I seem to have stepped on some people's toes pretty hard-- how do I fix this?
March 31, 2009 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I seem to have stepped on some people's toes pretty hard-- how do I fix this?

I'm currently looking for a job.

I answered a staffing agency's ad for an "Entry Level Operational Position", went to an interview where she said "Looks good. You are exactly what we're looking for. Let me set up the interview with our client, client X"

I follow up a few more times that week, no response.
The next week, I call and email, and eventually get an emailed response saying "Our client has pulled their order". No problem, it's a nasty economy, I certainly understand.

Thinking about it more, I realize that I'm particularly interested in the industry, and am in a position (personally) where I could take the job for a while and not need to get paid. So I send an email to the staffing woman outlining-- "Hey, I understand times are tough-- I'd be very interested and eager to take the position as an "internship"-- basically doing the job, understanding that I didn't get pay/benefits, etc for the first three months, then they're at liberty to hire/fire me."

I follow up once or twice more in the next week, and 14 days after her response of "I'll check it out", get an email saying "I'm sorry, but the client believes you are overqualified"

Now, I can communicate well, and know the basics (think: readers digest version) of the industry... but with no experience and only a university education, don't know how things really work, so I am a bit confused. (Also- I also wonder: "Wait. Are they not filling the position, or am I overqualified?" (because the way I'd go about following up is very different, depending on the situation.))
In my followups, I ask "Hey, who could I sit down in front of that actually works in Company X?", knowing that a cursory conversation with an operator show that I'm not overqualified for anything except basic-typing.

No response, so I talk to a professor. He works in the industry and refers me to a friend who works in Company X, who I call. The man at Company X talks to me, says "Well, times are tough, but we do have an opening for a file clerk-- you're overqualified, but sure, if you're really that eager to work, let me give you the phone number of the lady to talk to." I talk to her, she asks for a resume, I send it.

A few minutes later, I get a response from the staffing agency-- a pretty perturbed "You will not be allowed to work for them unless you go through us". I immediately think "Woah! Oh hell, I just stepped on someones toes" --- for the first time connecting the position which "the client decided not to fill", and the open filing clerk position.

I think "Oh man. Certainly didn't mean to step on anyone's toes-- of course, I'll go through the staffing place if that's the job--- but wait, this isn't the job I interviewed for."

So I addressed an email to everyone. The two people at Company X, the staffing lady, and blind copied my prof. (I didn't want his friend to call him saying "what the hell is going on with this kid?" and the prof not know the story)

I wrote a mea culpa and apologized for procedural mistakes that I'd made--- explained it just as I did here, (though with correct grammer, slightly more formal than an ask mefi question... ... the petty part of me wants to send back the pissed email to the staffing woman correcting things like "you were not suppose to contact" and "you will not be consider for employment").

So I sent this explanation "I took an interview. Offered to do the job without pay, in the course of confusion as to no-response-followed-by-"you're overqualified" talked to my prof who gave me name Y who told me about job Z... etc"

Not three minutes later, I got a very angry phone call asking "How dare you contact these people again?"

Arguments about freedom of speech aside (the last email wasn't soliciting a job, just offering an explanation ... and looking through the papers I signed at my staffing interview-- nothing in them says I can't contact them either-- they're all EEO/Drug/SexualHarassment forms), how do I smooth the waters here?

I'm not looking to circumvent the process, just tryin' to get a job using all available resources--- and trying to sit down and talk to a real person. (Emails are too easy to disregard--- and I know that I make a much better impression in person than on paper)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total)
Basically it comes down to 1) the agency will not get paid if you don't go through them so they lose money and 2) this is precisely the perfect way to piss of a staffing agency by "using" (i.e. - you got a lead) them to put a foot in the door and then tossing them. So, times being tough they are probably hugely sensitive to anything that cuts them out of a contract/referral fee.
posted by spicynuts at 2:07 PM on March 31, 2009

Give up on this avenue. Someone is uptight and has a stick up their ass, and you're not going to make them any happier by pushing things. In all likelihood, this person will have a significant degree of control over whether or not you get a job. The company may be contracted to the staffing agency, and may be obliged to hire no one except those the staffing agency handles.

In other words: Don't bother trying to smooth things over with the staffing agency. See what your latest email brings from the other parties involved. Don't count on anything; you're probably not going to get it, given what you've said above.
posted by Picklegnome at 2:12 PM on March 31, 2009

I've been through something like this before. I worked for a government contractor through a technical staffing firm, after a few months there my boss loved me and wanted to hire me directly, the staffing firm was dicking me around as far as money went, I wound up going back and forth between the staffing firm's HR department, the contractor's recruiter, and my boss, and getting $6k more than the staffing firm was "offering" me, while severely pissing off the staffing firm.

Long story short, these sort of places make their money by inserting themselves in the hiring process wherever they can. If you can get the job without them, great. More money in both your and your employer's pockets.
posted by Oktober at 2:12 PM on March 31, 2009

I don't think it's any of her business. You tried to get a job through them and they didn't get you one. You applied to another position in the company, one that the agency didn't help you with whatsoever, and she's butthurt because she doesn't get any monetary reward for referring you.

I would be surprised if it's true that you can't get a job with the company without going through the staffing agency -- it sounds like the company is interested in hiring you and has ways to do that without them.

I'm not sure if it will even effect you much, if you're hired, to have some woman at the staffing agency huffing and puffing over it. In other words, I don't think there's any real way to smooth the waters and it probably doesn't matter. I think she's making herself look bad, personally.
posted by Nattie at 2:14 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Dog eat dog, man. Forget about that staffing agency (I think you're done with them) and move on.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:14 PM on March 31, 2009

did you tell the lady contact at the company that you contaced that you had interviewed there before as a canidate of the staffing company? if not, then she probably contacted the staffing agency and told them you were trying to cut them out. that's why they were pretty pissed.

and then, after being told not to contact them again, you did anyway. didn't matter what you said--if you were told not to contact them directly and you did anyway.

no offense, but your 'work for free' idea was pretty crappy. how does the stafffing agency get paid, then?

contact the staffing agency and suck up. it probably won't do any good--they are afraid that you might pull this kind of stunt again, and won't place you anywhere. but it never hurts to ask.
posted by lester at 2:15 PM on March 31, 2009

The staffing person isn't a staffing person, they're a salesperson. They are managing the relationship between paying client and product (you).

As soon as you went off the reservation and contacted the client in a manner she could not control, she needed to smack you down, otherwise she loses the ability to control the transaction, and thus, her ability to extract a fee from the client.

Traditionally, it is bad form to try and go around an intermediary in cases like these. I would liken it to cutting a Realtor out of her fee just because she wasn't the one who first brought the house to your attention.

However...if she is becoming the obstacle to an arrangement you think could otherwise be made, I'd feel no remorse about removing her from the equation. But do not let her know this is happening, she'll do whatever she can to make this sting for you, it's in her interest to shoehorn you into working with her company.
posted by VTCarl at 2:17 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

People who work at staffing agencies are by and large bloodsuckers and will say or do absolutely anything to get their money. I have literally been threatened and verbally assaulted by a psycho who worked at one of these companies because I turned down one too many jobs.

Don't worry about the feelings of the people at the agency- they already screwed you over by apparently yanking you from consideration when the job was still open, then lying to you about it. This is par for the course for them. Your only worries should be legal ones: by being submitted through the agency, you and the company with the opening would probably be agreeing that you could only be hired if it was through that agency.

Here's the thing though: it sounds as if the agency NEVER SUBMITTED YOU TO THE CLIENT FOR THE JOB. If that is the case, you and the client both have zero obligation to the agency. Just discussing the position with them on the phone does not, to the best of my knowledge, create any sort of contract. Go ahead and try to work with the company to get the job. You should actually probably stop sending group emails calling attention to it, that will probably make the company people hesitate, thinking there might be a legal issue; or they might start listening to the shit the agency is going to start talking about you.

I know your instincts are to do the right thing, and that's laudable. But you haven't done anything wrong, the agency people have already screwed you over and you are potentially setting them up to do so again. (Alienating them makes zero difference anyway. There are a million agencies in the world, and turnover is so high that all the employees you're currently dealing with will have slithered off somewhere else within the year anyway).
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:20 PM on March 31, 2009 [6 favorites]

DTMFStaffingFirmA. They're looking out for their potential commissions and their own best interests and, not yours. Tell them you're sorry, that you are choosing not to do business with them, they're under no obligation to help you, and then proceed however the hell you want.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:22 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

FWIW, my own experience with personnel/staffing agencies is that their goal is to get you into the office and ply you with a variety of tests and then get your name in their files. I'm guessing the staffing person gets a commission or some such for every person they can lure into the office and fill out paperwork. Many times the so-called "jobs" they've listed don't exist. During my first job layoff (1981), I answered several ads placed by personnel agencies and despite the battery of tests I was given and my excellent (so I was told) results, I only ever got sent out on maybe four interviews tops. And two of those were well outside the salary/location parameters I'd specified. During my second layoff, I answered an ad which was tailor-made to my experience and skills as a steel industry purchasing agent. When I reported to the address given, it was a personnel agency, and I was given a series of typing tests and other "female-oriented" office skill tests after filling out the initial application. I called and re-called the office asking about the steel purchasing position, only to eventually be told that the client had "pulled their order."

My evidence is strictly anecdotal, but I believe that the majority of these personnel or staffing agencies are more interested in getting names on their books rather than placing people.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ignore her anger at you and focus on your goals: get a job, and maintain your reputation within the industry and your relationship with Company X and anyone else they talk with.

Her anger at you is not a problem in itself -- they're so angry at you that they're not going to get you a job, but they'd already declined to do so in the first place, and it doesn't sound like you had some amazing long-term working relationship with them that you've now soured. She's like a barking dog who is just trying to intimidate you. I suppose she might actually have legal grounds behind her intimidation, but probably only in relationship to the other company, unless you signed something yourself.

So, really it's up to the people at Company X. Do they want to hire you (or allow you to intern for free) enough to risk whatever legal whatever that the staffing company might bug them with? The legal issues are either irrelevant, or super-constraining, so the decision may be out of your hands. But I wonder whether it would hurt for you to send a quick personal email just to the contact at Company X saying "I apologize if I caused you any further inconvenience with that explanation. I'm certainly interested in working with your organization in any position that might be available within the boundaries of your relationship with Staffing Firm, but I don't wish to cause you any difficulties." But if you sense that doing so would be too pushy or annoy the people at Company X, you might just lie low and wait to hear from them.
posted by salvia at 2:40 PM on March 31, 2009

I'm not sure about "fixing this", or that you even need to. However, in terms of any future job search activities: reading your account, you come across as extremely high maintenance. Granted, they could have treated you better, but emailing/phoning/following-up umpteen times for an entry level position -- or any position, really -- is rather demanding and will not make a good impression.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:42 PM on March 31, 2009

As long as the bridge with Company X isn't burned, you're in the clear. Tell the staffing lady that her problem is with the company, not you, since you are not beholden to them (as you have read in your documents) and she only has an agreement with the company. Not only that, but she is risking her own contract with the company if she isn't forwarding good candidates to them (or else you wouldn't have the chance of working there that you do). She is the fuckup here, not you, so don't let her bully or push any of her drama onto you. If she had done her job right, none of this would have happened, since obviously the position has not yet been filled and the company sees you as a good candidate. If you want to twist the knife a little, suggest that she apologize to the company herself for missing her cue and not putting you up for the job.

Pursue Company X and use a different staffing agency in the future if you need to. Also, don't send anymore mass-CC:'ed emails about this and deal with each side independently. Good luck, and good on you for having initiative.
posted by rhizome at 3:44 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you've misunderstood a few things along the way. Here's how I see it...

First you applied via an agency for a job.
With many companies who use agencies to fill a job, the requisition (what you see later as the job description) goes out to quite a few agencies. Each of them submit one (or a stack) of resumes. They are very protective of their built-in processes (which, granted, they rarely explain). Here's the thing: They make either a lump sum or a percentage of your pay/salary if the client chooses you. So, if you get submitted by more than one agency, a fight ensues between the agencies over who gets paid. If you subvert the system and fiel through an agency and also by yourself, a fight ensues between the agency and the company, about whether the company owes the agency money. For this reason, they discourage any contact between you, other agencies, and the company.

Then you offered to work for free. You were told you were overqualified.
Companies have rules about internships. They are usually very clearly defined within the company's HR policies. This prevents internships from looking like unpaid labor (which is not legal, of course). They do not want to wade in a muck of slapped-together internship plans which may get them in trouble with the labor laws later. It was ok that you offered it, but probably when they said you were overqualified, they meant that you have already graduated from school, and they only do internships with people for X months when they are at X years in school (or something similar).

Then you contacted the company directly.
If it was clear to you that the file clerk position was the same you interviewed for, then this was not OK (because of the fight over whether the agency gets paid or not). Almost always, if that fight happens, you lose -- the company would rather hire someone else than spend time sorting it all out.

If the file clerk position was not the same position as the one you interviewed for, then you did nothing wrong. The agency has misunderstood. They think that you are still talking to them about the same position, but it is a different position. They get paid per requisition filled, not based on "owning" you, so to speak. There is no obligation for the company to pay the agency who presented your resume if you ever in the future decide to work for the company. That would be silly, unmanageable, and a lot of paperwork to sort it all out for every employee who has ever passed a resume to an agency.

About the agency, and working for free: When you put up with unprofessional behavior from the agency, and offer to the company to work for free, you are devaluing yourself in the agency's and company's mind. The agency believes you'll put up with crap (not good). The company knows that you judge your labor to be worth zero dollars (clearly, not good).

Here's how I would fix it: I would write a final email to the agency, clearing up the misunderstanding if there was one (if you interviewed for a job that was not the file clerk job). I would make that as short as possible (one or two sentences). Then I would close by asking that they remove your resume from their database, as you do not wish them to represent you.

Then I would write a separate email (or better, letter... stands out in today's world when everything is email) to your professor's friend. Thank him for the referral to the woman who knew about the file clerk job. Do not drag out all the other stuff. Just write a simple thank-you letter, and end it with asking that if he learns of other opportunities in that company, you would love to know about it.
posted by Houstonian at 4:42 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. Staffing agencies are not notorious enough for the bait-and-switch tactic that is more well-known in the real estate listings. They post a job listing that is so great! You respond, and they get you to come in. You take their tests, you fill out their stuff, you're on their list of candidates. The job that they posted probably never existed or had been filled long ago. Their stance, when pressed, is that the job advertised has already been filled or is "representative" of jobs that are floating around in the market. Yes, they get commission when they place you, but they keep their job/base salary by having a long list of resumes in their database. This is barely legal and there is a growing move among lawmakers to address this in real estate, since that's a commercial transaction. A job posting is a little more grey since it's not a monetary situation, but Craig (of Craigslist) is on top of this stuff. So, go ahead and deal with a staffing agency with your eyes open; but if your response to a job posting leads you to one, don't delude yourself that you are in away going to get what you applied for.

2. Some staffing agencies want you to sign paperwork that binds you to them, saying that you won't work with any other staffing agencies or get jobs via any other means. Never sign this stuff. If you're positive that you didn't, then you are under no obligation to this agency.

3. Let's say that the agent did indeed get a response from the company that you were overqualified. If she were a good agent, she would have went over this feedback with you, in person or over the phone. She would have told you that it's code for the company being afraid that you'll want too much money or will be looking to get promoted or transferred too soon. Or she would have told you to tweak your resume. Etc. This is more evidence that she's not looking to help you. We've stipulated that you're not contractually obligated to her, but maybe you felt morally obligated. Don't.

4. Besides being able to work with as many staffing agencies as you like (which I advise you to do), you are also allowed to contact whatever company you like through whichever avenues you like. Your response to "You will not be allowed to work for them unless you go through us" should have been "I didn't sign anything to that effect. If you have a contract with Company X, that's between you and them. Please don't contact me anymore."

5. Ditch this agency. If you work with others, please get photocopies of anything that you sign. You're better off trying things like going through your professors, anyway. Good luck!
posted by thebazilist at 5:37 PM on March 31, 2009

no offense, but your 'work for free' idea was pretty crappy. how does the stafffing agency get paid, then?

The OP's concern is with getting a foot in the door in this industry, if I understand correctly. I sincerely doubt his main objective is getting the staffing agency paid. Sometimes the catch-22 of needing job experience to get a job leads people to work for free, at least in the short-term.
posted by JenMarie at 7:10 PM on March 31, 2009

fuck the staffing agency. they do not own you. you can apply for any job you want with the company. you were not chosen for one position, but you liked the company, so applied for another. there aren't rules against that. stop communicating with the bitch at the agency and carry on trying to get the job at the company through other means.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:53 AM on April 1, 2009

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