Working with Recruitment Agencies

While serving on the board of AIGASF I was often approached by students and grads about how to find work in this tough economy. It’s true, it is tough, but not impossible. You just have to know what kind of jobs are being posted and where.

A lot of students dream of the full-time job with a nice salary and benefits at some well established design firm in San Francisco, working on a team of top-notch creatives where they have their own projects and responsibilities right out of the gate. Sound familiar?  The chance of landing a jr. designer role in a company like that fresh out of college is slim. It definitely isn’t impossible, but the competition for those positions are high and a lot of the bigger firms don’t even advertise that they are looking.

If you’re just starting out and need to find a job NOW, I suggest using recruiter agencies. Let’s face it. Six months from graduation you’ll have to start paying back your loans. Maybe that six months is already up for you and you’re growing more fearful that you won’t find anything. Signing up with a recruiter agency can help you find a job faster, but does not guarantee placement.

How it works:

When you sign up with an agency, they usually want to meet you in person while you go over your portfolio. They ask you questions about your style, your experience and strengths, you ideal job and ideal pay.

They have you sign your tax forms and then they introduce your portfolio to their team.Your name goes on an email list that matches your skills. Every time there’s a position open, you’ll receive an email about the details of the company, the job, and the pay excluding the name of the company. All you have to do is email back and say “im interested” and if you do it quick enough, you may be lucky enough to be selected to send to the client.

In my case, I was called individually by my recruiter and we had a conversation about a position open at Sephora. The same happened for Benefit and Charlotte Russe. I’m not saying this will happen to everyone, but if you have a strong portfolio in a certain area (in my case it was beauty), they might single you out and offer the position to you first.

When they finally find a job for you, you may or may not get an interview depending on how dire the need is. I didn’t even interview at Benefit because they just needed someone immediately to fill a gap. At Charlotte Russe, I had a very casual and quick meeting and was asked to come in the next day for work.


Each recruitment office has its own way of handling time cards and payment.

Creative Circle had me fill out and sign (with mine and my directors signatures) a time card every week. I would then scan it in and email it. I would get paid every two weeks.

Vonchurch had a funky system. I did the same method of printing, signing, and emailing, but I also had to fill out a different form online on a different website. I got paid every two weeks as well. The plus side is that they took out my employer’s taxes for me so that I didn’t have to worry about it at the end of the year. (for more info, look in the con’s list)

Aquent had a much better system. You turn in a time card online, and your director electronically signs it. And I was paid weekly.


It’s free to sign up. If you come across a recruiter agency that requires a fee, walk away. There are so many that are free and really great at what the do, that there’s no need to pay for one that does the same exact thing.

You aren’t obligated to any job they offer you. Though if you turn down too many offers, you might be put on the bottom of the list. It’s just an extra pair of eyes to look for you.

It’s a way to gain experience really quick and possibly get your foot in the door somewhere you’d like to work full time.

The jobs your recruiter finds you are not likely to be found anywhere posted because they have a relationship with that client, so you’re getting access to a whole network you wouldn’t even know about.


– Once you commit to a job, the recruiters kind of “own” you. You are the recruiter agency’s employee, not wherever they send you (in my case Sephora). If your contract ends at a location (Sephora) and they want to hire you full-time, they must pay a finder’s fee to your recruitment agency that placed you there. This can be difficult for some clients to afford, and it may cut into your yearly salary.

– Usually a year from the last day you worked for a company is when you become a “free agent” again and you can apply to said company without going through the recruiters.

– You have to pay crazy freelancer taxes. This is probably the number one reason why some people don’t like to freelance. The self employment taxes are huge. Normally when you work for someone else, be it salary or full-time, you pay income taxes. These are the state and federal taxes withheld from you every paycheck. When you file your taxes the goal is to get some of that back (or maybe break even). When you freelance, you also have to pay an “employer” tax on top of your income taxes. If given the option, have it withheld from your paycheck along with the income taxes. Your check will be smaller, but you wont have an ugly surprise come tax season. If you choose not to have them withheld, the rule of thumb is to save a third of your paycheck and put it in savings for taxes. Not kidding. A third.

– You have to respond quickly to be considered for a position. The first handful of people who respond to a job post are going to be sent over to the client and the rest get silence. If you’re not checking your emails every 20 minutes, you may miss a bunch of opportunities.

Here are some of the recruiter agencies I know of:

Creative Circle: One of the most well-known. Has a ton of different clients ranging big to small.

Vonchurch: Smaller boutique agency, specializing in web. They take out your employer taxes for you.

Aquent: Also a bigger name in the city. Have larger retail clients here in the city. Offer a benefits and 401 K package if you work for them a certain amount of time. They offer the option of taking employer taxes out.

Vitamin T: The sister company to Aquent. They handle the smaller boutique firms.

The Creative Group: another big name contender in the bay area. I haven’t work with them…yet.

24/7: I’ve heard good things, but haven’t worked with them.

I hope this information helps you designers get a better idea of what it means to work with recruiters. There are some negatives, but to me they are out weighed by the positives.Though  I’m a freelancer at heart and would give anything to be able to freelance full-time, it may just be a temporary solution for others.