width=304Dear J.T. & Dale: After a long period of unemployment, I signed up at several employment agencies. I interviewed with them, which went well, so I thought I would hear back. When I didn't, I called. Only one returned my call. Several months have gone by, and the only thing I have had so far was an e-mail wishing me a happy Mother's Day. I'm not a mother. What gives? I feel like I have leprosy. - Kirsten

Dale: Well, Kirsten, I suspect there are people reading your question whose first reaction was: Wow! Someone returned her call! And she got an e-mail greeting?! Boy, is she lucky!

J.T.: Dale's point is, I think, employment agencies have been completely overwhelmed by applications, and thus have abandoned the old niceties. They try to process all the folks who come in, but honestly, it's only the candidates who connect with the staffing-agency placement specialists who get attention. I know this sounds harsh, and I'm sure I'll have staffing-firm members sending me nasty notes when they read it, but you don't get hired just because you could do the job - there are plenty of people who can do the job - but because you make a personal connection.

Dale: It's easy to think of the people at the staffing agency as mere screeners, and thus to focus solely on job requirements instead of human ones. But J.T. has it right: The job interview isn't about whether or not you could handle the work - it's about whether or not the hiring manager wants to work with you - and the same is true for the person at the staffing agency: Are you a person who's going to make the agent look good to the hiring managers who are his or her clients?

J.T.: So try to set up new meetings with staffing companies, saying something like: I know how busy you and your co-workers must be in this recession. I can only imagine how many people have reached out to you. But I promise if you give me a few minutes of your time, I will be open to any feedback you provide. My goal is to be the one candidate you would LOVE to place. In doing so, you are making the staffing-service representative feel important and respected, which should lead to him or her respecting you, and that's the connection that makes all the difference.