How to choose the right placement agency

Accepting a short-term contract through a recruitment agency or consulting firm can be beneficial for a variety of reasons. You may be new to a field or come back after a break and seek a faster route to a full-time salary. Or you might want a more consistent job than a project-based freelance job, but shorter term than a permanent position.

No matter your motivation, if you spend some time interviewing several recruiting or consulting firms, you’ll quickly notice that some are more appealing than others. Having recently gone through this process myself, I have devised the following checklist for choosing an agency that best suits your needs.

What is the pay range? Since the interview process is shorter for contract jobs than for permanent positions, it is perfectly acceptable to discuss money in advance. Many contract agencies mention the pay scale in the job advertisements they post. I like to browse job postings on an agency’s site to see salary trends. If the rates seem low in all areas, I won’t bother applying to this agency. I also like to find someone I know who got work through this agency to ask if my desired rate is reasonable for the agency.

What advantages do they offer? Some agency websites detail the health insurance, paid time off, 401(k) matching, and other benefits they offer. If not, ask the recruiters at the agency you speak with about the benefits offered. If you’re seriously considering signing up with an agency, ask some of their other contractors how they like the health care plan, vacation, or whatever benefit you care about most.

Who are their customers? What sectors and companies does the agency serve? Do you have experience working with any of these companies? Companies that hire contractors often give them less training than their permanent staff, so having previous experience with that organization will be a selling point for you.

How flexible are job postings? How often does the agency get contract positions that allow remote work? What about flexible working hours or part-time positions? For many contract workers, this kind of flexibility is the holy grail of the job.

What is the duration of the proposed contracts? This will likely vary from job to job and will almost always be dictated by the company the agency is placing you with. Contracts can range from several weeks to several months to a year or more. Note that many companies that hire contractors require them to take a break of several months between contracts.

What is the culture of the agency? Some agencies mention directly on their website or in their first conversation with you that they stand for work-life balance, inclusion in hiring, volunteer work, and charitable giving. These are my people. I’m also happy to hear an agency say poetically how difficult it will be to place me on a new contract when my current contract ends. If the agency’s website or your initial interview doesn’t provide much information about an agency’s values, ask a few people who have worked with them for their thoughts.

What is your first impression? Listen to your instincts after your first email exchanges and your first phone interview with an agency. Did the recruiter seem organized and knowledgeable about the job in question? Did they take the time to answer all your questions? Was the position listed already available, or were they still waiting for paperwork to be released? Talk to a few agencies for comparison. Some agencies treat their contractors like gold. Others not so much. If something is wrong when you first contact an agency, it probably is.