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Top 4 Sneaky Agency Tricks

Top 4 Sneaky Agency Tricks

Whilst many agencies do a great job for contractors, some will view them as a necessary evil. The general opinion is that your experience depends largely on the individual you are dealing with, rather than the agency as a whole. Having said that, some recruiters do seem to have built up a rather negative reputation amongst the contractor community.

Here we look at the four most common tricks agencies have been known to use.

Requiring references before the contract has been offered

Agencies are desperate for leads and are always looking for ways in which they can connect with hiring managers at an end user. One of the easiest ways they can do this is to ask a contractor who has just applied for a role for references from his or her previous client(s). To an unwitting contractor this will seem like a standard request, but agencies shouldn’t actually ask for references until the contractor has been offered the contract.

Assurances that the contract is IR35 friendly

Whilst the majority of agencies do have IR35-compliant – or at least borderline – written contracts, they also have a habit of assuring a new contractor that the entire agreement is outside IR35. This is very dangerous, as people new to contracting will be largely unaware of the legislation at its associated risks. Unfortunately having a good written contract is only one element of ensuring you are outside IR35. The actual working practices are crucial and it’s highly unlikely that an agency will know what these are.

Posting fake contracts to get leads

An extension to point one above is agencies posting bogus contracts on job boards simply to get leads. This is obviously hugely annoying to the contractor, as the ‘role’ available may look perfect for them. Many contractors will spend valuable time applying for such contracts, never knowing that they didn’t exist in the first place.

Agencies taking huge margins

Some would view this as good business acumen, but it’s quite common for a new contractor to find out that the bloke sitting next to him (doing exactly the same job) is on £100 a day more than him. To a contractor who has just secured his first role £250 a day might seem like a fortune. But if he subsequently discovers that the agency is charging his client £500 a day for his services, he may not be best pleased.
Do you have any other experiences with agencies that have been less than impressive? Share them in the comments section below?

By Contractor Weekly


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10 thoughts on “Top 4 Sneaky Agency Tricks”

  1. Mr Wibble

    How about asking you where else you’ve applied and then sending off your CV to those companies to try and usurp the original agency you’ve applied though.

    I’ve even known agents to advertise false jobs to get contractors to contact them and then use this technique – making money for themselves for doing nothing (not to mention screwing over legit agents who do the real work).

  2. Chris

    They have a sneaky tendency to quietly drop you off their books if you fail even one interview.. I have found that some agencies are only in it for the wrong reasons (£££’s).. Some do help and encourage you whatever the outcome however, its just picking the right ones.

  3. John

    I was once offered a contract directly and then had to choose which of the 3 preferred agencies to cover me.
    The rate was £375 day.
    The first agency (I could give you their names but wont) asked for £50 a day – I refused they told me “less than £50 a day wouldnt cover the cost for printing their invoice)!!!!!
    I eventually agreed with the third preferred agency their rate for £18 a day (including VAT)!

  4. Jane

    We, the contractors, should create a Register of Approved Agencies.
    Contractors should have a right to register the behaviour and treatment of each Agency. This would stop some of these issues and would highlight the behaviour to the end Customers.
    Agencies would then think twice before emarking on illegal activities.
    Why have the PCG not done this?
    Do they do anything these days?

  5. Mel

    Call from agent – Mel how are you? Where you working? I know x who works there do you work for him. (name made up but expects you to say no and tell him who you work for). Talks about the good relationship he has with client. After a while asks what rate your on and subtly gets you to tell him exactly what role you do there. At this point you ask what he called you about and he says just a catch up,. I.e. he had no role available and he tells you the market is crap and you should lower your rate. you hang up and then you hear the phone of the person you just told him you work for is ringing. He tells them that he has someone else who is an excellent fit for the role you are doing and at a cheaper rate. He actually knows nothing of the role or the skills involved but you have just handed it to him on a plate. happened to me when I was a newbie. now I either don’t tell them anything or I have fun stringing them along by giving the name of a fellow contractor who is in on the joke.

  6. T North

    Had one agency that phoned me once – confirmed my skillset, asked for a CV and my current status i.e. was i looking – i said no and was asked when my contract currently ran to – around the expiry date of that contract, they same guy rang again and asked how it was going and if i was extended or was i moving elsewhere. As i had been extended, i told him there was no change and he again asked for the end date of the current contract which was another three months away. He then repeated this several times which at the time i thought was just the agent building a relationship for when i was available.

    Finally the contract came to an end and i moved elsewhere. I got a phone call again and told him i had moved and then the next day got an email from a job website for that agency, at the location i had just left with exactly my skillset – i knew they werent hiring as i was in touch with the managers involved in that area so all those calls were ambulance chasing my role !

  7. Jane Mercer

    Wow. Some of you are having very bad experiences. However, it is worth noting that we recruiters do work on a contingency basis and that means we have to choose the contractors and clients we work with, with care. Mutual trust is important, and I agree, you need to establish a foundation for that trust. A good recruiter should have enough of their own clients and not need to desperation seek leads. Keep the faith though. There are some very good recruiters out here. Of course we do it for the money. But there are many other reasons which make our job rewarding.

  8. Jane

    Having just had my current agency yet again delay payment because the lazy consultancy did not approve timesheets (something more difficult with electronic approval) I am again prompted to comment, again on how poor they are.
    After 20 years contracting I have a right to comment.
    The best agencies pay weekly. Contracting on a time basis is by nature temporary. My contract is with the agency who should handle the approval for payment from the end Customer. The agency should negociate rates. I am just a body providing service to the agency.
    As for IR35, I keep saying the agency and the Customer should not talk to HMRC and if they do they are in breach of confidentiality which is always in my contracts, and applies equally to the agency.
    The best agency I have ever dealt with is Experis. Monarch is good. As for the worst, I cannot give the name but one-man-bands should be avoided like the plague, especially when the client is big because usually a main agency will be trying to fill the post. Very few care about the contractor, only the contract. If you find one that is only interested in contract terms then that is an immediate negative. Most are quite poor, and they are getting much worse as they seek to offset liability.
    The only solution to improving quality is to have a Register as I have said before. After all, the most illegal equivalent ever is Credit Referencing.
    Contractors by nature are individual and enterprising, the last frontier. We do however need to protect ourselves and drive up standards.
    Tomorrow I have to pay my VAT but my agency has not followed up on the timesheets so I don’t get paid until next week. I am not in the approval loop for the timesheets so they are delaying payment.
    In my time I have had illegal reference requirements, assurances on IR35, fake contracts and huge margins, and these are all current and prevalent, all at a cost to the contractor.
    I have also had stupid terms such as that the Customer has a right not to pay if he feels that the service already provided is not up to the standard he feels is required. How stupid. If the Customer does not like the service then terminate the contract to terms.
    Agencies exist to provide some isolation to the Customer from potential tax and other liabilities.
    Do agencies operate blacklisting (highly illegal), yes.
    Someone once said to me that the only money you are certain of being paid is that which you have already been paid, but you still have the risk of having it taken from you.
    The one benefit I have is that I have expertise and skills that are rare and becoming much more rare particularly after offshoring. Offshoring is great because of the lack of being able to look at the wider picture resulting in large systems devolving into anarchy.
    I have plenty work and do not expect this to ever change, but life always presents the unexpected. I like being a contractor and will not change.

  9. S Ray

    There is nothing illegitimate or unethical in seeking a lead per se – after all a contractor or a job hunter has to post his/her resume on jobsites – it is a simple matter for any agency to download them and find out who your past clients are. The point is why your client will release you and hire a consultant from a different agency – rather than extending you.
    The consultant should also engage in a confidence building a measure with his client. There is a great distance between a finding a lead and actually securing business.I am probably looking at a narrower picture because I work for the IT industry with specific skill set – my potential client base is limited and may already be widely known, only information that may become available is if a requirement exists with the client.
    All agencies who I have been in touch in the past start contacting me close to my date of potential release – and ask for the status of the project, and routinely and quite candidly ask if there is any requirement, or how my role is to be fulfilled after my departure. If I do not wish to share any information I simply tell them the location of my site and that my own agency has asked me not to share the details of the client with any other agency (which is true sometimes).

  10. BZ

    I have been an interim and a recruiter for a long time, due to the same reasons above we have started our own online marketplace for Interims, and now actively inviting direct employers to connect with the future talent. Agencies are welcome, but our vetting is invite only for now with agencies as I do not want our interims to be hounded by “lead generators” or “time wasters” when they are actively looking for work. We also aggregate all Interim jobs from major job boards, so we are keen to help any / all interims. Its free to sign up at

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