is staffing agency lying to me?

A reader writes:

I’ve been out of work for 6 months and have been looking and there have been a few interviews. Two of the interviews were generated through staffing agencies. The first interview did not go well and I received no confirmation from the agency to confirm a rejection. I followed up with them a month later and they mentioned the company had decided to hire from within, which I felt was just a flat-out lie.

The second interview through a staffing firm was recent and the interview was very positive. I followed up with thank-you letters to both people I had met with and got a call 3 days later from the staffing agent, stating they desired a 2nd interview in a couple of days but she didn’t know the time. She said she would get back to me soon with more info. After that I heard nothing. 3 days went by and I called her office and did not receive a call back. I then called the hiring manager at the company and left him a very cordial and professional message asking about the status of the second interview, but had no response from either party. I waited until yesterday (3 business days after the phone calls ) and emailed the staffing woman requesting a reason why they had stopped everything in such an odd manner and how I might be able to improve anything on my end for upcoming opportunities. I received a response from her that they still wanted to meet with me, hopefully sometime next week, and the reason was they were quite busy, etc, etc. I thanked her for her help and mentioned I would follow up in a week if I didn’t hear anything by then. Then today I get a call from her and she tells me they decided to hire someone internally but they might be bringing me back in for a different position interview in a few weeks, “but no promises.”

What happened here? Truthfully, I don’t believe the staffing agent’s story and figured you might be able to decode this ridiculous turn of events.

I hate to tell you this, but I think you’re reading way too much into all this and being too suspicious.

Your staffing agency sounds like it might be mediocre, possibly disorganized and unresponsive. At a minimum, they don’t put a premium on keeping candidates in the loop in a timely way. But believe me, they are soooo not alone in that behavior; it’s very common, although obviously it shouldn’t be. I happen to believe that not getting back to candidates who took the time to interview is the height of rudeness, but plenty of companies operate that way.

But being slow to get back to you and not being responsive to your calls doesn’t indicate that they’re lying to you. People who hire for a living are used to having to dispense rejection; they don’t make up cover stores when it’s so easy to just tell the truth — “we went with another candidate,” “we didn’t feel you were the right match,” etc. I can almost guarantee you that unless you somehow stumbled upon the one staffing agency in the world that isn’t comfortable rejecting people, they’re not lying to you.

Job hunting is frustrating and even more so when your calls aren’t getting returned. But don’t leap from that to assuming there’s some kind of mysterious cover-up going on here.

{ 34 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    this doesn't answer the weird way they mentioned a second interview and then all of a sudden changed their minds.

  2. Ask a Manager*

    That's not uncommon (to say they're interested in moving you to the next step but then it ending up getting bumped for some reason). They considered you a strong candidate, but someone stronger emerged. That happens.

    They should have kept in better communication with you, but "should" is very different from what's become common practice. Based on current norms, their behavior isn't outrageous. (It's rude, in my opinion, and bad business practice, but it's sadly typical.)

  3. Deirdre HR Maven*

    I worked in the staffing industry for many years. Here are some inside views that may help.

    I had issues getting some of my company contacts to call me back – it was horrible. We were second/third backup agency and not on their speed dial. So your staffing agency may be having an equally difficult time getting feedback; and that is frustrating for the staffing consultants constantly fielding calls about follow up that they can't answer.

    Also companies use agencies to not have to return candidate calls. I would continue to work directly with your staffing agency – nothing seemed to irritate companies more then when candidates called them directly.

    Remember too that staffing agencies present multiple candidates. It's possible that you aren't the only one that they are presenting. This isn't something that I would tell a candidate. They are also competing against a host of other agencies.

    My recommendation for you is the treat your staffing agency like gold. My best candidates treated my like a partner – gave me leads on where other agencies were working, insider scoop on other agencies, gave us *real* feedback on companies. We didn't make money unless we placed people but the people we placed were a reflection on us too. Try and be patient and professional, stop in and say hello, etc.

    Also ask for feedback. Sometimes I would get feedback on candidates that I would or wouldn't share depending on how I perceived the feedback would go over. If you are open to feedback and coaching, with a good agency, you will get it. If you are defensive and accusatory, well they probably won't share, nor will they want to present you other places. (Not that this is the case but just for example).

    I hope this is helpful – good luck with your search.

    1. Joanna*

      Treat an employement agency like GOLD…are you kidding me. Why would I do that when they treat me like sh_t. Let’s face it, you work for an agency so you see it from you’re end. Try being on the other side and see how it feels. Not so great, trust me.

      I do not appreciate having someone tell me that the job is a sure thing and be all gung ho, tell me they will call me right back and then have no return phone calls. Something went wrong somewhere, but heaven forbid they tell me. String me along for a few more days with more excuses only to get the “bad” news A week later (after I call of course) and act like “oh by the way didn’t you know they decided to hire someone from the inside” and pretend you didn’t have any of the past conversations or emails. Yeah, I should treat them like GOLD.

      1. Anonymous*

        I completely agree. I have been on the books of a staffing agency for MORE THAN 9 MONTHS and they’ve made promise after promise that they haven’t kept. “Oh, this job is a done deal . . . wait, it fell through.” Repeat, ad infinitum. They also falsely advertise online that they have “multiple positions” in my local area with “benefits” and “good salaries.” There are 3 lies in this ad: They don’t have multiple positions, the positions exist anywhere from a 3 hour drive to across the country, they only last for 3 months, and there are no benefits. None. Nada. Not a day off, ever, or they’ll remove you from the good list. AAARRRGGG.

        1. Anonymous*

          Sorry, that’s 4 lies, not 3. And I meant to say “a 3 hour drive away,” not just “a 3 hour drive.”

  4. Kelly O*

    I just have to add, sort of bouncing off Dierdre's comment, that it's really hard to treat a staffing agency like gold when they're treating you like something else altogether.

    I've had more than my share of bad experiences with staffing agencies over the years, and the last one left such a bad taste in my mouth I've taken a sharp career turn just because it kept me out of an agency's office. That might sound harsh, but when you get burned more than a couple of times it becomes a challenge to believe anything you're told.

    I understand it's difficult for agencies, especially with so many people out of work and searching, and I know those agencies are probably understaffed themselves, but (some) candidates are working hard to find a job, doing all the "right" things, and not getting responses, or getting a roller coaster of mixed responses, just adds to the difficulty. But, like AAM said, I think we all get the difference between "should" and "do" when it comes to most any working situation.

    I guess I just view it as a two-way street – the seeker AND the agency work together, even though the end result may not be you placing me at one of your clients. I might have a friend or former co-worker who would be perfect for you, and you may wind up helping me find a connection that gets me the right job for me down the road.

  5. Just Another HR Lady*

    If you are dealing with a staffing agency, a few things to know at least from my perspective:

    -If you are dealing with a staffing agency, never call the employer directly unless you are asked to do so. We are paying to have someone else manage the process, and part of that is having the agency manage candidates. Contacting the employer will tick off both the agency and the hiring company.

    -If I'm dealing with a staffing agency, I always advise them if the person is a yes, no, or maybe immediately after we meet them. It's up to the staffing agency to relay that message. If they are not doing so in a timely manner, you may want to re-consider the agency that you're dealing with.

    -A staffing agency may have you on their list, but never forget that they are working for the EMPLOYER, not the candidates. The Employer is the one paying the fee. That is not to say that you should not be treated respectfully, but some agencies (as you can see) only care about presenting a successful candidate, and the rest of the candidates get left behind unfortunately. They get no fee for the time they spend on the unsuccessful candidates. (unless they are on retainer)

    -Regardless of how they treat you, sometimes an agency is a link into a current job, or a future job that you want. Try to not to take their behavior personally, they are just a means to an end, and a foot in the door.

    1. Anonymous*

      Did you know that in the staffing agency world, once an agency has presented you to an employer, no other agency is allowed to present you to that same employer? Apparently it’s some huge no-no, and you’ll be seen as sneaky and unprofessional if you do it. So looking for another staffing company might not even be an option.

  6. Anonymous*

    I think this person is taking the whole process a little too personally. I highly doubt there's some kind of lying going on here.

    I had a great interview a few weeks ago with a company, got the impression I'd get a 2nd round, and didn't. I had an interview with another company and when I met with HR she said it'd probably be a week or two before they decided on 2nd round, because they were still interviewing. Then I went on to meet the hiring manager and got a call later the same day to come back for a second interview with the director and VP.

    Things change. Maybe they honestly thought they'd want to bring you back, but then met with someone that really impressed them. It's not personal. Sometimes other people are just better for the job than you.

    Keep in mind that in this market, agencies are swamped with candidates, which may result in a less timely response. If you really do feel that you're getting bad service, be honest with your recruiter. Tell them you expect a response within a reasonable time frame, and if you don't get it then reach out to one of the firm's partners to voice your complaint. Just remember to be courteous, even though you're frustrated.

  7. Anonymous*

    Your staffing agency is *always* sourcing candidates for their clients. You are going through the interview rounds, and suddenly another candidate pops up that looks fantastic and might even be *more* qualified than you are. With no respect for how far you've made it in the process, your staffing agency will forward that resume to the client and say "Take a look at this one!" and suddenly your whole process is put on hold, so the client can start up with the new candidate.

    It's probably what's holding up your end, with the mentioning a 2nd interview and then changing their minds. If the client is working with more than one staffing agency, it's happening even more often.

    Also, filling internally happens a lot these days. They look at the workload, get the agencies to source some candidates, go through the interviews, and decide that they can get the job done by promoting someone from within. If they just didn't get bowled over by any candidates, it's not worth paying the agency fee to hire anyone from outside. I'm sorry that happened to you, but if the agency told you they hired from within, that's not a lie, because the agency has no reason to lie to you about that. They're disappointed about losing the fee, just as you're disappointed about not being hired.

  8. Kimberley*

    Remember, we're in a recession. Companies will do what they can to avoid paying a fee to a staffing company. Maybe they really liked you, and now they're delaying booking that 2nd interview 'cause they want to see who they can find using their own resources.

    Yes, it sucks, it sucks for us staffing companies too who only get paid when our clients hire.

  9. TheLabRat*

    Oh I don't know, if you're in Sacramento, CA, the agency might very well be yanking you around. Short version, insider info from people in our local temp agencies reveals some pretty shady dealings. It's not universal but I've gotten enough tidbits from people on the inside that I don't go through staffing agencies anymore. Two in particular in my area have screwed over so many companies and job seekers I'm amazed they haven't been sued.

  10. Kerry*

    I think your expectations are unrealistic.

    Guess what–sometimes an internal candidate DOES surface at the last minute.

    Sometimes I planned to call you for a second interview, but then the quarterly numbers come out, and I'm being told I might not be able to fill the job.

    Sometimes I was going to call you, but then I get wind of the fact that another employee is going to resign, get fired, whatever, and I think, wait, should I combine these jobs then? Should I retool the workflow? Is this an opportunity for process improvement? And it takes me more than three business days to answer those questions.

    Sometimes I think I'm going to bring you in for a second interview, but then I find out the hiring manager is on vacation, or he calls in sick, or I call in sick, or one of us gets some other important project that has to be done right away…I mean, these people are running a business here.

    Maybe they were about to move, but then they got word that they're going to buy another company, or be bought, or eliminate this entire part of their business, or merge this line of business with that one…and it's going to take more than three business days to see how that affects this one opening. Those are all real things I've had come up during hiring processes. Change and drama don't stop when you're trying to fill a job.

    I know when you're job hunting, it seems like everything that happens is about you. The reality, though, is that hardly any of it is about you.

    As others have said, it would be nice if they kept you posted…but sometimes they can't tell you what's really up, and sometimes they get too busy, and sometimes they don't know what to say because they don't know what's going on either. If you eliminate from consideration all of the employers and agencies that do this, you're going to have very slim pickings in terms of jobs.

    It sucks, but you can't take it personally. If you allow yourself to get sucked into that mindset, that hostility is going to show, and you'll be screwed.

  11. Charles*

    They followed up, albeit with a couple of pushes from you and not with the answer that you wanted.

    But they followed up – this is a good thing. Really, it is a good thing. I know, as a job seeker myself, as hard as it is you have to try to look at it that way. If they really didn't want to deal with you anymore they would have not bothered.

    I have had a few in-person interviews where I never hear from them again. It makes me wonder if they consider me to be some sort of threat or something like the plague. I so want to scream at some of these hiring folks that "look it costs me $27 for parking, train, and subway fare to interview with you – don't waste me time and money if you are not interested. Money doesn't grow on trees!" But I don't. I know that there are other things going on.

    For example, I know of two in-person interviews that I followed up with and did not hear back from only to find out later that the people I interviewed with had left the organizations. So there are a lot of things going on that us job seekers don't see.

  12. Joanna*

    I have just encountered a similiar scenario and based on my circumstances I do think the agency was lying. Furthermore, employment agencies do lie often–that has been my experience.

    Employment agencies only call you when they have an opportunity they need to fill–if it doesn’t work out–they WILL NOT call you back; they can’t be bothered. They work for the clients because they are the ones who pay, not the poor sap candidate who waits for days and weeks on end for a response–one way or the OTHER.

    This last instance with an agency promising me a job then running ads on the internet for the same job, among other things left me bewildered and feeling bad and doubting myself. Its bad enough being out of work and not getting anywhere sending out resumes, etc. but to be treated this way by agencies is really deplorable.

  13. Kim*

    The last time I applied for a staffing agency, they called me about an interview for a job that was different for what I applied for. But, I agreed to the interview anyway. I was told clearly that the representatives for that client would be there and would be interviewing me. The staffing agency told me to dress in business professional and bring a hard copy of my resume. So, I took the time to prepare for the interview, dress my best, print off a resume and drive down there only to find that the people at the office said they had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned the interview. The recruiter was eager to test me, get my resume’ and enter me into the system, though. It makes me wonder if that’s all they really wanted and if they were just trying to meet some sort of metric. I don’t really care what excuses are presented for this. If you present a situation one way, and that’s not the way things are. THAT IS DISHONEST! PERIOD! If I want to go to a staffing agency for the purpose of networking, I will do that. If that is what a staffing agency is about that’s what they should advertise. They shouldn’t advertise a “specific” job. And, if they do, they should make it clear that you may likely be contacted about something different. If an interview is only a “possible” interview, they should let the applicant know instead of making it out to be something otherwise. Especially if the agency goes out of their way to make it out to be something otherwise. The trouble, is that if they were that honest about it, they would not get enough candidates. But, the fact that they have to present things differently from what they are to get candidates shows that #1 they are dishonest and #2 what they have is not desireable to enough people to keep them in business without hiding the truth. I suppose there are times when staffing agencies may be a “necessary evil” But, I don’t plan to go through any more of them unless I absolutely have to.

  14. Steve Geoghan*

    I hated it when staffing agencies invited you in to do the computer tests, applications, etc….and didn’t even have a job in mind.

    Now that I have more real-world experience, I see I was probably invited just to boost their roster of candidates, or so a junior level recruiter could look busy in front of her boss.

    I mean – 2 hours of work when you dont even have an opening?

    1. Anonymous*

      Oh my goodness. You took the words right from my thoughts. How much time is wasted, gas, ect. I was wondering how long these temp agencies could continue wasting peoples time and money like they do giving out false hope. My goodness the so-called professionals you want to put your trust in are the very ones who deceive you.

  15. Nick 1975*

    Temp agencies range from deceptive to down right fraudulent. Over the past 2 years I have experienced this range from disorganized behavior (losing or never acknowledging receipt of info for background check ) to outright LYING about the length and duties of an assignment.

    At my last assignment the rep blatantly LIED about the hourly rate. I was told I was getting $28 an hour. I verified this at least 3 times. When I got my first check the rate was $15 an hour. The rep told me that $28 an hour was the rate the client was paying and my rate was after these deductions?? I was shocked and I admit very upset. I was then told not to return to the assignment.

  16. Anonymous*

    Here is the Giant problem with staffing agencies. They take YOUR money to pay themselves. They don’t fight with the company that you will be working with over money. It is usually a set rate for the position. They make the big bucks buy getting into YOUR wallet. They literally rob from the poor to give to themselves. Let me tell you there are a few good ones out there. That being said without exaggeration I would guess the ratio of ethical/unethical staffers is around 1/50. Seriously, you are better off assuming they are your enemy. You WILL come out better.

  17. Anonymous*

    The deep corners of Hell are reserved for these awful, greedy and fake human beings…. Rob from the poor give to themselves indeed. How is there no government watchdog agency over these jerks?

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m sorry anonymous but if Hell does exist, I doubt it’s to punish individuals who abuse monetary currency in the 21st century…get a life!

  18. Jan*

    Staffing agencies lie about everything. Even many of the jobs they advertise on sites like monster, are just made-up jobs that don’t really exist. They do this to lure in candidates to submit their resume; they collect your information, and your references which they turn into sales pitches. They will call up every person you ever worked for, and bug them to find out if they need temp workers. They are using you and your information, and they often have no real work for you to do. Just avoid them. You can find jobs the same way recruiters do: network, network, network.

  19. Russell V*

    I ama also out of work. Ive dealt with staffing agencies and have had nearly identical results. Over the past few weeks, I interviewed for a position, didn’t heart back from the rep for a week. I contacted her, she told me, that she hadn’t heard anything. Didn’t hear from her for another week, I emailed her. She then stated, the company decided not to fill the position. I have been to 3 or so other agencies, under pretenses of an interview. All times, Im required to fill out a substantial amount of paperwork, take tests, and THEN get to the interview. All of which, I received lame, seemingly made up responses, OR not complete lack of response; never hearing back at all. It all seems like a serious waste of time, on the job seeker’s part. I have been fortunate to have had a couple very good professional jobs, on prestigious levels of my field. However, thos jobs, I attained, through applying with and interviewing, directly with the employer. I have serious reservations, about staffing/temp agencies intentions/motives.

  20. Rocky M*

    Wow. And here I was thinking that I was the only one dealing with the evil that is the temporary agency! I have been out of work since 11/30/2012 (not very long) and have decided to work with a seemingly professional temp agency. I submitted my resume, took an online test from home, then proceeded to an interview. At first, they told me about a specific job in which I was “perfect” for. After several amounts of follow-up, I was told that the client decided to put off hiring until April or May. Ok. Moving on…..I was called by another recruiter who identified another position that was temp to hire and needed to fill several slots. I never heard back from her to this day, despite my efforts to reach out to her. I finally got a response telling me that “they dont know anything yet”. I call BS. I’m with the rest of you on here….it sucks, but what can you do?

  21. Deborah*

    I interviewed this candidate that was sent over from a staffing agency that I have worked with for many years. I liked this candidate but wasn’t sure if my company would pay a fee to hire for this open position. (I was testing the waters, not relevant to this question). I called the staffing agency to schedule a second interview with the VP and Director of HR (after I told my boss about the fee). The second interview went well and after approval from upper management I called the staffing agency and made my offer. After I made my offer, the representative from the agency indicates that the candidate now had “three irons in the fire”. She proceeds to tell me that one of the offers is from her. Did the staffing agency breach a failure to disclose or any other type of unethical act here?

  22. Anonymous*

    I signed up with a staffing agency six months ago. They never found me a job because their fees are high and companies don’t want to pay it.

    I recently answered an ad on craigslist for an accounting manager. I was contacted for an interview and the employer seemed interested. Come to find out, the employer had hired the same staffing agency I signed up with to fill a position. Now I am stuck because the employer wasn’t aware I was the same person the staffing agency had found for them.

    The employer is hesitant to pay the fee but yet is interested in hiring me. Should they hire me directly since they placed the ad and I answered it or should they go with the staffing agency? The employer told me that the staffing agency had contacted them with my information but never followed up, that’s why they decided to place their own ad.

  23. Anonymous*

    Every thing that has been so far, is how it has been going for me as well I applied for a position with one, and shortly after they brought me in for an interview, with a hard copy of my resume, two forms of ID, and to fill out an application online. Well it was all going good at first they had interviews set up for me, well needless to say the first company didn’t get back to the agency with their decision. I got a phone call from the agency saying that they had a position to fill right away, which I didn’t like the short notice but agreed because I needed the money. The company that needed someone to start right away neglected to tell the agency that it was only until they got caught up on orders, which was only three days, to me it seemed pointless to pay someone for three days when they could have split the work between the rest of their own employees. The staffing company after that has stopped calling me, responding to my emails, even after I checked up with them in the last week or so.

    I posted my resume on a job board website, and received a phone call from another agency I agreed to meet with them in person, they asked for a hard copy of my resume, two forms of ID. During the interview they asked what I was looking for and after telling them, they proceeded to ask the same question but differently, at the end of the interview they mentioned online tests that needed to be completed so they have an idea where im at, with the option of taking it at home or there. I decided to take it at home, well when I got home I was expecting them to have emailed me the link so I could take it, they never sent me an email, and haven’t called me to follow up.

    Then today I got another phone call from yet another agency, at least this time the person I spoke to didn’t blow smoke up my back side and told me that they do get some offers for the type of work that I am looking for but didn’t have anything currently and would keep me informed if anything comes along, and told me to search through their site and if I saw anything to give them a call, and they would see what they could do.

    The one thing that makes me angry about agencies, is even when they know their applicants have degrees, they still only find positions that someone without the degree could do.

  24. Anonymous*

    I’m with the rest of all of you. I’ve read all the comments and I couldn’t agree more with the majority of them. I too have had very bad experiences with staffing agencies and now I just refuse to use them. Several of my friends feel the same way. One of my friends in particular had to threaten to sue her staffing agency after they let her go, refused to pay her, told her the employer didn’t want her out there and when she went to the Human Resources Director she was told in fact the staffing agency wanted more money for the work she was doing and refused to go down on the salary and the company went through a different staffing agency instead. The woman over her staffing agency even lied to her about the pay and underpaid her as well. On top of all of this, when my friend kept calling for her check the woman avoided her calls and then when she called to get another assignment the woman avoided her calls then too. So she filed for unemployment and the staffing agency director responded and lied to the unemployment office like she quit. Nothing made sense there. She really is put off with staffing agencies.

    I worked through one staffing agency for a major firm. I caught on to the work quickly and was slotted to go permanent. However, about a month and a half before I was to go permanent with the employer my manager at the company started to meet me at the door each day with folders of work to complete at home. The company had suddenly saw an increase in work and were short staffed. I didn’t mind “at first” but this became a common occurrence until it was every night. Other people were doing loads of work too at home “off the clock”. We weren’t getting paid for it. Finally I had enough and called the temp agency and informed them of this. They sounded oh so concerned. Told me it was not allowed and they would “Take care of it”. The very next day my assignment was suddenly ended. When I got home that evening the temp agency told me not to return. I was the only one cut. I know why. They wanted me to keep my mouth shut. It was a very big contract in Memphis, TN and they weren’t having me complaining about nonpayment of wages.

    I’ve also had staffing agencies lie to me like they had work only to get me to come in, fill out forms and take tests. Hours worth of tests. Someone above mentioned two hours. Nope. The agencies now put a person through an almost 4 hour application and testing process. A VERY LONG TIME to invest for the “chance” to get a job. From my experiences they lie on the phone. They know they don’t have anything but say whatever it takes to get folks to come in.

    I have too many horror stories to recount but I will end with this one. Another friend of mine who was drawing unemployment went through a staffing agency to look for work. She mentioned to the recruiter she was drawing unemployment. (Oh boy she really shouldn’t have done that). The recruiter offered her a $7.25 an hour position that was a 40 minute drive from her home in both directions. Of course she told the recruiter this was less than her unemployment and too far away and turned it down. The recruiter called to the unemployment office (this was also in Memphis, TN) and reported her and had her unemployment cut off.

    These places are pure evil.

  25. john*

    Don’t use agent for job search!! They lie and annoy.

    I have a bad experience with agents. They lay to me about the position. When I went to interview, I found out it was totally different position then the one agent told me. I asked interviewers, they said they only had this position open. It was the position I told agent that I didn’t want it. (bad luck) Not only that, I didn’t like the company’s policy. After interview, I called the agent, she told me either she misunderstood or the company. I think its bullshit.

    I told agent that I didn’t feel the position was a good fit. I would like to withdraw from further consideration. After that, she pretty much called me 4 or 5 times a day asking about position. (I believe I got a good feedback from company even though I didn’t like the job) The agent said: What IF I can make it happens? What IF I can tell the company offer me another position would you accept? What IF this and that!!

    What IF pig can fly? We know pig can’t fly!!

    Another bad thing about agents, they take so much out of your pay check.
    They offered me $13 or $14 per hour a position from one of SP 500. Later I found, the position salary was $19 per hour. That mean for every hour I work, they take out $5 from me. @.@

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