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The 6 simple questions you should have asked your agent
Posted May 8, 2013
You've just got off the phone, and you're excited. You submitted your CV and cover letter this morning as soon as you saw the advert on the job board and you didn't even have to chase the agency for a response; they called you an hour later to say that your skill set and experience is a great match and they would like to submit your CV to the client.
What's more, you're available immediately, the rate is good and it's within easy commuting distance!
Is it too good to be true? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you should just keep your fingers crossed and hope everything works out? Wrong. Here are the 6 simple questions you should have asked.
1. Has the budget for the role been signed off by the client?
Don't automatically assume this is the case. Project managers, for example, often forecast their resourcing requirements to ensure that project contingencies are covered; but they may not have secured the proper budgetary authority to do so.
Competitive agencies, of course, have to be highly responsive to survive so they won't delay advertising for candidates in that situation. What results is a "bubble" role that appears briefly to satisfy a predicted future need before abruptly "popping" when a senior decision maker either denies the budget request, or moves the project in a different direction. Although it is impossible for you to control whether "bubble" roles "pop" or not, they are easy to spot by asking the question and then, at least, you will have a better understanding of the situation.
2. How long has the client been trying to fill the role?
The advert might have been posted today but is it the first time the role has been advertised? You might be able to work this out by looking at either the agency web pages or the job boards but if the role has been difficult to fill those details may well have been taken down, so never assume, always ask. If the agency provides a vague answer like, "the client has been looking for a little while", you should probe further. "Have they already rejected a number of candidates? If so, why? What feedback did the client and the previous candidates give to the agency?"
3. How many candidates has the client asked the recruitment consultant to submit?
This an essential question to ask at both the CV stage and the interview stage. If the number of candidates is small, then you know that you have a good chance of success. If the number of candidates is large, it naturally leads to the question, "Why has the client asked to see so many candidates? Is the client being fussy? Are they unsure about what skill set they need for the role?"
4. Is the client working with other agencies on the job?
Agencies are constantly competing amongst themselves which makes it trivial for clients to offer roles to multiple agencies simultaneously.
It is not uncommon to see 3-4 agencies advertising exactly the same role through the same job boards. It is useful to know whether multiple agencies are competing to fill the role because it can seriously affect your chances of selection. The agency may, of course, be reluctant to answer this question; if that is the case, it probably means that they are competing. If they are the only agency, though, they will probably be very happy to tell you.
5. Could the role potentially be filled by an internal candidate?
It might seem reasonable to assume that a client would only go to the trouble of advertising for an external candidate if no suitable internal candidates are available. However, particularly in large organisations, if an internal candidate applies for a vacancy at the last minute, they could still take priority. This can, and does, happen, even beyond the interview stage. It is, again, impossible to control this situation but asking the question at least means that you are prepared for that eventuality.
6. Will the client be conducting several rounds of interviews?
Multiple rounds of interviews can be a blessing and a curse. They can significantly protract the process of securing a contract and they can mean potentially multiple days wasted on interviews and interview preparation if you are ultimately not offered the role.
However, as the majority of contract roles are based on a single interview selection process, it simultaneously increases the likelihood that some of the other candidates will "drop out" (either because they are put off by the multiple rounds, or because they have secured another contract in the intervening period) which could leave you in a stronger negotiating position. Agencies will not always volunteer this information, so it is important to check upfront.
This article was written by Peter Roy, a freelance project manager and personal productivity trainer.
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