Who's who: Agency access
Recruitment agencies often offer the only route into a job, but you'll need to register with a few and be prepared to listen to what the consultants say, as Sarah Houlton reports
If you're looking for a new job, recruitment companies specialising in science may be able to help. Once registered, you will be put forward for jobs matching your skills and qualifications.
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To get onto an agency's books you can send a CV directly or apply for one of the jobs that it is advertising on behalf of its clients. '[Potential job candidates] will get in touch with us regarding a specific position, and we will send them a pre-screening application form,' says O'Connell. 'This includes qualifications, visa status and potential referees. We will then interview them to find out more and see if they are suitable for the position they've applied for.'
If they aren't suitable, then they will see if any other positions on the books would fit. 'I recently had a candidate who applied for a job as a polymer scientist, but the client wanted experience in epoxy resins, which he didn't have,' he explains. 'However, we had a couple of other roles on the formulation side which we could put him forward for.'
Paul Oldham, branch manager at Kelly Scientific in Manchester, UK, says the real attraction of agencies is the ability to touch upon multiple organisations with one approach. 'A fresh chemistry graduate may know the type of role they want, but not necessarily the type of organisation these roles fall in,' he says. 'They might not be where they expect - the pharmaceutical industry is an obvious one, but in my area one of the major employers of chemists is the dyes and inks industry. Working with a scientific agency enables you to explore the whole industry more quickly and ensure your application will be considered for all applicable roles - not just the more obvious chemical and pharma companies.'
All of Kelly's consultants also have a scientific background, and Oldham says there are two main reasons for a client company to approach them. 'They may be looking for a very rare skill set, and finding the right person takes a lot of effort,' he says. 'We will undertake the search for them using our networks to help us find that highly skilled individual. The flip side is if they're looking for a fresh graduate, a job advert often leads to high volumes of applications. We carry out early stage screening and telephone interviews, and reduce the list down to maybe six or seven candidates.'
Flexibility is key
O'Connell says that in the past 18 months or so there has been an influx of candidates who have been made redundant and his advice is that they need to be more flexible in terms of location, salary and type of role to maximise their chances of finding a job. 'Once people are aware of that, it offers up a lot more opportunities,' he says. Flexibility is also extremely important for graduates at the moment. 'They have to be prepared to relocate. If we don't have anything for them, we may go to our clients to discuss their backgrounds, and search out positions that may be in the pipeline in the near future.'
Both Oldham and O'Connell advise jobseekers to contact a handful of specialist recruitment companies to increase their chances of getting placed. 'There is no substitute for legwork, and I recommend candidates cover all bases - some companies only recruit directly,' Oldham says. 'Others use an agency, so unless you've registered with agencies, you will be missing out. Research the agencies in your sector, and register with three or four to ensure you have all bases covered.'
O'Connell adds that it is essential to be realistic. 'Listen to the consultants, as they are working in the market every day,' he says. 'Graduates come out expecting to earn £30-35,000, and that's not going to happen! Go with specialist companies rather than mainstream ones as their consultants are more likely to be able to help you, and give you advice if your expectations are unrealistic.'
Sarah Houlton is a freelance writer based in London, UK