Are you thinking of pursuing contract work through a staffing agency? Good idea. For millions of Americans, recruiters offer connections and resources that help employees learn skills and explore industries of potential interest.

All staffing firms offer similar promises, but not all are created equal. The trick is finding the best one for you. We have a few suggestions.

Think like your ideal employer

Determine your career priorities. A few helpful questions: What types of positions are you most interested in? In what field? In what sort of environment or culture? Knowing where you want to go is as important as knowing where you are now.

Then, think like your ideal employer. What qualities would they value in their contract employees? If your dream job asked a staffing firm to represent their interests, what specialties would that recruiter bring to the table?

Use that same logic to pick the staffing firm best positioned to help you achieve your career goals. Before committing to a recruiter, ask what types of employees they’re best at finding positions for, and find out what specific value they routinely provide to their clients.

Know yourself

Every staffing firm and recruiter has a unique skillset. But so do you. Do a thorough self-appraisal. What are you good at? What skills aren’t your strongest? Knowing is important, because that knowledge allows you to proceed with a reasonable expectation of how highly you can expect be valued by your staffing partner based on what you learn about their practices.

Staffing agencies can vary a lot in terms of how they measure the proficiency of their potential contractors. Do they run a series of computer tests on relevant software? Are they more focused on the human element — the “soft skills” and inherent motivation of their employees? Ask, and evaluate how well their answer matches what you already know about your own strengths and weaknesses.

Think like your own business

You’re a business owner. You might only have one employee at the moment, but luckily, it’s somebody you can trust. It’s you.

Just as any business requires its vendors to fill a specific need at the right price, you need your recruiting partner to be focused on your needs. That means they listen to your goals and interests, ask questions about what you’re comfortable with and communicate often about opportunities that are a good fit — without convincing you to try things that you’ve already decided aren’t in your best interest.

Your recruiting partner should provide more than a quick fix for an immediate need. If they’re right for you, they’ll function much more like a strategic partner than a temporary matchmaker. That means they’ll look for placements that put you on the right path for your future; it’s not just this first job you’re looking for, but a string of future jobs as your career grows.

Keep in mind even the perfect staffing agency for you may not be able to find you the perfect job right away. But don’t forget: You’re the boss. If a recruiter doesn’t seem like they’re serving you more than they’re serving their clients, look elsewhere. You deserve more than a temp agency. You deserve a career partner.

Be honest and expect honesty in return

You’re allowed to have your own goals, and you’re allowed to be your own person. Are there some job responsibilities that you’re good at but eager to move on from? Certain job environments that you just can’t see yourself thriving in? Particular job skills that you’re just not great at, no matter how hard you try?

Tell your recruiting partner. They can’t help if they don’t know.

In exchange for your honesty, you’ll have the right kinds of conversations about opportunities. Instead of just assuming you’re okay with anything, your recruiter can work with you to talk through potential tradeoffs they know you’re processing as well. For example you might hear, “I think this position is a great fit for your long term career goals, but it’s a bit longer of a commute than you said you wanted, what do you think?” From there, you can discuss pros and cons on your terms.

It all starts with honesty, and the result is more relevant and rewarding work opportunities that set you up to succeed.

Learn more

Want to know more about partnering with a recruiter? Take a look at some past articles on the subject: “Why It’s a Great Time to Be a Contract Employee,” and “Top Five Myths About Working With a Staffing Agency.”

Get expert help

If you’re looking at potential staffing partners that can help you grow into the career you want for yourself, it’s as easy as asking. You can always reach out directly. Talk to an expert in your area: Aerotek recruiters are always available to provide advice you can use.

And if you’re looking for a job, visit our job board to find your next great opportunity. Create a free career account today to customize your search.