OK, you want to change your job. What do you do - flick through the job ads, trawl the internet, or simply send your CV to a recruitment consultancy and let them do all the legwork?
The last option certainly sounds the most attractive, but is it really as simple as all that?
Simon King, 31, reckons there's a bit more to it. Two months ago an agent landed him the head chef's job at a three-star, two-AA-rosette hotel near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire - but he says you have to make the system work for you. "You need to use more than one agent, talk to other people and do your own research - don't simply rely on the agents."
King, who can't name his hotel for contractual reasons, had made that mistake in the past and had ended up moving from a career in Michelin-starred restaurants to a job in a gastropub. "Something didn't gel," he says.
While he learnt the hard way, Jeffrey Ward, 40, general manager of the 46-bedroom Swan hotel at Streatley, Berkshire, has never had any problems. He has used recruitment consultants to find his past four jobs and reckons they can benefit anyone at any stage in their career and in whatever role.
Like King, however, he cautions that you can't expect the consultant to do all the work, and says it is important to ring them regularly to reaffirm interest, unless you want to end up as just a database number. "If you sell yourself to the recruitment company and make your mark, it is in their interests to sell you to their clients," he says.
Ward adds that if an agent respects you, you also stand a good chance of being headhunted in the future. It has to be said, however, that most reputable companies would not want to be seen to "poach" staff.
As a general manager, Ward now also finds himself in the position of client. So does he ignore job ads or letters sent on spec in favour of using agencies?
"No, obviously, if I can get around the fee, then it benefits the business," he says. "I have just recruited two members of staff, for instance. One through an agent and one is somebody I already knew."
He recognises that employment websites are a good source of staff, but points out that if you aren't well known an agent is more able to raise your profile.
Certainly, the consensus is that there are many benefits to using a recruitment company instead of the internet or job ads. Not only does it save the candidate time by checking they have the right qualifications and experience for a position, it also ensures they are shown in the best light. For instance, a candidate might have a fantastic personality but it just doesn't come across in their CV.
Perhaps more importantly, agents handle a lot of positions that are never advertised. In fact, on rare occasions, an agent will even persuade a company to create a role for an excellent candidate.
The main headache for the job seeker is choosing the right recruitment consultancy. James Pattison, 27, says you don't have to confine yourself to a big name. Pattison, now a sous chef at Lucknam Park hotel near Bath, says his career was put on track a few years ago by a sole practitioner. But he stresses that he already knew the agent by reputation as a chef. "I respected his opinion. It was impartial and it felt more one-on-one than just a placing. A lot of the bigger companies don't really get to know you."
Ironically, Pattison got his current job through word of mouth, but he believes he wouldn't have been recommended if he hadn't been placed on the right career path in the first place. And he adds: "I would use a recruitment company again - if I ever wanted to change jobs, that is."
Acknowledgements: Thomson Select Group, CollinsKing & Associates, Red Star Associates, Chess Partnership, MGM International and CCRS.
Jessica Anderson, 26 Catering manager
Everson Hewett, at the Football Association, London
Salary for this type of job: about £25,000
Sounds like an interesting job. Yes, I have been in it for about a year. I spent a long time looking, though, and didn't have good experiences with all the recruitment consultants I approached.
I was initially put off because I wasted a lot of time and money coming up to London for interviews. I registered with 13 different consultants and only heard back from nine.
What was the main problem? I wasn't sure what I wanted to do; but some of them didn't even listen to the criteria, so I was going for jobs that weren't right.
How do you know you have found a good recruitment consultant? In the end I found a good one through word of mouth. A good consultant is supportive and gives you honest feedback throughout. They are friendly and see you as a person. This company did my CV for me and gave me the lowdown about a company before an interview. I was sort of spoon-fed through the process.
Some places just keep you in the dark. You can feel rejected if they are not honest. Here, they got to know me as an individual and could find jobs that were the right fit and not unrealistic.
What practical help did they give? They gave me advice on interview techniques - making eye contact, relaxing and being myself, and remembering that I am in control of the interview.
Was it a long process? No, it all happened fast. I had a first interview on the Tuesday, a second interview on the Wednesday and got the job on the Thursday.
So what advice would you give to others planning to use a recruitment agency? Don't get your hopes up just because you are with an agency. It is down to you to assess whether they are working for you. You need to keep ringing them - bug them.
Getting started Don't just dip your toe in the water, make a commitment to give up some time for the job-hunting process.
Follow recommendations to choose your recruitment consultant. You can send your CV to more than one, but make sure there is no crossover with clients, as it will waste everyone's time.
Not all agencies will see every candidate. There are jobs out there for everyone but most will screen only those with the right experience for their clients.
There is no charge to the job seeker, and the client is charged only if a placing is made.
A point of view: Toby Hill
Recruitment companies can have unexpected uses, too. Former Lords of the Manor chef Toby Hill used his contacts with a recruitment consultant when he was looking for a property to run with his brother, Rupert.
The pair subsequently took over the 65-seat Moon & Sixpence, which they recently opened in Hanwell, near Banbury, Oxfordshire. Hill says he took the decision to open a food-led pub on impartial advice from an agent who had placed him in the past.
"[The agent] just really has his ear to the ground. He gave me advice on the market and told me there was nowhere in the area to eat affordably. I could have opened at the top end, but then I would have got a minority of local business instead of the majority."
In Hill's book, "having an ear to the ground" is the definition of a good recruitment consultant. "It shows he spends time with candidates and clients alike. He doesn't lose touch with the industry, and people trust that," says Hill.
He also would look for an agent who has integrity and doesn't just send candidates for unsuitable jobs in order to get a placing. "When I found myself redundant from the [fine-dining] Halcyon [in London], the agent identified that I was specialised. He just said he wasn't going to call me unless he had something suitable."
Top 10 tips from a recruitment insider 1. Get a clear idea of what you do and don't want. The consultant can help you, if necessary, but it saves time if you have made your own decisions before you arrive.
2. Send off your CV and follow it up with a phone call. Don't send e-mails, because there is too much traffic nowadays. A phone call also allows you to use your personality and shows the consultant how committed you are.
3. Beware: not all consultants will simply retype your CV. They will, however, make suggestions. Some use it as a mini test to see how quickly you respond to the suggestions and, therefore, how serious you are about getting another job.
4. A good consultant wouldn't send a candidate to a client that they wouldn't get on with. Similarly, they would make sure the company had the right culture for the candidate. Consultants also give truthful feedback, which most companies never do directly. It means consultants can help the candidate move forward.
5. The first impression - how you dress and present yourself - is very important. The consultant will judge you on the impression you will make to the client. For instance, a nylon tie might make the difference between getting a job or not. Similarly, it is crucial to make eye contact, as you need to bond with the potential employer
6. The consultant will interview you on a general basis, but clients have different styles, which consultants will warn you about. This helps, particularly if you have had your confidence knocked by redundancy or haven't had an interview for years.
7. Once you have had your screening interview, you should follow it up. Ring once or twice a week, because if a job comes up and you are in the consultant's mind, they are more likely to put you forward.
8. Be professional, fair and honest. This is a small industry, and you don't want to be sealing one job offer while the consultant is working on another for you. Similarly, if you don't like the client after the first interview, then tell the consultant immediately.
9. Make it clear to the consultant where and when you can be contacted. If you do get a call at work, try not to sound guilty if your boss is around. Just say you can't talk at the moment. Beware sending e-mails from work, as some companies track them. And, of course, make sure you are giving 100% to the end.
10. Last, but not least, if you find a job and then get a counter-offer from your employer, don't get swayed. Look back at why you made the decision to move, otherwise you might be going through the same process in another six months.
Helen Flint, account director, Chess Partnership
Andrew Crook, 29 General manager (known as the "patrao" or head of the family)
Nando's, Xscape ski centre, Leeds
Salary range in this sector: £22,000-£30,000 plus bonuses
You got your job through a recruitment agency? Yes, three years ago. They found me a job as assistant manager at Nando's. It was the first time I had used a recruitment consultancy.
I am from Bolton and just stumbled across them. I gave them my CV and within three or four weeks they had sent it out and got me the interview at Nando's. It was the only interview I did, because I got the job.
What were the benefits of using one? I don't mean to sound lazy, but they took the hard work out of the job hunting. It was much easier than doing it myself. I told them what I wanted - not pubs or hotels - and they narrowed it down. They took a view on me and helped me decide which area of work I was suited to. They looked at me as a person. The job at Nando's was a step down initially, because I had been a general manager at Scottish & Newcastle, but I wanted to get out of pubs and I was taking a long-term view and had my eye on the general manager's position.
What tips did they give you? They advised me to go out, look at different restaurant brands and see what I liked. When I got the interview at Nando's they told me to ditch the shirt and tie that I always wore and dress more casually, because that's Nando's style.
And did they help seal the deal? I got a salary package based on my experience, but the consultants played a part in selling me and they went for the best package. When I got the job they followed up for the first three months to check that I was OK and had no problems and so on. It is very important that they don't leave you once you get the job.
So what method would you use to find your next job? If I wanted to move on - which I don't - then I would use a recruitment agency again. In fact, even now, as a manager, I use recruitment consultants to get staff. Even if I see someone at an assessment day that I want to recruit, I'll send them along to the consultant and let them do the screening.