The other side of a recruitment agency

The other side of a recruitment agency

Recruitment agencies are designed to help connect companies with potential employees, but occasionally they can prove to be a road block for PAs, as Adam Russell discovered first hand

“I had a **** of a day yesterday”… “You need to get off your high horse, why should I drop everything for you?” This is how I was spoken to by the founder of a high-end recruitment agency when I pointed out that they had not returned my calls in three weeks, having chased multiple times about two roles I wanted to apply for. By this stage I was still only just trying to ‘get on their books’. I had even spoken to the owner – quite by accident – the day before, who promised me a call back. They were shocked that I had not had an email or call returned in more than three weeks. Did that promised call arrive in the end? Well yes, but a day overdue.

I’ve been a PA for more than 10 years and in my last role I was at the private office of the founder of a very well-known designer label, looking after him and his family in a 24/7 capacity. I was with him five and a half years and decided it was time to move on and take the next step in my career. During this time, I had received multiple calls from agencies wanting our corporate and private business, promising the world and stating the sheer level of dedication they would give me and the business. I’m sure you’ve had the same calls; however, when you’re sitting the other side of the table, it’s all very different.

After I finished my previous role I decided to take a few months off and enjoy time with my partner, friends and family, and just to take some selfish time to myself. It’s a good job too, because I had forgotten that applying through agencies for roles is actually a full-time job in itself.

Agencies try to sell how wonderful and efficient they are. As a PA/EA we pride ourselves on being efficient, concise and trustworthy; many an agency is far from it in my experience, and yet they specialise in high-level PA roles. I’ve had double-digit number of calls and emails not returned despite chasing numerous times. It’s amazing the amount of emails that seem ‘to go missing’. The number of times I’ve heard ‘this job would have been perfect for you’ that I had missed because it’s a struggle to get on their books is astonishing. The old days of calling up for a role, talking about it with the relevant person, being invited in to discuss it further and sign up with them, then being put forward, are very much long gone. I felt nothing more than a number to most of the agencies I encountered, and when I finally got on the books, most of them said it was up to me to keep watching the job boards and then let my contact know I want to apply for it.

Agencies make between 15% and 30% off the back of placing someone like me, and for the level of role I’m going for, they make a lot of money for not a lot of work. So what do the ones like I’ve contacted do? A client calls them and they work out what the role is. They advertise it on their job boards and places like, then wait for people to apply. They read CVs and then invite people in for interview. They send those to the client and wait. At what point have they earned in excess of £10,000? I can’t see it myself. Not when I’ve been the one to actually put the work in, watch the job boards and then apply for it. It is so rare to have a call saying ‘this role has just come in and I think it is perfect for you’ – at least in my experience.

Due to the level of roles that I was applying for, I was generally dealing with the owners or the directors of the company; believe me, this made no difference at all. You feel confident that you will be looked after, and yet you drop off their radar very quickly. You email about a role to ask them their thoughts on it. I’m still waiting for a reply from some of them.

I am also amazed by the irrelevant tests and paperwork that are still needed to get on some firms’ books. I point blank refused to complete a typing test. I have been a PA for 10 years – I promise I can type! I know how to use Excel and PowerPoint, etc. Surely my CV would convey that when I’m used to working for UHNW; if I couldn’t type, I would not have kept my job for very long. I understand the need at entry level or first roles, or ones that require a high level of typing, but I’m very much past those days. One agency totally agreed with me and said it was a silly company policy, but there was no need for me to take it. Another agency was beyond shocked that I wouldn’t take it. “What if the employer asks for your speed?”. I replied: “If they’re basing their employment of me simply on my typing speed, it’s not a job I want.” The days when a PA was simply a typist are ancient history. I didn’t hear from that agency again.

At another, I had to make corrections to their application paperwork. I assume that it has not been updated. These are agencies that want us to have an eye for detail, and yet they can’t get their forms correct.

I find it amazing that some agencies don’t ‘walk through’ their processes and want to improve their business and know what is going right or wrong within their company. Any time I have given advice or a suggestion to improve, their face always says ‘what do you know about the business?’. I’ve worked in a FTSE 250 company, so I may have some useful insights. Aside from that I’ve been a PA long enough to know the job inside and out.

Agencies forget one very big point – I may be your commodity today, but by next week I could be your client. When those tables have turned, I will remember which agencies are good and which are not; which return calls, which don’t; those that take time to get to know me and what I’m after, and those that do not. These agencies are dealing with PAs, yet they seem to forget that. Sadly, we feel we’re not able to complain to them about how they treat us – after all, they hold the jobs that we’re after and we worry that if we cause an issue we’ll be put on the bottom of their list.

It happens. Believe me.

This is not to say that all recruitment agencies are bad. Some have been efficient and helpful, but in my experience they are very few and far between. Perhaps other PAs have had better luck.

My awful experiences have very much left a bad taste in my mouth that makes me doubt ever using them again. I would encourage all companies to really dig and do their due diligence before using one. Even as a client I’m sure you’ve had calls not returned; for every one call they are not returning to you, there must be at least 10 of us they are not calling back that are more than qualified for your role.

It’s time the PA recruitment sector has a shake up, that agencies remember we are not just a number to them and above all one day we could very well be their client.

Adam Russell PicAfter a number of different career paths, Adam Russell is now a career PA with over 12 years of experience at founder/owner level. After leaving his role as the Private Office to Ted Baker, he decided to take some time to himself and travel. Adam has just started working for a young billionaire family and looks forward to growing his new role around him