Finding and choosing recruitment agencies

There’s no doubt that there are hundreds of agencies out there that you could approach to secure a contract, but how do you find and choose the one that’s right for you? 

It’s not a simple process, as there are several factors that you need to consider in assessing which agency is the best fit for you.

Build a roster of four or five agencies.

This provides a good spread of opportunities whilst enabling you to actively manage the relationship with each. It is worth noting that you need to drive the relationship as the recruitment consultant is looking to fill their bank of contracts for their clients, not find you the perfect role.

What to look for in your recruitment agent


It is best to work with agencies that are specialists in the area that you want to work in. It may sound obvious, but it can be tempting to throw your limited resources at a general agency. A specialist will have a greater understanding of your niche market, of what their clients really want and the nuances of the contract roles available.


Big companies use big agencies. You may get great one-to-one service from a boutique agent, but they’ll have limited resources and a limited database. If you’re looking to work for blue chip companies, then large specialist recruiters have the biggest reach in terms of the size and sheer number of clients they work with.


In addition to size, look for agencies that are located where you want to work. Yes it is true that the majority of sourcing occurs online, but recruitment agents worth their salt have personal and direct relationships with their largest clients. They’ll be based where they can have this direct relationship, so look for an agency that has a base that covers the location you want to work in. Another way of looking at the location of your agency is if they have multiple office locations; a great way of expanding your reach if you are looking to move around.

Available contracts 

Look at the type of contracts the agency offers on the main job boards and their website. This gives you a good idea of the type of client they work with and the contracts that they have available. If the client base and role specifics look interesting, then they should be able to provide good opportunities for you to pursue.

Where to find recruitment agents

You can find lists of recruitment agents online but that doesn’t really provide you with a targeted list.  The majority of contractors will start with specialist publications and forums that are specific to their market or technical specialty. Looking through the available contracts and job posts within a specialist publication can help narrow the field to specialist recruiters closely aligned with the roles you want. This doesn’t however address the benefits of recommendation.

Drawing on the personal experience of successful contractors you work with is a great way to understand how good an agency is. Their recommendation and thoughts on how easy it is to work with the agency, plus the detail of how well they perform on the administrative side goes a long way to providing the due diligence you need to ensure the short list of agencies fits your needs. 

The added bonus of identifying agencies via other contractors is that is can also offer a direct introduction. Direct introductions can cut through the wall between you and a specialist consultant. If the contractor that provides the introduction is well respected within the agency, it can go a long way to opening the right doors to build a relationship.

How to assess if the agency is right for you

If you fail to do your homework upfront, you’ll end up knocking on a lot of doors and investing a lot of time and effort in selecting agencies through trial and error.  Through understanding what you want from an agency, selecting the right ones for you on paper and then pursuing them in a managed way will reduce the selection process admin.

Once you’d identified the agencies that tick the majority of the boxes in terms of the list above, it’s important to assess the way they treat you as a contractor. Before engaging in discussions with agencies take the time to really understand what you want out of the relationship and be realistic about how you can achieve an equitable relationship with an agency.

1. Do they understand your market and specialism – they need to be experts in their field in order to secure you the best contracts.

2. Are they professional? If they don’t treat you as you’d expect, they are less likely to treat their clients in the way you would either.

3. Is here an attention to detail? – Do they provide accurate and precise information and is their documentation and payment correct?

4. Are they efficient? – Administration is the most frustrating element of any business relationship so if they aren’t efficient, it can lead to losing your free time that could be better spent.

5. Do they pay on time? – There is little excuse for late payment, yes errors can sometimes occur, but if late payments become a habit it’s time to find another agency.

6. Do they offer good rates? – If you think the rates are low in comparison to other contractors or your own research, query this. It may be that they are taking too large a cut or that they fail to negotiate effectively with the client, either way, if there are better rates available and this is important to you in relation to the other benefits the agency offers, then it may be time to move.

Working with an agency should help you find more contracts faster, easier and ensure you have a steady flow of work. Some recruitment agencies are better than others at doing this.

If you aren’t happy with the relationship then you can address the issues and if this does not work, find new agencies that offer you more. It can be a case of trial and error, as one contractor’s ideal agency can be less than a perfect fit for you. Remember that you are in control and that you can change the agencies you work with at any time.

When you have found the agencies and recruitment consultants that are a good fit for the way you like to work, it’s important to build a strong relationship. You are the resource they are trying to sell to their clients, so make it easy for them.

Next in the series we look at what a recruitment agent looks for in their top candidates and how to work with them effectively.

To help you get started, here we’ve identified a handful of great sources of information on rates, contracts, agencies and industry resources.

To research opportunities and agencies:


To research rates:

Don’t forget trade publications and industry forums. They are rich sources of sector-specific job advertisements, rate information, surveys and industry knowledge.