What is it like to work for an agency?
July 29, 2008 2:38 AM   Subscribe

What are your experiences of working with a UK temp agency?

How does the concept work? Is there anything I should be aware of before I sign up to one? I'm looking to try a variety of jobs, so I figure this would be the best way to do that while still being employed somewhere.

I'm basically looking for any kind of "insider information" that you can provide me with. All aspects of agency work welcomed.
posted by Solomon to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Temp agency staff are basically salesmen who will convince you they can get you working 24/7 even if they have no clients. In my experience, agencies won't mind you working for multiple agencies as long as you are honest with them if you have a fixed length contract and are unavailable until it runs out.

They live for paperwork - get your paperwork in on time or you don't get paid. They will not make exceptions for sob stories. Timesheet goes in on Friday, pay turns up late next week.

They don't usually care about your tax codes. You will stay on an emergency code and you'll need to reclaim your tax at the end of the year. Think of it as savings and it's not too painful. I can't remember what they're like about NI.

The work will vary. You'll get lots of warehouse/data entry brainless work offered to you. For that you're disposable labour. Take a day off and you'll be replaced. The next level is short term replacement staff where you'll do maternity / illness type cover. It's often fixed term work and they'll treat time off much the same way that a proper employer would do.

You'll get sick pay and holiday pay if you work more than (I think) 16 weeks. Lots of agencies seem to 'forget' that you are eligable, so make sure you chase it if you don't get paid.

[disclaimer : I've not done agency work for about 5 years]
posted by twine42 at 3:53 AM on July 29, 2008

I do agency work every summer in my vacations. I do legal secretarial work mainly, and I think your experience will vary depending on what you are looking to do. Make sure you sign up with agencies who have a good reputation locally, or that someone has used, as there are agencies of varying qualities. Some keep you there hours (my record is 2) whilst they make you do various tests and then never call you again, others are better. For the two good agencies I am with, they just tested my audio and copy typing speed; this may not be relevant for you, depending on the type of work you do.

I agree with twine42 re the time sheet thing. Re tax codes - you need to fill out a P46 as you won't have a P45 - on this you can state you have a second job, and will mean you won't get taxed at emergency rate (I don't).

Feel free to mefimail me if you want more specific advice.
posted by nunoidia at 4:54 AM on July 29, 2008

I've been with temp agencies on and off for a while, my experience of them is ok - I've had a few mishaps here and there but on the whole they're friendly, and will treat you well. Probably because you're paying their wages.

I'm not sure what kind of work you're looking for, but my advice would be to go to a temp agency for local government or public sector work. Pay is generally quite good, and you get many of the same benefits as permanent staff. And many initially-short contracts seem to get stretched out over months or even years.
posted by hnnrs at 5:52 AM on July 29, 2008

When you sign up, they'll tell you about three jobs, which match quite well with your skills and salary requirements. Don't worry, those jobs don't exist. It doesn't mean they won't find you anything, but it's just the way they do it.
posted by pompomtom at 6:08 AM on July 29, 2008

I temped on and off for about 5 years after graduating, first with a local agency in West London and then with one in central London which specialised in non-profits.

At the initial sign on, take all the tests, even if they're for packages you've never used: personal experience shows you'll get acceptable scores! Obviously you should be able to use Windows/MS Office/Outlook/Explorer, and Sage or other packages depending on your work area are good (eg for my area Raisers' Edge) and type 40wpm (they'll say 50wpm min, but 40 is fine and you'll get faster easily). Stress how good you are at databases - a lot of companies have their own software. Claim audiotyping too as it's straightforward to pick up and still used at some places.

Next step is badger the agency every day in person or by phone until you get your first asssignment. Once you've completed one assignment, you'll not have any problems getting any more. It's worth taking a rubbish first assignment - I packed videos in a warehouse for a day as my very first one - because once you've shown you can turn up on time, that's all the agency really cares about. After a couple of weeks you should get a placement lasting a couple of months. That employer will then probably offer you the job after a couple of months, and that's the point at which I'd ask the agency for a new assignment as I only wanted to temp.

You get paid for the hours you do. This means you come and go on the dot. This can be a real perk - you really will finish at 5pm unlike "real" jobs, and you'll have a useable lunch hour. Also, you'll be able to have time off (unpaid of course) for interviews/auditions/gigs/whatever else you're doing. If you're temping for a while you may start seeing former temping colleagues when you turn on the television (I've seen two in bit parts.)

Once you're in the swing of it, look for an agency which matches your interests. My local agency because of its location always had placements at the BBC. If there's somewhere you've always fancied working and it's big enough, you could phone their HR and ask if they use a particular agency.

It's worth bearing in mind that the agency's primary relationship is with the employer not the temps, because that's where the money comes from.
posted by boudicca at 7:59 AM on July 29, 2008

I was with a temp agency for five months a few years ago, and manage agency staff now (I'm in disability services management). I registered with several agencies and uploaded my CV online, then 2 days later had a call from one offering me an interview with a local authority service provider. I got the position and was offered a permanent position within a couple of months. I had very little interaction with the agency once I was placed (beyond faxing my timesheets every week) though it took months and months and many phone calls to get my P60 from them once I'd left, for some reason.

We employ agency support workers, mainly as a casual pool for when our permanent staff are sick, on leave, etc, and many don't want permanent positions as the agency gives them more control over when and where they work - we hold on to the good ones as much as we can though! One of the downsides is lack of supervision - we're not supposed to supervise agency staff due to employment case law and the definition of an 'employee', so we've had to be creative in how we manage them.

Local authorities are high users of agency staff (at all levels - senior management down) due to frequent recruitment freezes and 'efficiency savings', and good agency staff are treasured. A couple of tips:
- most agencies will offer you training, or money in lieu. They won't advertise this beyond the small print in your contract though and you will have a deadline by which it must be claimed each financial year, so read it and don't forget to either sign up to courses in which you're interested or collect the cash.
- if you have good qualifications and experience you can negotiate your rate with the agency - the more marketable you are for them the higher your leverage. Don't be scared to haggle.
- you will make more money if you are an LLC and not a PAYE candidate, and will be able to claim more expenses etc. This may not be the case if it's a second job, I don't know.
posted by goo at 9:34 AM on July 29, 2008

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