Thanks to their widespread contacts, recruitment agencies offer graduates access to a number of employers and exclusive vacancies - signing up to one could be your ticket to a job offer

If you've started your graduate job search, you'll know that identifying suitable vacancies, sending off applications and preparing for interviews can be a lengthy process. It can also be difficult to stay motivated if you're getting rejections, or struggling to find vacancies that fit your skillset.

Joining a recruitment agency could help you eliminate these worries. They're free to use, well-connected to employers across all industries and can offer you constructive careers advice.

What is a recruitment agency?

Otherwise known as employment agencies, recruitment agencies act as the middleman between jobseekers and employers. They work on behalf of employers to find suitable candidates to fill vacancies. Many employers use them, and signing up will sometimes give you access to jobs that aren't advertised elsewhere.

When an employer needs to hire someone, it provides the agency with a job description. The agency then uses this description to search the pool of CVs in its database to match jobseekers to the vacancy. Alternatively, they post a job advert online to attract applicants - before drawing up a shortlist. The employer will then pick its preferred candidates from this shortlist, and ask the agency to coordinate interviews.

Should I use a recruitment agency?

In addition to their basic function of matching you to suitable jobs, there are many benefits to using agencies. For example, specialist sector agencies have strong knowledge of their industry and can advise you on the best ways to break into a particular career.

They're well-connected, meaning that as well as being put forward for vacancies, your CV can be sent speculatively to a range of employers. Agencies will also be able to help you improve your CV and cover letter and give you tips on interview technique. If you're put forward for a job but don't get it, the agency will usually provide constructive feedback.

Don't forget though, agencies work for the employer - not for you. You should ask questions about any opportunities they present, as their requirement to recommend a given number of candidates for each role means they may mismatch you against the job criteria. Trust your instincts and be honest if you believe that the role is unsuitable.

Try not to rely solely on agencies. You can apply speculatively to companies that you'd like to work for, use social media to build contacts and connect with companies, or search graduate jobs.

How do I find graduate recruitment agencies?

Larger agencies, such as Adecco, recruit nationally and across a range of industries, making them a great starting point. You'll also find agencies that cover the specific geographic areas you're interested in, and agencies with expertise in your chosen sector - they'll have great industry knowledge and relevant clients. Find out which employers these agencies usually deal with and how many vacancies they have in your field.

Check that any agency you join is a member of the industry's professional body, The Recruitment & Employment Confederation - and always remember that agencies are paid by employers to find candidates, so you should never have to pay to sign up with one.

You can use the following resources to find graduate recruitment agencies:

How do I join an agency?

Make initial contact by phone or send your CV and a cover letter by email. Explain the type of position you're looking for and provide an overview of your skills and qualifications. You could call the recruitment agency shortly after submitting your email to confirm that they've received it.

You'll usually be asked to make an appointment for an informal interview, in person, to assess your situation and discuss your career plans - although many will also allow you to walk in and sign up. Making a good first impression is vital, so act and dress professionally.

Some job agencies may ask you sit skills tests to determine your level of spelling and IT literacy. If the agency feels that they'll be able to assist you in your search, your details will be added to their candidate database and they'll get in touch when appropriate vacancies arise.

Keep in regular contact and maintain a good rapport with your assigned recruitment consultant. Act on their advice - they know what employers are looking for. Accept interviews unless you've a strong reason not to, and ask for feedback from your consultant after each one. If you're using an agency to find temporary work, accept any reasonable job offers as this gives you the chance to show that you can meet employers' needs.

Let the recruitment agency know when you no longer want to be on their books, otherwise they'll continue to contact you after your job search has ended.

Should I join more than one job agency?

You can sign up with as many recruitment agencies as you like. However, don't register just for the sake of it - you risk making your job search look unprofessional, as several agencies may suggest you for the same vacancy and the employer won't know who is representing you.

Make sure each agency you're signed up with tells you whenever they put you forward for a job. Choosing to work with a select few agencies will ensure your job search is focused, and you don't receive spam calls and emails relating to unsuitable vacancies.

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