How can I tell if a staffing agency is reliable/legitimate/not a scam?
November 20, 2008 5:24 PM   Subscribe

How can I tell if a staffing agency is reliable/legitimate/not a scam?

I replied to a Craigslist ad and was called back by a staffing agency for an interview. I googled the staffing agency and they do have branches in many large cities but I don't have a lot of experience with staffing agencies and I'm not sure what i should be looking out for. They said they don't charge a fee for job placement, are there any other methods staffing agencies use to squeeze money out of job seekers? I know many staffing agencies charge the companies they hire people for and not the job seeker, but I also know that some staffing agencies take a cut of job seekers' pay checks., What are some things I should look out for to make sure I'm not paying any unnecessary fees or anything like that?
posted by EvilKenji to Work & Money (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I know many staffing agencies charge the companies they hire people for and not the job seeker, but I also know that some staffing agencies take a cut of job seekers' pay checks.

Not many. All. That's how the staffing company stays in business. In return, at least in theory, the staffing company is supposed to ensure the candidate they present to the company on their behalf is well-suited for the job.

What are some things I should look out for to make sure I'm not paying any unnecessary fees or anything like that?

It's pretty simple: if you have to pay for anything to get the job, it's a scam. That includes instructional stuff, tests, interview prep sessions--you pay for nothing. And in return, the staffing company gets a cut of your paycheck (actually, they're getting the paycheck and giving you a cut... since you will still remain an employee of the staffing company, even when contracted out).

The common job scam are places that charge "job placement" fees. They advertise great jobs that everyone always look for--things like "Graphic Designer" or "Photographer" or "Pet Store Asst." These fake "jobs" are not necessarily real jobs; the placement companies bend the law by claiming they researched the market and the listings represent legit job offers at the time, but of course they'll always be filled if you apply. And in return for these false leads, you pay them $whatever.

Just remember to turn around and walk out the door the second anyone tells you to pay or buy anything.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:37 PM on November 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Civil Disobedient has it. All of the staffing agencies I've worked with charged the employer a % of what we paid the employee. The employee got paid market wage for the work, so it was essentially a premium that we paid the agency over what the employee got.

I wouldn't deal with anyone who charges you, the employee, anything. Ever.

The big name agencies are pretty legit, but there's a level of autonomy from office to office, so your mileage may vary.
posted by altcountryman at 5:47 PM on November 20, 2008

It would help to know some additional information such as the name of the agency? Not sure why you didn't provide that...

It would also help to know the type of position you are looking for.

I ran into some of the "creative placement firms" which after doing some reading in the forums on, I discovered they were not the best place to be looking for a job at. The ones I dealt with and had awful experiences with were Creative Circle and Aquent. P.S. Creative Circle is a Robert Half company. If this agency is connected in any way shape or form, run, don't walk, away from the company.

The thing that I've read and experienced with them that you need to look out for is that their goal is to get as many qualified applicants on their list as possible because that gives them the best shot of filling the role. These are COMMISSIONED people you will be dealing with. Make no mistake, while I'm sure it would make many of them happy to find you a nice job, the only thing they care about is finding SOMEONE the company will take and getting their commission. These agencies are high-turnover sweatshops usually who hire people fresh out of college on low base/high commission compensation.

Expect to be asked to sign a contract the second you walk in the door stating you won't work with anybody else and if you get a job at a company they have a contract with, you need to notify them and they will take their cut. This will piss off the company you are talking to because they don't want to pay extra for you. That might be enough to dissuade them from hiring you if they know that.

If they ask you to sign something, go over it with a fine-toothed comb and even ask to take it home to consider before signing. They will try to pressure you but they'll really do whatever you want to get you to sign. Signing means they can put you in their listings.

Often times by signing you will need to agree not to work with any other staffing firm as well.

That said, typically the people at these firms who try to get you full-time placements (vs part time) only ask you to sign something after they land you a job, which is more of a traditional head hunter role. They are a lot easier to deal with.

Oh, and one other Craigslist employment scam to watch out for is the identity theft one. Be certain that you actually visit an office and not just some schmoe at a coffee house with some forms for you to fill out with all your personal info (DoB, soc, phone number, etc.) Anybody can print up fake forms with another company's logo. They may not ask for money up front but they'll definitely get their money if you give them that info.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Elminster24 at 6:36 PM on November 20, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the info so far. The firm that contacted me is "remedy intelligent staffing". The position I am applying to is a "credit analyst" position and from the Craigslist listing description sounds similar to a job I applied for at a state bank (which unfortunately I did not get). It's possible it'll just be one of those commission jobs but from the description it says that the salary is 35-55k depending on experience (this is in downtown honolulu and I've seen similar amounts for these types of jobs).
posted by EvilKenji at 6:53 PM on November 20, 2008

I worked for Remedy back in 1994-95. They are legit (at least they were back then).

I am currently working for another staffing agency and as was mentioned earlier, they pay me what I asked and the company I got placed at, pays a fee above that to compensate the staffing agency. Thats how they make their money.

When I worked for RHI in 1997, I was shocked to learn how much above my base salary they were getting. It seems like a pretty lucrative business.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:05 PM on November 20, 2008

Expect to be asked to sign a contract the second you walk in the door stating you won't work with anybody else
Never heard of this. When i was working with agencies, I was signed up with dozens because they were all so poor at finding me work that the only way for me to make money consistently was to try every one i could.

These people are all scum, literally everything that comes out of their mouths will be a lie. Not bitter, not exaggerating, just stating a fact. Seconding Creative Circle and Robert Half as exceptionally horrific. Highlights of my experience with Robert Half:
1) quitting one temp gig because they told me they had gotten me a perm. job, only to get there and find out it was a short-term temp assignment while they interviewed people for the real job. (the boss at the company thought I was there for an interview, and actually interviewed me for about 10 minutes before we both figured out what was going on)
2) being threatened by a literally psychopathic recruiter because I declined a couple of jobs he offered me.

This is a way to make money, but these people are JUST AWFUL. Never ever trust any of them.

Oh and if you give them your phone number, expect to be harassed for years to come. I haven't been looking for three years now and I still get 1-3 phone calls a week from recruiters and agencies.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:41 PM on November 20, 2008

oooh a tip:

as mentioned above, they are getting a HUGE overhead, usually 50% or more, on your hourly rate. They naturally want to keep as much as they can and have zero qualms about lying to you in order to do so.

When they ask how much you made at your last gig/job, be sure to lie. Because if you say $15/hr, WHY WHAT A COINCIDENCE! This job pays $16 an hour. But if you say you were getting $25, WHY WHAT A COINCIDENCE! This job now pays $26 an hour. Seriously. This is how it works. They may have an upper limit on how much they will pay you, especially if they have others waiting in line to work for less, but they will ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS try to pay you as little as they can possibly get away with.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:44 PM on November 20, 2008

I temped with RHI (Robert Half International) for a couple of years. Some of the jobs absolutely sucked balls, but this wasn't RHI's fault. They're basically just a pimp. Sometimes you get a good-looking John, sometimes it's a depraved scat-master. But either way, the pimp gets their cut. For some contractors (confirming what was said above) it's can be a huge percentage.

The biggest problem that I have with temp agencies like RHI is that because there's no payroll (you aren't paid if you're not contracting) it's in their best interest to simply keep you as a potential hire for as long as possible. That might not be what's best for you, however, and frequently isn't.

In practical terms, what this means is... well, say you've been contracted at A Big Company (ABC). ABC decides they really like you and want to hire you on full-time. But while you're contracting out from the agency, you're technically an employee of the agency. That means ABC has to buy out your contract with the temp agency.

Naturally, if a company likes you enough to offer you a full-time position, you must know what you're doing. Which means the temp agency will be losing an employee with a proven track record. Which means they are going to charge ABC an assload to buy you out.

How much? A full year's salary wouldn't surprise me. Naturally, a lot of companies when they hear that... well, they might want you for $45,000 a year, but they sure a shit don't want you for $90,000 for the first year. So they say, "Thanks, but no thanks."

And what happens to you? You were about to get a sweet full-time gig! Well, thanks to your temp agency that just fucked you over, you go straight back into the waiting pool again, eagerly anticipating your next part-time contract gig so you can pay your friggin' rent.

Yeah, that part sucks.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:47 AM on November 21, 2008

What's wrong with Creative Circle? There are some people there that aren't so hot but it's like that at every recruiter you're ever going to work with.
posted by micawber at 6:01 PM on November 22, 2008

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