I'll never forget my first. My first experience with a staffing agency that is. As a job candidate.
It was the early 90’s, and I was a college kid on the lookout for something to build my resume while earning some money and going to school at the same time.
Finding something on my own proved to be more challenging than I thought it would be.
Then I saw a newspaper ad for a staffing company that promised to have "just the job for me."
I didn’t know really how the industry worked, but what I was doing on my own wasn't working very well. So rather than face the prospect of spending the next four years saying "do you want fries with that?" I decided to give them a call.
Landing The Elusive Interview
Whereas before I couldn’t even get an interview with the assistant manager at Pizza Hut (even the advice my Dad gave me, you know, the firm handshake and the Clint Eastwood stare into the eyes of the counter person I gave my completed application to didn’t seem to help), it was surprisingly easy to land an interview at the staffing agency.
In fact, they almost seemed eager to talk, and scheduled me to come and speak with one of their representatives right away. Finally, someone who recognized my charm and potential, I was thinking to myself.
So I put on the ill-fitting suit my mother bought me for just this sort of occasion, hopped into my un-air-condtioned 1980 Toyota Corolla, and soon found myself in the staffing agency lobby, full sweat going, and filling out a stack of papers about a mile high.
When I looked around, I realized about five other people were doing the exact same thing. So I guess I wasn't the only prize candidate they were considering.
After considerable time elapsed completing the paperwork, I "woke up" my sleeping legs, uncurled the death grip I had on the pen, and finally hobbled over to hand the stack of stuff to the smiling receptionist.
It wasn’t long before I was finally in front of a real live hiring manager. I don’t remember exactly what he looked like, but I do remember giving him my patented extra-firm handshake and mildly uncomfortable Eastwood-style
eye-to-eye staredown. Did he feel lucky to talk to me? I sure hoped so!
Although he did ask me a couple of preliminary, general softball questions which I promptly knocked out of the park ("Why yes, Mr. Interviewer, I do agree that it’s a hot one outside!"), I thought it odd that he moved so quickly to describing the job he had "just for me."
It was at some sort of electronics store, as a commissioned sales representative! For a second I was thunderstruck. Why were there only five other people in this wonderful place? It only took me responding to the right newspaper ad to land the college job of my dreams!
Red Flags Are Raised
It wasn’t until I asked him where the job was that the first red flag came out. Citing confidentiality and all that, he couldn’t possibly reveal that information, not yet anyway.
When I asked why, the other red flags started sprouting up like dandelions in a freshly mowed yard. “Well, Scott, we do have to collect our fee first before I can tell you all the details.”
Fee? What fee? Was he kidding me? “So what you’re telling me, Mr. Interviewer, is that if I knew that place was hiring I could just go down there myself and get a job and not have to pay you?”
“That is correct, but that kind of information is how we are able to stay in business. Would you have known this job existed without us?”
I agreed that I would not have known, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have continued beating the bushes to find it if I had known how much their "services" would cost me.
“So,” I asked him, “What's the fee? $50? $100?”
He laughed. “Well, a job like this is worth a lot of money. Just think, even at a part time gig, with commission you will be making at least $14,000 a year (remember, this was 1992). Our fee is 10% of that, so it would just be around $1,400.”
“$1,400!!!” I almost fell over. Being a recent high school graduate with very little work experience, and no money, the figure loomed rather large.
“Yes, but just think," he continued, "that’s just a small part of what you will make. Then you’re free and clear after that. It’s really a great deal!" I was astonished at how hard he was trying to sell me.
So I came back with another question. A rather obvious one. How could someone like me, a student without a current job, possibly be expected to come up with that kind of money?
He replied that "most of his clients put it on their credit cards," because, after all, they would be making it back in no time.
Today, thankfully, staffing is far different from what it once was. Not every agency billed their job seekers back then, of course, but it’s good to know that practice has pretty much been abandoned by all.
We now bill the employers exclusively, the entities that are truly in need of the service and expertise we provide, although of course we provide an important function for the workers as well.
I did end up getting a college job, at a restaurant, with several of my friends. They worked with my class schedule, I made great money, and I didn’t even
have to swipe my credit card!
Somehow, in some small way, that experience must have planted a seed, and made an impression. Who knew at the time though, that I would go on to spend almost my entire working life in staffing, starting with a brief stint as a healthcare recruiter, and then continuing to my present 15-plus-year career with AtWork Personnel.
They say you never forget your first. I will certainly never forget my first encounter with a staffing agency. And it motivates me to always make sure someone else's first brush with our business is the best it can possibly be!