The Laid-Off Life: Secret Agency Man

Nancy Anderson
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"If you've ever seen the look on somebody's face the day they finally get a job, I've had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it's about respect, it's about looking in the mirror and knowing that you've done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don't really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try." – Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline), 'Dave'
Quick trivia question: What is the largest public company in the U.S. by number of employees?

That’s probably easy: the answer is Walmart with 1.8 million employees. Put them all in the same room, and you’d have the 5th biggest city in America (and probably a really long line for the restroom). But what’s number two?

Kelly Services employs 750,000. Kelly is a "global workforce solutions" company, or as us normal people would call it, a temp agency. That’s right kiddos, a temp agency is the second biggest employer in America. So, Walmart greeter or 'the temp'. That’s the best decision we now face in America when we’re looking for work? Walmart is, in its own special way, probably a great company, but unless you’re last name is Walton, you will doubtless be wearing a blue smock and a 'Hello My Name Is' pin at work.

That leaves us with the quaintly-named 'non-permanent staffing industry'. There are nearly 3 million temp workers currently 'staffed' in the U.S. today. Sound like a lot? Well, even this 'growth' industry has been hit by the downturn: there are 10% fewer temporary and contract employees working today than in 2007. As I interpret that, fewer companies are hiring temp workers today in favor of giving current employees greater responsibility without greater compensation. Even the temp is being downsized.

But what about temp agencies first-cousin, the 'recruiting firm', or as it used to be called (back when bathroom tissue was still 'toilet paper'), the 'employment agency'? In olden days, employment agencies were quaint, small, and, well, helpful. Think Kevin Kline’s pre-Presidential character in 'Dave'. It’s Monday - everybody works on Monday! The companies had a personal and ethical interest in finding work for their charges. And that they did. Today, as much of everything else, the employment industry has gone corporate, and with it, the same frustrations of dealing with any corporation.

Take a quick scan through job listings on your favorite job-aggregation website. Guaranteed half (three-quarters? all?) will be from staffing firms. Or temp agencies. Or Recruiting agencies. (I’ll be honest, I don’t really know the difference, nor do I care.) One way or another, they are all outsourced human resource departments. Click on any job listing and there’s a better-than-good chance that instead of being taken to the website of some great company you’d love to work for, you’ll be directed to or And of those, 9-times-out-of-10, the name of the actual company (and often the location) are no where to be found. And for me, the problem wouldn’t be so significant if there weren’t two gazillion recruiting firms because they all make you sign up with their agency and fill out form after form before you can even get to a place where you can apply for a job (and fill out form after form again). I just want to apply for the job, please. I don’t want to sign up with your agency, and I certainly don’t want a hundred emails from you asking to opt-in for searches and 'more information from our corporate partners'.

And that’s the front half of the story. I am equally disillusioned with the back half. I am not immune. I 'belong' to a big handful of such agencies claiming to be finding work for me on my behalf. In Philadelphia, or in whatever city you reside, agencies of this ilk number in the dozens like Westaff, Robert Half, The Boss Group, Hudson Global, Kforce, Aerotek, etc., etc., etc. Sometimes through one of the aforementioned online ads and sometimes seeking out on my own, I have signed up with these agencies in hopes of them assisting me in finding that 'perfect job'. Or 'any job'. On the figurative big marquee out front, they promote aid in finding you your next-great-full-time-job, but in the last few years, as recruiter after recruiter has informed me, those placements are drying up faster than Gulf Coast tourism. The pyramid is on its head, and the majority of openings are week- or month-long temp hires, part-time fill-in’s, and promises of 'temp-to-hire' opportunities which, I’m told behind closed doors, are good-intended but honestly just bait-and-switches. The 'to hire' part has become a myth and a PR brand. The recruitment company has become the temp agency. As I said, I can’t tell the difference.

But that has not stopped me from signing up with the brick-and-mortar agencies which, to their benefit-of-the-doubt, really are trying to place you. In this dog-layoff-dog world in which we live, you can’t pass any potential opportunity by. Maybe my good, dear recruitment-specialist friends (which seem to change on a monthly basis) can find me that job-in-a-haystack. Maybe there is some great temp-to-hire hiding in the weeds. Or possibly a great freelance gig. Something besides door-to-door sales or legalized pyramid schemes. I’m a writer, and that’s a tough job to catch these days. I don’t have technical writing experience and I haven’t written for 'pharma', and those are 80% of the writing jobs out there. But thanks to the Michael Laid-Off Life Agency (and some help from the temp agency known as Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Office), I have enough freelance gigs to keep me going.

So, like any good portfolio, job hunting requires you to diversify yourself. Use recruitment and 'talent' agencies. Use job aggregation sites. Use Craigslist. Use social networks and IRL networks. Use the newspaper. Use what the good lord gave you. Because you never know when you’ll see that needle sticking out of the haystack in the glinting sun.

In the mean time, anyone know what the employee discount is at Walmart?

Michael Hochman
? Laid-Off Life on Twitter ? Laid-Off Life on Facebook

Michael is a Copywriter, Creative Marketer, and Broadcasting Professional still in search of full-time employment after 13 months of full-time job hunting, thanks to an "involuntary career sabbatical". A Philly native and Syracuse graduate, Michael will gladly accept any job offer you may have for him. Any. Really. Please give me a job??

"Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called everybody, and they meet at the bar." - Drew Carey

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