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Basically those agents are sales people, they sell us to the recruiting companies and get commission from the company.
Take an example of a agent company "asset " , they have two kinds of people mainly. One is account manager who keep contact with the HR of recruiting company and get all the information like what kind of position is available and what kind of technology that company want and consolidate all the information into their own database. The other is resource manager who talks to client like us face to face directly. Account manager is devided by company and resource manager is devided by area. The person you talk to is their resource manager, they know nothing about technical stuff but just test your language skills and do the pre-screening work. If they think you might match that job then they will send your resume to their account manager who "owns" that position. Now for one position the account manager could get twenty resume from different resource manager. What account manager will do is to match your resume with the position requirement he has on his hand and select 4-5 resume out from them and send it to the HR of the recruiting company. Now fortunately you resume get to the HR people, normally then will arrange face to face interview for some of them and see who is the guy who laugh at last. After you finish the probation period at that company the agent can get 20% of your yearly salary as their commission normally.
Now how those agent works is clear, so you will find out talk to agent is the very first step of your way into the company, and don't be shy when talking to the resource manager, a good professional resource manager should teach you how to talk to recruiting guy properly. Actually the resource manager I contact in asset even help me to modify my resume to fit into Canadian style. Why does he willing to do that ? Because you are his client and he wants to sell you out to the company. So you two have some common interest. You can say that resource manager is responsible for you. But account manager is responsible for the recruiting company so you can not talk as frankly as you do to resource manager although most of the time you won't talk to account manager directly.
This is just one example of how one of those agent company works, but I guess the other placement company works more or less in the same way.
Finally good luck to all new comers on your way to hunting a good company ! ( although I myself is a new comer too
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