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I had a bad experience with an employment agency. Should I go back?

THE QUESTION

I have been searching for work for a month, since the end of my most recent job, with no success – not even an interview.

This lack of positive results has absolutely convinced me that I must return to an employment agency with which I had a bad experience in 2007 – entirely my fault and for which I apologized.

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I am convinced that this employment agency could get me work shortly. However, it would be warehouse or general labour work only, in which I have no recent experience and would need to be trained from scratch. My experience has been in office support and administrative assistance – more than 15 years' worth – and I have found it virtually impossible to find work in this field. It seems I do not have enough specific abilities to qualify me for this kind of work.

What should I do? Should I try my luck with the employment agency where I had the bad experience or go to other employment agencies and hope for the best? I am certain that I will not find office support or administrative assistance work in the near future.

THE FIRST ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

There is no need to be concerned about not finding a new job after only one month. The average time between opportunities can be six months or more depending on your skill level, the position you're seeking, and your résumé, cover letter and networking skills. You have more options than you are aware of.

You say you have 15 years of admin experience, then you say you don't have the specific abilities to get a job in that field. I am confused. What is your expertise? Do a self assessment so your abilities align with the positions you apply for. Update your skills to make yourself more desirable. Teach yourself computer programs, perfect your English and start volunteering to expand your network.

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Seventy-five to 80 per cent of all jobs are found through networking. Less than 10 per cent of jobs are found through recruiters, though employment agencies differ. If you think you need to work in manual labour or a warehouse then apply directly so an agency doesn't take half your salary.

Is your résumé professionally written? Does your cover letter tell the reader what you can do for them? Are they error free, including perfect grammar, spelling and formatting?

Get out from behind your computer and don't rely on others to get you work. Hit the pavement and knock on doors. Take courses and get guidance at career centres. Read books on searching for work and learn how to network.

Use your network to get the word out as to what kind of job you want. Chances are you will remain unemployed longer if you work alone.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Julie Labrie

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President, BlueSky Personnel Solutions, Toronto

First, don't count on the agency that had a difficult time with you. They won't be eager to place you, especially if their clients have to train you from scratch.

Given your experience, pursue placement agencies that specialize in office administration. You are not obligated to be loyal to just one firm. Reach out to several agencies and list your name with as many as possible. This will expose you to a greater number of potential employers.

Offer yourself up for both permanent and temporary positions. Temp work can give you immediate experience to help fill your skill gaps. You can then leverage what you learn in your ongoing job search. Plus, once you are working with a company, even for a short time, other opportunities can open up for you there. Don't underestimate this potential. I see it happen all the time.

It's a competitive market and jobs won't fall into your lap, but don't let fear take over. Looking for a job can be a full-time job itself. Are you putting up to 40 hours a week into your search?

Lastly, be positive and don't put your own barriers around job possibilities. If you don't believe in yourself, an employer won't believe in you. Recruiters chose enthusiastic people over those who seem down on themselves.

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Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine to Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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