Using Agencies

They make profits by successfully placing job seekers into specific roles (temporary and permanent) and charging the employers (not the job seeker) a fee for doing so.

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There are a multitude of recruitment agencies in the UK covering numerous sectors. They are also known as recruitment companies, recruitment consultancies, and search and selection firms. Agencies can be based on the high street and deal with a wide range of opportunities, such as Reed and Office Angels. There are also specialist agencies that focus on a particular area or sector. This is often the case where the skill set required by the client company is very specific, such as IT or finance.

There are also a number of large recruitment companies, often based in large cities, which deal with graduate-entry jobs through to senior executive roles.  These companies are often divided into specialist departments focusing on a particular sector or business area.

Why employers use recruitment agencies

Employers will use recruitment agencies for a whole host of reasons: a last-minute opportunity, skills shortage areas (such as tech), to be discreet about their recruitment process, a low company profile, lack of sector knowledge, or they may want to contract out their recruitment activity to support HR time and resources.

Temporary work (also called ‘temp work’, 'temping' or ‘agency work’) is short-term work. The organisation who hires you pays a fee to the agency, and the agency pays your wages.

Employers may hire temporary staff when:

  • They need cover at short notice, eg when employees are on sick leave or annual leave
  • They have short-term increases in their work-load, which wouldn't merit hiring a permanent employee

Flexibility for both worker and employer is one of the key features of temporary work. This often gives both parties greater flexibility when terminating their employment. However this will be dependent upon the contract terms and is subject to employment law.

Fixed term positions

These are also a type of temporary work and employers usually hire people for a fixed term, when they need to fill a role for a specific period of time. For example, if a member of staff is on extended leave or they only need additional staff for a particular period of time or project. Fixed term contracts can vary in length and some can last as long as three years. Before accepting a fixed term position it is always important to understand the terms of your contract and the benefits  you are entitled to, as they may be different from those of a permanent employee. However, they still need to comply with the relevant employment legislation.

Advantages of temporary work

  • You may want to find a work quickly.
  • You may want to get an insight into a particular sector for a short period of time.
  • You can outsource your search for vacation work.

Disadvantages of temporary work

  • It can be financially unpredictable. Assignments may not be very long and even with a fixed term position, you will need to plan ahead to find your next position when your contract comes to an end
  • It can be difficult to control where you are sent: if you refuse work, you may not be offered alternative opportunities quickly.
  • Sometimes the role can be terminated with minimal notice.

Joining an agency

To join a 'temp agency', you usually register on their website. If they are interested, they will invite you to their offices for an interview and sometimes ask you to complete administrative tests to assess your typing speed and familiarity with Excel, Word etc. Make sure you practise these skills before you go.

If you don't immediately get work, try phoning them early in the morning, which is when organisations often inform agencies that they are looking for temporary staff. An early morning call will show eagerness, and remind them of your availability.

Temporary Staffing Service at Oxford University 

If you are looking for temporary work at Oxford University, we recommend the Temporary Staffing Service. This is the University's internal recruitment service providing temporary administrative support to the University's departments and colleges.

Most organisations do not rely on agencies to fill their graduate vacancies, because they have an in-house recruitment team to manage their processes.Some organisations may use recruitment agencies, however, to fill graduate positions when:

  • they do not have the in-house personnel to manage the process
  • they have a small number of highly-specialist roles available
  • they need to fill vacancies quickly.

In permanent recruitment, your employment contract would be with the company that hires you, rather than the agency.

Should I use an agency?

Recruitment agencies can be helpful in your job search, but before deciding to use one, think about whether you need to. Most organisations accept direct graduate applications, so this might be a more effective application method.

A word of warning

A reputable firm will NOT charge you a fee to register, apply to roles or interview (as they already receive a fee from employers). If an agency requests this, you may want to consider whether they are the right firm to manage your applications.

Some employers will advertise their vacancies both independently and through a recruitment agency. If presented with two identical candidates, the employer would have a financial incentive not to hire the agency's candidate (as this would involve paying the agency a fee). As such, before an agency puts your CV forward for a position, do a web search to see if you can find and apply for the job independently.

It's a good idea to make it clear that you want to make decisions about which firms your CV is sent to and to ensure the agency knows what you are looking for before they start sending out your details.

Build a good rapport

Treat your meetings with your recruitment agent/consultant like an interview. Remember you need to make a good impression with them in order for them to put you forward to their clients.

Don’t underestimate the power of a recruitment agent/consultant – in some cases they will not only be putting your CV forward, but they could be making initial pre-selection decisions for the company and even running assessment centres.

Shop around

Not all agencies are right for you, so go and talk to two or three before deciding which one to work with. Look for those agencies/consultancies that can show that they have a detailed understanding of their specialist market area, that do not put you forward for inappropriate roles and show a willingness to maintain a relationship even when they are not actively seeking work for you.

Know the rules

Make sure you understand what a recruitment firm can and cannot do for you. The REC, which is the trade body that supports and represents the recruitment industry, provides best practice guidelines. Check to see if the agencies you are using are signed up to the REC and its code of practice.

Explain what you want

Explain clearly and carefully what you want – if you take time at the start, it can reduce misunderstandings and wasted efforts and ensure you get the job opportunities that interest you.

Respond quickly

If they contact you with an opportunity, especially for temporary work, try to respond as quickly as possible. However if you feel that you need more information before agreeing to put your CV forward or accepting the temporary role, ask for it. Do some independent research if you feel you need to. Agencies often work under time pressure, so slow responses may lead to disappointment.

Contact them if you hear nothing

Keep an eye on the results – if your requirements are reasonable and the market is also reasonably buoyant, then you should hear about potential opportunities within a couple of weeks. If you don’t hear anything, then follow up with them (a phone call is usually best, but email if you can't get hold of your agent/consultant). Politely ask ask them for an update. If you keep in contact, they won’t forget you – but don’t hassle them.

Use their knowledge

If you have a good recruitment agent/consultant, they will often know the market well. They are a great source of market information, especially regarding salaries and benefits.

If you are looking for temporary work at Oxford University, we recommend the Temporary Staffing Service. This is the University's internal recruitment service providing temporary administrative support to the University's departments and colleges.

Other recruitment agencies are:

If you are specifically looking for work in Oxford (beyond the University) there are also local recruitment agencies and branches of national agencies including:

For guidance on your rights as employee, visit the UK Government website.


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