Picking a Recruitment Agency

Before touching down in the UK it’s a good idea to have a job lined up. But with the myriad of recruitment agencies out there how are you supposed to pick a reputable one? It’s easy to feel a bit lost in the sheer magnitude of the UK’s job seeking market, so I’ll do my best to guide you through the maze.

There are lots of different ways to find a job in the UK depending on what you’re after (whether it’s locum, bank or permanent work you can find my explanation of the pro’s and con’s of each here).

But if you’re just looking for something to get you started with some money in the bank when you arrive, or maybe something short-term to fund your travels around Europe, then getting work through a recruitment agency is probably your best starting point. The major benefit being that you can get most of the application process sorted before entering the UK, meaning you’ll essentially be able to hit the ground running once you land on British soil.

In this article I’ll give you a brief run down on how recruitment agencies actually work, my tips on how best to use them, and the rookie mistakes you’ll want to look out for (based on my own rookie experiences…)

Please note: this is independent advice, I’m not affiliated with any agency and don’t receive a commission or bonus for any of the tips I provide here.


What is a recruitment agency and how do they work?

A recruitment agency is a business who’s job it is to supply employees to an employer (or “candidates” to an “end client” if you want to use their lingo). You sign up to a recruitment agency as an agency worker, and they’ll help you find a job.


How do a pick a good recruitment agency?

Good question! I haven’t found the perfect one yet. There are sooo many agencies out there that cover the whole UK job market from education and engineering to hospitality and HR. Even just within the healthcare sector there are hundreds to pick from. Google “locum physio jobs UK” and you’ll get pages and pages of ads with different agencies. Where do you even start in this loosely regulated, dog-eat-dog industry? It’s a tough one to pick without a bit of trial and error, and ending up with a poor-quality company can mean you miss out on job opportunities, and end up with some major headaches.

A good agency will be approved by the NHS, provide you with a designated consultant who is easy to contact, understands your work preferences and makes an effort to find the type of work you’re looking for (rather than something that suits their own needs). They will offer decent rates of pay and assistance with stuff like finding accommodation if you need it.

This information is hard to know about a business if you haven’t even set food in the country yet!

My first tip would be to get a recommendation from a friend if you can. They’ll be able to let you know how helpful/unhelpful the agency really is from experience. Plus, your mate might even receive a nice little referral bonus when you sign up (it’s widely accepted that you split this 50/50 with each other by the way, so you’ll get an extra bit of cash too!).

My second tip would be to sign up with a few agencies. That way you’re covering plenty of job opportunities, and have a little more scope to negotiate pay rates for roles you might be interested in. Don’t feel the need to be loyal to one particular company – I’m currently registered with four! Any agency can get you set up in a job. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter which one got you there, just that you’re happy with where you are and the conditions you’ve agreed to.

If you’re still totally in the dark and a bit stuck on what to do, you can send me an email and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.


How do I sign up to a recruitment agency?

Once you’ve picked which agency you’d like to deal with and get in contact with them (usually via email) they’ll quickly see dollar signs (or pound signs??) and roll out the red carpet to get you in as their “candidate”.

You should get a list of all the details and documents they’ll need for your pre-employment check, so be prepared to provide the following:

  • An application form
  • A medical questionnaire
  • Passport and visa details
  • Proof of address
  • Police checks
  • Uni qualifications
  • CV/resume
  • HCPC registration
  • Vaccination history
  • Referee details
  • Mandatory and statutory training certificate (you’ll need to attend courses in first aid and manual handling in the UK)

It may feel like you’re doubling up on a lot of stuff from your visa and HCPC applications, but at least you’ll have copies of everything ready to go!

For some reason this compliance process tends to end up being super tedious and drawn out – you’ll be waiting on a form, or a copy of something or other, and unnecessarily repeating the same information over and over – so allow yourself a couple of weeks to get it done before you actually expect to start working.

Then it’s just a matter of letting them know what dates you’re available and cracking on with finding the work you want.

Be prepared for a flood of emails and phone calls from your consultant pushing all the vacancies they have up for grabs (these guys are paid on commission so they’ll go to any length to tie you down for a job!).


How much should I pay my recruitment agency?

You shouldn’t need to pay your agency any fees directly. They earn their income by charging the “end client” a finder’s fee and by collecting a margin of your locum wages before paying you. How much this works out to be will be different depending on the role and rate you negotiate.

For example, you take a job in a hospital with a pay rate of £25/hour. Your recruitment agency may charge the hospital (end client) £30/hour for your services, and pay you (the candidate) £25/hour, meaning they make £5/hour for your work.


How much should I get paid by my recruitment agency?

Again this will vary depending on what you can negotiate, the type of role you take, location of the role, whether it’s PAYE or Umbrella (which I explain here), NHS or private, your experience, the seniority of the position…

Be prepared to negotiate – my first rookie mistake? Taking the advertised rate. In my first job I was paid £5/hour (almost $10AUD/hour) less than another locum doing exactly the same work – I wasn’t a happy chap the day I found that out! And I never took another job through that agency.

But if you want to cut straight to the chase and find out exactly how much you should be asking for I’m in the process of putting all this info together in a guide for you. Just email me if you want a copy.


Why have I been signed up to an Umbrella Company?

This can be a difficult relationship to explain, but your recruitment agency is not your employer (they have commitment issues…). They just find you the work you want. In the past they used to organise your pay as well, but in recent times this is more often delegated to an umbrella company to save on time and costs.

Sometimes you can arrange to be paid PAYE through your recruitment agency though. See my article explaining this here.


How do I pick the right job?

Whatever suits you! This is where the real fun begins…

Where do you want to explore? Do you want to do the London-lifestyle thing for a while? Or are you more nomadic and interested in working short-term in lots of different locations? You can take your pick.

And how about the type of work you want to do? Always wanted some paeds experience? Maybe you haven’t been in a private practice or hospital for a while? With so many jobs going there are constant opportunities almost everywhere to do almost everything.

For many people the rite of passage that is the “UK working holiday visa” is less about career progression and making money, and more about the lifestyle and life experience – personally I’m making the most of the flexibility and having Europe on my doorstep!

So don’t sweat the small stuff and focus on what you’ll enjoy most. Find the right balance between the pay, location, lifestyle and work experience you want.

Get there and don’t like it? Give your 1 week notice and find something else!

Love the job you’ve landed in? Stay longer!

Some things you might want to consider when picking a job include:

  • Type of work: community, outpatients, neuro, musculoskeletal, hand therapy etc.
  • Commitment: full time or part time? Permanent or locum? (I explain these terms here)
  • Location: inner suburbs, coastal or rural? England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales?
  • Accommodation: is it provided? If not what’s available in your budget?
  • Transport: will you need a car? Have you got easy access to an airport for international flights?
  • Entertainment: what do you want to do outside of work hours?

I don’t have the answers to these questions for you, everyone has different priorities. But there’s no denying how good it is to have the freedom to choose!

Your agency consultant might have their own ideas about where to send you based on the incentives they get for placing people in certain locations (they’re always trying to get me to the Isle of Man, I wonder what kind of bonus they get for that…). Don’t feel pressured when they try to sell you a particular position – their job is to find you the work YOU want to do. Feel free to say no.


My agency is listing jobs labelled as “outside IR35” what does this mean?

This is only relevant for people who are set up as a limited company. IR35 is a piece of legislation created by HMRC (the UK Tax Office) to tackle tax avoidance in self-employed contractors.

As of April 2021 HMRC is essentially closing the loophole that allows health professionals to work as a limited company anyway, so I honestly wouldn’t bother going down this route. You can pretty much ignore it.


What’s your best advice for working with a recruitment agency?

I’m in process of collating my top tips and putting a little something together for you to help out with negotiating your pay rate, knowing what to ask for, and just generally letting you know where you stand. Email me if you want a copy!


My agency offers a pretty good bonus for referring a friend, is it worth it?

Yeah for sure, if you can get them to pay up! They can be very evasive though so be persistent and keep pestering for it, they should come through with the goods.

It’s widely accepted that you’ll split a referral bonus 50/50 with the person you referred, so be sure to share the cash around if you do manage to get it. And of course, only refer someone if you honestly think they are a good agency to work with.

Well that’s all the questions I had a first, and some of the answers I’ve come up with after wading through the system myself. If there is anything else you’re not sure about be sure to ask me!


> Umbrella companies explained

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