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Staffing Agency: The Pros and Cons of Using One During Job Search

staffing agency

Whether you are feeling a bit stuck in a rut at work and can see no good career progression opportunities ahead for you, or you know for sure that your job is going nowhere, should you consider signing up with a staffing agency to get a bit of a boost?

The short answer — it depends. The good news is that staffing agencies today no longer specialize in low-skilled, temp work. They can connect you with truly amazing employers, and help find high-paid, full-time work. On the other hand, there are certain drawbacks to getting a job through a staffing agency. 

But let’s talk one thing at a time and start with the basics. 

What Is A Staffing Agency?

A staffing agency (also going by the name of recruiting or workforce firms/solutions) is an organization that match-makes candidates with the right employers.  

Today some 25,000 staffing and recruiting companies operate in the US, according to the stats from the American Staffing Association.  Among them, 56% of companies specialize in temporary or contract staffing.

  • A temp agency can help you land a full-time contract/weekend job or part-time work. In fact, six in ten staffing employees get involved with such companies to fill in the gap between jobs or find a full-time position, per the American Staffing Association.  So using a temp agency isn’t the best way to get a full-time job. 
  • Specialized recruiting agencies, in turn, help job searchers find a new full-time job in their specific domain. For example, 40% of staffing employees get placed in higher-skilled positions in the Industrial, Professional-Managerial, Engineering, IT, Scientific, and Healthcare domains.  

The Main Pros and Cons of Using a Staffing Agency

Using a staffing agency to find a job is what professionals from different backgrounds do. While temp agencies mostly work with entry-level candidates, bigger firms often secure coveted secure senior and executive-level placements for experienced pros. In fact, their activity represents the bulk of the “hidden job market” — opportunities that are never publicly advertised. 

The pros of using a staffing agency for job search:

  • Access to more job openings  
  • Personalized job suggestions 
  • Faster time to getting hired 
  • Employer vetting, done for you 
  • Career and role guidance 
  • Mentoring and coaching 

The cons of using a staffing agency for job search:

  • Pressure to interview for roles you don’t want 
  • Commission-driven relationship
  • Competition with other candidates 
  • Not all recruiters may understand your industry 

We discuss these at greater length in the follow-up sections! 

How Does A Staffing Agency Work?

A staffing agency (recruiting agency) has an active pool of employers who are after candidates with specific technical skills or core competencies and a pool of job seekers the agency recruiters attempt to place with the employer. Essentially, a staffing agency does “match-making” between candidates and employers.

Here’s how a recruiting agency works in the background:

  • Business contacts the staffing agency: During the first meeting, they provide an overview of their capacity requirements — number of people they need, work period (if that’s contract work), minimal qualification requirements, extra qualification requirements, a salary range they are ready to pay. 
  • The agency starts the search: Recruiters working with the agency compose job descriptions and start sourcing relevant candidates that match the employee profile. Typically, they’ll first reach out to candidates, already in their database, before proceeding to advertise the job publicly (on job boards, social media, etc). 
  • Candidates get invited to a job interview(s): First, you’ll first get invited to a job interview with the agency personnel. If that goes well, your resume and other supporting docs will be passed over to the actual employer for assessment. Depending on the role you are after, you may be either hired immediately or invited for a second interview with the company and its team. 
  • The agency manages your hiring process. A staffing agency will handle most of the paperwork and admin procedures associated with hiring. They’ll collect the required docs from you, prepare your work contract, and set you up on the employer’s payroll or compensate you directly (if you are hired for a temp position). Also, they’ll proceed to charge the employer a fixed or monthly fee for their recruiting services. 

How to Apply to a Staffing Agency? 

To add you to an active pool of candidates, most staffing agencies and individual recruiters will schedule a short interview with you. Come to it in your best job search armor and be sure to: 

  • Come professionally dressed. Business casual attire will be appropriate. Also, make sure you are well-groomed and otherwise looking presentable. 

Lastly, don’t sweat too much over your interview with a staffing agency. They are on your side and will try to: 

  • Help identify the most in-demand skills that you have
  • Assess your overall work experience
  • Gauge your workplace preferences and work style
  • Understand your career goals and objectives 
  • Identify possible weakness areas (e.g. resume gaps) and help mellow them out

If you have all those answers ready, you are golden and should expect a good stream of relevant job opportunities heading your way. 

How Long Does It Take For a Staffing Agency to Find You a Job?

The timeline depends on several factors such as the agency’s efficiency, your competency, and the type of clients they work with. The more in-demand skills you have – the faster you’ll get placed, especially with a startup or smaller firm, where decisions are made fast. But enterprise-level employers have a longer approval period – usually 2-3 weeks. So realistically, you can get a job via a staffing agency in 1-2 months after signing up with them. 

What are the Typical Staffing Agency Fees?

Staffing agencies charge employers a percentage-based mark-up on employees’ pay rates. This can be anywhere from 3%-10%. This rate isn’t taken out of your compensation — it’s an extra cost your employer pays. Recruiting agencies, on the other hand, charge a one-time “headhunting” fee for placing you with an employer. In this case, their commission can be anywhere from 15% to 45% of your base annual salary. Again, you aren’t footing the commission bill. 

The Benefits Of Using A Staffing Agency to Find a Job  

OK, so a staffing agency can help you get a job — that’s an obvious pro of working with them. But there are several other great benefits you gain by engaging with an agency. 

Access To Flexible Career Opportunities

According to the American Staffing Association, agencies supply some 16 million temporary and contract employees per year. Read: they have loads of part-time, contract, and otherwise flexible work gigs. 

A lot of forward-thinking recruitment agencies have realized that the face of the modern workplace is rapidly changing and they are ready to accommodate that. Some firms now specialize in gig work. Others — have access to an array of remote jobs

In either case, this means that if you want to return to work after taking a career break or, on the contrary, switch to flexible work for personal reasons, you can now find high-quality jobs via an agency too. 

A lot of part-time work in years gone past was also created to fulfill more low-level tasks where the staff member was never really challenged or even valued or appreciated for their contribution. Many parents returning to work after a break and looking for part-time hours were expected to take lower grade jobs or suffer a cut to their salary as a consequence.

Luckily, things have changed a lot these days and most large employers are taking on highly qualified and experienced staff in responsible roles that now offer more flexibility to accommodate the needs of their family commitments. This can include job-share positions and roles that allow you to work part of the week from home so you get a better work/life balance.

How Long Should You Stay at a Temp Job?

Staffing agencies have no shortage of temporary and part-time gigs, ranging from several weeks to up to a year. So you may be enticed to job-hop from one interim position to another. But it doesn’t mean you should keep going with the flow. Temporary work has less job security and you may eventually find yourself in long spells of unemployment. Staying in temp jobs for 1-2 years early in your career is acceptable. But once you are past “entry-level”, it’s better to focus on getting a permanent job. 

Help With Finding More Suitable Role

Another advantage of using a recruitment agency is that many will help you to find and apply for a more suitable role. Modern recruitment agencies go a step further by supporting you throughout the whole job search process to providing assistance during onboarding.  

Based on your replies during the preliminary interview, the recruiter can also help you direct towards alternative roles that you may not have previously considered. In addition, skilled staff can help you orchestrate your career change and chart a possible path for progression in the new industry/vertical. 
With a professional recruitment agency at your side, you can ensure that your job-seeking efforts are conducted thoroughly. Even if you come out of an interview and are convinced you fluffed it up because you forgot to mention something important, your agency will be able to follow up on your interview by contacting the client and filling in any blanks you think you missed. This can help the employer to get a clear overview of your skills and experience, even those that you forgot to mention due to interview nerves or lack of time.

recruitment agency staff calling employer

Get Useful Feedback On Your Application Packet 

Before pitching you to employers, a good staffing agency will help you polish up and customize your resume, plus provide some tips for your cover letter (in case you’ll need one).

Some may also work with you on improving your online presence: 

  • Provide tips for optimizing your LinkedIn profile
  • Give feedback on your current digital portfolio or personal website
  • Suggest other ways for improving your personal brand.   

Also, if you get rejected by some employer, you will likely receive a detailed explanation of why that happened and what you can do to improve your chances of landing a similar job!  This can help you to polish up your knowledge and experience and make you stand out better from the crowd for your next interview.

Are There Any Cons Of Using A Staffing Agency During Job Search?

While a well-established staffing agency can be a good ally during your job search, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case each time. 

One of the major drawbacks of staffing agencies is that larger firms (with bigger employer contracts), often have high competition among candidates.  Remember that it is a recruiter’s role to find the best possible candidates for a client, not to find a job for every candidate they have on their books. So be prepared to get overlooked for some positions you were really eager to get.

job candidates waiting in line

If the staffing agency has more supply than demand, your job search with them can drag on. 

What you can do is to boost your chances is:

  • Keep perfecting your resume, so that it comes as clear, informative, and concise as possible 
  • Invest time in getting extra education, training, or certifications that are in demand. 

Lastly, be prepared to receive not-that-relevant job offers, especially if you are after a temp job. Remember, most agencies are eager to place you as fast as possible to get their compensation from the employer. So some types may hassle you into taking less-than-great offers. Avoid overly busy recruiters who put their financial gains above your career objectives. 

So Should I Use a Staffing Agency to Find a Job?

This is a question you have to decide for yourself. Professional recruitment agencies carry a lot of industry knowledge, so take advantage of their advice and guidance to help you advance your career. Top-tier recruiters can also place you in coveted roles that are hard to get without networking. 

At the same time, many staffing agencies only specialize in temporary work and merely try to place as many people as fast as they can. So the positions they have aren’t always the best paid, most interesting, or career-changing. Check reviews of other recruiting firms and try to find those, offering a truly personalized approach to each candidate in their books.  

FAQs about Using a Staffing Agency 

Below are answers to several more popular questions about staffing agencies job searchers often have. 

Do recruiters take a cut of your salary?

No, 99% of recruiters don’t take a cut from your salary – they are paid a commission by your employer. The numbers you’ll see in the job offer are your take-home salary (gross + net). If some recruiter suggests that you’ll have to pay them a percent of your salary or a flat fee for placing you, treat this as a major red flag. 

When should I use an employment agency?

Using an employment agency makes the most sense if you are looking for a flexible, part-time job (and already exhausted all alternative ways to find a job). Working with a specialized, high-profile employment agency also makes sense if you are a busy senior candidate, who wants to get “marketed” to employers by others. 

How do recruitment agencies find candidates?

Recruitment agencies have two ways of finding candidates – either they use people in the existing network (job seekers and non-placed candidates) or they actively approach new candidates online. Many recruiters are super active on LinkedIn and make the first contacts there. Others prefer to network in person at industry events, meetups, conferences, etc. You can also reach out to a recruiter yourself to get onto their roster of potential candidates.


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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