9 tell-tale signs of a bad staffing agency

why staffing agencies are bad




The staffing agency industry is notorious for having some less than desirable qualities. Annoying recruitment techniques like cold-calling and spam emails have turned certain employers and candidates away from staffing agencies completely.


Aggressive sales tactics have been grating on the nerves of candidates and employers for decades. This was reflected in a finding from a recent study which showed only 1% of cold-calls from staffing agencies result in a meeting. Needless to say, relentless cold-calls are the classic hallmark of a bad staffing agency.


Despite this fact a recent survey from LinkedIn showed candidates are almost equally willing to hear from employers about job vacancies as staffing agencies. 46% of respondents said they were willing to hear from employers, whilst 43% of respondents were also happy to hear from staffing agencies.  


Interestingly, the problem with staffing agencies does not lie in bad experiences, but with their public image. It has been reported that 74% of candidates that use staffing agencies have good experiences. However, only 18% of candidates think about using staffing agencies when looking for a new job. Clearly, the reputation of the industry scares many people away right off the bat.


But the fact that candidates are still willing to hear from staffing agencies and generally report having good experiences clearly shows not all staffing agencies are bad. Some agencies offer excellent, customer-centric service. However, the fact remains  there are still a lot of bad staffing agencies out there.


As they say, there’s no smoke without fire. So what exactly is responsible for generating this poor reputation? This article gives an overview of some of the tell-tale signs of bad staffing agencies.


Sign up fees


The number one sign of a bad staffing agency are “sign up” or “joining” fees for candidates. Staffing agencies earn their money from companies by successfully placing a candidate in a job for them. In the provision of this service, they charge a portion of that candidate’s starting salary. So if a staffing agency asks you to pay for their services up front, you should always decline.


Flawed information


It is not uncommon to get an email out of the blue from staffing agencies suggesting you would be “perfect” for a job vacancy they’re offering. However, on further inspection you may notice the email suggests you have experience in areas you are completely unfamiliar with. These are emails are sent out to 1000’s of candidates, attempting to rope in as many people as possible. Make note of the agencies that send mass emails like these and don’t bother replying. Avoiding these agencies will help you steer clear of the worst offenders.


Lack of industry knowledge


Often staffing agencies will know nothing about the industry they recruit for. Recruiters may seem to have no knowledge of the market you work in. If this is the case, how can they possibly be trusted to place you in a job you are best suited for? It is important to ask recruiters about market trends and information relevant to the field you work in. Having a productive conversation with a recruiter who is clearly well informed is a good indicator of an excellent staffing agency.


Forceful sales techniques


It is often the case that staffing agencies offer bigger commission to recruiters for more highly paid jobs. This can result in recruiters trying to persuade you to apply for jobs that are a poor fit for you. A good staffing agency should help you find the job you are best suited to. The agency works for you, not the other way around. Be wary of recruiters with a pushy attitude.


Contacting your references with job opportunities


Bad staffing agencies will sometimes approach your referees with job offers. This is an indication that they are just trying to get as many people on board as possible. They are more interested in pursuing any lead that may come their way than providing quality service to the candidates they already have. If you do provide a staffing agency with the contact details of your referees, it might be a good idea to check with your referee if they have contacted them as well.  Alternatively, tell the agency not to contact your referee unless they ask you first.


Talking to someone new every time


Staffing agencies with good customer service will dedicate a single person to dealing with your enquiries and requests. This ensures they have an intimate knowledge of your skills and experience and can place you in the roles you are best suited to. If you find that each time you contact the agency a different person is answering your calls or emails, this is a bad sign.


Overly confident recruiters


Sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason. Some recruiters have been known to have a brash and overly ambitious attitude. They will offer guarantees that they can secure a job for you.  This is an impossible promise for a recruiter to make. Only the company can guarantee you the job. Avoid being taken in by these promises and instead ask what the agency can do to help you get the job. Many staffing agencies offer to prepare you for interview by giving you key information about the role.


Encouraging you to be generous with the truth


It’s true that almost all of us have “extended the truth” on our resumes at some point. However, we all know in the end it’s best to be honest with employers about what you actually can do. After all, you don’t want to get caught out in an interview with an embarrassing lie on your resume. If a recruiter encourages you to make bogus claims on your resume to impress an employer, don’t believe them. If they are willing to lie to an employer then they will be equally willing to lie to you. A good staffing agency will help you impress employers with the skills and experience you already have.  


Lack of communication


This seems like an obvious one but, if you find it takes three emails and a phone call to get a staffing agency to get something done then they’re most definitely not offering you quality service. A staffing agency is supposed to save you time not waste it. If you find yourself contacting them again and again with nothing in return, you should look for another agency that places you much higher up on their priority list.  




It’s important to remember that not all agencies are bad. A good staffing agency can save you time and money. So the next time you are contacted by a recruiter be on the look-out for these tell-tale signs of a bad staffing agency.