Understanding Series

Working with Employment Agencies

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By Colin Ramsden, September 2007.
Employment offer?

Every few years or so, I run the gauntlet of looking for new employment. Luckily enough, I've managed to obtain a pay-rise with each new position, however, getting to that point has never been a pleasurable experience.

For the most part, I've found that employment agencies' priorities lie in order of themselves (the Agency) first, the employer they represent (the Client) second, and the employee (the Applicant) last. As I've only ever played the part of the Applicant in this game, I acknowledge that my experience and viewpoint is somewhat tainted and biased, my viewpoint is my own, and what follows is necessarily subjective.

As a technical writer, I take pride in producing accurate, useful, and appropriate written information. In that order. The information provided MUST be:

That's how I've lived and worked all my life—accurate and honest. I think that these are traits required to be a professional technical writer. If you can't be accurate, or you can't be honest, then you won't be a good technical writer. (See Jump across to separate topic Technical Writing Professionals.)

To gain a perspective on my view, consider this: Some occupations require the ability to distract-from or distort information, like—for example—attorneys and lawyers, con-artists, and used-car sales-people, who all need to make appearances deceive. I think that because these people lie all the time, and live with their lying, they've likely come to think that everyone lies all the time, and it's OK to do so.

Unfortunately, in my latest round of job applications, and having to deal with many employment agencies, I have observed that the agents behave in this same manner, where they don't believe what you say, as if you're trying to deceive them with your resume, work experience, and skill-set. Is that the case they've learned from their experience? Do so many people lie to them, that they've learnt not to trust anyone? I hope not! But it seems so!

That makes finding a job through an employment agency a tricky task for a technical writer, because with technical writers, (similar to software developers), what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG). There are no pretences or airs. Professional technical writers present the facts, nothing more, nothing less. Let's be pedantic here; I'm talking about really true professional technical writers, not copy writers or writers of a marketing nature.

Professional technical writers expect to be taken seriously, and wonder about the seriousness of employment agencies and their clients. Most, if not all advertisements for a technical writing position, poorly describe the role requirements, and instead focus upon glorifying the Client business industry or market position, and completely omit the salary range on offer. It is as if the Agent is on a fishing expedition and feels the need to cast the broadest net, in the vain hope that they'll have more potential writers to choose from.

It is my considered opinion that this method of attracting potential writers only makes the job selection harder for them, because the Agent then receives so many responses, genuine through to ludicrous, that they don't have the time (or expertise in most cases) to read all the applications, make sense of the details, and sort the chaff from the grain.

Several agents (from differing agencies) have responded to my direct questioning about the matter and admitted that they hadn't even read my resume through, even after short-listing me and calling me into their offices for an interview. Even the Agent which ultimately put me forward for my current position (in which I was successful) couldn't recall any salient details of my work experience/skill-set.

As it turns-out, the position I landed wasn't even advertised yet, and I didn't apply for it. I think I was just plain lucky with this one—you know—the right place at the right time. Complete chance, not design or intent. Actually, after a month of serious job searching, I landed four jobs within two weeks. The first was the one which brought me to the attention of this particular agency.

This role required an experienced (senior?) technical writer which had an understanding of Visual Basic (VB). My name popped up in the agency's database query, as I do indeed have VB skills and experience. They called, I was available, so was sent off to meet the Client on a Thursday. I was offered the position the next Monday, but before I could accept, was told in the same breath that the company Head Office had "frozen" all staff hiring until further notice, due to it's purchase of another business overseas. The delay would likely be about a month, or so.

The Agent then surprised me by doing what I thought all agents should be doing, actually working actively to find me a job, after I contact them! The Agent told me that they would put me forward straight-away for another position, in a short-term contract of one month, to keep me occupied until the first job became open. OK with me.

They organised the interview with this (second) Client for the Wednesday, which seemed to me like a sure thing, as:

The Client offered me the role (through the Agent) the next day, and it only required the paperwork to make it official. As I awaited, another Agent called me with a different position.

This third role was a longer term contract (3 months), but as I still hadn't actually signed anything yet, I thought I should keep all options open, and attended the interview with the Client on the Friday. This was a series of smaller jobs, which would take an estimated three months in total. At the end of the interview, I informed this Client that I had been offered another full time role which started in a month or so, and explained why. They seemed amiable to this, and told me the role they were offering could be broken into smaller time periods, to accommodate me.

However, this arrangement was totally unacceptable to the Agent, who insisted that they were offering a single three month contract, or none at all. I apologised for wasting their time, and gave-up on that option.

Meanwhile, the previous agent called to update me on their jobs' offers, and couldn't get through because my mobile phone was turned-off during the interview. They correctly deduced that I was being poached by another agency, and in fear of losing two deals I'd landed for them, they called me twice later that day to "keep me interested". As both of their previous Clients weren't forthcoming with a letter of offer, they suggested placing me with another Client, and forwarded my resume with my approval. I was still trying to keep all my options open. An interview was set for the following Monday.

Surprisingly, on the Monday morning, before the next interview, the second Agent called to say that their Client wanted me for the role, and that the Agent was now prepared to offer me a month contract. That made three job offers from three interviews! I told them that I'd make a decision that afternoon.

The interview with the fourth Client also went well, and as I already had three offers on the table, I asked the Client when they would make a decision. They already had, but they told me the next day. Four out of four! It's marvellous what a little bit of pressure can do! Full-time, closer to home, onsite parking, casual dress, big established company, and the better of any salary offers. I accepted, and the paperwork was posted two days later. And the Agent still hasn't read my resume!


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