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Recruiters – Do you need them to land a job?

Mention the word ‘recruiter’ to a creative and you’ll always get a ‘marmite’ type reaction. You either love’em or you hate’em. Why such a strong reaction? Do you really need a recruiter to find a job, or is it better to just go it alone?

What’s the job of a recruiter?

A recruiter is basically the middle man between you and an employer. There are many recruiters that deal specifically with design and advertising agencies. They’re in close contact with a number of employers, so they’re often the first to know about freelance and permanent jobs that are coming up. They also know exactly what’s going on at a large number of agencies; who’s hiring, who’s firing etc.

When a job brief comes through from an employer, a recruiter kind of does the ‘screening process’ for the employer, sending them what they consider to be the top candidates for an interview.

Recruitment agencies also have a wide network of contacts. So even if an agency doesn’t have many jobs on the books when you meet them, they may be able to get you in front of potential employers with a lot more ease than you could if you had to contact them yourself.

Should you get a job through a recruiter, they will also negotiate your salary and day rate, as well as all the details regarding your contract.

Whose side are the recruiters on? Image used with kind permission of Pogo.

Do I need to use a recruitment agency?

You may be looking for your first job. Or even a new job. Where do you start? It’s rare that you’ll find design jobs advertised. The advertising and design industry just doesn’t work that way. The industry is quite small, so often if an agency needs someone, they’ll ask people in the agency if they know anyone. Or they’ll go through recruiters.

This is not to say that you can’t get a job without using a recruiter. Many people ‘cold call’ agencies, asking if they can come in and show their folio. It’s a foot in the door. An agency will often say, ‘You can come and see us, but we don’t have any jobs’. Don’t worry about this. If they really like you, they might be able to find you some freelance, or maybe even a full time gig. Or if there’s really no work going, they’ll keep you in mind when a job does come up. After ‘cold calling’ a number of agencies and going into show my folio, I was offered two jobs in two weeks, just weeks later.

Throughout my career, I have used recruiters on a few occasions. A recruiter once found me a job interstate, which would have been very difficult for me to do on my own. And when I decided to go freelance in 2007, I found recruiters very useful in finding jobs, as they are the first people to get contacted when freelance work comes up. However, the majority of jobs I have found on my own. Once you’re in the industry, you build up a network of contacts, so you often find out jobs through word of mouth. And if mates in the industry know you’re looking, they’ll think of you when a job comes up. As soon as friends knew I was freelancing, I would be recommended if work came up at their agency.

Things to consider when working with a recruiter.

The most important thing to remember is – never rely solely on a recruiter to find you work. Going in and showing your folio to a recruiter and then sitting back waiting for the calls to come flooding in is not the way to go. You could be waiting a long, long time for that call. A recruiter may see your folio, but have no jobs at that moment. Then when a job comes in, they may call the person they’ve just seen and forget to call you. Or it could be a long time until the right job comes up. Maybe you slip their mind. Maybe they didn’t like your folio. They could have left the agency. Who knows? Perhaps you do get a call, but the job is totally unsuitable. Put yourself in control of your destiny. Don’t leave it in the hands of someone else.

Why? Because no one cares about your career like you do. Don’t think for a minute that anyone else but you truly has your best interests at heart. It sounds harsh to say, but it’s the truth.

A recruiter can help you get the job you want, but maybe they won’t. You need to be out there actively ‘cold calling’ agencies, working up your folio, showing your folio to as many people as possible and utilising all your contacts to get that dream job.

A recruiter is not a designer.

Sounds obvious huh? But think about this. Whenever you go and see a recruiter, they are judging your folio from a designers perspective. Then, based on this, they are putting you forward for jobs they deem you are suitable for and that they consider you have the talent for. Whilst some recruiters have worked in advertising or design, it’s mainly on the account service side. So the vast majority of the time, your folio is being judged by an untrained eye.

There have been countless times I have gone to see a recruiter and they sit there flicking through pages and it’s blatantly obvious that they’ve missed the whole idea or concept of an ad or piece of work. This is frustrating to say the least, as you know that a designer would never miss something like that. Recruiters just don’t ‘get’ your folio like a designer would. So in my mind, they shouldn’t be judging it as if they do. But they do and based on what they ‘see’, will put you forward for the jobs they deem you suitable for. This means you have no control over how you are been represented. Another reason why it’s dangerous to solely rely on recruiters to find you a job.

Does a recruiter see what a designer sees? Image used with kind permission of Irina Vinnik

Can I see more than one recruiter?

Yes. But how many all depends on the size of the city where you live. In Melbourne, approximately three to four recruiters is more than enough. In London, I’d say five at a minimum. If you register with too many, you will find that you end up having recruiters applying for the same jobs for you, which can get a little bit tricky. That’s because an employer will often give a brief to a number of recruiters, so every recruiter in town could be touting for the same job. You don’t want your CV to be put forward by two different recruitment agencies, as then there’s a dispute about who gets the fee. It can get very ugly.

Read the contract carefully.

A recruiter has scored you a freelance gig for few weeks. After being there a few weeks, they decide to keep you on indefinitely. Fantastic.

A couple of years ago this happened to a creative team I know. What started off as a great gig eventually meant they were let go to make way for someone they had found without a recruiter. Why? So the agency didn’t keep having to pay the fee to the recruiter on top of the freelance day rate they were paying them.

What they hadn’t done was read the contract closely. The contract stated that as long as the team kept freelancing there, the design agency had to keep paying the recruiter a fee for one year. This seems an awfully long time to keep receiving a fee, relative to what the recruiter has actually done. To add insult to injury, it was the recruiter that contacted the Art Director and in fact the Art Director than found a copywriter to work with. Yet, the recruiter got the ‘finders fee’ for both! After four months of working at this very small agency, the director just couldn’t afford to keep paying the day rate and fee to the recruiter for both the Copywriter and Art Director. So they were ousted for a team the agency found themselves. If I had been in this position, I would have tried to negotiate 3-6 month, rather than a year.

The point is, read the contract carefully. You can have a say about what is being negotiated. After all, it involves you!

It’s all up to you. Image used with kind permission of Victor Oritz.

Working with the recruiter to get the best deal for you.

Like an employer, the recruiter is trying to get you at the cheapest fee for their client. You in turn are trying to negotiate the highest salary you can. How do you get the best deal for you?

If you get freelance work, recruiters will ask what your day rate is. Tell them what it is, maybe leaving it open, with a ‘I usually charge round …..’. This tells them that you’re flexible to taking on the work at a slightly lower rate. Sometimes the client won’t pay more than a certain rate, so it’s better to have the gig at a reduced rate than not at all. But do not take work at a rate that is significantly lower than what you’re worth. The recruiter will think they can always secure you at this rate. And if it turns into a long time gig, you will quickly resent the pay you are on.

If you’re currently in a full time job, the recruiter will ask you what you’re on. Generally, people give a slightly higher figure than they’re already on. Then they will ask you what you want to be on - which is something around 15% more than that.

When I moved from my first to my second job, I effectively ended up doubling my salary. How? Basically, I had been in my first job for three years and was underpaid. So the salary I told the recruiter was what I really should have been on at the time. The recruiter was then able to negotiate a salary higher than this again, meaning I could move agencies and start moving up the career ladder.

You must do this with caution though. A couple of years later, a recruiter called me about work and asked what I was currently on. I stated a figure that was quite a bit above what I was being paid. As the recruiter knew the market value of someone in my position, he knew I couldn’t possibly be on that much and was none too happy that I had lied to him. You can exaggerate a little, but don’t push it.

A good tool to have.

So, back to the question of whether to use recruiters or not. Well, as you can see, they can be very useful to find work. They have inside knowledge of the industry, many inside contacts and the ability to negotiate your salary and contract for you. I guess, I like to think of them as one tool to use in any job search. In the end I think the best person you’re ever going to find to help you search for a job - is you.

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