During your initial meeting, your recruiter might suggest ways you can improve your CV, and identify other sectors or roles that you could apply for that you might not have considered.

  • Recruitment agency cost: As an applicant, there's typically no cost associated with your application submission, although if it's an organisation with other amenities, such as leadership courses or computer training, you may join those. Recruitment agencies typically charge companies a fee when they hire through them, and this amount typically depends upon the contract between the recruiter and the employer.

Related: How to explain your reasons for leaving a job to a recruiter

What is a recruitment agency?

A recruitment agency is a professional network that specialises in partnering with companies to help fill their open roles with suitable candidates. As an applicant, a recruitment agency works with you to find the right jobs and may even help you secure the role by editing your CV and giving you interview tips. Most recruiters earn a commission when the companies they work with hire the candidates they put forward, so recruiters work with you to get you the best role and the best salary possible.

Some recruitment agencies are general agencies that work with companies and applicants across all sectors, while others specialise in a particular field, such as engineering or IT. If you work in a specialist field, pairing up with a recruiter who knows your field and has good contacts may help you increase your success rate when applying for roles.

Related: The differences between contract vs permanent work

What are the benefits of working with a recruitment agency?

There are many benefits to working with a recruitment agency, particularly for applicants who are struggling to secure a role. Recruitment agencies do a lot of the work of finding a job for you, including identifying suitable roles that you can apply for and passing your details to the hiring staff. Some of the many benefits of working with a recruitment agency include:

  • personal CV and cover letter advice from experts in recruitment

  • expert interview coaching before interviews

  • constructive feedback after interviews if you don't get the job

  • specialist advice about your sector if you apply through a specialist recruitment service

  • help with finding and applying for roles, which can save you hours of time

  • greater visibility if applying through a respected recruiter with a good reputation.

Related: Job interview tips: how to make a great impression

How do I apply for jobs through recruitment agencies?

When you work with a recruitment agency, you may not apply for jobs directly. Your recruiter contacts you about a position and asks if it's something you would consider. If you like the role, your recruiter may put your application forward themselves or ask you to supply a cover letter and tailor your CV to the role. You can also let your recruiter know if there are jobs you've seen listed on their website that you're interested in pursuing.

If you see a role advertised online by a recruitment agency that you haven't joined, you can still apply for the role online. If the recruitment agency thinks that you're a suitable candidate based on your application materials, the recruiter typically contacts you before your application proceeds. Applying for a role this way doesn't necessarily mean that you have registered with the agency, so if you want them to keep your CV on file and notify you of similar positions, sign up through their site.

Related: How to send an email to a recruiter (template and example)

How to use a recruitment agency

If you're thinking of using a recruitment agency to help you apply for more roles, follow these steps below:

1. Research recruitment agencies

There are lots of recruitment agencies operating and may operate nationally or locally. Also, some offer jobs in a wide range of sectors, while others specialise in a particular field. Agencies with a specialisation in your area could give you more tailored advice, whereas if you want to apply for a wide range of different jobs, consider choosing a more general agency. Look for agencies that have good reviews from previous clients, especially those with a good reputation for success and effective communication.

2. Contact your chosen recruitment agency or agencies

Once you've chosen which recruitment agency or agencies you want to work with, contact them with your details. The agency probably wants to know about your work history and what kind of roles you want to apply for, so have a CV ready to send them. During your first meeting with your recruiter, be forthcoming not just about what you can offer an employer, but also about what you want from your career. This is the time to communicate your expectations about working hours, salary and company culture.

3. Stay in touch

Once your recruiter has your CV on file, they may contact you with various suitable positions at one time. If you don't hear from your recruiter for a week or longer, try contacting them to review the status of your application and job prospects. Keeping in touch can also help you show how eager you are to work with them and to remind them of your current availability. Staying in touch with your recruiter can also help to keep you at the forefront of their mind and make it more likely that they think of you when an appropriate role comes up.

Related: How to build a strategic recruitment plan (in steps)

4. Attend interviews for roles you're interested in

When your recruiter finds a role for you, you may receive an invitation to an interview for the position. Ask your recruiter for advice before your interview and do your own research regarding questions that might arise during it. Attending lots of interviews is the best way to practise delivering clear and confident answers to interview questions and get a job.

Related: 31 Common interview questions and answers (With tips)

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What happens once you get a job through a recruitment agency?

If you apply to a role via a recruitment agency and you receive a job offer, your recruitment agency can often help you review and submit the paperwork needed to start your new job. They may also speak to your employer and try to negotiate the best salary for you. It may be beneficial to stay refer to your recruiter regarding pay because they typically have knowledge of salaries for someone with your experience.

Once you've started your job, your recruitment agency may keep your CV on file for future use in case you're planning to move to a new position or your new role is a temporary contract. Your contact with your recruiter might cease once you accept a job unless you utilise them for another position in the future or refer a friend.


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  • How to start a recruitment agency in 7 steps (with benefits)

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