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What You Didn't Know About How Agencies Work

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What’s important to you when you’re looking for work? Wage? Location? Opportunity to learn? Likely a bit of everything, right? Well, you’re probably losing out on a bit of all three when you leave it to an agency to find work for you. In this resource, Vet Locum List sheds some light on employment agencies so you can make an informed decision when looking for work.

The Basics

An agency is an independent organization that makes their money from connecting clinics with veterinarians. Typically a clinic will post their needs with the agency, who will then claim to the public that they have a job available in a specific area, but without giving away too many details. When a veterinarian shows interest in working in that area, the agency will see if the vet ‘fits’ the position before revealing the identities of the clinic and the vet to each other, whereafter the clinic pays the agency a commission fee.

So what’s the big deal, right? There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this concept, as the two parties get what they need. If you have no idea what you are doing, the agency can even be helpful in getting what you need. BUT, where the clinic goes into the deal knowing what they’re going to pay, the veterinarian does not...

Permanent Positions

Let’s start with finding a full-time job. The agency says they’ll help you find your dream job, which sounds good. You give them a region you want to work in, and you figure they’ll sort through all the job opportunities in that area out of the goodness of their heart and get back to you with one that you’ll love. Great! Or... wait...

Where you're losing choice:

Really the agency can only sort through job ads from clinics they signed a contract with, and they won’t tell you who those clinics are because you might contact them directly yourself (and they’ll miss out on their paycheque). Well that’s less than ideal, because now you can’t do your homework first and ask around to figure out what it's like to work at that clinic. You don’t have the opportunity to do a working interview at a few different clinics to feel each one out. You can’t meet their staff and check out the cool techniques you may be able to learn at each clinic. You can’t compare that job post with ones you saw on sites like Vet Locum List. Options are kinda limited.

Where you're losing pay:

Well at least I’m not paying for it! Well, aren’t you? When a connection is made, clinics pay a fee which varies between agencies. Typically this is around 15% of your starting salary, however some agencies charge a flat fee ($18,000 USD in one of our research results). Now where do you think this money is coming from? Clinics are businesses, with budgets for salaries. So if a clinic has an $80,000 budget for a veterinarian, they have to tell an agency they are offering $68,000, so they can afford to pay the $10,200 (i.e. 15%) ’connection’ fee to keep on budget (and that’s assuming they want to spend the whole $80K, which they probably don’t). This is why agencies often quote you an average salary lower than what you’ve probably heard of for a region. In the end, thats $10,000 that could have made it into your pocket with the right bargaining skills, which makes YOU the one out of pocket at the end of the transaction.

Where you're losing control:

Finally, consider both the squeaky and diamond-studded wheels. Imagine you’re an agency with 5 posts all from independent clinics in a specific area, and an additional 5 posts from a single corporation in that area. Who’s business are you (as an agency) more concerned about keeping? Although agencies often have a no-placement no-fee policy, if a single clinics looses faith that the agency can fill the position, that’s nothing compared to losing the faith of a large corporation. If push comes to shove, your ‘dream job’ could now become a political move to keep business flowing. The squeaky wheel wins. What about a diamond-studded wheel offering 50% more as a starting salary? This is a potential 50% greater income for the agency and therefore a push to fill that position. Our point? There may be underlying factors at play when you trust someone else to look out for your best interests.

We at Vet Locum List were deceived by a healthy combination of the above when we first started out. We were told what we were offered was the highest anyone around paid, then learned we were making 70% of what we could have made at another clinic near by (and then moved jobs to acquire it). It pays to do your homework.

Being Tactful When Finding A Job

Hint: Unless you say ‘yes’ and / or sign something through an agency, you are not committed, so this can be a great way to do you research for a region and maximize your income. Inquire about a few ads with the agency, how much each position is offering as a starting salary and then your association with the agency is pretty much done.

Now, if you know that a certain clinic is advertising through an agency, odds are they’re also advertising elsewhere at the same time. If you’re motivated you can usually scan through the ad’s details and figure out which clinics have posted with the agency. Since you know this clinic is willing to pay a 15% ‘connection fee’ on whatever starting salary the agency told you (say $68,000 for example), you should be able to calculate a great point to start negotiations (at around $80,000 in this example), which is helpful if the clinic tries to begin negotiations a few thousand dollars lower.

Locuming / Relief Work

Let’s start with the reason locums learn to avoid agencies like the plague (and the reason why people gravitate towards Vet Locum List). When you accept work through an agency, the clinic agrees to pay ~15% (agency-dependent) of your wage as a commission fee. This, however, is not a one-off fee, as the agency holds the right to a commission on all of your work with that clinic / group for a set period of time (also agency-dependent). This means that if you continue to take shifts for that clinic, the agency wants to know so they can collect their ‘connection fee’. Here the circle of pain begins.

The agencies believe (as per their terms of use) that your work is theirs to claim ownership over, however clinics tend not to like the money-leeching feeling and will often deny you are continuing to work for them, or refuse to pay beyond the initial fee. These agencies will then often contact you (incessantly) to determine who you are working for and how often (i.e. who owes them money). In their defence, this is how they make their money. Although you probably didn’t know you were signing up for this… you probably didn’t think to ask about how their business worked either...

How We’re Helping

Technically Vet Locum List is considered an agency, although we don’t act like it. We began Vet Locum List because we didn’t like the other options out there, we hated the cloak-and-dagger deception, and we dreaded the follow-up harassment e-mails. Therefore, at VLL we decided to go commission-free, make everything open and visible, and to protect the veterinarians first. As such, your profiles are hidden from clinics until you apply to a post, you can apply to or reject whatever work you wish to when you want to, and aside from the odd glitch in our mailer, we try to be harassment-free.

To (barely) support ourselves, clinics pay a subscription fee of close to $300 (country-dependent) per year to post whatever they need, whenever they want to, which is just enough to keep us running. This isn’t just for locum / relief or permanent positions either. If your clinic is constantly e-mailing you about available shifts that need taking, tell them to post it on VLL and you’ll apply to anything that appeals to you, which should help keep your inbox from being flooded. You can also direct your locums you know to the work so they can safely view it without being added to the clinic's contact list. If you like what you see and what we stand for, you can help us by getting your clinic on board and telling your colleagues about us.


Although there’s nothing wrong with using a recruitment agency as someone looking for work, many are caught off guard by what goes on behind the scenes without their knowledge. If you are just looking to find a job in a general area and aren’t concerned about pay, then using an agency for finding a full-time position isn’t going to hurt you. If you would like to get the best position (location and wage) for your scenario, then this likely isn’t the best option for you. What matters most in the end is that you enter into these agreements well-informed of how they're going to affect you. Not sure? Feel free to contact us here. Best of luck!


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