With all the lay offs and the resulting scrambling for new positions, soon or later, a job seeker will likely be contacted by a placement agency that has a job to fill. Here are a few things I might ask the agency:
I might ask the agency how many candidates they have presented for this position. The higher the number the more iffy the client may be. Either the client doesn’t know what they want or are so selective that normal guys and gals like us don’t stand a chance. It’s rarely the agency’s fault. Most agencies pull from the same labor pool.
I’ll likely ask about the qualifications of those candidates that they have already sent in. This helps me know who I’m up against or who washed out.
If I’m going to be one of a half dozen candidates that will meet the client back to back in the agency’s offices, I cordially decline, saying that I would happily meet with the client at their location, this however, this has never worked, and the agency never calls you again. The reason I decline is, more than once I’ve been on the client’s side of the table during these daisy chains sessions and I couldn’t remember any candidate distinctly by the end of the day. Sometimes, by then, my own name escapes me. I also imagine it this way, the candidate that was just in front of me was 15 years younger, had the same qualifications and is asking for the same salary. And on top of that, the candidate that came after me went to a better school, was more qualified, and is asking for less money. They probably even had a nicer suit than mine. In other words, it doesn’t hurt to put some time and space between you and other candidates. (Of course, had this type of interview process ever gotten me a job, I would be retracting everything I just said!)
Find something distinct about you that the agency can use as a hook with the client. If the client is looking for a CPA, remind the agency that you wrote questions for the last CPA exam or, unlike some others, you keep your license active. Bring up anything (truthful) that gives you distinction.
I always ask why the position is vacant. The best reason is that the last occupant retired after 20 years of happy employment. The worst reason is that it is a new position or one that has gone vacant (unneeded?) for a long time. Reason: if a new position, there may not be an established infrastructure for you to slip into, that is, your office is down the hall behind that old crate. If it has been vacant for six months or more, if times get tough, they could re-think their need for it. If they fired the last guy, listen closely to why.
If the agency wants to meet you before you meet the client, tell them you’ll be glad to as soon as they get you that first interview. Ask them to meet you half way if their office is located a distance away.
I also ask the agency if their client is considering any of the other candidates they sent. If so, what are they like?
Find out if the agency is working for the hiring manager rather than human resources. It’ll be easier to find out some valuable facts about your potential boss if they are. By the way, agencies usually love working for the hiring manager and, as the result, they tout it.
And, a final note about that first interview with the client. During it, did you just notice that the hiring manager talked more about the company and the position then about you? Well, that’s a good sign it’s a bad omen for you.