How to deal with recruitment agents as a contractor

Most contractors work via recruitment agencies – they are a key part of the contracting lifecycle. In this article, we explore how the recruitment process works, and how to successfully work with agents.

  1. 10 reasons why most contractors use recruitment agencies.
  2. How the agency recruitment process works.
  3. How to successfully work with recruitment agents.

1. 10 reasons why most contractors use agencies:

1. Most clients prefer to outsource the recruitment of contractors to agencies, so you may not have a choice in many cases. This is the fundamental reason why most contractors do not work directly for clients.

2. Agencies handle the contract negotiation and administration with the client company, so you don’t have to get involved.

3. Agencies deal with all payment issues with clients. You shouldn’t have to chase a client for an overdue invoice.

4. You won’t necessarily secure a better rate for your skill-set if you contract directly for a client (although, significantly, you will not be paying an agency any commission!)

5. Even if you find a role directly via an old colleague, you may well be required to contract via the client’s agency.

6. Many companies (and most of the larger ones) use a list of preferred supplier agencies to resource contractors. You will only be able to work for such clients via these agencies.

7. Agencies will market your CV for suitable contract roles when they arise, so you don’t have to (more about how some agencies ‘market’ contractors in a future article!)

8. Cold calling potential clients directly can take a lot of time and energy and will require a certain amount of sales flair – something which doesn’t come naturally to many of us.

9. Agencies will deal with all contract-related issues (between you and them, and the agency and client). However, it is still worth seeking specialist IR35 advice before signing anything.

10. Many contractors do not have access to the contacts and clients that recruitment agents do, and may find it hard to secure direct contract work.

2. How the agency recruitment process works

1. Whether as a ‘preferred supplier’ to a larger end-client, or dealing on a specific vacancy basis, agencies are asked to source contractors to fill voids in IT projects.

2. The client will provide a resource specification (often with the assistance of the agency), which will detail the headcount required, skills and experience, the budget, and any deadlines which may apply.

3. The agent will then attract CVs from contractors interested in such roles – either from an existing database, or by advertising the role(s) on the main contractor job boards, or LinkedIn.

4. The agent will ‘sort’ the CVs / online resumés until a shortlist remains, which will be passed on to the end client. In tough economic times, some roles will attract hundreds of responses from candidates.

5. The client will typically interview 2 or 3 candidates for each role.

6. The successful contractor(s) will be offered the role at a certain rate (the amount charged to the client minus the agency commission)

7. Quite often, terms are negotiated at this stage – typically revolving around the hourly/daily rate to be paid.

8. Terms are agreed upon – including the contract rate, start date, and duration of the contract.

9. A contract is signed between the client and agency, and between the agency and the contractor’s limited company, or umbrella company.

10. The contract runs, according to the agreed terms, until a renewal is pending, or the contract comes to an end.

3. How to successfully work with recruitment agents.

Despite the much-discussed ‘us vs. them’ relationship between the parties, there are the good, reputable agencies and the not-so-good. The same applies to IT contractors, of course!

Although it is hard to generalise, given the sheer number of agencies out there, here are some ideas for getting the most out of your relationship with agencies:

Applying for IT Contracts

If you want to improve your chances of an agency putting you forward for a given role, ensure that you have taken the time to produce a concise and user-friendly CV. Take the time to tailor the text to suit a particular role.

Make Contact

Although Linkedin has proved to be a blessing for contractors, in terms of minimising the need to communicate, it is always worth making a call to the agency after submitting your CV. This will show that you are serious about the role, and give you a chance to build up a rapport.

Be Firm

Before you set out to become an IT contractor, you will have expectations of your market rate, where you want to work, and what type of role you want to be considered for.

You may well receive calls for roles that don’t fit your requirements, so be firm and hold out for the right roles. This is easier to do when times are good, but you may also need to compromise a bit when the market dips (as in 2020/21).


We’re all in it for the money – both IT contractors and agents. Agents will typically expect to be paid upwards of 15% of your contract rate in return for negotiating the role for you.

In an ideal world, you could easily work direct for clients, but in reality, many clients prefer to outsource their IT contractor recruitment to agencies, so agents will receive commissions for linking you up with a client.

Always ask what commission the agent is charging, and if you feel it is too high, suggest that your rate should rise accordingly.

For this reason, if an agent initially asks you what rate you’d expect to be paid for a given role, be non-committal and play the game to your advantage.


You will, no doubt, have heard stories of agents who cold call contractors for their own benefit. For example, you may get a call while at a client site and an agent from another firm may say: “who’s your project manager again??” – this simply means that the agent is looking to get in with the client and most likely has never known the name of your project manager.

Although this may be annoying on occasion, you can always politely decline to offer the information. Bear in mind that the cold-calling agent may have a role for you sometime in the future, so don’t burn your bridges!

Partner Contractor Accountants

Last updated: 18th January 2024